Manesson Mallet, Allain, [Alain]

Title Les travaux de Mars ou l’art de la guerre...
Imprint Paris, D. Thierry, 1684-85
Localisation Madrid, Biblioteca Central Militar, SM-1684-2
Subject Art of war, Military architecture, Town planning
Consult in image mode
t. 1, t. 2, t. 3
Transcribed version of the text


     In the first edition of the Travaux de Mars, Manesson Malet pointed out that his book was still imperfect : “As I have not yet engraved all the plates of my third part and since all my friends are asking me constantly to see the first two parts, in order to satisfy them I realized I am obliged to bring them to light, since reading them will be marvelously useful for the understanding of the third one which I will present in a few days”. Taking this project to heart, Manesson Mallet went back to his whole first edition and added a third part which he published fifteen years later, in 1684 and 1685 in a second edition enlarged and reorganized in three volumes (it very probably took longer than planned, for he worked at the same time on La description de l’univers published in 1683). This second edition was also published by one of the biggest printer-booksellers in Paris, Denys Thierry. Just like the first edition, the book was a great success. It was published simultaneously in Holland by Jan and Gillis Janson, in a less meticulous edition, then in Russia in 1713 at the printing presses of Peter the Great.
Starting with the forward, Manesson points out that he has “enriched this second impression with quantities of new treatises and several (…) comments that I have tried to adapt to the excellent maxims of Vauban (…) whose services and books amply prove that he is incomparable in the art of fortifying and attacking strongholds”. The author’s wish is therefore clear : he wants to write a relevant book which would render an account of recent advancement in military art. Therefore in his first part he deals with theoretical and practical construction of models, choosing to make a priority of the work of the engineer, as much the conception on paper as the construction in the field. He takes advantage of the opportunity to add an entire chapter on constructing bas-reliefs, the first example of which had been ordered by the king from Vauban in 1668. His second part, more classic, offers a vast survey of the fortification methods of the authors who were “the best known who have written since bastions were first used, up to the present”. Now, he also innovates there, by suggesting four Dutch writers (Marolois, Stevin, Freitag and Dögen), four French authors (Errard, Pagan, Deville and Fournier) and only two Italian writers (Sardi and De Marchi) whose basic models prevailed up until then. It is also of interest to note that all these authors, except Francesco de Marchi, were published during the first half of the 17th century. As for the third part, composed like a vast compendium of various subjects, two new themes were inserted : Vauban’s maxims on attacking and defending strongholds, and making war against the Turks, then mobilizing all the military forces.
Thus comparing the first and second editions of the Travaux de Mars reveals perfectly the transformation in professionalism of the engineer’s work during Vauban’s term of office. Manesson Mallet’s overall discourse is akin to his unique wish to promote a resolutely modern engineering profession. With skillful doses of theory and contemporary practices, he manages to transmit a reliable, concrete field manual to all engineers during a period when military schools had not yet been founded. Thus Manesson Mallet’s work corresponds perfectly to his master’s expectations. He freed himself for the first time from the heritage of the preceding century and synthesized clearly and precisely the contributions made by 17th century authors. He also defined the main disciplines of a profession in full institutional and technical transformation and acted as a relevant author by addressing what he called the conjonctures présentes” of his period. Therefore it is astounding that the work of a man whom Vauban held in very high esteem and who was even praised by Alexandre Dumas’ d’Artagnan was never the subject of a specific study. D’Artagnan, astonished, discovers the fortifications of Belle-Ile : “these fortifications belonged no longer to the Dutch method of Masrollois, nor the French method of the chevalier Antoine de Ville, but to the system of Manesson Mallet, a skillful engineer who left the service of the king of Portugal about six years ago to enter the service of the king of France” (Le vicomte de Bragelonne, ch. LXIX).

Émilie d’Orgeix (Université Michel de Montaigne – Bordeaux 3) – 2011

Critical bibliography

A. de Rochas d’Aiglun, Vauban. Sa famille et ses écrits. Ses oisivetés et sa correspondance, Geneva, Slatkine, 1972, 2, p. 102.

É. d’Orgeix, "Alain Manesson Mallet (1630-1706) : portrait d’un ingénieur dans le sillage de Vauban", Bulletin du comité français de cartographie, 195, March 2008, pp. 64-74.

N. Kanas, Star Maps – History, Artistry, and Cartography, Berlin/Heidelberg/New York, Springer-Praxis, 2007, pp. 197-199.

M. Mendillo, Celestial Images – Antiquarian Astonomical Charts and Maps from the Mendillo Collection, Boston, University of Washington Press, 2005, pp. 83-84