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difficulty, however, arose of a novel kind. It will have been observed,
in the explanation I gave of the Analytical Engine, that cases arose
in which it became necessary, on the occurrence of certain conditions,
that the machine itself should select one out of two or more distinct
modes of calculation. The particular one to be adopted could only be
known when those calculations on which the selection depended had been
already made.


The new difficulty consisted in this, that when the automaton had to
move, it might occur that there were two different moves, each equally
conducive to his winning the game. In this case no reason existed
within the machine to direct his choice: unless, also, some provision
were made, the machine would attempt two contradictory motions.

The first remedy I devised for this defect was to make the machine keep
a record of the number of games it had won from the commencement of its
existence. Whenever two moves, which we may call A and B, were equally
conducive to winning the game, the automaton was made to consult the
record of the number of the games he had won. If that number happened
to be even, he was directed to take the course A; if it were odd, he
was to take the course B.

If there were three moves equally possible, the automaton was directed
to divide the number of games he had won by three. In this case the
numbers 0, 1, or 2 might be the remainder, and the machine was directed
to take the course A, B, or C accordingly.

It is obvious that any number of conditions might be thus provided for.
An inquiring spectator, who observed the games played by the automaton,
might watch a long time before he discovered the principle upon which
it acted. It is also worthy of remark how admirably this illustrates
{470} the best definitions of chance by the philosopher and the poet:—

“Chance is but the expression of man’s ignorance.”—LAPLACE.

“All chance, design ill understood.”—POPE.


Having fully satisfied myself of the power of making such an automaton,
the next step was to ascertain whether there was any probability, if
it were exhibited to the public, of its producing, in a moderate time,
such a sum of money as would enable me to construct the Analytical
Engine. A friend, to whom I had at an early period communicated the
idea, entertained great hopes of its pecuniary success. When it became
known that an automaton could beat not merely children but even papa
and mamma at a child’s game, it seemed not unreasonable to expect
that every child who heard of it would ask mamma to see it. On the
other hand, every mamma, and some few papas, who heard of it would
doubtless take their children to so singular and interesting a sight. I
resolved, on my return to London, to make inquiries as to the relative
productiveness of the various exhibitions of recent years, and also
to obtain some rough estimate of the probable time it would take to
construct the automaton, as well as some approximation to the expense.

It occurred to me that if half a dozen were made, they might be
exhibited in three different places at the same time. Each exhibitor
might then have an automaton in reserve in case of accidental
injury. On my return to town I made the inquiries I alluded to, and
found that the English machine for making Latin verses, the German
talking-machine, as well as several others, were entire failures in
a pecuniary point of view. I also found that the most profitable
exhibition which had occurred for many years was that of the little
dwarf, General Tom Thumb. {471}

On considering the whole question, I arrived at the conclusion, that to
conduct the affair to a successful issue it would occupy so much of my
own time to contrive and execute the machinery, and then to superintend
the working out of the plan, that even if successful in point of
pecuniary profit, it would be too late to avail myself of the money
thus acquired to complete the Analytical Engine.

_Problem of the Three Magnetic Bodies._

The problem of the three bodies, which has cost such unwearied labour
to so many of the highest intellects of this and the past age, is
simple compared with another which is opening upon us. We now possess a
very extensive series of well-recorded observations of the positions of
the magnetic needle, in various parts of our globe, during about thirty


Certain periods of changes of about ten or eleven years are said to be
indicated as connected with changes in the amount of solar spots; but
the inductive evidence scarcely rests upon three periods, and it seems
more probable that these effects arise from some common cause.

(1.) It has been long known that the earth has at least two if not
more magnetic poles.

(2.) It is probable, therefore, that the sun and moon also have
several magnetic poles.

(3.) In 1826 I proved that when a magnet is brought into proximity
to a piece of matter capable of becoming magnetic, the magnetism
communicated by it requires _time_ for its full development in the
body magnetized. Also that when the influence of the magnet is
removed, the magnetized body requires _time_ to regain its former
state. {472}

This being the case, it is required, having assumed certain positions
for the poles of these various magnetic bodies, to calculate their
reciprocal influences in changing the positions of those poles on the
other bodies. The development of the equations representing these
forces will indicate cycles which really belong to the nature of the
subject. The comparisons of a long series of observations with recorded
facts will ultimately enable us to determine both the number and
position of those poles upon each body.


Electricity possesses an analogous property with respect to time being
required for its full action. If the bodies of our system influence
each other electrically, other developments will be required and other
cycles discovered.

When the equations resulting from the actions of these causes are
formed, and means of developing them arranged, the whole of the rest of
the work comes under the domain of machinery.




Board of Longitude — Professorship of Mathematics at the East
India College — Professorship of Mathematics at Edinburgh —
Secretaryship of the Royal Society — Master of the Mint — Ditto —
Ditto — Registrar-General of Births, Deaths, and Marriages — Ditto —
Commissioner of Railways — Ditto — Ditto Abolished.

At the commencement of life I had hoped that, whilst I indulged in the
pursuits of science, I might derive from it some advantages for my
family, or at least, that it might enable me to replace a small portion
of the large expenditure, without which one of my most important
discoveries could not be practically worked out.

I shall now mention briefly several of those appointments for which
I had the vanity to suppose myself qualified, and the simplicity to
believe that fitness for the office was of the slightest use without
interest to get the appointment.

1. In the early part of 1816 the Professorship of Mathematics at
the East India College at Haileybury became vacant. The salary, I
believe, was 500 _l_. a-year. I became a candidate, and had strong
recommendations from Ivory and Playfair. I was informed that it was
usual for the candidates to call on the Directors. I did so. One of
them was an honest man, for he was kind enough to tell me the truth.
He said, “If you have interest, you will get it; if not, you will not
succeed.” {474}

2. In 1819 the Professorship of Mathematics at Edinburgh became vacant
by the death of Playfair, and the succession of Professor Leslie to his
chair. I immediately became a candidate, and received testimony of my
fitness from Lacroix, Biot, and Laplace.

These communications, though gratifying to myself, were useless for
the object. Not being a Scot, I was rejected at Edinburgh. That visit,
however, led to a very agreeable incident. I spent a delightful week at
Kinneil with Dugald Stewart. The second volume of his “Philosophy of
the Human Mind” had fortunately fallen into my hands at an early period
during my residence at Cambridge, and I had derived much instruction
from that valuable work.


3. About this time, in a conversation with Sir Joseph Banks, I
mentioned my wish to have a seat at the Board of Longitude—an office
to which a salary of 100 _l._ a-year was attached. Although not then
appointed, hopes were held out by Sir Joseph that at some future
occasion I might be more successful. In 1820 another vacancy occurred
in the Board of Longitude. I called on Sir Joseph Banks to ask his
influence with the Admiralty; this he declined, alleging as a reason
for withholding it,—the part I had taken in the institution of the
Astronomical Society.

I was one of its founders, had been one of its first Honorary
Secretaries, and had taken an active part in that Committee, by which
the “Nautical Almanac” was remodelled.

4. In 1824 an opportunity unexpectedly presented itself. I was invited
to take the entire organization and management of an office for the
assurance of lives, then about to be established.

It is sufficient to state that amongst our officers were the late
Marquis of Lansdowne, the late Lord Abercrombie, the {475} present
Master of the Rolls, and the present Judge of the Admiralty Court; and
that our direction included some of the first merchants in the City,
two or three Directors of the Bank of England, and about an equal
number of India Directors.


The proposition made to me was that I should have the entire management
of the concern as Director and Actuary, with a salary of 1,500 _l._
a-year, and apartments in the establishment, with liberty to practise
as an Actuary.

On consulting my friend the late Francis Baily, F.R.S., who had himself
practised as an Actuary, he strongly advised me to accept the office.
He assured me that the profit arising from private practice could
scarcely be less than 1,000 _l._ a year, and would probably be much

Under these circumstances, I accepted the proposition. On examining
the materials which existed for a Table of the value of lives, I found
in one of the addresses of Mr. Morgan, the Actuary of the Equitable,
materials with which to construct, by the aid of various calculations,
a very tolerable Table of the actual mortality in that Society. Upon
this basis I calculated the Tables of our new Institution. After three
months’ labour, when the whole of the arrangements had been completed,
and the day for our opening had been fixed, circumstances occurred
which induced us to give up the plan. After the experience I had now
had of the amount of time occupied by such an office, I was unwilling
to renew the engagement with other parties. I hoped by great exertions
to complete the Difference Engine after the lapse of a few years, and
that I should not be allowed to become a serious loser by that course.

The Institution was therefore given up, and we each contributed about
100 _l._ to discharge the expenses incurred.

Within the subsequent twelvemonth, an application to take {476} the
management of another Life Assurance Society was made to me, which I
declined. That office is still in existence.

The information and experience I had thus gained led me to think that
the public were not sufficiently informed respecting the nature of
assurances on lives, and that a small popular work on the subject might
be useful. I prepared such a work as intervals of leisure admitted,
and early in 1826 published it under the title of “A Comparative View
of the various Institutions for the Assurance of Lives.” This little
volume was soon translated into German, and became the groundwork upon
which the Great Life Assurance Society of Gotha was founded. Every year
since that event I have received a copy of the report of the state of
the Institution—a gratifying attention which I am happy to have this
opportunity of acknowledging.

The wish expressed by my translator, in his Preface,[64] has also been
fulfilled by the establishment of many other excellent Life Assurance
Offices, founded on similar principles.

[64] “May this book soon give rise to many flourishing life
assurance companies in our beloved fatherland, by which
proportionate wealth and happiness may be promoted amongst us, and
at the same time prepare for the decline of lotteries.”—_German
translation of Babbage on Life Assurance._


In Germany alone there were, in 1860, twenty-four Life Assurance
Companies, in which about 260,000 persons were assured to the amount of
upwards of forty millions sterling. The oldest and most successful of
these institutions have adopted my Table of the Equitable experience,
and I am informed that it agrees very well with the results of their
own experience up to about the fifty-seventh year. After this the
deaths are rather more frequent than those of the Equitable.

Another still more gratifying result arose. My father, whose
acquaintance with mercantile affairs was very {477} extensive, was so
pleased with the little book that, during the two last years of his
life, he read it through three times.


5. In 1846 the Mastership of the Mint became vacant. In former days it
was held by Newton. I had pointed it out in “The Decline of Science” as
one of those offices to which men of science might reasonably aspire.
A complete acquaintance with the most advanced state of mechanical
science, which the demands of my own machinery had compelled me to
improve, added to a knowledge of the internal economy of manufactories,
appeared to me to constitute fair claims to that office.

In the event of my succeeding, I had proposed to let the whole of my
salary accumulate, so that at the end of ten or twelve years I might
retire from the office, and be enabled, with the 20,000 _l._ thus
earned, to construct the Analytical Engine.

I wrote to Lord Melbourne on the subject, but I did not mention that
circumstance even to my most intimate friends. It came, however, to the
knowledge of one of them, who took a very warm interest in my success;
and I believe that at first I had a very fair chance. The appointment
remained for a short time in abeyance; but it was found necessary to
detach Sheil from O’Connell, and the appointment was therefore given to

Some years after, when Sheil was appointed our Minister at the court of
Tuscany, he asked me to give him a letter of introduction to the Grand
Duke Leopold II. Of course I treated the application as a joke; but
Sheil assured me that he was quite serious, and that he knew it would
be of use to him. I therefore gave him a letter of introduction to a
sovereign from whom both before and subsequently I have been honoured
by many gratifying attentions. {478}

6. In 1849, on the promotion of Sheil, the Mastership of the Mint
again became vacant. I thought my own claims sufficiently known to the
public; but I had no political interest. My friend Sir John Herschel
was more fortunate, and he received the appointment.

7. After a few years, the office again became vacant by the resignation
of Sir John Herschel. The Government had now for the third time an
opportunity of partially repairing its former neglect. I had, however,
no political party to support me, and the present Master of the Mint,
Mr. Graham, then received the appointment.

_Registrar-General of Births, Deaths, &c._

8. In 1835 a new office was created, that of Registrar-General of
Births, Deaths, and Marriages. Mr. Francis Baily and others of my
friends suggested to me that, being known to the public as qualified
for this situation by my previous publications, I had a fair claim to
the appointment. Having made inquiries on this subject, I found that it
would be useless to make any application, as the place was intended for
the brother-in-law of a Secretary of State.

9. On the death of Mr. Lister, a few years after, the same office again
became vacant, when other friends then made a similar suggestion.

On making preliminary inquiries, I found, as before, that all
applications would be useless, as the appointment was intended for a
military officer, Major Graham, the brother of another Secretary of

_Commissioners of Railways._

10. Some years ago, the alarm created by accidents occurring upon
railways, induced the Government to consider {479} about the
appointment of a Commission to examine into their causes, and to lay
down rules for the guidance of the Companies in the prevention of those

In 1846 an Act of Parliament was passed appointing Commissioners for
the supervision of railways. Having myself thought much upon the
subject, and having had personally some experience on railways, I had
the vanity to think that the mechanical knowledge of the author of “The
Economy of Manufactures” would justify his appointment as one of those

Applying, under such circumstances, for a Commissionership of the
Railway Board, I expected that I should find few competitors with
higher claims. But I had no interest—a military engineer was appointed,
who already held a civil appointment, and who died in less than two
years after.

11. On the occurrence of this vacancy another military officer was
appointed. I was again passed over, under circumstances which at the
time I thought must have caused deep regret in the mind of the Minister
who made the appointment.

After an existence of a few years, public opinion was so strongly
expressed against the Railway Commission that it was dissolved.

I am satisfied that in each of these cases, the appointment was
entirely due to family or political influence.

I have, in the course of my experience, frequently heard of
appointments made in the most flattering and unexpected manner; of
titles offered, in fact, in such a way, that it was impossible to
decline them. Having myself seen a good deal behind the scenes of
the drama of life, I have repeatedly found that these unsolicited
honours have been obtained by the most persevering applications, and
by the most servile {480} flattery. Indeed, to the great scandal of
public life, success has in some instances been attained by a man
condescending for a time to oppose his own party, and, as some observer
has wittily remarked, “of attempting to break into the shop for the
purpose of serving behind the counter.”


It cannot be doubted that patronage entrusted to the disposition of
a Minister often proves an onerous and ungrateful trust, demanding
powers of discrimination and forbearance not always found in public
men; whilst a careful observation of the manner in which patronage is
usually dispensed does not lead to the conclusion that its exercise is
always free from the influence of corrupt motives. Even in the cases
in which such impure motives _seem_ absent, it too frequently happens
that other influences beside a just and honest discrimination appear to
have taken a part in regulating the distribution of public favour. It
would be invidious to speculate on the motives or discuss the merits
of the appointments to which I have had occasion to refer: with their
propriety or otherwise I have individually no concern: of the positive
motives which induced them I have no knowledge, at least not sufficient
to justify me in condemning them on that score. But I cannot help
thinking that such appointments have not always been made without some
degree of pain or misgiving, and perhaps a conscientious scruple on the
part of the Minister; indeed I have sometimes indulged a suspicion that
a little firmness to resist external pressure would occasionally secure
more fairness to candidates for public employment, and tend to retain
the services of more efficient agents of the public weal.


Although mankind may differ among one another individually _ad
infinitum_, they possess certain moral elements which are common to
the race. Such belong to the animal, {481} and are never obliterated,
though they may occasionally be concealed by the ermine of office or
the robe of state. Self-interest is the great lever of society; and
though the patriot profess to sacrifice it for the public good, or the
cynic affect to despise its influence as opposed to his philosophy,
both these may claim our respect, but neither should be permitted to
deceive us. A Minister who professes to cast off the attributes of
humanity is either a victim of delusion who has succeeded in deceiving
himself, or a knave who is bent upon deceiving others. He may spurn the
temptation of a bribe, because his wants do not lie in that direction;
and, notwithstanding his generous pretensions, he will never discern
merit unless accompanied by popular suffrage or political influence: in
_his_ balance one grain of _nepotism_ will weigh down all the _honesty_
he has at his disposal.




In the course of this volume I have mentioned, under other heads, many
agreeable circumstances, and many others remain unwritten. I shall now
confine myself to two.

On one occasion when I was engaged in my workshop in arranging some
machinery for experiments on a difficult part of the Analytical Engine,
an intimate friend called, and I went into the library to see him. An
unopened letter lying on the table, he asked whether I usually treated
my letters in that way. I looked at the letter, which appeared to be a
printed one. When my friend had left me, I opened it, and found that it
professed to be from the Institute of France, announcing my nomination
as a corresponding member of that distinguished body. On looking at
the conclusion for the well-known signature of my friend Arago, I
found another name which I could not read. I therefore concluded that
some wag had played me a trick. I however doubted whether the joke was
intended to hit me or the Academy of Sciences.

Having left the paper on my table, I returned to my experiments. After
dinner I took up the neglected document, and then for the first time
perceived that it professed to be from the Academy of Moral Sciences.
On re-examining the signature, I found it to be that of its eminent
{483} secretary, M. Mignet, and that it was the official announcement
of my election as a Corresponding Member of that Academy.


Now the first impression on my own mind was one of sincere regret.
I felt for a moment that the Academy might have thus honoured me
not solely for my labours in their own, but in other departments of
science. This painful feeling was, however, only momentary. It then
occurred to me that I had written the “Economy of Manufactures,” which
related to Political Economy, one section; and the “Ninth Bridgewater
Treatise,” which related to Philosophy, another section of the Academy
of Moral Sciences. I now felt a real pleasure, which amply compensated
me for the transitory regret; and I am sure no member of the many
academies who have honoured me by enrolling my name on their list will
reproach me for stating the fact,—that no other nomination ever gave me
greater satisfaction than the one to which I have now adverted.

Some years ago my eldest son, Mr. B. Herschel Babbage, was employed by
the Government of South Australia to explore and survey part of the
north-western portion of that colony. After an absence of about six
months, a considerable portion of which time he spent in a desert, he
reached a small station at the head of Spencer’s Gulf, intending to
wait there until the arrival of a steamer from Adelaide, which was
expected in about a week to carry back the wool of the distant and
scattered colonists.

It so happened that, a few days before, a Swedish merchant-vessel,
commanded by Capt. Orling, a part owner of the ship, had also arrived
in search of a freight of wool. Captain Orling on going ashore heard of
the arrival at the settlement of a stranger from the interior, and on
inquiry found that he bore my name. {484}


He immediately went in search of my son, and having found him, said, “I
am not personally acquainted with your father, but I am well acquainted

Online LibraryCharles BabbagePassages from the Life of a Philosopher → online text (page 34 of 36)