Charles Babbage.

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opinions, therefore, must be taken only at what they are worth,
and will probably be regarded as the dreams of an amateur. I have
indeed formed very decided opinions upon certain measures relative
to railroads; but my hesitation to make them public arises from
the circumstance, that by publishing them I may possibly delay
their adoption. It may happen, as is now happening to my system of
distinguishing lighthouses from each other, and of night telegraphic
communication between ships at sea—that although officially
communicated to all the great maritime governments, and even publicly
exhibited for months during the Exhibition of 1851, it will be allowed
to go to sleep for years, until some official person, casually hearing
of it, or perhaps re-inventing it, shall have _interest_ with the
higher powers to get it quietly adopted as his own invention. I have
given, in a former page, a list of the self-registering apparatus I
employed in my own experiments.


In studying the evidence given upon the inquiries into the various
lamentable accidents which have occurred upon railways, I have been
much struck by the discordance of that evidence as to the speed with
which the engines were travelling when they took place.

Even the best and most unbiassed judgment ought not to be trusted when
mechanical evidence can be produced. The first rule I propose is, that—

_Every engine should have mechanical self-registering means of
recording its own velocity at every instant during the whole course of
its journey._


In my own experiments this was the first point I attended to. I took a
powerful spring clock, with a chronometer movement, which every half
second lifted a peculiar pen, and left {330} a small dot of ink upon
the paper, which was moving over a table with the velocity given to it
by the wheels of the carriage.

Thus the comparative frequency of these dots indicated the rate of
travelling at the time. But the instrument was susceptible of giving
different scales of measurement. Thus it might be that only three
inches of paper passed under the pen in every mile, or any greater
length of paper, up to sixty feet per mile, might be ordered to pass
under the paper during an equal space. Again, the number of dots per
second could, if required, be altered.

The clock was broken four or five times during the earliest
experiments. This arose from its being fixed upon the platform carrying
the axles of the wheels. I then contrived a kind of parallel motion, by
which I was enabled to support the clock upon the carriage-springs, and
yet allow it to impress its dots upon the paper, which did not require
that advantage. After this, the clock was never injured.

The power of regulating the length of paper for each mile was of great
importance; it enabled me to examine, almost microscopically, the
junctions of the rails. When a large scale of paper was allowed, every
joining was marked upon the paper.

I find, on referring to my paper records, that on the 3rd March, 1839,
the “Atlas” engine drew my experimental carriage, with two other
carriages attached behind it, from Maidenhead to Drayton, with its
paper travelling only eleven feet for each mile of journey; whilst from
Drayton to Slough, forty-four feet of paper passed under the pen during
each mile of progress.

The inking pens at first gave me some trouble, but after successively
discovering their various defects, and remedying {331} them at an
expense of nearly £20, they performed their work satisfactorily. The
information they gave might be fully relied upon.


We had an excellent illustration of this on one occasion when we were
returning, late in the evening, from Maidenhead, after a hard day’s
work. The pitchy darkness of the night, which prevented us from seeing
any objects external to our carriage, was strongly contrasted with
the bright light of four argand lamps within it. I was accompanied by
my eldest son, Mr. Herschel Babbage, and three assistants. A roll of
paper a thousand feet in length was slowly unwinding itself upon the
long table extended before us, and winding itself up on a corresponding
roller at its other extremity. About a dozen pens connected with a
bridge crossing the middle of the table were each marking its own
independent curve gradually or by jumps, as the circumstances attending
our railway course was dictating. The self-feeding pens, which the
self-acting roller of blotting-paper continually followed, but never
overtook, were quietly marking their inevitable courses. All had gone
on well for a considerable time amidst perfect silence, if the steady
pace of thirty miles an hour, the dogged automatic action of the
material, and the muteness of the living machinery, admitted of such
a term. Being myself entirely ignorant of our position upon the rail,
I disturbed this busy repose by inquiring whether any one knew where
we were? To this question there was no reply. Each continued to watch
in silence for the duties which his own department might at any moment
require, but no such demands were made.

After some minutes, as I was watching the lengthening curves, I
perceived a slight indication of our position on the railroad. I
instantly looked at my son, and saw, by a faint {332} smile on his
countenance, that he also perceived our situation on the line. I had
scarcely glanced back at the growing curves upon the paper, to confirm
my interpretation, when each of my three assistants at the same instant
called out “Thames Junction.”

At the period I speak of the double line of a small railway, called the
Thames Junction, crossed the Great Western line on a level at between
two and three miles from its terminus. The interruption caused certain
jerks in several of our curves, which, having once noticed, it was
impossible to mistake.

I would suggest that every engine should carry a spring clock, marking
small equal intervals of time by means of a needle-point impinging
upon paper, the speed of whose transit should be regulated by the
speed of the engine. It might, perhaps, be desirable to have a
differently-formed mark to indicate each five minutes. Also, two or
more studs on the driving-wheel should mark upon the same paper the
number of its revolutions. Besides this, it might be imperative on the
engine-driver to mark upon the paper a dot upon passing each of certain
prescribed points upon the railway. This latter is not absolutely
necessary, but may occasionally supply very valuable information.


The second point which I consider of importance is, that—

_Between every engine and its train there should be interposed a
dynamometer, that is, a powerful spring to measure the force exerted by
the engine._

It may, perhaps, be objected that this would require a certain amount
of movement between the engine and its train. A very small quantity
would be sufficient, say half an inch, or less. The forces in action
are so very large, that even a still smaller amount of motion than this
might be sufficiently magnified. Its indications should be marked by
{333} self-acting machinery governing points impinging upon the paper
on which the velocity is marked.

Whenever any unusual resistance has opposed the progress of the train,
it will thus be marked upon the paper. It will indicate in some
measure the state of the road, and it will assuredly furnish valuable
information in case an accident happens, and the train or the engine
gets off the rails.


The third recommendation I have to make is—

_That the curve described by the centre of the engine itself upon the
plane of the railway should be laid down upon the paper._

Finding this a very important element, I caused a plate of hardened
steel to be pressed by a strong spring against the inner edge of
the rail. It was supported by a hinge upon a strong piece of timber
descending from the platform supporting the carriage itself. The motion
of this piece of steel, arising from the varying position of the wheels
themselves upon the rail, was conveyed to a pen which transferred to
the paper the curve traversed by the centre of the carriage referred to
the plane of the rail itself.

The contrivance and management of this portion of my apparatus was
certainly the most difficult part of my task, and probably the most
dangerous. I had several friendly cautions, but I knew the danger, and
having examined its various causes, adopted means of counteracting its

After a few trials we found out how to manage it, and although it often
broke four or five times in the course of the day’s work, the fracture
inevitably occurred at the place intended for it, and my first notice
of the fact often arose from the blow the fragment made when suddenly
drawn by a strong rope up to the under side of the floor of our
experimental carriage.

I have a very strong opinion that the adoption of such {334}
mechanical registrations would add greatly to the security of railway
travelling, because they would become the unerring record of facts, the
incorruptible witnesses of the immediate antecedents of any catastrophe.

I have, however, little expectation of their adoption, unless Directors
can be convinced that the knowledge derived from them would, by
pointing out incipient defects, and by acting as a check upon the
vigilance of all their officers, considerably diminish the repairs and
working expenses both of the engine and of the rail. Nor should I be
much surprised even if they were pronounced impracticable, although
they existed very nearly a quarter of a century ago.

The question of the gauges has long been settled. A small portion of
broad gauge exists, but it is probable that it will ultimately be
changed. The vast expense of converting the engines and the rolling
stock for use on the narrower gauge presents the greatest obstacle.


It may, however, be interesting to learn the opinion of the father of
railways at an early period of their progress. I have already mentioned
the circumstances under which my acquaintance with George Stephenson
began. They were favourable to that mutual confidence which immediately
arose. I was naturally anxious to ascertain the effect of the existing
experience upon his own mind, but I waited patiently until a favourable
opportunity presented itself.

At a large public dinner, during the meeting of the British Association
at Newcastle, I sat next to George Stephenson. It occurred to me that
the desired opportunity had now arrived. I said little about railways
until after the first glass of champagne. I mentioned several that
I had travelled upon, and the conclusions I had drawn relative to
the mechanical department. I then referred to the economy of {335}
management, and pointed out one railway in which the accounts were so
well arranged, that I had been able to arrive at a testing point of an
opinion I had formed from my own observations.

One great evil of the narrow gauge was, that when some trifling
derangement in the engine occurred, which might be repaired at the
expense of two or three shillings, it frequently became necessary
to remove uninjured portions of the machine, in order to get at the
fault; that the re-making the joints and replacing these parts thus
temporarily removed, frequently led to an expense of several pounds.

The second glass of champagne now interrupted a conversation which
was, I hope, equally agreeable to both, and was certainly very
instructive for me. I felt that the fairest opportunity I could desire
of ascertaining my friend’s real opinion of the gauge had now arrived.
Availing myself of the momentary pause after George Stephenson’s glass
was empty, I said—

“Now, Mr. Stephenson, will you allow me to ask you to suppose for an
instant that no railways whatever existed, and yet that you were in
full possession of all that large amount of knowledge which you have
derived from your own experience. Under such circumstances, if you were
consulted respecting the gauge of a system of railways about to be
inaugurated, would you advise the gauge of 4 feet 8½ inches?”

“Not exactly that gauge,” replied the creator of railroads; “I would
take a few inches more, but a very few.”

I was quite satisfied with this admission, though I confess it reminded
me of the frail fair one who, when reproached by her immaculate friend
with having had a child—an ecclesiastical licence not being first
obtained—urged, as an extenuating circumstance, that it was a very
small one. {336}


In this age of invention, it is difficult to predict the railroads
of the future. Already it has been suggested to give up wheels and
put carriages upon sledges. This would lower the centre of gravity
considerably, and save the expense of wheels. On the other hand, every
carriage must have an apparatus to clean and grease the rails, and the
wear and tear of these latter might overbalance the economy arising
from abolishing wheels.

Again, short and much-frequented railways might be formed of a broad,
continuous strap, always rolling on. At each station means must exist
for taking up and putting down the passengers without stopping the
rolling strap.

The exhaustion of air in a continuous tunnel was proposed many years
ago for the purpose of sucking the trains along. This has recently been
applied with success to the transmission of parcels and letters.

Possibly in the next International Exhibition a light railway might be
employed within the building.[49]

1st. A quick train to enable visitors to get rapidly from end to end,
avoiding the crowd and saving time, say at the expense of a penny.

2nd. A very slow train passing along the most attractive line, and
occasionally stopping, to enable persons not capable of bearing the
fatigue of pushing on foot through crowds.

If such railways were considered in the original design of the
building, they might be made to interfere but little with the general
public, and would bring in a considerable revenue to the concern.

[49] A gallery, elevated about seven feet, in the centre of each
division of the new National Gallery, might be used either for a
light railway, or for additional means of seeing the pictures on
the walls.




Various Classes injured — Instruments of Torture — Encouragers;
Servants, Beer-shops, Children, Ladies of elastic virtue — Effects on
the Musical Profession — Retaliation — Police themselves disturbed
— Invalids distracted — Horses run away — Children run over — A
Cab-stand placed in the Author’s street attracts Organs — Mobs
shouting out his Name — Threats to Burn his House — Disturbed in the
middle of the night when very ill — An average number of Persons
are always ill — Hence always disturbed — Abusive Placards — Great
Difficulty of getting Convictions — Got a Case for the Queen’s Bench
— Found it useless — A Dead Sell — Another Illustration — Musicians
give False Name and Address — Get Warrant for Apprehension — They keep
out of the way — Offenders not yet found and arrested by the Police
— Legitimate Use of Highways — An Old Lawyer’s Letter to _The Times_
— Proposed Remedies; Forbid entirely — Authorize Police to seize the
Instrument and take it to the Station — An Association for Prevention
of Street Music proposed.

During the last ten years, the amount of street music has so
greatly increased that it has now become a positive nuisance to a
very considerable portion of the inhabitants of London. It robs
the industrious man of his time; it annoys the musical man by its
intolerable badness; it irritates the invalid; deprives the patient,
who at great inconvenience has visited London for the best medical
advice, of that repose which, under such circumstances, is essential
for his recovery, and it destroys the time and the energies of all the
intellectual classes of society by its continual interruptions of their
pursuits. {338}

_Instruments of torture permitted by the Government to be in daily and
nightly use in the streets of London._

Brass bands.
Halfpenny whistles.
The human voice in various forms.
Shouting out objects for sale.
Religious canting.

I have very frequently been disturbed by such music after eleven and
even after twelve o’clock at night. Upon one occasion a brass band
played, with but few and short intermissions, for five hours.

_Encouragers of Street Music._

Visitors from the country.
Ladies of doubtful virtue.
Occasionally titled ladies;
but these are almost invariably
of recent elevation, and
deficient in that taste which
their sex usually possess.

The habit of frequenting public-houses, and the amount of intoxication,
is much augmented by these means. It therefore finds support from
the whole body of licensed victuallers, and from all those who are
interested, as the proprietors of public-houses.

The great encouragers of street music belong chiefly to the lower
classes of society. Of these, the frequenters of public-houses and
beer-shops patronize the worst and the most {339} noisy kinds of
music. The proprietors of such establishments find it a very successful
means of attracting customers. Music is kept up for a longer time,
and at later hours, before the public-house, than under any other
circumstances. It not unfrequently gives rise to a dance by little
ragged urchins, and sometimes by half-intoxicated men, who occasionally
accompany the noise with their own discordant voices.

Servants and children are great admirers of street music; also people
from the country, who, coming up to town for a short time, often
encourage it.

Another class who are great supporters of street music, consists
of ladies of elastic virtue and cosmopolitan tendencies, to whom
it affords a decent excuse for displaying their fascinations at
their own open windows. Most ladies resident in London are aware of
this peculiarity, but occasionally some few to whom it is not known
have found very unpleasant inferences drawn, in consequence of thus
gratifying their musical taste.


_Musicians._ _Instruments._
Italians Organs.
Germans Brass bands.
Natives of India Tom-toms.
English Brass bands, fiddles, &c.
The lowest class of clubs Bands with double drum.

The most numerous of these classes, the organ-grinders, are natives of
Italy, chiefly from the mountainous district, whose language is a rude
_patois_, and who are entirely unacquainted with any other. It is said
that there are above a thousand of these foreigners usually in London
employed in tormenting the natives. They mostly reside in {340} the
neighbourhood of Saffron Hill, and are, of course, from their ignorance
of any other language than their own, entirely in the hands of their
padrones. One of these, a most persevering intruder with his organ,
gave me a false address. Having ascertained the real address, he was
sought for by the police for above a fortnight, but not discovered. His
_padrone_ becoming aware of his being “_wanted_,” sent him on a country
circuit. I once met, within a few miles of the Land’s End, one of these
fellows whom I had frequently sent away from my own street.

The amount of interruption from street music, and from other occasional
noises, varies with the nature and the habits of its victims. Those
whose minds are entirely unoccupied receive it with satisfaction,
as filling up the vacuum of time. Those whose thoughts are chiefly
occupied with frivolous pursuits or with any other pursuits requiring
but little attention from the reasoning or the reflective powers,
readily attend to occasional street music. Those who possess an
impaired bodily frame, and whose misery might be alleviated by _good_
music at proper intervals, are absolutely driven to distraction by the
vile and discordant music of the streets waking them, at all hours, in
the midst of that temporary repose so necessary for confirmed invalids.

By professional musicians its effects are most severely felt. It
interrupts them in their own studies, and entirely destroys the
value of the instructions they are giving their domestic pupils.
When they leave their own house to give lessons to their employers,
the “_infernal_” organ still pursues them. Their Belgravian employer
is obliged, at every lesson, to bribe the itinerant miscreant to
desist—his charge for this act of mercy being from a shilling to
half-a-crown for each lesson. {341}

It is, however, right to hint to the members of the musical profession,
that their immediate neighbours do not quite so much enjoy even the
most exquisite professional music when filtered through brick walls,
or transmitted circuitously and partially through open windows into
the houses of their neighbours. I know of no remedy to propose for the
benefit of the latter class, but I think that a proper self-respect
should induce the professional musician himself to close his windows,
and even to suffer the inconvenience of heat, rather than permanently
annoy his neighbours.

The law of retaliation, which is only justified when other arguments
fail, was curiously put in force in a case which was brought under
my notice a few years ago. An artist of considerable eminence, who
resided in the west end of London, had for many a year pursued his
own undisturbed and undisturbing studies, when one fine morning his
professional studies were interrupted by the continuous sound of music
transmitted through the wall from his neighbour’s house.

Finding the noise continuous and his interruption complete, he rang
for his servant, and putting his maul into the man’s hand desired him
to continue knocking against the wall from whence the disturbance
proceeded until he returned from a walk in the Park. He added that he
should probably be absent for an hour, and that if any person called
and wished to see him, he should be at home at the end of that time.

On his return he was informed that the new tenant of the adjacent
house had called during his absence, and that on being informed of the
hour of his master’s return, he had expressed his intention of calling
again. A short time after this the new tenant of the adjacent house
was introduced. He apologized for this visit to a stranger, but said
that during the last hour he had been annoyed by a most extraordinary
knocking {342} against the wall, which entirely interrupted his
professional pursuits.

To this the artist replied in almost precisely the same words, that
during the previous hour he had been annoyed by a most extraordinary
and unusual sound which entirely interrupted _his_ professional
pursuits. After some discussion it was settled that the piano should
be removed to the opposite wall, and that it should be covered with a
stratum of blankets.

This arrangement went on for a few months; but the pupils and their
relatives disapproving of a dumb piano gradually left the professor,
who found it desirable to give up the house and retire to a more
music-tolerating neighbourhood. In this case the evil was equal on both
sides, and it was reasonable that the new comer should retire.

In my own case it has often been suggested to me to retaliate; and as
many of my interruptions have been _intentional_, that course might be
justifiable. But as they have been confined to one or two of the lowest
persons in the neighbourhood, I thought it not right to disturb my more
respectable neighbours. The means at my command for producing the most
hideously discordant noises are ample, having a considerable collection
of shrill organ pipes, with appropriate bellows, and an indefatigable
steam engine ever ready to work them whilst I might be “taking a walk
in the Park.” I hope by the timely amendment of the law no person may

Online LibraryCharles BabbagePassages from the Life of a Philosopher → online text (page 24 of 36)