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of my system of Mechanical Notation, and great desire was frequently
expressed to see the illustrations of the method itself, and of its
various applications.

[28] One object of the mission of Professor Bolzani was, to take
back with him to Russia such an account of the Mechanical Notation
as might facilitate its teaching in the Russian Universities. I
regret that it was entirely out of my power to assist him.

These, however, were so extensive that it was impossible, without very
great inconvenience, to exhibit them even in my own house.


I therefore wrote to Mr. Gravatt to offer him the loan of the following
property for the Exhibition:—

1. A small Calculating Machine of the simplest order for adding
together any number of separate sums of money, provided the total was
under 100,000 _l._, by Sir Samuel Morland. 1666.

2. A very complete and well-executed Machine for answering all
questions in plane trigonometry, by Sir Samuel Morland. 1663. {155}

3. An original set of Napier’s bones.

4. A small Arithmetical Machine, by Viscount Mahon, afterwards Earl
Stanhope. Without date.

5. A larger Machine, to add, subtract, multiply, and divide, by
Viscount Mahon. 1775.

6. Another similar Machine, of a somewhat different construction, for
the same operations, by Viscount Mahon. 1777.

7. A small Difference Engine, made in London, in consequence of its
author having read Dr. Lardner’s article in the “Edinburgh Review” of
July, 1834, No. CXX.

_List of Mechanical Notations proposed to be Lent for the Exhibition._

1. All the drawings explaining the principles of the Mechanical

2. The complete Mechanical Notations of the Swedish Calculating Engine
of M. Scheutz.

These latter drawings had been made and used by my youngest son, Major
Henry P. Babbage, now resident in India, in explaining the principles
of the Mechanical Notation at the meeting of the British Association
at Glasgow, and afterwards in London, at a meeting of the Institution
of Civil Engineers.[29]

[29] See Proceedings of British Association at Glasgow, 1855, p. 203;
also Minutes of Proceedings of the Institution of Civil Engineers, vol.
xv., 1856.

3. The Mechanical Notations of the Difference Engine No. 1. {156}

These had been made at my own expense, and were finished by myself
and my eldest son, Mr. B. Herschel Babbage, now resident in South

4. A complete set of the drawings of the Difference Engine No. 2, for
calculating and printing tables, with seven orders of differences, and
thirty places of figures. Finished in 1849.

5. A complete set of the Notations necessary for the explanation and
demonstration of Difference Engine No. 2, finished in 1849.

These drawings and notations would have required for their exhibition
about seven or eight hundred square feet of wall. My letter to Mr.
Gravatt was forwarded to the Commissioners with his own application
for space to exhibit them. The Commissioners declined this offer; yet
during the first six weeks of the Exhibition there was at a short
distance from the Difference Engine an empty space of wall large enough
for the greater part of these instructive diagrams. This portion of
wall was afterwards filled up by a vast oil-cloth. Other large portions
of wall, to the amount of thousands of square feet, were given up to
other oil-cloths, and to numberless carpets. It is evident the Royal
Commissioners were much better qualified to judge of furniture for the
feet than of furniture for the head.

I was myself frequently asked why I did not employ a person to explain
the Difference Engine. In reply to some of my friends, I inquired
whether, when they purchased a carriage, they expected the builder to
pay the wages of their coachman.


But my greatest difficulty was with foreigners; no explanation I could
devise, and I tried many, appeared at all {157} to satisfy their
minds. The thing seemed to them entirely incomprehensible.

That the nation possessing the greatest military and commercial marine
in the world—the nation which had spent so much in endeavouring to
render perfect the means of finding the longitude—which had recently
caused to be computed and published at considerable expense an entirely
new set of lunar Tables should not have availed itself _at any cost_
of mechanical means of computing and stereotyping such Tables, seemed
entirely beyond their comprehension.

At last they asked me whether the Commissioners were _bêtes_. I
assured them that the only _one_ with whom I was personally acquainted
certainly was not.

When hard pressed by difficult questions, I thought it my duty as an
Englishman to save my country’s character, even at the expense of my
own. So on one occasion I suggested to my unsatisfied friends that
Commissioners were usually selected from the highest class of society,
and that possibly four out of five had never heard of my name.

But here again my generous efforts to save the character of my country
and its Commissioners entirely failed. Several of my foreign friends
had known me in their own homes, and had seen the estimation in which I
was held by their own countrymen and by their own sovereign. These were
still more astonished.


On another occasion an anecdote was quoted against me to prove that my
name was well known even in China. It may, perhaps, amuse the reader.
A short time after the arrival of Count Strzelecki in England, I had
the pleasure of meeting him at the table of a common friend. Many
inquiries were made relative to his residence in China. Much interest
was expressed by several of the party to learn on {158} what subject
the Chinese were most anxious to have information. Count Strzelecki
told them that the subject of most frequent inquiry was Babbage’s
Calculating Machine. On being further asked as to the nature of the
inquiries, he said they were most anxious to know whether it would
go into the pocket. Our host now introduced me to Count Strzelecki,
opposite to whom I was then sitting. After expressing my pleasure at
the introduction, I told the Count that he might safely assure his
friends in the Celestial Empire that it was in every sense of the word
an _out-of-pocket_ machine.

At last the Commissioners were moved, not to supply the deficiency
themselves, but to address the Government, to whom the Difference
Engine belonged, to send somebody to explain it. I received a
communication from the Board of Works, inquiring whether I could make
any suggestions for getting over this difficulty. I immediately made
inquiries, and found a person who formerly had been my amanuensis, and
had, under my direction, worked out many most intricate problems. He
possessed very considerable knowledge of mathematics, and was willing,
for the moderate remuneration of six shillings a day, to be present
daily during nine hours to explain the Difference Engine.

I immediately sent this information to the Board of Works, with the
name and address of the person I recommended. This, I have little
doubt, was directly communicated to the Commissioners; but they did not
avail themselves of his services.


It is difficult, upon any principle, to explain the conduct of the
Royal Commissioners of the Exhibition of 1862. They were appointed by
the Government, yet when the Government itself became an exhibitor,
and sent for exhibition a {159} Difference Engine, the property of
the nation, these Commissioners placed it in a _small hole_ in a _dark
corner_, where it could, with some difficulty, be seen by six people at
the same time.

No remonstrance was of the slightest avail; it was “Hobson’s choice,”
that or none. It was represented that all other space was occupied.

A trophy of children’s toys, whose merits, it is true, the
Commissioners were somewhat more competent to appreciate, filled
one of the most prominent positions in the building. On the other
hand, a trophy of the workmanship of English engineers, executed by
_machine tools_ thirty years before, and admitted by the best judges
to be unsurpassed by any rival, was placed in a position not very
inappropriate for the authorities themselves who condemned it to that

But no hired aristocratic[30] agent was employed to excite the
slumbering perceptions of the Commissioners, who might have secured a
favourable position for the Difference Engine, by practising on their
good nature, or by imposing upon their imbecility.

[30] See “The Times,” 19 Jan., 1863, and elsewhere.

It has been urged, in extenuation of the conduct of these
Commissioners, that their duty as guardians of the funds intrusted
to them, and of the interests of the Guarantors, compelled them to
practise a rigid economy.

Rigid economy is to be respected only when it is under the control of
judgment, not of favouritism. If the machinery for making arithmetical
calculations which was placed at the disposal of the Commissioners
had been properly arranged, it might have been made at once a source
of high gratification to the public and even of _profit_ to the
Exhibition. {160}


Such a group of Calculating Machines might have been placed by
themselves in a small court capable of holding a limited number
of persons. Round the walls of this court might have been hung
the drawings I had offered to lend, containing the whole of those
necessary for the Difference Engine No. 2, as well as a large number
of illustrations for the explanation of the Mechanical Notation. The
Swedish Difference Engine and my own might have been slowly making
calculations during the whole day.

This court should have been open to the public generally, except at
two or three periods of half an hour each, during which it should have
been accessible only to those who had previously secured tickets at a
shilling apiece.

During each half hour the person whom I had recommended to the
Commissioners might have given a short popular explanation of the

This attraction might have been still further increased, and additional
profit made, if a single sheet of paper had been printed containing
a woodcut of the Swedish Machine, an impression from a page of the
Tables computed and stereotyped by it at Somerset House, and also an
impression from a stereotype plate of the Difference Engine exhibited
by the Government.

A plate of the Swedish Machine is in existence in London. I am
confident that, for such a purpose, I could have procured the loan of
it for the Commissioners, and I would willingly have supplied them
with the stereotype plate from which the frontispage of the present
volume was printed, together with from ten to twenty lines of necessary

These illustrations of machinery used for computing and printing Tables
might have been put up into packets of dozens and half dozens, and
also have been sold in single {161} sheets at the rate of one penny
each copy. There can be no doubt the sale of them would have been
very considerable. As it was, I found the woodcut representing the
Difference Engine No. 1 in great request, and during the exhibition I
had numberless applications for it; having given away my whole stock of
about 800 copies.


The calculating court might have held comfortably from sixty to eighty
seats. Each lecture would have produced say 3 _l._ This being repeated
three times each day, together with the sale of the woodcuts, would
have produced about 10 _l._ per day, out of which the Commissioners
would have had six shillings per day to pay the assistant who gave the
required explanations.

If the dignity of the Commissioners would not permit them to make money
by such means, they might have announced that the proceeds of the
tickets would be given to the distressed population of the Manchester
district, and there would then have been crowds of visitors.

But the rigid economy of the Commissioners, who refused to expend six
shillings a day for an attendant, although it would most probably have
produced a return of several hundred pounds, was entirely laid aside
when their patronage was to be extended to a brother official.

Captain Fowke, an officer of engineers, whose high order of
architectural talent became afterwards so well known to the public,
and whose whole time and services were retained and paid for by the
country, was employed to make a design for the Exhibition Building.


The Commissioners approved of this design, which comprised two lofty
domes, uniting in themselves the threefold inconvenience of being ugly,
useless, and expensive. They then proceeded to pay him five thousand
pounds for the job. {162} This system of awarding large sums of money
to certain favoured public officers who are already paid for their
services by liberal salaries seems to be a growing evil. At the period
of the Irish famine the under-secretary of the Treasury condescended
to accept 2,500 _l._ out of the fund raised to save a famished nation.
Some inquiries, even recently, were occasionally made whether any
similar deduction will be allowed from the liberal contributions to the
sufferers by the cotton famine.

The question was raised and the practice reprobated in the House of
Commons by men of opposite party politics. Mr. Gladstone remarked:—

“If there was one rule connected with the public service which more
than any other ought to be scrupulously observed, it was this, that the
salary of a public officer, more especially if he were of high rank,
ought to cover all the services he might be called upon to render. Any
departure from this rule must be dangerous.” Hansard, vol. 101, p. 138,
1848. Supply, 14 Aug. 1848. See also “The Exposition of 1851,” 8vo., p.


The following paragraph appeared in “The Times”[31] a short time since,
under the head Naval Intelligence:—

“A reply has been received to the memorial transmitted to the Admiralty
some few days since from the inspectors employed on the iron frigate
‘Achilles,’ building at Chatham dockyard, requesting that they may
be placed on the same footing as regards increased pay as the junior
officers and mechanics working on the iron frigate for the additional
number of hours they are employed in the dockyard. The Lords of the
Admiralty intimate that they cannot accede to the wishes of the
memorialists, who are reminded that, as {163} salaried officers of
the establishment, the whole of their time is at the disposal of the
Admiralty. This decision has caused considerable dissatisfaction.”

[31] About the 20th of May, 1863.

It appears that the Admiralty wisely adopted the principle enunciated
by Mr. Gladstone.

It may, however, not unreasonably have caused dissatisfaction to those
who had no interest to back them on finding that such large sums are
pocketed by those who are blessed with influential friends in high

If the Commissioners had really wished to have obtained a suitable
building at a fair price their course was simple and obvious. They need
only have stated the nature and amount of accommodation required, and
then have selected half a dozen of the most eminent firms amongst our
great contractors, who would each have given them an estimate of the
plans they respectively suggested.

The Commissioners might have made it one of the conditions that they
should not be absolutely bound to give the contract to the author of
the plan accepted. But in case of not employing him a sum previously
stipulated should have been assigned for the use of the design.

By such means they would have had a choice of various plans, and if
those plans had, previously to the decision of the Commissioners, been
publicly exhibited for a few weeks, they might have been enlightened by
public criticism. Such a course would have prevented the gigantic job
they afterwards perpetrated. It could therefore find no support from
the Commissioners.

The present Commissioners, however, are fit successors to those
who in 1851 ignored the existence of the author of the “Economy of
Manufactures” and his inventions. They seem to have been deluded into
the belief that they possessed {164} the strength, as well as the
desire, quietly to strangle the Difference Engine.

It would be idle to break such butterflies upon its matchless wheels,
or to give permanence to such names by reflecting them from its
diamond-graven plates.[32] Though the steam-hammer can crack the
coating without injuring the kernel of the filbert it drops upon—the
admirable precision of its gigantic power could never be demonstrated
by exhausting its energy upon an empty nut-shell.

[32] For the purpose of testing the steadiness and truth of the
tools employed in forming the gun-metal plates, I had some dozen
of them turned with a diamond point. The perfect equality of its
cut caused the reflected light to be resolved into those beautiful
images pointed out by Frauenhofer, and also so much admired in
the celebrated gold buttons produced by the late Mr. Barton, the
Comptroller of the Mint.

Peace, then, to their memory, aptly enshrined in unknown characters
within the penetralia of the temple of oblivion.


These celebrities may there at last console themselves in the enjoyment
of one enviable privilege denied to them during their earthly
career—exemption from the daily consciousness of being “_found out_.”

It is, however, not quite impossible, although deciphering is a
brilliant art, that one or other of them may have heard of the dread
power of the decipherer. Having myself had some slight acquaintance
with that fascinating pursuit, it gives me real pleasure to relieve
them from this very natural fear by assuring them that not even the
most juvenile decipherer could be so stupid as to apply himself to the
interpretation of—characters known to be meaningless.

Yet there is one name amongst, but not of them—a fellow-worshipper
with myself at far other fanes, whose hands, like mine, have wielded
the hammer, and whose pen, like mine, has endeavoured to communicate
faithfully to his fellow-men {165} the measure of those truths he
has himself laboriously extracted from the material world. With such
endowments, it is impossible that _he_ could have had any cognizance of
this part of the proceedings of his colleagues.[33]

[33] I have since learnt, with real satisfaction, that my friend,
Mr. Fairbairn, was _not_ a member of that incompetent Commission.


At the commencement of the Exhibition, Mr. Gravatt was constantly
present, and was so kind as to explain to many anxious inquirers the
nature and uses of the Difference Engine. This, however, interfered so
much with his professional engagements as a Civil Engineer, that it
would have been unreasonable to have expected its continuance. In fact,
as not above half a dozen spectators could see the machine at once, it
was a great sacrifice of valuable time for a very small result.

During the early part of my own examination of the Exhibition I had
many opportunities of conversing with experienced workmen, well
qualified to appreciate the workmanship of the Difference Engine; these
I frequently accompanied to its narrow cell, and pointed out to them
its use, as well as the means by which its various parts had received
their destined form.

Occasionally also I explained it to some few of my personal friends.
When Mr. Gravatt or myself were thus engaged, a considerable crowd was
often collected, who were anxious to hear about, although they could
not see, the Engine itself.

Upon one of these occasions I was insulted by impertinent questions
conveyed in a loud voice from a person at a distance in the crowd.
My taste for music, and especially for organs, was questioned. I was
charitable enough to suppose that this was an exceptional case; but
in less than a week another instance {166} occurred. After this
experience, of course, I seldom went near the Difference Engine. Mr.
Gravatt who had generously sacrificed a considerable portion of his
valuable time for the information and instruction of the public was now
imperatively called away by professional engagements, and the public
had no information whatever upon a subject on which it was really very
anxious to be instructed.


Fortunately, however, the Exhibition took place during the long
vacation; and a friend of mine, Mr. Wilmot Buxton, of the Chancery Bar,
very frequently accompanied me in my visits. Possessing a profound
knowledge of the mathematical principles embodied in the mechanism, I
had frequently pointed out to him its nature and relations. These I
soon found he so well apprehended that I felt justified in intrusting
him with one of my keys of the machine, in order that he might have
access to it without the necessity of my presence.

Whenever he opened it for his own satisfaction or for the instruction
of his friends, he was speedily surrounded by a far larger portion of
the public than could possibly see it, but who were still attracted by
his lucid oral explanation.

It was fortunate for many of the visitors to the Exhibition that this
occurred, for the demands on his time, when present, were incessant,
and hundreds thus acquired from his explanations a popular view of the

After the close of the Exhibition, Mr. Gravatt and myself attended to
prepare the Difference Engine for its return to the Museum of King’s
College. To our great astonishment, we found that it had already been
removed to the Museum at South Kensington. Not only the Difference
Engine itself, but also the illustrations and all the unfinished
portions of exquisite workmanship which I had lent to the Exhibition
for its explanation, were gone. {167}

On Mr. Gravatt applying to the Board of Works, it was stated that the
Difference Engine itself had been placed in the Kensington Museum
because the authorities of King’s College had declined receiving it,
and immediate instructions were of course given for the restoration of
my own property.




“Suum cuique.”

Count Mensdorf mentions to the Duke of Wellington his wish to see the
Difference Engine — An appointment made — Prince Albert expresses his
intention of accompanying his uncle — Time of appointment altered
— Their visit, accompanied by the Duke of Wellington — Portrait of
Jacquard — Anecdote of Wilkie — Afghanistan arms — Extract from the
Author’s work on the Exhibition of 1862.

I have had one opportunity of fairly estimating some portion of the
character of the late justly-lamented Prince Consort; to this I will
now venture to allude.

In 1842 Count Mensdorf visited London. A few days after I had a note
from the late Duke of Wellington, in which he informed me that on the
previous evening he had met at the palace the Queen’s uncle, Count
Mensdorf, who had expressed to the Duke his wish to see my Calculating
Engine. The Duke then inquired whether I could conveniently make some
arrangement for that purpose. I immediately wrote to the Duke, that if
he would appoint an hour on any morning of the ensuing week, I should
have great pleasure in showing and explaining the Difference Engine
to Count Mensdorf. It was afterwards arranged that on the following
Tuesday, at two o’clock, Count Mensdorf and the Duke should pay me a
visit in Dorset Street. On Monday {169} morning I received another
note from the Duke, informing me that Prince Albert had expressed his
intention to accompany Count Mensdorf in the proposed visit, and that
it would be more convenient if the hour were changed to one instead of
two o’clock.

I must freely admit that I did not greatly rejoice at this addition to
the party. I resolved, however, strictly to perform the duties thus
thrown upon me as a host, as well as all those to which Prince Albert
was entitled by his elevated position.


Before I took the Prince into the fire-proof building in which the
Difference Engine was then deposited, I asked his Royal Highness to
allow me to show him a portrait of Jacquard, which was at that time

Online LibraryCharles BabbagePassages from the Life of a Philosopher → online text (page 12 of 36)