During the last 48 hours, I have been hunched over the latest set of paper proofs of “To Make as Perfectly as Possible: Roubo on Marquetry.” And this is the part where the doubt creeps in.
During every book project, I lose my faith on the 10th edit. As I pored over Chapter 12 last night, I read Roubo’s words, but all I could hear were the critics:
“This translation is incomprehensible.”
“Useless information for the 21st century.”
“This is all there is?”
Don’t get me wrong, I’m in awe of (and grateful for) the work that Don Williams, Michele Pagan and Phillipe LaFargue have done – not to mention Wesley Tanner, the book’s designer. My doubts are a personal problem I’ve had since the day I began writing.
I know there are typos we won’t catch. I know we will be skewered for choosing one word over another in the translation. That we didn’t do enough to make M. Roubo palatable.
So to cheer myself up I decided to make a list of all the things I learned from this volume.
I couldn’t. The list was too long and involves something on almost every page.
Like Robert Wearing’s “The Essential Woodworker,” this is a document that is far greater than the sum of its parts. It is not just a manual of marquetry. Every page oozes Roubo’s personal view of the craft – the failings of customers, fellow craftsmen, merchants. And their occasional triumphs.
In Roubo’s world, quality work is the job of the individual at the bench – even when the customers won’t pay.
And there is something deeper that is even more important and difficult for me to express. But I’ll try:
One of the dominant modern views of pre-Industrial woodworking was that it was a brutal way to live. The work was hard. Each day was a desperate slog for artisans ekeing out a living in poorly lit and dank situations.
All those things might be true, but that doesn’t mean these menuisiers didn’t love their work. When you read Roubo – who was a compagnon – it’s clear that it was cause for rejoicing when they brought something beautiful and well-made in the world.
Yeah, the work was hard. It still is. Yes, it involved years of practice. It still does. And no, it didn’t pay. It still doesn’t.
But it has been and always will be something that is (and I’m stealing Don Williams’ favorite word here) glorious.
— Christopher Schwarz
P.S. Today I finish up my editing on this book and send the paper back to the designer (about 15 pounds of it). I don’t want to take this stuff on the plane to Germany. Our goal is to send this book to the printer on July 1. I think we can make it.