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PASSAGES FROM LIFE OF A PHILOSOPHER ***




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PASSAGES FROM THE LIFE OF A PHILOSOPHER, by Charles Babbage




[Illustration:

_B. H. Babbage, del._

Impression from a woodcut of a small portion of Mr. Babbage’s
Difference Engine No. 1, the property of Government, at present
deposited in the Museum at South Kensington.

It was commenced 1823.
This portion put together 1833.
The construction abandoned 1842.
This plate was printed June, 1853.
This portion was in the Exhibition 1862.]




PASSAGES

FROM

THE LIFE OF A PHILOSOPHER.

BY

CHARLES BABBAGE, ESQ., M.A.,
F.R.S., F.R.S.E., F.R.A.S., F. STAT. S., HON. M.R.I.A., M.C.P.S.,
COMMANDER OF THE ITALIAN ORDER OF ST. MAURICE AND ST. LAZARUS,
INST. IMP. (ACAD. MORAL.) PARIS CORR., ACAD. AMER. ART. ET SC. BOSTON,
REG. ŒCON. BORUSS., PHYS. HIST. NAT. GENEV., ACAD. REG. MONAC., HAFN.,
MASSIL., ET DIVION., SOCIUS. ACAD. IMP. ET REG. PETROP., NEAP., BRUX.,
PATAV., GEORG. FLOREN, LYNCEI ROM., MUT., PHILOMATH. PARIS, SOC. CORR.,
ETC.


“I’m a philosopher. Confound them all—
Birds, beasts, and men; but no, not womankind.”—_Don Juan._

“I now gave my mind to philosophy: the great object of my ambition
was to make out a complete system of the universe, including and
comprehending the origin, causes, consequences, and termination of all
things. Instead of countenance, encouragement, and applause, which
I should have received from every one who has the true dignity of
an oyster at heart, I was exposed to calumny and misrepresentation.
While engaged in my great work on the universe, some even went
so far as to accuse me of infidelity;—such is the malignity of
oysters.”—_“Autobiography of an Oyster” deciphered by the aid of
photography in the shell of a philosopher of that race,—recently
scolloped._


LONDON:

LONGMAN, GREEN, LONGMAN, ROBERTS, & GREEN.

1864.

[_The right of Translation is reserved._]




DEDICATION.

TO VICTOR EMMANUEL II., KING OF ITALY.


SIRE,

In dedicating this volume to your Majesty, I am also doing an act of
justice to the memory of your illustrious father.

In 1840, the King, Charles Albert, invited the learned of Italy to
assemble in his capital. At the request of her most gifted Analyst, I
brought with me the drawings and explanations of the Analytical Engine.
These were thoroughly examined and their truth acknowledged by Italy’s
choicest sons.

To the King, your father, I am indebted for the first public and
official acknowledgment of this invention.

I am happy in thus expressing my deep sense of that obligation to his
son, the Sovereign of united Italy, the country of Archimedes and of
Galileo.

I am, Sire,
With the highest respect,
Your Majesty’s faithful Servant,

CHARLES BABBAGE.




PREFACE.


Some men write their lives to save themselves from _ennui_, careless of
the amount they inflict on their readers.

Others write their personal history, lest some kind friend should
survive them, and, in showing off his own talent, unwittingly show them
up.

Others, again, write their own life from a different motive—from fear
that the vampires of literature might make it their prey.

I have frequently had applications to write my life, both from my
countrymen and from foreigners. Some caterers for the public offered
to pay me for it. Others required that I should pay them for its
insertion; others offered to insert it without charge. One proposed to
give me a quarter of a column gratis, and as many additional lines of
eloge as I chose to write and pay for at ten-pence per line. To many of
these I sent a list of my works, with the remark that they formed the
best life of an author; but nobody cared to insert them.

I have no desire to write my own biography, as long as I have strength
and means to do better work.

The remarkable circumstances attending those Calculating Machines,
on which I have spent so large a portion of my life, make me wish
to place on record some account of their past history. As, however,
such a work would be utterly uninteresting to the greater part of my
countrymen, I thought it might be rendered less unpalatable by relating
some of my experience amongst various classes of society, widely
differing from each other, in which I have occasionally mixed.

This volume does not aspire to the name of an autobiography. It relates
a variety of isolated circumstances in which I have taken part—some
of them arranged in the order of time, and others grouped together in
separate chapters, from similarity of subject.

The selection has been made in some cases from the importance of the
matter. In others, from the celebrity of the persons concerned; whilst
several of them furnish interesting illustrations of human character.




CONTENTS.


I. • My Ancestors • 1

II. • Childhood • 7

III. • Boyhood • 17

IV. • Cambridge • 25

V. • Difference Engine No. 1 • 41

VI. • Statement relative to the Difference
Engine, drawn up by the late Sir H. Nicolas
from the Author’s Papers • 68

VII. • Difference Engine No. 2 • 97

VIII. • Of the Analytical Engine • 112

IX. • Of the Mechanical Notation • 142

X. • The Exhibition of 1862 • 147

XI. • The late Prince Consort • 168

XII. • Recollections of the Duke of
Wellington • 173

XIII. • Recollections of Wollaston, Davy,
and Rogers • 186

XIV. • Recollections of Laplace, Biot, and
Humboldt • 195

XV. • Experience by Water • 205

XVI. • Experience by Fire • 213

XVII. • Experience amongst Workmen • 228

XVIII. • Picking Locks and Deciphering • 233

XIX. • Experience in St. Giles’s • 242

XX. • Theatrical Experience • 251

XXI. • Electioneering Experience • 259

XXII. • Scene from a New After-Piece • 276

XXIII. • Experience at Courts • 292

XXIV. • Experience at Courts • 298

XXV. • Railways • 313

XXVI. • Street Nuisances • 337

XXVII. • Wit • 363

XXVIII. • Hints for Travellers • 371

XXIX. • Miracles • 387

XXX. • Religion • 396

XXXI. • A Vision • 406

XXXII. • Various Reminiscences • 421

XXXIII. • The Author’s Contributions to
Human Knowledge • 430

XXXIV. • The Author’s further Contributions
to Human Knowledge • 441

XXXV. • Results of Science • 473

XXXVI. • Agreeable Recollections • 482

Appendix • 487




PASSAGES FROM THE LIFE OF A PHILOSOPHER.




CHAPTER I.

MY ANCESTORS.


Traced his descent, through ages dark,
From cats that caterwauled in Noah’s ark.

SALMAGUNDI, 4to, 1793.

Value of a celebrated Name — My Ancestors — Their Ante-Mosaic origin
— Flint-workers — Tool-makers — Not descended from Cain — Ought a
Philosopher to avow it if he were? — Probability of Descent from Tubal
Cain — Argument in favour, he worked in Iron — On the other side, he
invented Organs — Possible origin of my Name — Family History in very
recent times.

What is there in a name? It is merely an empty basket, until you put
something into it. My earliest visit to the Continent taught me the
value of such a basket, filled with the name of my venerable friend
the first Herschel, ere yet my younger friend his son, had adorned
his distinguished patronymic with the additional laurels of his own
well-earned fame.

The inheritance of a celebrated name is not, however, without its
disadvantages. This truth I never found more fully appreciated, nor
more admirably expressed, than in a conversation with the son of
Filangieri, the author of the {2} celebrated Treatise on Legislation,
with whom I became acquainted at Naples, and in whose company I visited
several of the most interesting institutions of that capital.

In the course of one of our drives, I alluded to the advantages of
inheriting a distinguished name, as in the case of the second Herschel.
His remark was, “For my own part, I think it a great disadvantage. Such
a man must feel in the position of one inheriting a vast estate, so
deeply mortgaged that he can never hope, by any efforts of his own, to
redeem it.”

Without reverting to the philosophic, but unromantic, views of our
origin taken by Darwin, I shall pass over the long history of our
progress from a monad up to man, and commence tracing my ancestry as
the world generally do: namely, as soon as there is the slightest
ground for conjecture. Although I have contended for the Mosaic date
of the creation of man as long as I decently could, and have even
endeavoured to explain away[1] some of the facts relied upon to prove
man’s long anterior origin; yet I must admit that the continual
accumulation of evidence probably will, at last, compel me to
acknowledge that, in this single instance, the writings of Moses may
have been misapprehended.

[1] On the remains of human art, mixed with the bones of extinct
races of animals. Proceedings of the Royal Society, 26th May, 1859.

〈DESCENT FROM FLINT-WORKERS.〉

Let us, therefore, take for granted that man and certain extinct races
of animals lived together, thousands of years before Adam. We find, at
that period, a race who formed knives, and hammers, and arrow-heads
out of flint. Now, considering my own inveterate habit of contriving
_tools_, it is more probable that I should derive my passion by
hereditary transmission from these original tool-makers, than from any
other inferior race existing at that period. {3}

Many years ago I met a very agreeable party at Mr. Rogers’ table.
Somebody introduced the subject of ancestry. I remarked that most
people are reluctant to acknowledge as their father or grandfather,
any person who had committed a dishonest action or a crime. But that
no one ever scrupled to be proud of a remote ancestor, even though he
might have been a thief or a murderer. Various remarks were made, and
reasons assigned, for this tendency of the educated mind. I then turned
to my next neighbour, Sir Robert H. Inglis, and asked him what he would
do, supposing he possessed undoubted documents, that he was lineally
descended from Cain.

Sir Robert said he was at that moment proposing to himself the very
same question. After some consideration, he said he should burn them;
and then inquired what I should do in the same circumstances. My reply
was, that I should preserve them: but simply because I thought the
preservation of any _fact_ might ultimately be useful.

〈NOT THROUGH CAIN.〉

I possess no evidence that I am descended from Cain. If any herald
suppose that there may be such a presumption, I think it must arise
from his confounding Cain with Tubal Cain, who was a great worker in
iron. Still, however he might argue that, the probabilities are in
favour of his opinion: for I, too, work in iron. But a friend of mine,
to whose kind criticisms I am much indebted, suggests that as Tubal
Cain invented the _Organ_, this probability is opposed to the former
one.

The next step in my pedigree is to determine whence the origin of my
modern family name.

Some have supposed it to be derived from the cry of sheep. If so, that
would point to a descent from the Shepherd Kings. Others have supposed
it is derived from the name of a place called Bab or Babb, as we have,
in the West of England, Bab {4} Tor, Babbacombe, &c. But this is
evidently erroneous; for, when a people took possession of a desert
country, its various localities could possess no names; consequently,
the colonists could not take names from the country to which they
migrated, but would very naturally give their own names to the several
lands they appropriated: “_mais revenons à nos moutons_.”

How my blood was transmitted to me through more modern races, is quite
immaterial, seeing the admitted antiquity of the flint-workers.

〈SAD OMISSION.〉

In recent times, that is, since the Conquest, my knowledge of the
history of my family is limited by the unfortunate omission of my name
from the roll of William’s followers. Those who are curious about the
subject, and are idlers, may, if they think it worth while, search all
the parish registers in the West of England and elsewhere.

The light I can throw upon it is not great, and rests on a few
documents, and on family tradition. During the past four generations I
have no surviving collateral relatives of my own name.

The name of Babbage is not uncommon in the West of England. One day
during my boyhood, I observed it over a small grocer’s shop, whilst
riding through the town of Chudley. I dismounted, went into the shop,
purchased some figs, and found a very old man of whom I made inquiry
as to his family. He had not a good memory himself, but his wife told
me that his name was Babb when she married him, and that it was only
during the last twenty years he had adopted the name of Babbage, which,
the old man thought, sounded better. Of course I told his wife that
I entirely agreed with her husband, and thought him a very sensible
fellow.

The craft most frequently practised by my ancestors seems {5} to
have been that of a goldsmith, although several are believed to have
practised less dignified trades.

In the time of Henry the Eighth one of my ancestors, together with a
hundred men, were taken prisoners at the siege of Calais.

When William the Third landed in Torbay, another ancestor of mine,
a yeoman possessing some small estate, undertook to distribute his
proclamations. For this bit of high treason he was rewarded with a
silver medal, which I well remember seeing, when I was a boy. It had
descended to a very venerable and truthful old lady, an unmarried aunt,
the historian of our family, on whose authority the identity of the
medal I saw with that given by King William must rest.

Another ancestor married one of two daughters, the only children of a
wealthy physician, Dr. Burthogge, an intimate friend and correspondent
of John Locke.

〈A WILD ANCESTOR.〉

Somewhere about 1700 a member of my family, one Richard Babbage, who
appears to have been a very wild fellow, having tried his hand at
various trades, and given them all up, offended a wealthy relative.

To punish this idleness, his relative entailed all his large estates
upon eleven different people, after whom he gave it to this Richard
Babbage, who, had there been no entail, would have taken them as
heir-at-law.

Ten of these lives had dropped, and the eleventh was in a consumption,
when Richard Babbage took it into his head to go off to America with
Bamfylde Moore Carew, the King of the Beggars.

The last only of the eleven lives existed when he embarked, and that
life expired within twelve months after Richard Babbage sailed. The
estates remained in possession of the representatives of the eleventh
in the entail. {6}

If it could have been proved that Richard Babbage had survived twelve
months after his voyage to America, these estates would have remained
in my own branch of the family.

I possess a letter from Richard Babbage, dated on board the ship in
which he sailed for America.

〈ACT OF PARLIAMENT.〉

In the year 1773 it became necessary to sell a portion of this
property, for the purpose of building a church at Ashbrenton. A private
Act of Parliament was passed for that purpose, in which the rights of
the true heir were reserved.

{7}




CHAPTER II.

CHILDHOOD.


“The Prince of Darkness is a gentleman.”—_Hamlet._

Early Passion for inquiry and inquisition into Toys — Lost on London
Bridge — Supposed value of the young Philosopher — Found again
— Strange Coincidence in after-years — Poisoned — Frightened a
Schoolfellow by a Ghost — Frightened himself by trying to raise the
Devil — Effect of Want of Occupation for the Mind — Treasure-trove —
Death and Non-appearance of a Schoolfellow.

From my earliest years I had a great desire to inquire into the causes
of all those little things and events which astonish the childish mind.
At a later period I commenced the still more important inquiry into
those laws of thought and those aids which assist the human mind in
passing from received knowledge to that other knowledge then unknown to
our race. I now think it fit to record some of those views to which,
at various periods of my life, my reasoning has led me. Truth only has
been the object of my search, and I am not conscious of ever having
turned aside in my inquiries from any fear of the conclusions to which
they might lead.

As it may be interesting to some of those who will hereafter read these
lines, I shall briefly mention a few events of my earliest, and even
of my childish years. My parents being born at a certain period of
history, and in a certain latitude and longitude, of course followed
the religion {8} of their country. They brought me up in the Protestant
form of the Christian faith. My excellent mother taught me the usual
forms of my daily and nightly prayer; and neither in my father nor
my mother was there any mixture of bigotry and intolerance on the
one hand, nor on the other of that unbecoming and familiar mode of
addressing the Almighty which afterwards so much disgusted me in my
youthful years.

My invariable question on receiving any new toy, was “Mamma, what is
inside of it?” Until this information was obtained those around me had
no repose, and the toy itself, I have been told, was generally broken
open if the answer did not satisfy my own little ideas of the “fitness
of things.”


_Earliest Recollections._

Two events which impressed themselves forcibly on my memory happened, I
think, previously to my eighth year.

〈THE YOUNG PHILOSOPHER LOST.〉

When about five years old, I was walking with my nurse, who had in
her arms an infant brother of mine, across London Bridge, holding, as
I thought, by her apron. I was looking at the ships in the river. On
turning round to speak to her, I found that my nurse was not there, and
that I was alone upon London Bridge. My mother had always impressed
upon me the necessity of great caution in passing any street-crossing:
I went on, therefore, quietly until I reached Tooley Street, where
I remained watching the passing vehicles, in order to find a safe
opportunity of crossing that very busy street.

〈THE CRIER OFFERS A REWARD.〉

In the mean time the nurse, having lost one of her charges, had gone
to the crier, who proceeded immediately to call, by the ringing of his
bell, the attention of the public to the fact that a young philosopher
was lost, and to the still more important fact that five shillings
would be the reward of his fortunate discoverer. I well remember
sitting on the steps of {9} the door of the linendraper’s shop on the
opposite corner of Tooley Street, when the gold-laced crier was making
proclamation of my loss; but I was too much occupied with eating some
pears to attend to what he was saying.

The fact was, that one of the men in the linendraper’s shop, observing
a little child by itself, went over to it, and asked what it wanted.
Finding that it had lost its nurse, he brought it across the street,
gave it some pears, and placed it on the steps at the door: having
asked my name, the shopkeeper found it to be that of one of his own
customers. He accordingly sent off a messenger, who announced to my
mother the finding of young Pickle before she was aware of his loss.

Those who delight in observing coincidences may perhaps account for
the following singular one. Several years ago when the houses in
Tooley Street were being pulled down, I believe to make room for the
new railway terminus, I happened to pass along the very spot on which
I had been lost in my infancy. A slate of the largest size, called
a Duchess,[2] was thrown from the roof of one of the houses, and
penetrated into the earth close to my feet.

[2] There exists an aristocracy even amongst slates, perhaps from
their occupying the most _elevated_ position in every house. Small
ones are called Ladies, a larger size Countesses, and the biggest
of all are Duchesses.

The other event, which I believe happened some time after the one
just related, is as follows. I give it from memory, as I have always
repeated it.

〈YOUNG PHILOSOPHER POISONED.〉

I was walking with my nurse and my brother in a public garden, called
Montpelier Gardens, in Walworth. On returning through the private road
leading to the gardens, I gathered and swallowed some dark berries very
like black currants:—these were poisonous. {10}

On my return home, I recollect being placed between my father’s knees,
and his giving me a glass of castor oil, which I took from his hand.

My father at that time possessed a collection of pictures. He sat on
a chair on the right hand side of the chimney-piece in the breakfast
room, under a fine picture of our Saviour taken down from the cross.
On the opposite wall was a still-celebrated “Interior of Antwerp
Cathedral.”

In after-life I several times mentioned the subject both to my father
and to my mother; but neither of them had the slightest recollection of
the matter.

Having suffered in health at the age of five years, and again at that
of ten by violent fevers, from which I was with difficulty saved, I was
sent into Devonshire and placed under the care of a clergyman (who kept
a school at Alphington, near Exeter), with instructions to attend to my
health; but, not to press too much knowledge upon me: a mission which
he faithfully accomplished. Perhaps great idleness may have led to some
of my childish reasonings.

Relations of ghost stories often circulate amongst children, and also
of visitations from the devil in a _personal_ form. Of course I shared
the belief of my comrades, but still had some doubts of the existence
of these personages, although I greatly feared their appearance. Once,
in conjunction with a companion, I frightened another boy, bigger than
myself, with some pretended ghost; how prepared or how represented
by natural objects I do not now remember: I believe it was by the
accidental passing shadows of some external objects upon the walls of
our common bedroom.

〈DELUDES A BOY WITH A GHOST.〉

The effect of this on my playfellow was painful; he was much frightened
for several days; and it naturally occurred to me, after some time,
that as I had deluded him with ghosts, {11} I might myself have been
deluded by older persons, and that, after all, it might be a doubtful
point whether ghost or devil ever really existed. I gathered all the
information I could on the subject from the other boys, and was soon
informed that there was a peculiar process by which the devil might be
raised and become personally visible. I carefully collected from the
traditions of different boys the visible forms in which the Prince of
Darkness had been recorded to have appeared. Amongst them were—

A rabbit,
An owl,
A black cat, very frequently,
A raven,
A man with a cloven foot, also frequent.

After long thinking over the subject, although checked by a belief that
the inquiry was wicked, my curiosity at length over-balanced my fears,
and I resolved to attempt to raise the devil. Naughty people, I was
told, had made written compacts with the devil, and had signed them
with their names written in their own blood. These had become very rich
and great men during their life, a fact which might be well known. But,
after death, they were described as having suffered and continuing to
suffer physical torments throughout eternity, another fact which, to my
uninstructed mind, it seemed difficult to prove.

As I only desired an interview with the gentleman in black simply to



Online LibraryCharles BabbagePassages from the Life of a Philosopher → online text (page 1 of 36)