Raymond's technological and engineering improvements, here, described as "schemes" and "projects," invoke Godwinian notions of human perfectibility, Napoleonic empire-building, and--finally--Frankensteinian faith in science. Notice that, by the end of the sentence, such schemes are compared to the exotic fantasies of the Arabian Nights.
The extension of this techno-optimism into the arenas of eradicating disease and producing food, as the paragraph continues, immediately qualifies and ironizes this hope. It also invokes debates of the 1820s over famine and population control.
Romantic Circles / Electronic Editions / The Last Man / Note: Canals, etc.