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which, though not connected with my own pursuits, might yet be highly
interesting to others. If the cost suited my purse, and the subject was
easily carried, or the specimen of importance, I have in many instances
purchased them. Such was the case with respect to that curious creature
the _proteus anguineus_, a creature living only in the waters of dark
caverns, which has eyes, but the eyelids cannot open.


When I visited the caves of Adelsburg, in Styria, I inquired whether
any of these singular creatures could be procured. I purchased all I
could get, being six in number. I conveyed them in large bottles full
of river water, which I changed every night. During the greater part of
their journey the bottles were placed in large leathern bags lashed to
the barouche seat of my calash.

The first of these pets died at Vienna, and another at Prague. After
three months, two only survived, and reached Berlin, where they also
died—I fear from my servant having supplied them with water from a well
instead of from a river.

At night they were usually placed in a large wash-hand basin of water,
covered over with a napkin.

They were very excitable under the action of light. On several
occasions when I have visited them at night with a candle, one or more
have jumped out of their watery home.

These rare animals were matters of great interest to many naturalists
whom I visited in my rambles, and procured for me several very
agreeable acquaintances. When their gloomy lives terminated I preserved
them in spirits, and sent the specimens to the collections of our own
universities, to India, and some of our colonies.

* * * * *

When I was preparing materials for the ‘Economy of {385}
Manufactures,’ I had occasion to travel frequently through our
manufacturing and mining districts. On these occasions I found the
travellers’ inn or the travellers’ room was usually the best adapted
to my purpose, both in regard to economy and to information. As my
inquiries had a wide range, I found ample assistance in carrying them
on. Nobody doubted that I was one of the craft; but opinions were
widely different as to the department in which I practised my vocation.

In one of my tours I passed a very agreeable week at the Commercial
Hotel at Sheffield. The society of the travellers’ room is very
fluctuating. Many of its frequenters arrive at night, have supper,
breakfast early the next morning, and are off soon after: others make
rather a longer stay. One evening we sat up after supper much later
than is usual, discussing a variety of commercial subjects.


When I came down rather late to breakfast, I found only one of my
acquaintance of the previous evening remaining. He remarked that we had
had a very agreeable party last night, in which I cordially concurred.
He referred to the intelligent remarks of some of the party in our
discussion, and then added, that when I left them they began to talk
about me. I merely observed that I felt myself quite safe in their
hands, but should be glad to profit by their remarks. It appeared, when
I retired for the night, they debated about what trade I travelled for.
“The tall gentleman in the corner,” said my informant, “maintained
that you were in the hardware line; whilst the fat gentleman who sat
next to you at supper was quite sure that you were in the spirit
trade.” Another of the party declared that they were both mistaken: he
said he had met you before, and that you were travelling for a great
iron-master. “Well,” said I, “you, I presume, knew my vocation better
than our friends.”—“Yes,” {386} said my informant, “I knew perfectly
well that you were in the Nottingham lace trade.” The waiter now
appeared with his bill, and announced that my friend’s trap was at the


I had passed nearly a week at the Commercial Inn without having broken
the eleventh commandment; but the next day I was doomed to be found
out. A groom, in the gay livery of the Fitzwilliams, having fruitlessly
searched for me at all the great hotels, at last in despair thought
of inquiring for me at the Commercial Hotel. The landlady was sure
I was not staying in her house; but, in deference to the groom’s
urgent request, went to make inquiries amongst her guests. I was the
first person she questioned, and was, of course, obliged to admit the
impeachment. The groom brought a very kind note from the late Lord
Fitzwilliam, who had heard of my being in Sheffield, to invite me to
spend a week at Wentworth.

I gladly availed myself of this invitation, and passed it very
agreeably. During the few first days the party in the house consisted
of the family only. Then followed three days of open house, when their
friends came from great distances, even as far as sixty or eighty
miles, and that at a period when railroads were unknown.

On the great day upwards of a hundred persons sat down to dinner,
a large number of whom slept in the house. This was the first time
the ancient custom of open house had been kept up at Wentworth since
the death of the former Earl, the celebrated Whig Lord Lieutenant of




Difference Engine set so as to follow a given law for a vast period —
Thus to change to another law of equally vast or of greater duration,
and so on — Parallel between the successive creations of animal life
— The Author visited Dublin at the first Meeting of the British
Association — Is the Guest of Trinity College — Innocently wears a
Waistcoat of the wrong colour — Is informed of the sad fact — Rushes
to a Tailor to rectify it — Finds nothing but party-colours — Nearly
loses his Breakfast, and is thought to be an amazing Dandy — The Dean
thinks better of the Philosopher, and accompanied him to Killarney —
The Philosopher preaches a Sermon to the Divine by the side of the

After that portion of the Difference Engine which was completed had
been for some months promoted from the workshop to my drawing-room,
I met two of my friends from Ireland—Dr. Lloyd, the present Provost
of Trinity College, and Dr. Robinson, of Armagh. I invited them to
breakfast, that they might have a full opportunity of examining
its structure. I invited also another friend to meet them—the late
Professor Malthus.

After breakfast we adjourned to the drawing-room. I then proceeded
to explain the mechanism of the Engine, and to cause it to calculate
Tables. One of the party remarked two axes in front of the machine
which had not hitherto been performing any work, and inquired for what
purpose they were so placed. I informed him that these axes had been
so placed in order to illustrate a series of calculations of the {388}
most complicated kind, to which they contributed. I observed that the
Tables thus formed were of so artificial and abstract a nature, that I
could not foresee the time when they would be of any use.

This remark additionally excited their curiosity, and they requested me
to set the machine at work to compute such a table.

Having taken a simple case of this kind, I set the Engine to do its
work, and then told them—

That it was now prepared to count the natural numbers; but that it
would obey this law only as far as the millionth term.


That after that term it would commence a series, following a different,
but known law, for a very long period.

That after this new law had been fulfilled for another long period, it
would then suddenly abandon it, and calculate the terms of a series
following another new law, and so on throughout all time.

Of course it was impossible to verify these assertions by making the
machine actually go through the calculations; but, after having made
the Engine count the natural numbers for some time, I proceeded to
point out the fact, that it was impossible, by its very structure, that
the machine could record any but the natural numbers before it reached
the number 999,990. This I made evident to my friends, by showing them
the actual structure of the Engine. Having demonstrated this to their
entire satisfaction, I put the machine on to the number 999,990, and
continued to work the Engine, when the result I had predicted soon
arrived. After the millionth term a new law _was_ taken up, and my
friends were convinced that it must, from the very structure of the
machine, continue for a very long time, and then {389} inevitably give
place to another new law, and so on throughout all time.

When they were quite satisfied about this fact, I observed that, in a
new engine which I was then contemplating, it would be possible to set
it so that—

1st. It should calculate a Table for any given length of time,
according to any given law.

2nd. That at the termination of that time it should cease to compute a
Table according to that law; but that it should commence a new Table
according to any other given law that might be desired, and should then
continue this computation for any other given period.

3rd. That this succession of a new law, coming in and continuing during
any desired time, and then giving place to other new laws, in endless
but known succession, might be continued indefinitely.

I remarked that I did not conceive the time ever could arrive when the
results of such calculations would be of any utility. I added, however,
that they offered a striking parallel with, although at an immeasurable
distance from, the successive creations of animal life, as developed
by the vast epochs of geological time. The flash of intellectual
light which illuminated the countenances of my three friends at this
unexpected juxtaposition was most gratifying.

Encouraged by the quick apprehension with which these views had been
accepted, I continued the subject, and pointed out the application of
the same reasoning to the nature of miracles.

The same machine could be set in such a manner that these laws might
exist for any assigned number of times, whether large or small; also,
that it was not necessary that these laws should be different, but
the same law might, when {390} the machine was set, be ordered to
reappear, after any desired interval.

Thus we might suppose an observer watching the machine, to see a known
law continually fulfilled, until after a lengthened period, when a new
law has been appointed to come in. This new law might after a single
instance cease, and the first law might again be restored, and continue
for another interval, when the second new law might again govern the
machine as before for a single instance, and then give place to the
original law.

This property of a mere piece of mechanism may have a parallel in the
laws of human life. That all men die is the result of a vast induction
of instances. That one or more men at given times shall be restored to
life, may be as much a consequence of the law of existence appointed
for man at his creation, as the appearance and reappearance of the
isolated cases of apparent exception in the arithmetical machine.


But the workings of machinery run parallel to those of intellect. The
Analytical Engine might be so set, that at definite periods, known
only to its maker, a certain lever might become moveable during the
calculations then making. The consequence of moving it might be to
cause the then existing law to be violated for one or more times, after
which the original law would resume its reign. Of course the maker of
the Calculating Engine might confide this fact to the person using it,
who would thus be gifted with the power of prophecy if he foretold the
event, or of working a miracle at the proper time, if he withheld his
knowledge from those around until the moment of its taking place.


Such is the analogy between the construction of machinery to calculate
and the occurrence of miracles. A further illustration may be taken
from geometry. Curves are represented {391} by equations. In certain
curves there are portions, such as ovals, disconnected from the rest
of the curve. By properly assigning the values of the constants, these
ovals may be reduced to single points. These singular points may exist
upon a branch of a curve, or may be entirely isolated from it; yet
these points fulfil by then positions the law of the curve as perfectly
as any of those which, by their juxtaposition and continuity, form any
of its branches.

Miracles, therefore, are not the breach of established laws, but they
are the very circumstances that indicate the existence of far higher
laws, which at the appointed time produce their pre-intended results.

In 1835, the British Association visited Dublin. I had been anxious to
promote this visit, from political as well as scientific motives. I had
several invitations to the residences of my friends in that hospitable
country; but I thought I could be of more use by occupying apartments
in Trinity College, which had kindly been placed at my disposal by the
provost and fellows.

After I had enjoyed the college hospitality during three or four days,
I was walking with an intimate friend, who suggested to me that I was
giving great cause of offence to my learned hosts. Not having the
slightest idea how this could have arisen, I anxiously inquired by what
inadvertence I had done so. He observed that it arose from my dress. I
looked at the various articles of my costume with a critical eye, and
could discover nothing exaggerated in any portion of it. I then begged
my friend to explain how I had unconsciously offended in that respect.
He replied, “Your waistcoat is of a bright green.” I became still more
puzzled, until he remarked that I was wearing O’Connell’s colours in
the midst of the Protestant University, whose guest I was. {392}


I thanked my friend sincerely, and requested him to accompany me to
my rooms, that I might change the offending waistcoat. My travelling
wardrobe was not large, and, unfortunately, we found in it no entirely
unobjectionable waistcoat. I therefore put on an under-waistcoat with
a light-blue border, and requested him to accompany me to a tailor’s,
that I might choose an inoffensive colour. As I was not to remain
long in Dublin, I wished to select a waistcoat which might do double
service, as not too gay for the morning, and not too dull for the

On arriving at the tailor’s, he placed before me a profusion of
beautiful silks, which I was assured contained all the newest and most
approved patterns. Out of these I selected ten or a dozen, as best
suiting my own taste. I then requested him to remove from amongst them
any which might be considered as a party emblem. He took each of them
rapidly up, and tossing it to another part of the counter, pronounced
the whole batch to appertain to one party or the other.

Thus limited in my choice, I was compelled to adopt a waistcoat of all
work, of rather gayer colours than good taste would willingly have
selected for morning use. I explained to the knight of the thimble
my dilemma. He swore upon the honour of his order that the finished
waistcoat should be at my rooms in the college punctually as the clock
struck eight the next morning.

During the rest of the day I buttoned up my coat, and the broad
light-blue border of my thin under-waistcoat was alone visible. My
modesty, however, was a little uneasy, lest it should be thought that I
was wearing the decoration of a Guelphic knight.

I rose early the next morning: eight o’clock arrived, but no waistcoat.
The college breakfast in the hall was punctual {393} at a quarter past
eight; 8·20 had arrived, but still no waistcoat. At last, at half-past
eight, the squire of the faithless knight of the thimble arrived with
the vest.

Thus equipped, I rushed to the hall, and found that my college friends
had waited for my arrival. I explained to the Dean[53] that I had been
detained by an unpunctual tailor, who had not brought home my waistcoat
until half an hour after the appointed time. We then commenced the
serious business which assembled us together. The breakfast was superb,
and the society delightful. I enjoyed them both, being fortunately
quite unconscious that every eye was examining the artistic and
æsthetic garment with which I had been so recently invested. I thus
acquired for a time the character of a dandy of the first water. It
has not unfrequently been my fate in life to have gained a character
for worth or worthlessness upon grounds quite as absurd, which I have
afterwards seldom taken the trouble to explain.

[53] The Rev. S. J. MacLean, Fellow Trin. Coll., Dublin.

The Dean, however, quickly saw through the outer covering, and before
the meeting was over I felt that a friendship had commenced which
time could only strengthen. One day, whilst we were walking together,
MacLean told me that he had heard with great interest from one of his
colleagues of some views of mine relative to miracles, which he wished
much to hear from my own lips.

I remarked that the explanation of them would require much more time
than we could afford during the bustle of the Association; but that I
should afterwards, at any quiet time, be delighted to discuss them with

After the meeting of the British Association terminated, I made a short
tour to visit some of my friends in the North of Ireland. On my return
to Dublin I again found MacLean, {394} and had the good fortune to
enjoy his society in a tour which we took to Killarney.


One fine morning, as we were walking together, it being Sunday,
MacLean, looking somewhat doubtfully at me, asked whether I had any
objection to go to church. I replied, “None whatever,” and turned
towards the church. Before we reached it an idea occurred to my mind,
and I said, “MacLean, you asked me, in the midst of the bustle at
Dublin, about my views respecting miracles. Have you any objection to
take a walk with me by the side of the lake, and I will give you a
sermon upon that subject.”—“Not the least,” replied my friend; and we
turned immediately towards the banks of that beautiful lake.

I then proceeded to explain that those views of the apparently
successive creations opened out to us by geology are in reality the
fulfilment of one far more comprehensive law. I pointed out that a
miracle, instead of being a violation of a law, is in fact the most
eminent fulfilment of a vast law—that it bears the same relation to an
apparent law that singular points of a curve bear to the visible form
of that curve. My friend inquired whether I had published anything upon
these subjects. On my answering in the negative, he strongly urged
me to do so. I remarked upon the extreme difficulty of making them
intelligible to the public. Reverting again to the singular points
of curves, I observed that the illustration, which in a few words I
had placed before him, would be quite unintelligible even to men of
cultivated minds not familiar with the doctrine of curves.

We had now arrived at a bench, on which we sat. MacLean, wrapt up in
the new views thus opened out to his mind, remained silent for a long
interval. At last, turning towards me, he made these remarks: “How
wonderful it is! Here {395} am I, bound by the duties of my profession
to inquire into the attributes of the Creator; bound still more
strongly by an intense desire to do so; possessing, like yourself, the
same powerful science to aid my inquiries; and yet, within this last
short half hour, you have opened to me views of the Creator surpassing
all of which I have hitherto had any conception!”

These views had evidently made a very deep impression on his mind.
Amidst the beautiful scenery in the South of Ireland he frequently
reverted to the subject; and, having accompanied me to Waterford,
offered to cross the Channel with me if I could spend one single day at
Milford Haven.

Unfortunately, long previous arrangements prevented this delay. I
parted from my friend, who, though thus recently acquired, seemed, from
the coincidence of our thoughts and feelings, to have been the friend
of my youth. I little thought, on parting, that one whom I so much
admired, so highly esteemed, would in a few short months be separated
for ever from the friends who loved him, and from the society he




“Before thy holy altar, sacred Truth,
I bow in manhood, as I knelt in youth;
There let me bend till this frail form decay,
And my last accents hail thine opening day.”

The _à priori_ proof of the existence of a Deity — Proof from
Revelation — Dr. Johnson’s definition of Inspiration — Various
Meanings assigned to the word ‘Revelation’ — Illustration of
transmitted Testimony — The third source of proof of the existence
of a Deity — By an examination of His Works — Effect of hearing the
Athanasian Creed read for the first time.

There are three sources from which it is stated that man can arrive at
the knowledge of the existence of a Deity.

1. The _à priori_ or metaphysical proof. Such is that of Dr. Samuel

2. From Revelation.

3. From the examination of the works of the Creator.

1. The first of these, the _à priori_ proof, is of such a nature that
it can only be apprehended in a high state of civilization, and then
only by the most intellectual. Even amongst that very limited class it
does not, as an argument, command universal assent.

2. The argument deduced from revelation is advanced in many countries
and for several different forms of faith. {397} When it is sincerely
adopted it deserves the most respectful examination. It must, however,
on the other hand, be submitted to the most scrutinizing inquiry. As
long as the believer in any form of revelation maintains it by evidence
or by argument, it is only by such means that it ought to be questioned.


When, however, professed believers dare to throw doubt upon the motives
of those whose arguments they are unable to refute, and still more,
when, availing themselves of the imperfections of language, they apply
to their opponents epithets which they can defend in one sense but
know will be interpreted in another—when they speak of an adversary
as a disbeliever, because, though he believes in the same general
revelation, he doubts the accuracy of certain texts, or believes in a
different interpretation of others—when they apply the term infidel,
meaning thereby a disbelief in their _own_ view of revelation, but
knowing that it will be understood as disbelief in a Deity,—then it is
at least allowable to remind them that they are richly paid for the
support of their own doctrines, whilst those they revile have no such
motives to influence or to mislead their judgment.

Before, however, we enter upon that great question it is necessary to
observe that belief is not a voluntary operation. Belief is the result
of the influence of a greater or less preponderance of evidence acting
upon the human mind.

It ought also to be remarked that the word revelation assumes, as a
fact, that a Being exists from whom it proceeds; whilst, on the other
hand, the existence of a Deity is possible without any revelation.


The first question that arises is the meaning of the word revelation.
In its ordinary acceptation it is said to be a direct communication
from the Deity to an individual human {398} being. Dr. Johnson
remarks:—“Inspiration is when an overpowering impression of any
propositions is made upon the mind by God himself, that gives a
convincing and indubitable evidence of the truth and divinity of it.”
Be it so; but then, as such, it is not revelation to any _other_ human
being. All others receive it from the statement of the person to
whom the revelation was vouchsafed. To all others its truth depends
entirely on human testimony. Now in a certain sense all our faculties
being directly given to us by the Supreme Being might be said to be
revelations. But this is clearly not the religious meaning of the word.
In the latter sense it is a direct special communication of knowledge
to one or more persons which is not given to the rest of the race.

Before any person can admit the truth of a revelation asserted by

Online LibraryCharles BabbagePassages from the Life of a Philosopher → online text (page 28 of 36)