THE LIFE OF CHARLES JOSEPH MINARD (1781-1870)
A translation of Minard's obituary by Dawn Finley.
Annals of Bridges and Roads. Memoirs and Documents Relating to the Art of Constructions and in the Service of the Engineer.
Number 15. Obituary of Mr. Minard, general inspector of bridges and roads, in retirement, by Mr. V. Chevallier, general inspector of bridges and roads. [Paris, 1871]
In the middle of our disasters, [it is sad] that the old men are not able to withstand the anguishes of the present and the threats of the future! Thus appears to have succumbed, after only several days of sickness and in the plentitude of his intellectual faculties, an eminent engineer who was about to reach ninety years and whom death seemed to have forgotten. Stationed in Paris for twenty-two years, Mr. Minard, dreading the bombardment that he foresaw, left for Bordeaux September 11, 1870, and at the end of six weeks was carried away by an attack of the fever.
In the course of his long career as an engineer, he had the good fortune to take part in almost all the great questions of public works which ushered in our century; and during his twenty years of retirement, always au courant of the technical and economic sciences, he endeavored to popularize the most salient results.
Mr. Charles Joseph Minard was born in Dijon March 27, 1781; he therefore witnessed the last days of the old regime, and he retained a profound memory of them. His father, clerk of the court and officer of the secondary school of Dijon, sought early to develop in him the taste for practical studies. He had made him learn at four years to read and to write, and at six years he took him to an elementary course in anatomy, taught by the doctor Chaussier and which keenly interested the child. Next the young Minard was sent to the secondary school at Dijon, where after having completed his fourth year early, feeling in himself little penchant for Latin and literature, he devoted himself with ardor to the study of the physical and mathematic sciences and especially their applications; and he loved to recount how at thirteen, in his totally patriotic zeal, he had wanted to extract the saltpeter from the earth of his cellar, and with what emotion he had perceived the first filaments of the crystallized salt.
At the secondary school at Dijon he began with two of his fellow students, Mr. Désormes and Mr. Clément, a very lively friendship which only increased with time. The three young students devoted themselves for hours of their free time to philosophical talks on human knowledge, and Mr. Minard certainly owed to this mutual teaching of his youth the full development of his eminently observant and practical spirit.
At fifteen and a half, he was received at the Polytechnic school, a still recent creation to which many of his compatriots had contributed, and he found his studies there in harmony with his tastes, and some professors, among others Lagrange and Fourrier, who made on him a profound impression. He left there in order to go to the School of Bridges and Roads.
This school still felt the effects of its first organization, where it had to train students who upon entering there knew only a little calculation and drawing.
The Corps of conductors, today so strongly constituted, only lent their very restrained support to the engineers; and the students, in their annual assignments, had practically exclusively to familiarize themselves with the operations of leveling, the drawing up of plans, and the practice of arithmetic.
It is in this way that Mr. Minard had first to cooperate in the leveling connected with the layout of the canal of Saint-Quentin.
Next he began studies of the canal of Charleroi in Brussels; and in order to gauge the streams which were needed to feed the canal, he embarked upon some experiments, which he published later, on the flow of the water by the openings of slender walls.
His intelligent studies had been so well appreciated that he was charged like an ordinary engineer, under the orders of the general inspector Gauthey, to finish in Paris the complete project of the canal of Charleroi, a project that the Council of Bridges and Roads had approved in 1804, but that was not carried out until 1827 by the Belgian government with very little changes.
It is during his stay in Paris that he knew Montgolfer the younger, friend of Désormes and Clément, even though much older than they; all four met together almost every Sunday, and Mr. Minard retained a great admiration for the original and inventive spirit of Montgolfer, for his eminently instructive conversation, and for his calculation in his head and his giving to all theoretical ideas practical forms.
Sent provisionally to Angers in 1805 for a service of the district, he was designated in November 1806 for the military port at Rochefort, where varied subjects of studies and applications served to supplement his technical education.
Already one of his old comrades at the Polytechnic school, Hubert, later appointed corresponding member of the Institute, resided in Rochefort as an officer of the naval engineers. Hubert practiced practical science. This was also the tendency of Mr. Minard; and the same tastes established between them a solid relationship.
Hardly having arrived, Mr. Minard, predicting the important role that iron would come to play in great public works, wished to know in depth the work of the forge [smithy], and he learned in the ateliers [workshops] of the port the trade of the blacksmith; and a long time afterwards, as superintendent of the School of Bridges and Roads, he demanded that the students at least be made to know practically the operations which iron undergoes, by carrying out under their eyes the principal handling of smelting, smithing and fitting.
Mr. Minard, in the port of Rochefort, was able to give free rein to his activity: he constructed there the busquées gates of new forms, the oil shop, the sculpture atelier, and the store with borders of iron and wooden carpentry; and each of his studies and his constructions carried the stamp of his observant and judicious spirit.
It is for the shop with the borders, in 1809, that he employed convicts as workers with as much success as economy, a fertile idea that much later in Toulon received from Mr. Bernard the happiest developments.
But his work was completed, his projects deferred: and Mr. Minard requested new occasions to deploy his activity.
In September 1810 he was sent, under the orders of the chief engineer Boitard, to Anvers first, next almost immediately to Flessingue. In this last port, the English had just destroyed the chamber walls of the lock and the wood linings of the wet dock; and it was a question of repairing the basin and of giving the lock more width and depth so that it could let the larger vessels of the time pass.
A coffer dam isolated work from the sea, but it failed to exhaust the lock and the basin. The Archimedes screw, even with the perfections it had received in Holland, had been too slow, too cumbersome, and too costly. Mr. Minard thought of using some pumps driven by a steam engine. A first application of this system had been made in the French empire at the works of Cherbourg, the second was going to be done in the far-away island of Walcheren, and it succeeded perfectly thanks to the clever provisions taken by Mr. Minard.
While rebuilding the quays of the basin, he actively occupied himself with the delicate and bold modifications that the lock was going to undergo.
The foundation raft had been originally formed, following the Dutch practice, of piling embedded on 2 meters thickness in brick masonry, and covered with a general netting with two floors. A floor was removed: a gutter was reserved in the middle of the high foundation raft to let pass the skittle of a ship of the line, and the doors rested against the busc only by one thrust of 0.15 meters; 1.19 meters depth was gained in this way. Finally the chamber walls rebuilt in recess of their first position gave to lock 17.54 meters of width on all the height; while previously this width was 14.51 meters at bottom, 16.15 meters at the top.
The lock thus remade was let open in 1812 to navigation and returned in 1815 to the Dutch government; after two strong repairs to the foundation raft in 1834 and 1841, it functioned until 1847. But at this later time it was perceived that the foundation raft was raised under the pressure of water, the hand-dredges used to unsilt the floor had pulled up the mailletage and permitted the invasion of some worms. The foundation raft was then rebuilt in masonry in the well-known shape of an inverted vault, but with a loss of more than 0.20 meters to the original depth.
The works carried out by Mr. Minard always so skillfully and so rapidly, in some very difficult circumstances, have largely contributed during thirty-five years to expand the role of the military port of Flessingue.
These works, however, Mr. Minard could not finish completely; violent attacks of the fever forced him to leave Flessingue; he left there the project of the large store which receives the tackles of the unarmed vessels.
At the beginning of 1813, after several months of rest, he was sent to Anvers, where he began a form intended for warships; at the same time he was promoted to the first class of his rank.
The foundation of this form put him in the grip of serious difficulties, and he has told in the Annales des ponts et chaussées how, despite a ceaseless surveillance, the excavations were one day unexpectedly overrun by a large irruption of sand and water. Nevertheless the principal difficulties had been happily surmounted; and the interior masonries elevated themselves up to the second bench. But after 1815 the government of the Netherlands, without doubt at the instigation of England, filled all the works, and it is on their site that one of the buildings of the warehouse rises.
Confined in the besieged town of Anvers, Mr. Minard always retained a sharp impression of some bloody episodes of the bombardment; and these are some memories which made him leave Paris last year at the approach of the Prussians.
When Anvers was evacuated, Mr. Minard was restored to service of the Bridges and Roads, and finding himself without destination, he used his forced leisure time for doing, with his friend Désormes, experiments on resistance to extension of wood, of iron, of smelting, of steel, of copper, of cannon metal, etc. The principal results of these have been recorded by Navier in his lessons on the resistance of materials (2nd ed.), and by Poncelet in his introduction to industrial mechanics.
As today, the war had destroyed many bridges: Mr. Minard was charged in January 1815 with reestablishing the communications at Trilport; and under the orders of the chief engineer Eustache, he briskly threw over the Marne a provisional bridge in framework, which was next replaced by a bridge in masonry.
Called to municipal service in Paris at the end of 1815, he applied himself there with zeal; he wanted notably to ameliorate the provisioning of pavement; and he drew up a complete project of the canal and of the railway in order to bring to Paris paving stones from the valley of Yvette and the waters of this little river. This remarkable project, the fruit of long research and of serious meditations, that Mr. Minard published in 1826, had been approved by the Council of Bridges and Roads on September 10, 1822; but the city's finances did not permit it to be completed.
It is during this stay in Paris, in 1821, that in a printed paper he refuted a theory published by a knowledgeable chief engineer, who believed to have found a new way to diminish the quantity of water that boats use in the passage of the locks, and further claimed that by a particular combination of the height of their fall with the draught of the ships, one could nullify this use and even make the water rise again in the space between two locks of the canal.
Mr. Minard, [because he was] attracted by the work and [because his] excellent services had captured the attention of the administration, was sent in September 1822 to Chalons-sur-A Sane as chief engineer of the canal of the Centre.
He had just married the second daughter of Mr. Désormes, whose elder daughter had married Mr. Clément, and to the ties of friendship were added the ties of family.
At the canal of the Centre, he made numerous and important checkings of the flow, several aqueducts and 59 pairs of lock gates.
The canal had lost a lot, especially at Vertempierre; he proposed, in order to stop it up, some masonry and some covers of hydraulic mortar which succeeded perfectly and have since been imitated in other canals. The seals especially, recovered with earth, have been generally adopted, because they are economical and durable and because they do not modify the section of the canal.
In the middle of these delicate operations a terrible blow came to strike him; a son who was entering into his second year was taken from him in a few hours by one of those pitiless illnesses that decimate children.
Thanks to the paternal benevolence of the administration, who wanted to divert him from his grief, Mr. Minard was sent on the canal of Saint-Quentin, where, as at the canal of the Centre, considerable losses rendered navigation intermittent; and the same procedures had the same successes.
The canal of Saint-Quentin received other significant improvements; Mr. Minard put up there numerous works of art, and he completed the channel of Noirieux which has an underground [depth] of 10 kilometers, archways at 5 kilometers, and which had to be sealed at 2 kilometers.
All the works of perfection were carried out on behalf of the agents of the canal, the Honoré brothers, who had naturally addressed themselves to complete the work with the engineer who had so skillfully begun it: and the administration, after having named Mr. Minard chief engineer of the first class, had authorized him in June 1827 to take a leave.
This mission brilliantly accomplished, he demanded to return to the service of the State and on November 1, 1830 he was named superintendent of the School of Bridges and Roads of which Prony had for a long time been the director; not long afterward, he received the cross of the Legion of Honor.
The old courses were insufficient, and had been rejuvenated by some skillful professors, Brisson, Navier, Coriolis, Duleau, Dufrenoy, etc.; and, in 1832, Duleau who taught all the courses of construction having been carried away by cholera, Bernard was charged with the roads and bridges and the maritime works, and Minard with inland navigation.
Additionally, Mr. Minard, in order to fill in a lack in their education, had to give the students some notion of railways.
As for the canals and rivers, he had gathered, be it in the lessons of his predecessors, be it in the memories of his own experience, all the elements of a very interesting and essentially practical course.
As for the railways, he found in France only very imperfect documents, and the roads outlined to some extent of Saint-Etienne, of Roanne and some others: he went to England, at his own expense, to research information he lacked. He visited all the railways that were in activity or under construction, not only those which for a long time served the coal mines, but especially those which would come to be devoted to travelers and merchandise, and particularly the route from Liverpool to Manchester where Robert Stephenson, in a famous contest, had so brilliantly inaugurated the reign of the locomotive.
All these documents methodically classified and analyzed, he made the subject of very substantial lessons, where nearly twenty years later one of his successors in teaching, Mr. Maniel, declared to have found an invaluable copy. The rest of his lessons, first written down by his students, have been printed, then almost immediately translated into German, after having had in Belgium, at the same moment as their appearance, the honor of [being] forged.
Besides this trip to England, Mr. Minard accomplished still five others, likewise at his own expense, in France and in foreign parts, during successive vacations from the school, gathering documents not only for the course on railways, but also for the course in inland navigation that he continued to teach, and for the course in maritime works that he would teach later.
These two important classes would be printed in 1841 and 1846; and, like the course in railways, they appeared almost simultaneously in Belgium as counterfeit.
If this last writing, which dates from the very beginning of the railways, can only be considered as a rough outline, the two others on the contrary expose the principles clearly established, so that the examples which, though sometimes few in numbers, are not the less perfectly analyzed and discussed; and more than one chapter still retains its topical interest.
But the double functions of professor and superintendent of the school became too heavy for Mr. Minard, and from 1835 he demanded to abandon these last ones and to devote himself exclusively to the courses on navigation and on railways, which constantly demanded laborious research in order to embrace all of the new works.
It is not until 1836 that the administration granted his request, by giving to him in addition the class on maritime works that Bernard had been obliged to give up.
In 1839 the administration wanted to use more completely his detailed studies and his broad experience; and it named him inspector of a division. But it had him continue his lessons so well appreciated; and only on his insistent requests did he finally prevail in 1842 to resign from his exhausting functions as a teacher, which he had exercised with so much success for ten years.
Almost at the same time that he was named inspector, he received the cross of officer of the Legion of Honor.
At the general Council of Bridges and Roads a new career opened up before him.
The time had come when it was necessary to determine in France the grand arteries of the railways. Limits of inclines, limits of the radii of the curves, technical and commercial conditions of the routes--all were to be fixed.
Thanks to the successive perfections of locomotives, we have been able to increase the superior limits of the inclines, to diminish the inferior limits of the radii of the curves.
But the true conditions of general interest that should preside over a layout have remained the same, and if they have been at first strongly controversial, one can say that they affirm themselves more and more.
In two very remarkable memoirs published in 1842 and 1843, Mr. Minard shows how much it mattered for the fruitful exploitation of the large lines to contemplate less the extreme stations than the intermediate populations.
He stated in principle that the travelers of great distances would not generally suffer to cover the expenses, that it was necessary to think especially of small distances where the far more numerous travelers were finally more productive; and that as a consequence the sketches should aim to serve as best possible the intermediate locales, even at the cost of a certain lengthening of the route. He supported by all the known examples therefore the very great importance of that which he called the partial route; in 1846, he arrived at the same conclusions when comparing the international traffic between Belgium and Prussia to the local traffic in each country; and all the subsequent facts have only confirmed the accuracy of his appraisals.
I heard him many times regret not having been able to win acceptance for his opinion of certain plans which among the others had only been adopted by a weak majority; and as one from Dijon he especially complained that the railway of Bourgogne did not better serve the rich vineyards of the translation Cté d'Or.
He was charged at first during two and a half years with the ninth inspection, which contained the Haute-Garonne, five neighboring departments, the canal of Midi, and some Mediterranean ports.
Mr. Minard had since his most tender youth frail and delicate health, which was only supported by a sober and regular life, and which resisted in this way the attacks of the weather. In 1822 he had an injured muscle on the right leg, in 1826 a sprain to the same leg; these accidents, complicated by more and more intense rheumatism, prevented him from long walks, and the trips that he was able to make by foot were always diminishing.
The remote rounds of midday, especially at this period, were too tiring for him; also despite the interest that certain works of the ninth inspection presented him, he accepted with eagerness in May 1841 the fifteenth inspection, much less distant from Paris, of a route less tiresome, and which contained only five departments, the Loire de Roanne to Orléans, the Allier and the canals of the Berri, of the Nivernais and of the Centre: however, in 1844 and 1845, he prevailed by reason of his more broken and impaired health to be excused from making his rounds. But if he lacked the bodily forces, his intellectual faculties, developed and matured by age, retained all their rigor; and in 1846, the minister of public works, Mr. Dumon, and the under-secretary of the State, Mr. Legrand, who had been able to appreciate Mr. Minard, proposed that King Louis-Philippe bring from six to seven the number of inspectors general, forming the permanent part of the Council of Bridges and Roads, and that he take as a new member an engineer versed at the same time in the two big questions of the day (maritime ports and railways), declaring that the choice should therefore bring itself naturally to Mr. Minard.
The terms of the report to the king are too flattering [to be omitted from] the text.
"Mr. Minard," the report said, "is without contest the member of the Council who has the most deepened, be it as an engineer, be it as a professor at the School of Bridges and Roads, the theory and the practice of works at sea. No member has occupied himself with more interest with the problems of railways from the point of view of political economy. His writings on these two branches of knowledge enjoy a deserved reputation."
It is in these so honorable conditions that Mr. Minard became a permanent member of the Council of Bridges and Roads where, as an inspector of a division, he only stayed one part of each year; and he went from then on to take part in the discussion of all the important questions.
Vast projects had already passed under his eyes, and others would still come to occupy the deliberations of the Council.
It is thus that as a temporary or permanent member he had to examine and discuss all of the great plans of railways, all of the projects of our principal ports of the ocean and of the Mediterranean, and all the improvements proposed for our maritime rivers; and to all of these such serious questions, he provided the tribute of his experience and his knowledge.
In most of the grand technical discussions, Mr. Minard had seen how important it was to a good solution to bring to bear the sound notions of political economy. In 1831, during his stay at the School of Bridges and Roads, he had proposed the creation of a chair for the teaching of this science, and he asked himself thus how the one who would be charged with this course should make it apply to public works. For a long time he had meditated and discussed these matters, he had read the principal economists, and in 1831 he compiled the ideas which seemed to him indispensable to engineers. He therefore submitted his memoir to the famous Jean-Baptiste Say, who wrote him a flattering letter; but Say did not publish it, limiting Minard to creating the opportunity for the application of his ideas. Finally in 1850, more and more devoted to the principles which guided him, he decided to insert in the Annales des ponts et chaussées his elementary notions of political economy applied to public works; and this memoir at once concise and substantial earned him numerous congratulations.
If one considers the difficult works carried out by Mr. Minard in the military ports and on the canals, the important services that he rendered as a professor and as a member of the Council of Bridges and Roads, his advancement may appear a little slow for the time in which he lived. The truth is that Mr. Minard did not know how to value himself, and it is only around the end of his career, when numerous and brilliant services were highly demanded of him, that just rewards came to reach him. I speak of how in 1846 a new place of general inspector had been created for him; and in 1849 he received in the Legion of Honor the cord of commander.
But a decree of 1848 had fixed at seventy years, for the general inspectors, the limit of their active career, and on March 27, 1851, Mr. Minard, while he was dining with his family, received without emotion the decree that put him in retirement dated that very day.
However, he was retained as a member of the commission of Annales des ponts et chaussées, the commission of which he had been a part since the foundation of this collection in 1831.
Those who knew him and appreciated him will certainly regret his departure at the moment when, in all the maturity of his experience and of his judgment, he could still bring to the discussion of important affairs an assistance so active and so clear. His colleagues remember that three days before his retirement, he combatted, with a perfect lucidity and grand authority, the immediate extension of the dikes of the lower Seine downstream from Quillebeuf.
The rule of the age limit, blind and merciless as death, came suddenly to take away from the Corps of Bridges and Roads one of its most eminent members.
Nevertheless, for Mr. Minard, retirement, far from resembling death, became like a second existence, and this last period of his life has not been the less busy or fulfilling.
Happy for his liberty, he came to be able henceforth to devote himself exclusively to certain studies projected or begun over a long period, and always interrupted or thwarted by the obligations of his service.
One time, however, giving in to some friends he had at the Academy of the sciences, he abandoned his life so tranquil and so well occupied in order to go to solicit anew the title of free academic; because he had already failed in 1850, and although written down as the first on the list of presentation, he had only twelve votes.
In 1852, he presented himself again and sustained a new failure. He gave up therefore all other attempts, regretting the strains of the process, but satisfied to have seen up close the savants of our time; and from then on he did not leave his independent life and the studies of his choice.
However, he did not content himself to enjoy sparingly the varied acquaintances that he had made and that he continued to acquire.
Before his retirement, he had published his treatises on construction, his notable memoirs on the partial route, and some technical notices inserted in our Annales. After his retirement, he put out a long series of research as interesting as it was varied, which only death interrupted.
Among his favorite studies, I will cite especially his figurative maps and his graphic tables, the use of which he popularized and to which he attached a well merited importance; because for the dry and complicated columns of statistical data, of which the analysis and the discussion always require a great sustained mental effort, he had substituted images mathematically proportioned, that the first glance takes in and knows without fatigue, and which manifest immediately the natural consequences or the comparisons unforeseen.
Fully convinced of the utility of these applications, he claimed their original conception with a certain pride in two booklets, one in 1865 on the graphic tables and the figurative maps, the other in 1861 on statistics.
Since his first graphic table in 1844 and his first figurative map in 1845, the subjects he treated were as follows:
Passenger traffic on the roads and railways.--- Traffic of general merchandise, and in particular of coal, cereal and wines on the water ways and railways.--- Tonnage of the sea ports of France, of Europe and of the globe.--- Consumption of meats of the butchers of Paris.--- Merchandise passing in transit by way of France.--- Importation of raw cotton in Europe, before, during, and after the war of secession in the United States.
For ten years, the public could see in an exhibition of painting the full-length portrait of the minister of public works in his office, and next to him were represented the figurative maps of Mr. Minard relating to the trade of France.
Thanks in effect to diverse ministers of public works, just as to Mr. de Franqueville, general director of bridges and roads and railways, Mr. Minard had always received from the administration powerful encouragement for his eminently useful maps.
He was able to apply this graphic mode of representation to questions entirely different, which present themselves under a totally original point of view, for example:
Research of the best placement for central administration of the post offices of Paris.--- Density of the populations in the diverse provinces of Spain (each province is covered with parallel hatchings whose spacing is proportional to the population).--- Diffusion of the primitive languages in the ancient world, after Mr. Alfred Maury.--- Comparison of the two campaigns, one of Charlemagne in 791, the other of Napoleon 1st in 1805, after Mr. Amédée Thierry.
Finally, in one of his last maps, at the end of 1869, as by a premonition of the appalling catastrophes which were going to shatter France, he emphasized the losses of men which had been caused by two great captains, Hannibal and Napoleon 1st, the one in his expedition across Spain, Gaul and Italy, the other in the fatal Russian campaign. The armies in their march are represented as flows which, broad initially, become successively thinner. The army of Hannibal was reduced in this way from 96,000 men to 26,000, and our great army from 422,000 combatants to only 10,000. The image is gripping; and, especially today, it inspires bitter reflections on the cost to humanity of the madnesses of conquerors and the merciless thirst of military glory.
Some maps were accompanied by separate explanatory texts: such are his maps, 1) of the movement of cereals in 1853 and 1857, 2) of the production of coal in Europe and the exportation of English coal, 3) of the passenger traffic on the railways of Europe.
Likewise, in August 1867, he discussed in a pamphlet the graphic tables where he had represented the principal results of free trade between France and England, and, a supporter of free trade himself, he was happy to show the advantages reaped by the two countries.
Mr. Minard has again sought in special memoirs to deepen several technical questions the importance of which he sensed.
The decomposition of certain hydraulic mortars by sea water was the object of several articles published separately or in the Annales des ponts et chaussées. Mr. Minard fights the laboratory tests proposed by Vicat, while insisting on the impossibility of condensing the action of time and of the joining together in one tank all the natural circumstances; he allows sanction of new products only [after] long experiments in free water and it is still today the only unquestionable way.
In 1856, two notes in the chronicle of the Annales called attention of the engineers to erosions which were produced by the recent rises in water levels upstream from the bridges and which had brought about the ruin of them. Mr. Minard, in a memoir published at the same time, recalled that he had announced this fact in 1841 in his Course of interior navigation; he cited, as having clearly professed the same doctrine before him, Smeaton in 1778, Mercadier in 1788. Then, by numerous examples which confirm the new facts, he asserts that the next and immediate collapse of the bridges during the rise in water level is due to erosion which then brings upstream piles and sometimes abutments.
The bay of the Seine was also the subject of several memoirs. He examined in February 1856 the nautical future of Le Havre, and in April 1859 the influence which the damming up of the Seine up to Honfleur could have on this port. Finally, in November 1864, in treating the question of the mouths of the navigable rivers, he joined to the new studies on the Seine the history of the work done to the mouths of the Rhone and the Adour.
In December 1869, he published his research on the great constructions of some ancient peoples, research where he developed as much patience as erudition. After having described these great works from a technical point of view, he considers them from a philosophic point of view, seeing in the pyramids of Egypt and of Mexico, or in the immense walls of Babylon, only the lavish pride and inhuman selfishness of their founders, but admiring the long roads constructed in Peru under the paternal administration of the Incas, and especially, by reason of its public utility, the gigantic high wall of China which has for such a long time protected this vast empire against the invasion of the Tartars.
Finally, he leaves two memoirs to which he put the closing touch.
The one, relating to the current studies of the young, contains some ideas for reform that our latest misfortunes fully justify.
The other exposes the very interesting and very instructive history of the canal of Saint-Quentin, where he made his first and his last works.
During his retirement, putting to profit the flexibility of his spirit and the extent of his knowledge, he knew how to delight by varied occupations the leisure which he gave himself.
As much as his strength permitted him, he exploited the riches of our libraries, and he followed with as much assiduity as interest certain public classes, notably those of paleontology and physiology.
He read ardently or made himself read the most important publications relating to our contemporary history, annotating certain passages in order to rectify or modify them. He could do this because since the first republic he had successively found himself in relation with several important personages, and his powerful memory recalled a crowd of interesting anecdotes which he recounted with as much spirit as discretion.
This is not all: sometimes he wrote the memories of his youth, sometimes he occupied himself with metaphysics and philosophy, sometimes finally he wrote his ideas on the music and the musicians of his time, consoling himself thus, he who had always cultivated music with passion, to be forced by the infirmities of age to give up this pleasure.
Mr. Minard wrote without pretension, thinking only to join concision and clarity, and caring little for some negligences of style provided that his thought be clearly expressed.
As a professor, he had the same qualities and knew how to seize the attention of his listeners. The students that he trained during his ten years in teaching certainly will recall his excellent and substantial lessons and his incessant efforts to maintain his classes at the level of science.
Mr. Minard, with a very upright understanding, with an insurmountable tenacity for each opinion which appeared to him just, never compromised with his convictions, seeking in the important discussions, notably for the plans of our great rail lines, only that which he believed to be [in] the general interest, without preoccupying himself with [fear of] offending some particular interests.
If this rigidity of principles and this inflexibility of character have excited against him some animosity by which he could only be honored, he knew, by his solid qualities, how to make for himself and to preserve for himself real friends; several dated from his childhood and his youth, and he had the pain of seeing them successively disappear.
In his later years, the bodily infirmities grew; he moved with more and more difficulty, but he worked always with the same ardor. He received freely those who came to see him, and he held them by the delight of his conversation. His surprising memory, his intelligence as alive as always, his regular habits, his sober life, the care with which his family surrounded him, all put at a distance the idea of a coming end. But faced with the progress of the Prussian army his imagination carried him away; and after some hesitation he decided all of a sudden, Sunday September 11, 1870, to leave Paris, his books, his papers, his intellectual riches and the office which he occupied for twenty-five years. Leaning on crutches, in the middle of this throng of women, of children and of old people who fled as he did, he left for Bordeaux with one part of his family, carrying only one light bag and some studies already begun. He endured very well the fatigues of a night journey, and barely installed at Bordeaux, without other resources than his memory, he reapplied himself to work; but six weeks after his arrival, as strongly frightened of the present as of the future, he was taken for three days by an irresistible fever, and on October 24 he returned [his] soul, full with gratitude towards God, according to his expressions, for the portion of happiness which had been given to him on this earth.
His devoted companion, one of his sons-in-law and his youngest daughter had the sad consolation of softening the bitterness of his last moments. His other daughter and his other son-in-law (the author of this notice), confined in Paris during the siege, only knew after the armistice the cruel loss they had suffered three months before.
Not having been able to pay to Mr. Minard the last respects, I wanted at least to be the faithful and impartial historian of a life so exemplary and so well filled. Would that I could have fully made known the right and just man who leaves indelible regrets with his family and his friends, the untiring savant who devoted his long existence to making himself useful, and the eminent engineer who contributed to rendering illustrious the Corps of Bridges and Roads!
Translation by Dawn Finley