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money for the construction:—either through the recommendation of a
Committee of the House of Commons, or by taking a sum from the Civil
Contingencies: and he observed that, as the Session of Parliament was
near its termination, the latter course might, perhaps, be the most

Mr. Babbage thinks the Chancellor of the Exchequer also made some
observation, indicating that the amount of money taken from the Civil
Contingencies would be smaller than that which might be had by means
of a Committee of the House of Commons: and he then proposed to take
1,000 _l._ as a commencement from the Civil Contingencies Fund. To this
Mr. Babbage replied, in words which he distinctly remembers, “Would it
be too much, in the first instance, to take 1,500 _l._?” The Chancellor
of the Exchequer immediately answered, that 1,500 _l._ should be

Mr. Babbage’s opinion at that time was, that the Engine would be
completed in two, or at the most in three years; and that by having
1,500 _l._ in the first instance, he would be {71} enabled to advance,
from his own private funds, the residue of the 3,000 _l._, or even
5,000 _l._, which he then imagined the Engine might possibly cost; so
that he would not again have occasion to apply to Government until it
was completed. Some observations were made by the Chancellor of the
Exchequer about the mode of accounting for the money received, as well
as about its expenditure; but it seemed to be admitted that it was not
possible to prescribe any very definite system, and that much must be
left to Mr. Babbage’s own judgment.

Very unfortunately, no Minute of that conversation was made at the
time, nor was any sufficiently distinct understanding between the
parties arrived at. Mr. Babbage’s conviction was, that whatever might
be the labour and difficulty of the undertaking, the Engine itself
would, of course, become the property of the Government, which had paid
for its construction.

Soon after this interview with the Chancellor of the Exchequer, a
letter was sent from the Treasury to the Royal Society, informing that
body that the Lords of the Treasury

“Had directed the issue of 1,500 _l._ to Mr. Babbage, to enable him to
bring his invention to perfection, in the manner recommended.”

These latter words, “_in the manner recommended_,” can only refer to
the previous recommendation of the Royal Society; but it does not
appear, from the Report of the Royal Society, that _any plan_, _terms_,
or _conditions_ had been pointed out by that body.

Towards the end of July, 1823, Mr. Babbage took measures for the
construction of the present _Difference Engine_,* and it was regularly
proceeded with for four years. {72}

* NOTE.—It will be convenient to distinguish between—

1. The small _Model_ of the original or Difference Engine.

2. The _Difference_ Engine itself, belonging to the Government,
a part only of which has been put together.

3. The designs for another _Engine_, which in this Statement is
called the Analytical Engine.

In October, 1827, the expense incurred had amounted to 3,475 _l._; and
Mr. Babbage having suffered severe domestic affliction, and being in
a very ill state of health, was recommended by his medical advisers
to travel on the Continent. He left, however, sufficient drawings to
enable the work to be continued, and gave an order to his own banker to
advance 1,000 _l._ during his absence: he also received, from time to
time, drawings and inquiries relating to the mechanism, and returned
instructions to the engineer who was constructing it.

As it now appeared probable that the expense would much exceed what
Mr. Babbage had originally anticipated, he thought it desirable to
inform the Government of that fact, and to procure a further grant.
As a preliminary step, he wrote from Italy to his brother-in-law, Mr.
Wolryche Whitmore, to request that he would see Lord Goderich upon the
subject of the interview in July, 1823; but it is probable that he did
not sufficiently inform Mr. Whitmore of all the circumstances of the

Mr. Whitmore, having had some conversation with Lord Goderich on the
subject, addressed a letter, dated on the 29th of February, 1828, to
Mr. Babbage, who was then at Rome, stating that

“That interview was unsatisfactory; that Lord Goderich did not like to
admit that there was any understanding, at the time the 1,500 _l._ was
advanced, that more would be given by Government.”

On Mr. Babbage’s return to England, towards the end of {73} 1828,
he waited in person upon Lord Goderich, who admitted that the
understanding of 1823 was not very definite. He then addressed a
statement to the Duke of Wellington, as the head of the Government,
explaining the previous steps in the affair; stating the reasons
for his inferences from what took place at the interview with the
Chancellor of the Exchequer in July, 1823; and referring his Grace for
further information to Lord Goderich, to whom also he sent a copy of
that statement.

The Duke of Wellington, in consequence of this application, requested
the Royal Society to inquire—

“Whether the progress of the Machine confirms them in their former
opinion, that it will ultimately prove adequate to the important
object it was intended to attain.”

The Royal Society reported, in February, 1829, that—

“They had not the slightest hesitation in pronouncing their decided
opinion in the affirmative.”

The Royal Society also expressed their hope that—

“Whilst Mr. Babbage’s mind is intensely occupied in an undertaking
likely to do so much honour to his country, he may be relieved, as
much as possible, from all other sources of anxiety.”

On the 28th of April, 1829, a Treasury Minute directed a further
payment to Mr. Babbage of

“1,500 _l._ to enable him to complete the Machine by which such
important benefit to Science might be expected.”

At that time the sum expended on the Engine amounted to 6,697 _l._
12 _s._, of which 3,000 _l._ had been received from the Treasury; so
that Mr. Babbage had provided 3,697 _l._ 12 _s._ from his own private

Under these circumstances, by the advice of Mr. Wolryche Whitmore, a
meeting of Mr. Babbage’s personal friends was held on the 12th of May,
1829. It consisted of— {74}


Being satisfied, upon inquiry, of the following facts, they came to the
annexed resolutions:—

“1st. That Mr. Babbage was originally induced to take up the work, on
its present extensive scale, by an understanding on his part that it
was the wish of Government that he should do so, and by an advance of
1,500 _l._, at the outset; with a full impression on his mind, that
such further advances would be made as the work might require.

“2nd. That Mr. Babbage’s expenditure had amounted to nearly
7,000 _l._, while the whole sum advanced by Government was 3,000 _l._

“3rd. That Mr. Babbage had devoted the most assiduous and anxious
attention to the progress of the Engine, to the injury of his health,
and the neglect and refusal of other profitable occupations.

“4th. That a very large expense remained to be incurred; and that
his private fortune was not such as would justify his completing the
Engine, without further and effectual assistance from Government.

“5th. That a personal application upon the subject should be made to
the Duke of Wellington.

“6th. That if such application should be unsuccessful in procuring
effectual and adequate assistance, they must regard Mr. Babbage
(considering the great pecuniary and personal sacrifices he will then
have made; the entire expenditure of all he had received from the
public on the subject of its destination; and the moral certainty
of completing it, to which it was, by his exertions, reduced) as no
longer called on to proceed with an undertaking which might destroy
his health, and injure, if not ruin, his fortune.

“7th. That Mr. Wolryche Whitmore and Mr. Herschel should request an
interview with the Duke of Wellington, to state to his Grace these
opinions on the subject.”

Mr. Whitmore and Mr. Herschel accordingly had an interview with the
Duke of Wellington; and some time after they were informed by the
Chancellor of the Exchequer, to whom they had applied for his Grace’s
answer, that the Duke of {75} Wellington intended to see the portion
of the Engine which had been then made.

In November, 1829, the Duke of Wellington, accompanied by the
Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. Goulburn) and Lord Ashley, saw the
_Model_ of the Engine, the drawings, and the parts in progress. On the
23rd of that month Mr. Babbage received a note from Mr. Goulburn, dated
on the 20th, informing him that the Duke of Wellington and himself
had recommended the Treasury to make a further payment towards the
completion of the Machine; and that their Lordships had in consequence
directed a payment of 3,000 _l._ to be made to him. This letter also
contained a suggestion about separating the Calculating from the
Printing part of the Machine, which was repeated in the letter from the
Treasury of the 3rd of December, 1829, communicating officially the
information contained in Mr. Goulburn’s private note, and stating that
directions had been given—

“To pay to you the further sum of 3,000 _l._, to enable you to
complete the Machine which you have invented for the calculation of
various tables; but I have to intimate to you that, in making this
additional payment, my Lords think it extremely desirable that the
Machine should be so constructed, that, if any failure should take
place in the attempt to print by it, the calculating part of the
Machine may nevertheless be perfect and available for that object.”

Mr. Babbage inferred from this further grant, that Government had
adopted his view of the arrangement entered into with the Chancellor
of the Exchequer in July, 1823; but, to prevent the recurrence of
difficulty from any remaining indistinctness, he wrote to Mr. Goulburn,
stating that, before he received the 3,000 _l._, he wished to propose
some general arrangements for expediting the completion of the Engine,
further notes of which he would shortly submit to him. On the 25th
of November, 1829, he addressed a letter to Lord {76} Ashley, to be
communicated to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, stating the grounds on
which he thought the following arrangements desirable:—

1st. That the Engine should be considered as the property of Government.

2nd. That professional engineers should be appointed by Government to
examine the charges made for the work already executed, as well as
for its future progress; and that such charges should be defrayed by

3rd. That under this arrangement he himself should continue to direct
the construction of the Engine, as he had hitherto done.

Mr. Babbage also stated that he had been obliged to suspend the work
for nearly nine months; and that such delay risked the final completion
of the Engine.

In reply to these suggestions, Mr. Goulburn wrote to Lord Ashley,

“That we (the Government) could not adopt the course which Mr.
Babbage had pointed out, consistently with the principle on which we
have rendered him assistance in the construction of his Machine, and
without considerable inconvenience. The view of the Government was, to
assist an able and ingenious man of science, whose zeal had induced
him to exceed the limits of prudence, in the construction of a work
which would, if successful, redound to his honour, and be of great
public advantage. We feel ourselves, therefore, under the necessity of
adhering to our original intention, as expressed in the Minute of the
Treasury, which granted Mr. Babbage the last 3,000 _l._, and in the
letter in which I informed him of that grant.”

Mr. Goulburn’s letter was enclosed by Lord Ashley to Mr. Babbage,
with a note, in which his Lordship observed, with reference to Mr.
Goulburn’s opinion, that it was

“A wrong view of the position in which Mr. Babbage was placed, after
his conference with Lord Goderich—which must be explained to him (Mr.
Goulburn).” {77}

“_The original intention_” of the Government is here stated to have
been communicated to Mr. Babbage, both in the letter from the Treasury
of the 3rd of December, 1829, granting the 3,000 _l._, and also in Mr.
Goulburn’s private letter of the 20th of November, 1829. These letters
have been just given; and it certainly does not appear from either
of them, that the “original intention” was then in any degree more
apparent than it was at the commencement of the undertaking in July,

On the 16th of December, 1829, Mr. Babbage wrote to Lord Ashley,
observing, that Mr. Goulburn seemed to think that he [Mr. Babbage]
had commenced the machine on his own account; and that, pursuing it
zealously, he had expended more than was prudent, and had then applied
to Government for aid. He remarked, that a reference to papers and
dates would confirm his own positive declaration, that this was never
for one moment, in _his_ apprehension, the ground on which the matter
rested; and that the following facts would prove that it was absolutely
impossible it could have been so:—

1stly. Mr. Babbage referred to the passage[17] (already quoted) in his
letter to Sir Humphry Davy, in which he had expressed his opinion as
_decidedly adverse_ to the plan of making a larger Machine, on his own

2ndly. Mr. Babbage stated that the small Model of the Machine seen by
the Duke of Wellington and Mr. Goulburn, was completed _before_ his
interview with Lord Goderich in July, 1823; for it was alluded to in
the Report of the Royal Society, of the 1st of May, 1823.

3rdly. That the interview with Lord Goderich having taken place in
July, 1823; the present Machine (_i.e._ the _Difference_ {78} Engine)
was commenced in _consequence_ of that interview; and _after_ Mr.
Babbage had received the first grant of 1,500 _l._ on the 7th of
August, 1823.

[17] See page 69.

Having thus shown that the light in which Mr. Goulburn viewed these
transactions was founded on a misconception, Mr. Babbage requested
Lord Ashley to inquire whether the facts to which he had called Mr.
Goulburn’s attention might not induce him to reconsider the subject.
And in case Mr. Goulburn should decline revising his opinion, then he
wished Lord Ashley to ascertain the opinion of Government, upon the
contingent questions which he enclosed; viz.—

1. Supposing Mr. Babbage received the 3,000 _l._ now directed to be
issued, what are the claims which Government will have on the Engine,
or on himself?

2. Would Mr. Babbage owe the 6,000 _l._, or any part of that sum to
the Government?

If this question be answered in the negative,

3. Is the portion of the Engine now made, as completely Mr. Babbage’s
property as if it had been entirely paid for with his own money?

4. Is it expected by Government that Mr. Babbage should continue to
construct the Engine at his own private expense; and, if so, to what
extent in money?

5. Supposing Mr. Babbage should decline resuming the construction of
the Engine, to whom do the drawings and parts already made belong?

The following statement was also enclosed:—

Expenses up to 9th May, 1829, when the work ceased [18]£6,628
Two grants of 1,500 _l._ each, amounting to £3,000
By Treasury Minute, Nov. 1829, but not yet received 3,000
────── 6,000

[18] The difference between this sum and 6,697 _l._ 12 _s._
mentioned in page 73, seems to have arisen from the fact of the
former sum having included the estimated amount of a bill which,
when received, was found to be less than had been anticipated.

In January, 1830, Mr. Babbage wrote to Lord Goderich, {79} stating
that the Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. Goulburn) would probably
apply to his Lordship respecting the interview in July, 1823. He
therefore recalled some of the circumstances attending it to Lord
Goderich, and concluded thus:—

“The matter was, as you have justly observed on another occasion,
left, in a certain measure, indefinite; and I have never contended
that any promise was made to me. My subsequent conduct was founded
upon the impression left on my mind by that interview. I always
considered that, whatever difficulties I might encounter, it could
never happen that I should ultimately suffer any pecuniary loss.

“I understand that Mr. Goulburn wishes to ascertain from your Lordship
whether, from the nature of that interview, it was reasonable that I
should have such expectation.”

In the mean time Mr. Babbage had encountered difficulties of another
kind. The Engineer who had been constructing the Engine under Mr.
Babbage’s direction had delivered his bills in such a state that it
was impossible to judge how far the charges were just and reasonable;
and although Mr. Babbage had paid several thousand pounds, yet there
remained a considerable balance, which he was quite prepared and
willing to pay, as soon as the accounts should be examined, and the
charges approved of by professional engineers.

The delay in deciding whether the Engine was the property of
Government, added greatly to this embarrassment. Mr. Babbage,
therefore, wrote to Lord Ashley on the 8th of February, to mention
these difficulties; and to point out the serious inconvenience which
would arise, in the future progress of the Engine, from any dispute
between the Engineer and himself relative to payments.

On the 24th of February, 1830, Mr. Babbage called on Lord Ashley, to
request he would represent to the Duke of Wellington the facts of the
case, and point out to his Grace {80} the importance of a decision.
In the afternoon of the same day, he again saw Lord Ashley, who
communicated to him the decision of the Government; to the following

1 _st._ _Although the Government would not pledge themselves to_
COMPLETE _the Machine, they were willing to declare it their property_.

2 _nd._ _That professional Engineers should be appointed to examine the

3 _rd._ _That the Government were willing to advance_ 3,000 _l._ _more
than the sum_ (6,000 _l._) _already granted_.

4 _th._ _That, when the Machine was completed, the Government would be
willing to attend to any claim of Mr. Babbage to remuneration, either
by bringing it before the Treasury, or the House of Commons._

Thus, after considerable discussion, the doubts arising from the
indefiniteness of the understanding with the Chancellor of the
Exchequer, in July, 1823, were at length removed. Mr. Babbage’s
impression of the original arrangement entered into between Lord
Goderich and himself was thus formally adopted in the first three
propositions: and the Government voluntarily added the expression of
their disposition to attend to any claim of his for remuneration when
the Engine should be completed.

When the arrangements consequent upon this decision were made, the work
of the Engine was resumed, and continued to advance.

After some time, the increasing amount of costly drawings, and of parts
of the Engine already executed, remaining exposed to destruction from
fire and from other casualties became a source of some anxiety.

These facts having been represented to Lord Althorp (then Chancellor
of the Exchequer), an experienced surveyor {81} was directed to find
a site adapted for a building for the reception of the Engine in the
neighbourhood of Mr. Babbage’s residence.

On the 19th of January the Surveyor’s reports were forwarded to Lord
Althorp (the Chancellor of the Exchequer), who referred the case to
a committee of practical Engineers for their opinion. This committee
reported strongly in favour of the removal, on the grounds of security,
and of economy in completing the Engine; and also recommended the site
which had been previously selected by the Surveyor. The Royal Society,
also, to whom Lord Althorp had applied, examined the question, and
likewise reported strongly to the same effect.

A lease of some property, adjacent to Mr. Babbage’s residence,
was therefore subsequently granted by him to the Government; and
a fire-proof building, capable of containing the Engine, with its
drawings, and workshops necessary for its completion, were erected.

With respect to the expenses of constructing the Engine, the following
plan was agreed upon and carried out:—The great bulk of the work was
executed by the Engineer under the direction of Mr. Babbage. When
the bills were sent in, they were immediately forwarded by him to
two eminent Engineers, Messrs. Donkin and Field, who, at the request
of Government, had undertaken to examine their accuracy. On these
gentlemen certifying those bills to be correct, Mr. Babbage transmitted
them to the Treasury; and after the usual forms, a warrant was
issued directing the payment of the respective sums to Mr. Babbage.
This course, however, required considerable time; and the Engineer
having represented that he was unable to pay his workmen without more
immediate advances, Mr. Babbage, to prevent delay in {82} completing
the Engine, did himself, from time to time, advance from his own funds
several sums of money; so that he was, in fact, usually in advance from
500 _l._ to 1,000 _l._ Those sums were, of course, repaid when the
Treasury warrants were issued.

Early in the year 1833, an event of great importance in the history
of the Engine occurred. Mr. Babbage had directed a portion of it,
consisting of sixteen figures, to be put together. It was capable
of calculating Tables having two or three orders of differences;
and, to some extent, of forming other Tables. The action of this
portion completely justified the expectations raised, and gave a most
satisfactory assurance of its final success.

The fire-proof building and workshops having been completed,
arrangements were made for the removal of the Engine. Mr. Babbage
finding it no longer convenient to make payments in advance, informed
the Engineer that he should in future not pay him until the money
was received from the Treasury. Upon receiving this intimation, the
Engineer immediately discontinued the construction of the Engine,
and dismissed the workmen employed on it; which fact Mr. Babbage
immediately communicated to the Treasury.

In this state of affairs it appeared, both to the Treasury and to
Mr. Babbage, that it would be better to complete the removal of the
drawings, and all the parts of the Engine to the fire-proof building;
and then make such arrangements between the Treasury and the Engineer,
respecting the future payments, as might prevent further discussion on
that subject.

After much delay and difficulty the whole of the drawings, and parts
of the Engine, were at length removed to the fire-proof building in
East-street, Manchester-square. Mr. Babbage wrote, on the 16th of
July, 1834, to the Treasury, {83} informing their Lordships of the
fact;—adding that no advance had been made in its construction for
above a year and a quarter; and requesting further instructions on the

Mr. Babbage received a letter from the Treasury, expressing their
Lordships’ satisfaction at learning that the drawings, and parts of the
Calculating Engine were removed to the fire-proof building, and stating
that as soon as Mr. Clement’s Accounts should be received and examined,
they would

“Take into consideration what further proceedings may be requisite
with a view to its completion.”

A few weeks afterwards Mr. Babbage received a letter from the Treasury,
conveying their Lordships’ authority to proceed with the construction
of the Engine.

During the time which had elapsed since the Engineer had ceased to

Online LibraryCharles BabbagePassages from the Life of a Philosopher → online text (page 6 of 36)