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its constructor.

Leaning against the doorway, I was myself contemplating the strongly
contrasted scene, pleased that my friends were relaxing from their
graver pursuits, and admiring the really graceful movements produced
by mechanism; but still more highly gratified at observing the deep
and almost painful attention of my Dutch guest, who was questioning
his American instructor about the mechanical means I had devised for
accomplishing some arithmetical object. The deep thought with which
this explanation was attended to, {427} suddenly flashed into intense
delight when the simple means of its accomplishment were made apparent.

My acute and valued friend, the late Lord Langdale, who had been
observing the varying changes of my own countenance, as it glanced
from one room to the other, now asked me, “What new mischief are you
meditating?”—“Look,” said I, “in that further room—England. Look again
at this—two Foreigners.”

_Ancient Music._

Many years ago some friends of mine invited me to accompany them to the
concert of ancient music, and join their supper-party after it was over.

My love of music is not great, but for the pleasure of the society I
accepted the invitation. On our meeting at the supper-table, I was
overwhelmed with congratulations upon my exquisite appreciation of
the treat we had just had. I was assured that though my expression
of feeling was of the quietest order, yet that I was the earliest to
approve all the most beautiful passages.

I accepted modestly my easily-won laurels, and perhaps my taste for
music might have survived in the memory of my friends, when my taste
for mechanism had been forgotten. I will, however, confide to the
public the secret of my success. Soon after I had taken my seat at the
concert, I perceived Lady Essex at a short distance from me. Knowing
well her exquisitely sensitive taste, I readily perceived by the
expression of her countenance, as well as by the slight and almost
involuntary movement of the hand, or even of a finger, those passages
which gave her most delight. These quiet indications, unobserved by my
friends, formed the electric wire by which I directed the expressions
of my own {428} countenance and the very modest applause I thought it
prudent to develop.

After receiving the congratulations of my friends upon my great musical
taste, I informed them how easily that reputation had been acquired.
Such are the feeble bases on which many a public character rests.

* * * * *

During my residence with my Oxford tutor, whilst I was working by
myself on mathematics, I occasionally arrived at conclusions which
appeared to me to be new, but which from time to time I afterwards
found were already well known. At first I was much discouraged by
these disappointments, and drew from such occurrences the inference
that it was hopeless for me to attempt to invent anything new. After
a time I saw the fallacy of my reasoning, and then inferred that when
my knowledge became much more extended I might reasonably hope to make
some small additions to my favourite science.


This idea considerably influenced my course during my residence at
Cambridge by directing my reading to the original papers of the great
discoverers in mathematical science. I then endeavoured to trace the
course of their minds in passing from the known to the unknown, and to
observe whether various artifices could not be connected together by
some general law. The writings of Euler were eminently instructive for
this purpose. At the period of my leaving Cambridge I began to see more
distinctly the object of my future pursuit.

It appeared to me that the highest exercise of human faculties
consisted in the endeavour to discover those laws of thought by
which man passes from the known to that which {429} was unknown. It
might with propriety be called the philosophy of invention. During
the early part of my residence in London, I commenced several essays
on Induction, Generalization, Analogy, with various illustrations
from different sources. The philosophy of signs always occupied my
attention, and to whatever subject I applied myself I was ever on the
watch to perceive and record the links by which the new was connected
with the known.


Most of the early essays I refer to were not sufficiently matured for
publication, and several have appeared without any direct reference
to the great object of my life. I may, however, point out one of my
earlier papers in the “Philosophical Transactions for 1817,” which,
whilst it made considerable additions to a new branch of science, is
itself a very striking instance of the use of analogy for the purpose
of invention. I refer to the “Essay on the Analogy between the Calculus
of Functions and other Branches of Analysis.”—_Phil. Trans._ 1817.




Scientific Societies — Analytical Society — Astronomical Society —
Grand Duke of Tuscany, Leopold II. — Scientific Meeting at Florence
— Also at Berlin — At Edinburgh — At Cambridge — Origin of the
Statistical Society — Statistical Congress at Brussels — Calculus
of Functions — Division of Labour — Verification part of Cost —
Principles of Taxation — Extension to Elections — The two Pumps —
Monopoly — Miracles.

_Of the part taken by the Author in the formation of various Scientific

The origin of the Analytical Society has been already explained in the
fourth chapter. In the year 1820 the Author of this volume, joining
with several eminent men attached to astronomical pursuits, instituted
the Royal Astronomical Society. At the present time only three of
the original founders survive. The meetings, and still more the
publications of that society, have contributed largely to extend the
taste for astronomy.

In 1827 I visited Italy, and during my residence at Florence had many
opportunities of observing the strong feeling of the reigning Grand
Duke Leopold II., not only for the fine arts, but for the progress of
science, and for its application to the advancement of the arts of life.


After a long tour in Italy, I found myself in the following year again
in Florence, and again I was received with a kindness and consideration
which I can never forget. The Grand {431} Duke was anxious to know my
opinion respecting the state of science in Italy. At one of the many
interviews with which I was honoured, he asked me whether I could point
out any way in which he could assist its progress.

The question was unexpected; but it immediately recalled to me a recent
circumstance, which I then mentioned, namely, that in three of the
great cities of Italy I had been consulted confidentially by three
distinguished men of science upon the same subject, on which each was
separately engaged without being aware of the fact that the other
two were employed on the same inquiry. The result, I remarked, would
probably be that Italy would thus make _one_ step in science, and that
the discovery might probably be accompanied by painful discussions
respecting priority; whilst with better means of intercommunication
amongst its men of science Italy might have made _three_ steps in
advance. The idea of a periodical meeting of men engaged in scientific
pursuits naturally arose out of these remarks. At parting, the Grand
Duke requested me to draw up a minute of the conversation. I therefore
drew up a note on the subject, in which I shadowed out an annual
meeting of learned men in the various cities of Italy.

On finally taking leave, previous to my visit to Germany, the Grand
Duke assured me that he had read the minute of our conversation with
much attention, that he saw the evils pointed out, and agreed with me
as to the remedy. He then observed that “the time for such a meeting
had not yet arrived; but,” added the Grand Duke, “when it does arrive,
you may depend upon me.”

Eleven years after, in 1839, I was honoured by an invitation from the
Grand Duke of Tuscany to meet the men of science of Italy, then about
to assemble at Florence. In this communication it was observed, that
“the time had _now_ arrived.” {432}

In the autumn of 1828 I reached Berlin, and unexpectedly found, from M.
Humboldt, that in the course of a few weeks the philosophers of Germany
were to hold a meeting in that capital.

I then learnt for the first time that, some years before, Dr. Oken
had proposed and organized an annual congress of German naturalists,
meeting in each succeeding year in some great town.

I remained to witness the enlarged meeting at Berlin, which was
very successful, and wrote an account of it to Sir D. Brewster,
who published the description of it in “The Edinburgh Journal of
Science.”[58] This was, I believe, the first communication to the
English public of the existence of the German Society.


A few years after, Sir David Brewster, Sir John Robison, Secretary of
the Royal Society of Edinburgh, and the Rev. William Vernon Harcourt,
undertook the foundation of a similar periodical and itinerant society
in our own country.

It appeared to me that the original organization of the British
Association, as developed at York and at Oxford, was defective,—that
its basis was not sufficiently extended. In fact, that other sciences
besides the physical were wanting for the harmony and success of the
whole. There was no section to interest the landed proprietors or
those members of their families who sat in either house of parliament.
Nor was there much to attract the manufacturer or the retail dealer.
A purely accidental circumstance enabled me to remedy one of these
defects.[59] {433}

[58] Vol. x., p. 225. 1829.

[59] I afterwards succeeded in getting the British Association
to adopt the plan of having an exhibition of specimens of the
various manufactures and commercial products of the districts it
successively visited. This commenced at Newcastle in 1838, and
was carried to a much greater extent in the following year at
Birmingham. I am not aware that this fact was ever referred to by
those who got up the Exhibition of 1851.


At the Third Meeting of the British Association at Cambridge in 1833, I
happened, one afternoon, to call on my old and valued friend the Rev.
Richard Jones, Professor of Political Economy at Haileybury, who was
then residing in apartments at Trinity College. He informed me that he
had just had a long conversation with our mutual friend M. Quételet,
who had been sent officially by the Belgian Government to attend the
meeting of the British Association. That M. Quételet had brought with
him a budget of statistical facts, and that as there was no place for
it in any section, he (Professor Jones) had asked M. Quételet to come
to him that evening, and had invited Sir Charles Lemon, Professor
Malthus, Mr. Drinkwater (afterwards Mr. Bethune),[60] and one or
two others interested in the subject, to meet him, at the same time
requesting me to join the party. I gladly accepted this invitation
and departed. I had not, however, reached the gate of Trinity College
before it occurred to me that there was now an opportunity of doing
good service to the British Association. I returned to the apartments
of my friend, explained to him my views, in which he fully coincided,
and I suggested the formation of a Statistical Section. We both agreed
that unless some _unusual_ course were taken, it would be impossible to
get such a Section organized until the meeting in the following year. I
therefore proposed that when we met in the evening we should consider
the question of constituting ourselves provisionally a Statistical
Section, and afterwards, at the general meeting in the Senate House,
that I should explain the circumstance which had arisen, and the {434}
great advantage to the British Association of rendering such a Section
a permanent branch of its institution. After further explanations its
utility was fully admitted; certain rather stringent rules were laid
down in order to confine its inquiries to collections of facts. The
sanction of the General Meeting was then given to the establishment of
the Statistical Section, and before the termination of the Congress, a
larger audience was collected in its meeting-room than in those of any
of its sister sciences.

[60] I have reason to believe, from the Note Book of Mr.
Drinkwater (Bethune), that this meeting was held on Wednesday,
26th June, 1833.

The interest of our discussions, and the mass of materials which now
began to open upon our view, naturally indicated the necessity of
forming a more permanent society for their collection. The British
Association approved of the appointment of a permanent committee of
this section. I was requested to act as chairman, and Mr. Drinkwater as
secretary. On the 15th March, 1834, at a public meeting held in London,
the Marquis of Lansdowne in the Chair, it was resolved to establish the
Statistical Society of London.

The Committee of the British Association, in reporting this fact to
the Council, observe that “though the want of such a society has been
long felt and acknowledged, the successful establishment of it, after
every previous attempt had failed, has been due altogether to the
impulse given by the last meeting of the Association. The distinguished
foreigner (M. Quételet) who contributed so materially to the formation
of the Statistical Section, was attracted to England principally with
a view of attending that meeting; and the Committee hail this as a
signal instance of the beneficial results to be expected from that
personal intercourse among the enlightened men of all countries, which
it is a principal object of the British Association to encourage and

M. Quételet, on his return to his own country, continued to {435}
direct by his counsel, and to advance, by his own indefatigable
industry, those statistical inquiries of which the Belgian Government
so well appreciated the advantage.

At length the conviction of the importance of the value of Statistical
Science becoming widely extended in other countries, M. Quételet saw
that a fit time had arrived for summoning a European Congress. The
results of such meetings are invaluable to all sciences, but more
peculiarly to statistics, in which names have to be defined, signs
to be invented, methods of observation to be compared and rendered
uniform; thus enhancing the value of all future observations by making
them more comparable as well as more expeditiously collected.

The proposal was adopted by the Belgian Government, and the first
International Statistical Congress was held at Brussels in September,

The result was most successful; all the cultivators of Statistical
Science are deeply indebted to M. Quételet for the unwearied pains he
took to insure its success. He was assisted in this arduous task by the
ministers of the crown, and supported by the high approbation of an
enlightened sovereign.

_Calculus of Functions._

This was my earliest step, and is still one to which I would willingly
recur if other demands on my time permitted. Many years ago I
recorded, in a small MS. volume, the facts, and also extracts of
letters from Herschel, Bromhead, and Maule, in which I believe I have
done justice to my friends if not to myself. It is very remarkable
that the Analytical Engine adapts itself with singular facility to
the development and numerical working out of this vast department of

In the list of my printed papers, at the end of this volume, will be
found my various contributions to that subject. {436}


My contributions to _Political Economy_ are chiefly to be found in “The
Economy of Machinery and Manufactures,” which consists of illustrations
and developments of the principles regulating a very large section of
that important subject.

_Division of Labour._

It is singular that in the analysis of the _division of labour_, given
by Adam Smith in “The Wealth of Nations,” the most efficient cause of
its advantage is entirely omitted. The three causes assigned in that
work are—

1st. The increase of dexterity in every particular workman.

2nd. The saving of time lost in passing from one species of work to

3rd. The invention of a great number of machines which facilitate and
abridge labour, and enable one man to do the work of many.

These are undoubtedly true causes, but the most important cause is
entirely omitted.

The most effective cause of the cheapness produced by the division of
labour is this—

By dividing the work to be executed into different processes, each
requiring different degrees of skill, or of force, the master
manufacturer can purchase exactly that precise quantity of both which
is necessary for each process. Whereas if the whole work were executed
by one workman, that person must possess sufficient skill to perform
the most difficult, and sufficient strength to execute the most
laborious, of those operations into which the art is divided.

Needle-making is perhaps the best illustration of the overpowering
effect of this cause. The operatives in this {437} manufacture consist
of children, women, and men, earning wages varying from three or four
shillings up to five pounds per week. Those who point the needles
gain about two pounds. The man who hardens and tempers the needles
earns from five to six pounds per week. It ought also to be observed
that one man is sufficient to temper the needles for a large factory;
consequently the time spent on each needle by the most expensive
operative is excessively small.

But if a manufacturer insist on employing one man to make the whole
needle, he must pay at the rate of five pounds a week for every portion
of the labour bestowed upon it.[61]

[61] See “Economy of Manufactures.”

_Cost of any Article._

Besides the usual elements which contribute to constitute the price
of any thing, there exists another which varies greatly in different
articles. It is this—

_The cost and difficulty of verifying the fact that the article is
exactly what it professes to be._

This is in some cases very small; but in many instances it is scarcely
possible for the purchaser to verify the genuineness of certain
articles. In these cases the public pay a larger price than they
otherwise would do to those tradesmen whose character and integrity are
well established.

_Principles of Taxation._

In a pamphlet printed in 1848, I published my views of taxation,
especially with reference to an Income Tax.

The principle there supported was entertained and examined by the
French Minister of Finance, M. Passy. The pamphlet itself was
subsequently translated into Italian and published at Turin, under the
auspices of the Sardinian Finance Minister. {438}


The principle there maintained admits, I think, of an extension to the
election of representatives.

In that case, each person would have one vote on the ground of his
personality, and other votes in proportion to his income. Whenever any
further extension of our representative system becomes necessary, the
dangers arising from the extension of the personal suffrage may fairly
be counterbalanced by giving a plurality of votes to property. Such
a course would have a powerful tendency to good, by supporting the
national credit and by preventing the destructive waste of capital by
war, and it might even make us a highly conservative people.

As the subject of political economy will be considered rather dry by
most readers, I will endeavour to enliven it by an extract from that
pamphlet, which singularly illustrates the question of direct and
indirect taxation. I had mentioned the productive pump of my Italian
friend to the late Lord Lansdowne, who supplied me with the counterpart
in the unproductive pump erected by the late William Edgeworth, at
Edgeworth Town, in Ireland.

That proprietor, whose country residence was much frequented by
beggars, resolved to establish a test for discriminating between the
idle and the industrious, and also to obtain some small return for the
alms he was in the habit of bestowing. He accordingly added to the
pump by which the upper part of his house was supplied with water, a
piece of mechanism so contrived that, at the end of a certain number
of strokes of the pump-handle, a penny fell out from an aperture to
repay the labourer for his work. This was so arranged, that labourers
who continued at the work, obtained very nearly the usual daily wages
of labour in that part of the country. The idlest of the vagabonds
of course refused this new labour test: but the greater part of the
beggars, whose {439} constant tale was that ‘_they could not earn a
fair day’s wages for a fair days work_,’ after earning a few pence,
usually went away _cursing_ the hardness of their taskmaster.


An Italian gentleman, with greater sagacity, devised a more productive
pump, and kept it in action at far less expense. The garden wall
of his villa adjoined the great high road leading from one of the
capitals of northern Italy[62], from which it was distant but a few
miles. Possessing within his garden a fine spring of water, he erected
on the outside of the wall a pump for public use, and chaining to it
a small iron ladle, he placed near it some rude seats for the weary
traveller, and by a slight roof of climbing plants protected the whole
from the mid-day sun. In this delightful shade the tired and thirsty
travellers on that well-beaten road ever and anon reposed and refreshed
themselves, and did not fail to put in requisition the service of the
pump so opportunely presented to them. From morning till night many
a dusty and wayworn pilgrim plied the handle, and went on his way,
_blessing_ the liberal proprietor for his kind consideration of the
passing stranger.

[62] Turin.

But the owner of the villa was deeply acquainted with, human nature. He
knew in that sultry climate that the liquid would be more valued from
its scarcity, and from the difficulty of acquiring it. He therefore,
to enhance the value of the gift, wisely arranged the pump, so that
its spout was of rather contracted dimensions, and the handle required
a moderate application of force to work it. Under these circumstances
the pump raised far more water than could pass through its spout; and,
to prevent its being wasted, the surplus was conveyed by an invisible
channel to a large reservoir judiciously placed for watering the
proprietor’s own house, stables, and garden,—into which about five
pints were poured for every spoonful passing out of the spout for the
{440} benefit of the weary traveller. Even this latter portion was
not entirely neglected, for the waste-pipe conveyed the part which
ran over from the ladle to some delicious strawberry beds at a lower
level. Perhaps, by a small addition to this ingenious arrangement, some
kind-hearted travellers might be enabled to indulge their mules and
asses with a taste of the same cool and refreshing fluid; thus paying
an additional tribute to the skill and sagacity of the benevolent
proprietor. My accomplished friend would doubtless make a most popular
Chancellor of the Exchequer, should his Sardinian Majesty require his
services in that department of administration.


In the course of my examination of this question I arrived at what I
conceive to be a demonstration of the following principle:—

_That even under circumstances of the most absolute monopoly, the
monopolist will, if he_ KNOWS _his own interest and_ PURSUES _it,
sell the article he produces at exactly the same price as the freest
competition would produce_.

I devoted a chapter to this subject in an edition which I prepared
several years ago for a new Italian translation of the “Economy of
Manufactures;” but I am not aware whether it has yet been published.


The explanation which I gave of the nature of miracles in “The Ninth
Bridgewater Treatise,” published in May, 1837, has now stood the test
of more than a quarter of a century, during which it has been examined
by some of the deepest thinkers in many countries. Its adoption by

Online LibraryCharles BabbagePassages from the Life of a Philosopher → online text (page 31 of 36)