Pamphlets about Queen Marie Antoinette and an account of a stuffed hippopotamus are among 250,000 books being made available online in a deal announced on Monday by Google and the British Library.
Internet users will be able to consult the texts dating from 1700 to 1870, which have been digitised by the search engine giant and chosen by the library, which has one of the world's largest collections, they said in a statement.
The works are all out of copyright, thus avoiding problems Google has previously faced in the United States and France over its attempts to create a universal digitised library.
"Our aim is to provide perpetual access to this historical material, and we hope that our collections coupled with Google's know-how will enable us to achieve this aim," British Library chief executive Lynne Brindley said.
She said it was building on the library's "proud tradition of giving access to anyone, anywhere and at any time."
Among the first works to be digitised will be feminist treatises written in 1791 on Queen Marie Antoinette of France, the wife of King Louis XVI who was executed after the French Revolution.
There are also plans written by the Spanish inventor Narciso Monturiol dating from 1858 for the first combustion engine-powered submarine, entitled "A Scheme for Underwater Seafaring: the Ichthyneus or Fish-Boat".
The collection further features "The Natural History of the Hippopotamus, or River Horse", written by George Louis Leclerc in 1775, which tells the story of a stuffed hippopotamus owned by the Prince of Orange.
All the works will be available for text search download and reading on the British Library's website www.bl.uk and at Google Books on books.google.co.uk.
The cost of digitising all 40 million pages will be borne by Google, which has entered similar partnerships with Stanford and Harvard universities in the United States as well as in the Netherlands, Italy and Austria.
"This public domain material is an important part of the world's heritage and we're proud to be working with the British Library to open it up to millions of people in the UK and abroad," said Peter Barron, director of external relations at Google.