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claims of Adams and Le Verrier to the {370} discovery of the planet
Neptune. A great controversy resulted, which was at last summed up in
the following couplet:—

“When Airy was told, he wouldn’t believe it;
When Challis saw, he couldn’t perceive it.”


The clever and eccentric member for East Surrey, the late Henry
Drummond, who founded a professorship of Political Economy at Oxford,
made in the House of Commons a most amusing, though rather strong
speech against the modern miracles of the Roman Catholic Church, in
which he spoke of “their bleeding pictures, their winking statues,
and the Virgin’s milk.” On this some profane wag wrote the following

“Sagacious Drummond, explain, with your divinity:
Why reject the milk, yet swallow the virginity?”

Probably some clever fellow of that faith was at the bottom of this
mischief; for I have observed that the cleverest fellows seem to think
that the merit of adhering to a cause entitles them to the right of
quizzing it.

I was particularly struck with this idea when I saw, for the first
time, at Cologne, the celebrated picture of St. Ursula and her eleven
thousand virgins. The artist has quietly made every one of them more or
less matronly.




New Inventions — Stomach Pump — Built a Carriage — Description of
Thames Tunnel — Barton’s Iridescent Buttons — Chinese Orders of
Nobility — Manufactory of Gold Chains at Venice — Pulsations and
Respirations of Animals — Punching a Hole in Glass without cracking
it — Specimen of an Enormous Smash — Proteus Anguineus — Travellers’
Hotel at Sheffield — Wentworth House.

In this chapter I propose to throw together a few suggestions, which
may assist in rendering a tour successful for its objects and agreeable
in its reminiscences.

Money is the fuel of travelling. I can give the traveller a few hints
how to get money, although I never had any skill in making it myself.

In one tour, extending over more than a twelvemonth, I took with me two
letters of credit, each for half the sum I should probably require.
My reasons for this were, that in case one was lost the other might
still be available. One of these was generally kept about my person,
the other concealed in my writing-case. Another reason was, that if I
were unluckily carried off and detained for a ransom, it might thus be


It is of great advantage to a traveller to have some acquaintance
with the use of tools. It is often valuable for his own comfort, and
sometimes renders him able to assist a friend. I met at Frankfort the
eldest son of the coachmaker {372} of the Emperor of Russia. He had
been travelling over the western part of Europe, and showed me drawings
he had made of all the most remarkable carriages he had met with. Some
of these were selected for their elegance, others for the reverse;
take, as an example, the Lord Mayor’s.

We travelled together to Munich, and I took that opportunity of
discussing, seriatim, with my very intelligent young friend, every part
of the structure of a carriage.

I made notes of certain portions in case I should find occasion to have
a carriage built for my own use.

The young Russian was on his way to Moscow, and was very anxious to
prevail on me to accompany him thither, for which purpose he offered
to wait my own time at Munich. As, however, I wished to reach Italy as
soon as possible, I declined his proposition with much regret.

However, in the following year, I profited by the information I then
gained. I had built for me at Vienna, from my own design, a strong
light four-wheeled calèche in which I could sleep at full length.
Amongst its conveniences were a lamp by which I occasionally boiled
an egg or cooked my breakfast. A large shallow drawer in which might
be placed, without folding, plans, drawings, and dress-coats. Small
pockets for the various kinds of money, a larger one for travelling
books and telescopes, and many other conveniences. It cost somewhat
about sixty pounds. After carrying me during six months, at the expense
of only five francs for repair, I sold it at the Hague for thirty

It is always advantageous for a traveller to carry with him anything of
use in science or in art if it is of a portable nature, and still more
so if it has also the advantage of novelty. At the time I started on a
lengthened tour the stomach-pump had just been invented. It appeared
to give {373} promise of great utility. I therefore arranged in a
small box the parts of an instrument which could be employed either as
a syringe, a stomach-pump, or for cupping. As a stomach-pump, it was
in great request from its novelty and utility. I had many applications
for permission to make drawings of it, to which I always most willingly
acceded. At Munich, Dr. Weisbrod, the king’s physician, was greatly
interested with it, and at his wish I lent it to the chief surgical
instrument-maker who produced for him an exact copy of the whole


Having visited the Thames Tunnel a day or two before I started for the
Continent, I purchased a dozen copies of the very lucid account of
that most interesting work. Six of the copies were in French and the
other six in the German language. I frequently lent a copy, and upon
some occasions I gave one away; but if I had had twice that number I
should have found that I might have distributed them with advantage as
acknowledgments of the many attentions I received.

Another most valuable piece of travelling merchandise consisted of
a dozen large and a dozen small gold buttons stamped by Barton’s
steel dies. These buttons displayed the most beautiful iridescence,
especially in the light of the sun. They were formed by ruling the
steel die in parallel lines in various forms. The lines were from the
four to the ten thousandth of an inch apart.

I possessed a die which Mr. Barton had kindly given me. This I kept in
my writing-case; but I had had a small piece of steel ruled in the same
way, though not with quite the same perfection, which I always kept in
my waistcoat pocket; it was also accompanied by a small gold button in
a sandalwood case. These were frequently of great service. The {374}
mere sight of them procured me many little attentions in diligences
and steamboats.


Of course I never appeared to be the possessor of more than one of
these treasured buttons; so that if any one had saved my life, its gift
would have been thought a handsome acknowledgment. If I had travelled
in the East, as I had originally intended until the battle of Navarino
prevented me, my buttons might have given me unlimited success in the
celestial empire.

The Chinese, like ourselves, have five orders of nobility. They are
indicated by spherical buttons. The Chinese nobles, however, wear them
on the top of their caps, whilst our nobility wear their pearls and
strawberry-leaves in their armorial bearings.

It is a curious circumstance that the most anciently civilized nation
should have invented an order of knighthood almost exactly similar to
our own—the order of the Peacock’s Feather—which, like our own Garter,
is confined to certain classes of nobility of the highest rank. Of the
two the decoration of the Chinese noble is certainly the more graceful.

One out of many illustrations may show the use I made of a button.
During my first visit to Venice I wished to see a manufactory of
gold chains for which that city is justly celebrated. I readily got
permission, and the proprietor was so good as to accompany me round his
factory. I had inquired the price of various chains, and had expressed
my wish to purchase a few inches of each kind; but I was informed that
they never sold less than a braccia of any one chain. This amount would
have made my purchase more costly than I proposed, so I gave it up.


In the meantime we proceeded through several rooms in which various
processes were going on. Observing some {375} tools in one of the
shops, I took up a file and asked whence it was procured. This led
to a conversation on the subject, in which the proprietor gave me
some account of files from various countries, but concluded by
observing that the Lancashire files, when they could be got, were by
far the best. I took this opportunity of asking him whether he had
seen any of our latest productions in steel: then pulling out of my
waistcoat-pocket the piece of hardened steel, ruled by a diamond, I
put it into his hands. The sun was shining brightly, and he was very
much interested with it. I remarked that in a darkened room, and
with a single lamp, it would be seen with still greater advantage. A
room was soon darkened, and a single lamp produced, and the effect
was still more perfect. My conductor then observed that his managing
man was a very skilful workman, and if I could afford the time, he
should much wish to show him this beautiful sight. I said it always
gave me pleasure to see and converse with a skilful workman, and
that I considered it as time well spent. The master sent for his
superintendent, who, being of a judicious turn of mind, was lavish in
admiring what his master approved. The master himself, gratified by
this happy confirmation, turning to me, said that he would let me have
pieces of any or all of his gold chains of any length, however short I
might wish them to be.

I thanked him for thus enabling me to make my countrymen appreciate
the excellence of Venetian workmanship, and purchased small samples
of every kind of chain then manufactured. These, on my return to
London, I weighed and measured, and referred to them in the economy of
manufactures as illustrations of the different proportions in which
skilled labour and price of raw material occur in the same class of
manufactured articles. {376}

A friend of mine, then at Venice, again visited that city about five
years afterwards. He subsequently informed me that he had purchased, at
the manufactory I visited, samples of gold chains about an inch or two
long, fixed on black velvet, and that it formed a regular article of
trade in some demand.

* * * * *


A man may, without being a proficient in any science, and indeed with
only the most limited knowledge of a small portion of it, yet make
himself useful to those who are most instructed. However limited
the path he may himself pursue, he will insensibly acquire other
information in return for that which he can communicate. I will
illustrate this by one of my own pursuits. I possess the slightest
possible acquaintance with the vast fields of animal life, but at
an early period I was struck by the numerical regularity of the
pulsation and of the breathings. It appeared to me that there must
exist some relation between these two functions. Accordingly, I took
every opportunity of counting the numbers of the pulsations and of
the breathings of various animals. The pig fair at Pavia and the book
fair at Leipsic equally placed before me menageries in which I could
collect such facts. Every zoological collection of living animals which
I visited thus gained an additional interest, and occasionally excited
the attention of those in charge of it to making a collection of facts
relating to that subject. This led me at another period to generalize
the subject of inquiry, and to print a skeleton form for the constants
of the class mammalia. It was reprinted by the British Association at
Cambridge in 1833, and also at Brussels in the ‘Travaux du Congress
Général de Statistique,’ Brussels, 1853.

* * * * *

I have so frequently been mortified by having the {377}
utterly-undeserved reputation of knowing everything that I was led to
inquire into the probable grounds of the egregious fallacy. The most
frequent symptom was an address of this kind:—“Now Mr. Babbage, will
you, who know everything, kindly explain to me — — —.” Perhaps the
thing whose explanation was required might be the metre of some ancient
Chinese poem: or whether there were any large rivers in the planet


One of the most useful accomplishments for a philosophical traveller
with which I am acquainted, I learned from a workman, who taught me how
to punch a hole in a sheet of glass without making a crack in it.

The process is very simple. Two centre-punches, a hammer, an ordinary
bench-vice, and an old file, are all the tools required. These may be
found in any blacksmith’s shop. Having decided upon the part of the
glass in which you wish to make the hole, scratch a cross (Ⅹ) upon the
desired spot with the point of the old file; then turn the bit of glass
over, and scratch on the other side a similar mark exactly opposite to
the former.

Fix one of the small centre-punches with its point upwards in the vice.
Let an assistant gently hold the bit of glass with its scratched point
exactly resting upon the point of the centre-punch.

Take the other centre-punch in your own left hand and place its point
in the centre of the upper scratch, which is of course nearly, if not
exactly, above the fixed centre-punch. Now hit the upper centre-punch a
_very_ slight blow with the hammer: a mere touch is almost sufficient.
This must be carefully repeated two or three times. The result of these
blows will be to cause the centre of the cross to be, as it were,
gently pounded. {378}

Turn the glass over and let the slight cavity thus formed rest upon the
fixed centre-punch. Repeat the light blows upon this side of the glass,
and after turning it two or three times, a very small hole will be
made through the glass. It not unfrequently happens that a small crack
occurs in the glass; but with a little skill this can be cut out with
the pane of the hammer.

The next process is to enlarge the hole and cut it into the required
shape with the pane of the hammer. This is accomplished by supporting
the glass upon the point of the fixed centre-punch, very close to the
edge required to be cut. A light blow must then be struck with the pane
of the hammer upon the edge to be broken. This must be repeated until
the required shape is obtained.

The principles on which it depends are, that glass is a material
breaking in every direction with a conchoidal fracture, and that the
vibrations which would have caused cracking or fracture are checked by
the support of the fixed centre-punch in close contiguity with the part
to be broken off.

When by hastily performing this operation I have caused the glass to
crack, I have frequently, by using more care, cut an opening all round
the cracked part, and so let it drop out without spreading.


This process is rendered still more valuable by the use of the diamond.
I usually carried in my travels a diamond mounted on a small circle of
wood, so that I could easily cut out circles of glass with small holes
in the centre. The description of this process is sufficient to explain
it to an experienced workman; but if the reader should wish to employ
it, his readiest plan would be to ask such a person to show him how to
do it.

The above technical description will doubtless be rather {379} dry
and obscure to the general reader; so I hope to make him amends by
one or two of the consequences which have resulted to me from having
instructed others in the art.


In the year 1825, during a visit to Devonport, I had apartments in
the house of a glazier, of whom one day I inquired whether he was
acquainted with the art of punching a hole in glass, to which he
answered in the negative, and expressed great curiosity to see it
done. Finding that at a short distance there was a blacksmith whom he
sometimes employed, we went together to pay him a visit, and having
selected from his rough tools the centre-punches and the hammer, I
proceeded to explain and execute the whole process, with which my
landlord was highly delighted.

On the eve of my departure I asked for the landlord’s account, which
was duly sent up and quite correct, except the omission of the charge
for the apartments which I had agreed for at two guineas a week. I
added the four weeks for my lodgings, and the next morning, having
placed the total amount upon the bill, I sent for my host in order to
pay him, remarking that he had omitted the principal article of his
account, which I had inserted.

He replied that he had intentionally omitted the lodgings, as he could
not think of taking payment for them from a gentleman who had done
him so great a service. Quite unconscious of having rendered him any
service, I asked him to explain how I had done him any good. He replied
that he had the contract for the supply and repair of the whole of the
lamps of Devonport, and that the art in which I had instructed him
would save him more than twenty pounds a year. I found some difficulty
in prevailing on my grateful landlord to accept what was justly his due.


The second instance I shall mention of the use to which I {380} turned
this art of punching a hole in glass occurred in Italy, at Bologna.

I spent some weeks very agreeably in that celebrated university,
which is still proud of having had the discoverer of the circulation
of the blood amongst its students. One morning an Italian friend
accompanied me round the town, to point out the more remarkable shops
and manufactories. Passing through a small street, he remarked that
there was a very well-informed man who kept a little shop for the sale
of needles and tape and a few other such articles, but who also made
barometers and thermometers, and had a very respectable knowledge
of such subjects. I proposed that we should look in upon him as we
were passing through the street. On entering his small shop, I was
introduced to its tenant, who conversed very modestly and very sensibly
upon various mathematical instruments.

I had invited several of my friends and professors to spend the evening
with me at my hotel, for the purpose of examining various instruments
I had brought with me. I knew that the sight of them would be quite
a treat to the occupier of this little shop, so I mentioned the idea
to my friend, and inquired whether my expected guests in the evening
would think I had taken a liberty with them in inviting the humble
constructor of instruments at the same time.

My friend and conductor immediately replied that he was well known to
most of the professors, and much respected by them, and that they would
think it very kind of me to give him that opportunity of seeing the
instruments I possessed. I therefore took the opportunity of asking him
to join the very agreeable party which assembled in my apartments in
the evening.


We now made a tour of the city, and reached the factory {381} of the
chief philosophical instrument-maker of Bologna. He took great pleasure
in showing me the various instruments he manufactured; but still there
was a certain air of presumption about him, which seemed to indicate
a less amount of knowledge than I should otherwise have assigned to
him. I had on the preceding day mentioned to my Italian friend, who now
accompanied me, that there existed a very simple method of punching a
hole in a piece of glass, which, as he was much interested about it, I
promised to show him on the earliest opportunity.

Finding myself in the workshop of the first instrument maker in
Bologna, and observing the few tools I wanted, I thought it a good
opportunity to explain the process to my friend; but I could only do
this by applying to the master for the loan of some tools. I also
thought it possible that the method was known to him, and that, having
more practice, he would do the work better than myself.

I therefore mentioned the circumstance of my promise, and asked
the master whether he was acquainted with the process. His reply
was, “Yes; we do it every day.” I then handed over to him the punch
and the piece of glass, declaring that a mere amateur, who only
occasionally practised it could not venture to operate before the first
instrument-maker in Bologna, and in his own workshop.

I had observed a certain shade of surprise glance across the face of
one of the workmen who heard the assertion of this daily practice of
his master’s, and, as I had my doubts of it, I contrived to put him
in such a position that he must either retract his statement or else
attempt to do the trick.


He then called for a flat piece of iron with a small hole in it.
Placing the piece of glass upon the top of this bit of iron, and
holding the punch upon it directly above the {382} aperture, he gave a
strong blow of the hammer, and smashed the glass into a hundred pieces.

I immediately began to console him, remarking that I did not myself
always succeed, and that unaccountable circumstances sometimes defeated
the skill even of the most accomplished workman. I then advised him to
try a larger[52] piece of glass. Just after the crash I had put my hand
upon a heavier hammer, which I immediately withdrew on his perceiving
it. Thus encouraged, he called for a larger piece of glass, and a
bit of iron with a smaller hole in it. In the meantime all the men
in the shop rested from their work to witness this feat of every-day
occurrence. Their master now seized the heavier hammer, which I had
previously just touched. Finding him preparing for a strong and decided
blow, I turned aside my head, in order to avoid seeing him blush—and
also to save my own face from the coming cloud of splinters.

[52] The larger the piece of glass to be punched the more
certainly the process succeeds.

I just saw the last triumphant flourish of the heavy hammer waving over
his head, and then heard, on its thundering fall, the crash made by the
thousand fragments of glass which it scattered over the workshop.

I still, however, felt it my duty to administer what consolation I
could to a fellow-creature in distress; so I repeated to him (which was
the truth) that I, too, occasionally failed. Then looking at my watch,
and observing to my companion that these tools were not adapted to my
mode of work, I reminded him that we had a pressing engagement. I then
took leave of this celebrated instrument-maker, with many thanks for
all he had shown me.

After such a misadventure, I thought it would be cruel to {383}
invite him to meet the learned professors who would be assembled at
my evening party, especially as I knew that I should be asked to show
my friends a process with which he had assured me he was so familiar.
The unpretending maker of thermometers and barometers did however join
the party; and the kind and considerate manner in which my guests of
the university and of the city treated him raised both parties in my

I will here mention another mode of treating glass, which may
occasionally be found worth communicating.

Ground glass is frequently employed for transmitting light into an
apartment, whilst it effectually prevents persons on the outside from
seeing into the room. Rough plate-glass is now in very common use for
the same purpose. In both these circumstances there is a reciprocity,
for those who are within such rooms cannot see external forms.


It may in some cases be desirable partially to remedy this difficulty.
In my own case, I cut with my diamond a small disc of window-glass,
about two inches in diameter, and cemented it with Canada balsam to
the rough side of my rough plate-glass. I then suspended a circular
piece of card by a thread, so as to cover the circular disc. When the
Canada balsam is dry, it fills up all the little inequalities of the
rough glass with a transparent substance, of nearly the same refracting
power; consequently, on drawing aside the suspended card, the forms of
external objects become tolerably well defined.

The smooth surface of the rough plate-glass, not being perfectly flat,
produces a slight distortion, which might, if it were worth while, be
cured by cementing another disc of glass upon that side. In case the
ground glass itself happens to be plate-glass, the image of external
objects is perfect. {384}

Occasionally I met, in the course of my travels, with various things

Online LibraryCharles BabbagePassages from the Life of a Philosopher → online text (page 27 of 36)