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proceed with the construction of the Engine, Mr. Babbage had been
deprived of the use of his own drawings. Having, in the meanwhile,
naturally speculated upon the general principles on which machinery
for calculation might be constructed, _a principle of an entirely new
kind_ occurred to him, the power of which over the most complicated
arithmetical operations seemed nearly unbounded. On re-examining his
drawings when returned to him by the Engineer, the new principle
appeared to be limited only by the extent of the mechanism it
might require. The invention of simpler mechanical means for
executing the elementary operations of the Engine now derived a far
greater importance than it had hitherto possessed; and should such
simplifications be discovered, it seemed difficult to anticipate, or
even to over-estimate, the vast results which might be attained. In the
Engine for calculating by differences, such simplifications affected
only about a hundred and twenty {84} similar parts, whilst in the new
or _Analytical_ Engine, they would affect a great many thousand. The
_Difference_ Engine might be constructed with more or less advantage
by employing various mechanical modes for the operation of addition:
the _Analytical_ Engine could not _exist_ without inventing for it a
method of mechanical addition possessed of the utmost simplicity. In
fact, it was not until upwards of twenty different mechanical modes for
performing the operation of addition had been designed and drawn, that
the necessary degree of simplicity required for the Analytical Engine
was ultimately attained. Hence, therefore, the powerful motive for
simplification.

These new views acquired additional importance, from their bearings
upon the Engine already partly executed for the Government. For,
if such simplifications should be discovered, it might happen that
the _Analytical_ Engine would execute more rapidly the calculations
for which the _Difference_ Engine was intended; or, that the
_Difference_ Engine would itself be superseded by a far simpler mode of
construction. Though these views might, perhaps, at that period have
appeared visionary, both have subsequently been completely realized.

To withhold those new views from the Government, and under such
circumstances to have allowed the construction of the Engine to be
resumed, would have been improper; yet the state of uncertainty in
which those views were then necessarily involved rendered any _written_
communication respecting their probable bearing on the Difference
Engine a matter of very great difficulty. It appeared to Mr. Babbage
that the most straightforward course was to ask for an interview on the
subject with the Head of the Government, and to communicate to him the
exact state of the case. {85}

Had that interview taken place, the First Lord of the Treasury might
have ascertained from his inquiries, in a manner quite impracticable
by any written communications, the degree of importance which Mr.
Babbage attached to his new inventions, and his own opinion of their
probable effect, in superseding the whole or any part of the original,
or _Difference_, Engine. The First Lord of the Treasury would then have
been in a position to decide, either on the immediate continuation and
completion of the original design, or on its temporary suspension,
until the character of the new views should be more fully developed by
further drawings and examination.

There was another, although a far less material point, on which also
it was desirable to obtain the opinion of the Government: the serious
impediments to the progress of the Engine, arising from the Engineer’s
conduct, as well as the consequent great expense, had induced Mr.
Babbage to consider, whether it might not be possible to employ some
other person as his agent for constructing it. His mind had gradually
become convinced of the practicability of that measure; but he was also
aware that however advantageous it might prove to the Government, from
its greater economy, yet that it would add greatly to his own personal
labour, responsibility, and anxiety.

On the 26th of September, 1834, Mr. Babbage therefore requested an
interview with Lord Melbourne, for the purpose of placing before him
these views. Lord Melbourne acceded to the proposed interview, but it
was then postponed; and soon after, the Administration of which his
Lordship was the Head went out of Office, without the interview having
taken place.

For the same purpose, Mr. Babbage applied in December, {86} 1834, for
an interview with the Duke of Wellington, who, in reply, expressed his
wish to receive a written communication on the subject. He accordingly
addressed a statement to his Grace, pointing out the only plans which,
in his opinion, could be pursued for terminating the questions relative
to the _Difference_ Engine; namely,

1st. The Government might desire Mr. Babbage to continue the
construction of the Engine, in the hands of the person who has hitherto
been employed in making it.

2ndly. The Government might wish to know whether any other person could
be substituted for the Engineer at present employed to continue the
construction;—a course which was possible.

3rdly. The Government might (although he did not presume that they
would) substitute some person to superintend the completion of the
Engine instead of Mr. Babbage himself.

4thly. The Government might be disposed to give up the undertaking
entirely.

He also stated to the Duke of Wellington, the circumstances which had
led him to the invention of a _new_ Engine, of far more extensive
powers of calculation; which he then observed did not supersede the
former one, but added greatly to its utility.

At this period, the impediments relating to the _Difference_ Engine had
been partially and temporarily removed. The chief difficulty would have
been either the formation of new arrangements with the Engineer, or
the appointment of some other person to supply his place. This latter
alternative, which was of great importance for economy as well as for
its speedy completion, Mr. Babbage had carefully examined, and was then
prepared to point out means for its accomplishment. {87}

The duration of the Duke of Wellington’s Administration was short; and
no decision on the subject of the _Difference_ Engine was obtained.

On the 15th of May the _Difference_ Engine was alluded to in the House
of Commons; when the Chancellor of the Exchequer did Mr. Babbage the
justice to state distinctly, that the whole of the money voted had
been expended in paying the workmen and for the materials employed in
constructing it, and that not one shilling of it had ever gone into his
own pocket.

About this time several communications took place between the
Chancellor of the Exchequer and Mr. Babbage, respecting a reference to
the Royal Society for an opinion on the subject of the Engine.

* * * * *

A new and serious impediment to the possibility of executing one of the
plans which had been suggested to the Duke of Wellington for completing
the _Difference_ Engine arose from these delays. The draftsman whom Mr.
Babbage had, at his own expense, employed, both on the _Difference_ and
on the _Analytical_ Engine, received an offer of a very liberal salary,
if he would enter into an engagement abroad, which would occupy many
years. His assistance was indispensable, and his services were retained
only by Mr. Babbage considerably increasing his salary.

On the 14th of January, 1836, Mr. Babbage received a communication
from the Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. Spring Rice[19]), expressing
his desire to come to some definite result on the subject of the
Calculating Engine, in which he remarked, that the conclusion to be
drawn from Mr. Babbage’s statement to the Duke of Wellington was, that
he {88} (Mr. Babbage) having invented a new machine, of far greater
powers than the former one, wished to be informed if the Government
would undertake to defray the expense of this _new_ Engine.

[19] The present Lord Monteagle.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer then pointed out reasons why he should
feel himself bound to look to the completion of the first machine,
before he could propose to Parliament to enter on the consideration of
the second: and he proposed to refer to the Royal Society for their
opinion, authorizing them, if they thought fit, to employ any practical
mechanist or engineer to assist them in their inquiries. The Chancellor
of the Exchequer concluded with expressing his readiness to communicate
with Mr. Babbage respecting the best mode of attaining that result.

From these statements it is evident that Mr. Babbage had failed in
making his own views distinctly understood by the Chancellor of
the Exchequer. His first anxiety, when applying to Lord Melbourne,
had been respecting the question, whether the _Discoveries_ with
which he was then advancing might not ultimately supersede the work
already executed. His second object had been to point out a possible
arrangement, by which great expense might be saved in the mechanical
construction of the _Difference_ Engine.

So far was Mr. Babbage from having proposed to the Government to defray
the expenses of the _new_ or _Analytical_ Engine, that though he
expressly pointed out in the statement to the Duke of Wellington[20]
four courses which it was possible for the Government to take,—yet in
no one of them was the construction of the _new_ Engine alluded to.

[20] See page 86.

* * * * *

Those views of improved machinery for making calculations {89}
which had appeared in but faint perspective in 1834, as likely to
lead to important consequences, had, by this time, assumed a form
and distinctness which fully justified the anticipations then made.
By patient inquiry, aided by extensive drawings and notations, the
projected _Analytical_ Engine had acquired such powers, that it became
necessary, for its further advancement, to simplify the elements of
which it was composed. In the progress of this inquiry, Mr. Babbage
had gradually arrived at simpler mechanical modes of performing those
arithmetical operations on which the action of the _Difference_
Engine depended; and he felt it necessary to communicate these new
circumstances, as well as their consequences, to the Chancellor of the
Exchequer.

On the 20th of January, 1836, Mr. Babbage wrote, in answer to the
communication from the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that he did not,
on re-examining the statement addressed to the Duke of Wellington,
perceive that it contained _any application to take up the new or
Analytical Engine_; and he accompanied this reply by a statement
relative to the progress of the _Analytical_ Engine, and its bearing
upon the _Difference_ Engine belonging to the Government. The former,
it was said,

“Is not only capable of accomplishing all those other complicated
calculations which I had intended, but it also performs all
calculations which were peculiar to the Difference Engine, both in
less time, and to a greater extent: in fact, it completely supersedes
the Difference Engine.”

The Reply then referred to the statement laid before the Duke of
Wellington in July, 1834, in which it was said,

“That all the elements of the Analytical were essentially different
from those of the Difference Engine;”

and that the mechanical simplicity to which its elements had now been
reduced was such, that it would probably cost more {90} to finish
the _old Difference_ Engine on its original plan than to construct a
_new_ Difference Engine with the simplified elements devised for the
_Analytical_ Engine.

It then proceeded to state that—

“The fact of a _new_ superseding an _old_ machine, in a very few
years, is one of constant occurrence in our manufactories; and
instances might be pointed out in which the advance of invention
has been so rapid, and the demand for machinery so great, that
half-finished machines have been thrown aside as useless before their
completion.

“It is now nearly fourteen years since I undertook for the Government
to superintend the making of the Difference Engine. During nearly four
years its construction has been absolutely stopped, and, instead of
being employed in overcoming the physical impediments, I have been
harassed by what may be called the moral difficulties of the question.
It is painful to reflect that, in the time so employed, the first
Difference Engine might, under more favourable circumstances, have
been completed.

“In making this Report, I wish distinctly to state, that I do not
entertain the slightest doubt of the success of the Difference
Engine; _nor do I intend it as any application to finish the one or
to construct the other_; but I make it from a conviction that the
information it contains ought to be communicated to those who must
decide the question relative to the Difference Engine.”

The reference to the Royal Society, proposed by the Chancellor of the
Exchequer, in his letter of the 14th of January, 1836,[21] did not
take place; and during more than a year and a half no further measures
appear to have been adopted by the Government respecting the Engine.

[21] See page 88.

* * * * *

It was obviously of the greatest importance to Mr. Babbage that a
final decision should be made by the Government. When he undertook
to superintend the construction of the _Difference_ Engine for the
Government, it was, of course, understood that he would not leave it
unfinished. He had now been engaged fourteen years upon an object which
he {91} had anticipated would not require more than two or three; and
there seemed no limit to the time his engagement with the Government
might thus be supposed to endure, unless some steps were taken to
terminate it. Without such a decision Mr. Babbage felt that he should
be impeded in any plans he might form, and liable to the most serious
interruption, if he should venture to enter upon the execution of them.
He therefore most earnestly pressed, both by his personal applications
and by those of his friends, for the settlement of the question. Mr.
Wolryche Whitmore, in particular, repeatedly urged upon the Chancellor
of the Exchequer, personally, as well as by letter, the injustice of
keeping Mr. Babbage so very long in a state of suspense.

Time, however, passed on, and during nearly two years the question
remained in the same state. Mr. Babbage, wearied with this delay,
determined upon making a last effort to obtain a decision. He wrote
to the First Lord of the Treasury (Lord Melbourne) on the 26th of
July, 1838, recalling to his Lordship’s attention the frequency of
his applications on this subject, and urging the necessity of a final
decision upon it. He observed, that if the question had become more
difficult, because he had invented superior mechanism, which had
superseded that which was already partly executed, this consequence
had arisen from the very delay against which he had so repeatedly
remonstrated. He then asked, for the last time, not for any favour, but
for that which it was an injustice to withhold—a decision.

On the 16th of August Mr. Spring Rice (the Chancellor of the Exchequer)
addressed a note to Mr. Babbage, in reference to his application to
Lord Melbourne. After recapitulating his former statement of the
subject, which had been shown to be founded on a misapprehension, viz.,
that Mr. Babbage {92} had made an _application_ to the Government
to construct for them the _Analytical_ Engine, the Chancellor of
the Exchequer inquired whether he was solicitous that steps should
be taken for the completion of the old, or for the commencement of
a new machine,—and what he considered would be the cost of the one
proceeding, and of the other?

Being absent on a distant journey, Mr. Babbage could not reply to this
note until the 21st of October. He then reminded the Chancellor of
the Exchequer of his previous communication of the 20th of January,
1836 (see p. 89), in which it was expressly stated that he did _not_
intend to make any application to construct a _new_ machine; but that
the communication to the Duke of Wellington and the one to himself
were made, simply because he thought it would be unfair to conceal
such important facts from those who were called upon to decide on the
continuance or discontinuance of the construction of the _Difference
Engine_.

With respect to the expense of either of the courses pointed out by the
Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr. Babbage observed that, not being a
professional Engineer, and his past experience having taught him not to
rely upon his own judgment on matters of that nature, he should be very
reluctant to offer any opinion upon the subject.

In conclusion, Mr. Babbage stated that the question he wished to have
settled was—

_Whether the Government required him to superintend the completion of
the Difference Engine, which had been suspended during the last five
years, according to the original plan and principles; or whether they
intended to discontinue it altogether?_

In November, 1841, Mr. Babbage, on his return from the Continent,
finding that Sir Robert Peel had become First {93} Lord of the
Treasury, determined upon renewing his application for a decision of
the question. With this view the previous pages of this Statement were
drawn up, and a copy of it was forwarded to him, accompanied by a
letter from Mr. Babbage, in which he observed—

“Of course, when I undertook to give the invention of the Calculating
Engine to the Government, and to superintend its construction, there
must have been an implied understanding that I should carry it on to
its termination. I entered upon that understanding, believing that
two or at the utmost that three years would complete it. The better
part of my life has now been spent on that machine, and no progress
whatever having been made since 1834, that understanding may possibly
be considered by the Government as still subsisting: I am therefore
naturally very anxious that this state of uncertainty should be put an
end to as soon as possible.”

Mr. Babbage, in reply, received a note from Sir George Clerk (Secretary
to the Treasury), stating that Sir Robert Peel feared that it would not
be in his power to turn his attention to the subject for some days, but
that he hoped, as soon as the great pressure of business previous to
the opening of the session of Parliament was over, he might be able to
determine on the best course to be pursued.

The session of Parliament closed in August, and Mr. Babbage had
received no further communication on the subject. Having availed
himself of several private channels for recalling the question to Sir
Robert Peel’s attention without effect, Mr. Babbage, on the 8th of
October, 1842, again wrote to him, requesting an early decision.

On the 4th of November, 1842, a note from Sir Robert Peel explained to
Mr. Babbage that some delay had arisen, from his wish to communicate
personally with the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who would shortly
announce to him their joint conclusion on the subject.

On the same day Mr. Babbage received a letter from Mr. {94} Goulburn
(the Chancellor of the Exchequer), who stated that he had communicated
with Sir Robert Peel, and that they both regretted the necessity of
abandoning the completion of a machine, on which so much scientific
labour had been bestowed. He observed, that the expense necessary for
rendering it either satisfactory to Mr. Babbage or generally useful
appeared, on the lowest calculation, so far to exceed what they should
be justified in incurring, that they considered themselves as having no
other alternative.

Mr. Goulburn concluded by expressing their hope, that by the Government
withdrawing all claim to the machine as already constructed, and
placing it entirely at Mr. Babbage’s disposal, they might in some
degree assist him in his future exertions in the cause of Science.

On the 6th of November, 1842, Mr. Babbage wrote to Sir Robert Peel
and the Chancellor of the Exchequer, acknowledging the receipt of
their decision, thanking them for the offer of the machine as already
constructed, but, under all the circumstances, declining to accept
it.[22]

[22] The part of the _Difference_ Engine already constructed,
together with all the Drawings relating to the whole machine,
were, in January, 1843 (by the direction of the Government),
deposited in the Museum of King’s College, London.

On the 11th of November Mr. Babbage obtained an interview with Sir
Robert Peel, and stated, that having given the original Invention to
the Government—having superintended for them its construction—having
demonstrated the possibility of the undertaking by the completion
of an important portion of it—and that the non-completion of the
design arose neither from his fault nor his desire, but was the act
of the Government itself, he felt that he had some claims on their
consideration.

He rested those claims upon the sacrifices he had made, {95} both
personal and pecuniary, in the advancement of the Mechanical Arts and
of Science—on the anxiety and the injury he had experienced by the
delay of eight years in the decision of the Government on the subject,
and on the great annoyance he had constantly been exposed to by the
prevailing belief in the public mind that he had been amply remunerated
by large grants of public money. Nothing, he observed, but some public
act of the Government could ever fully refute that opinion, or repair
the injustice with which he had been treated.

The result of this interview was entirely unsatisfactory. Mr. Babbage
went to it prepared, had his statement produced any effect, to have
pointed out two courses, by either of which it was probable that
not only a Difference Engine, but even the Analytical Engine, might
in a few years have been completed. The state of Sir Robert Peel’s
information on the subject, and the views he took of Mr. Babbage’s
services and position, prevented Mr. Babbage from making any allusion
to either of those plans.

Thus finally terminated an engagement, which had existed upwards of
twenty years. During no part of the last eight of those years does
there appear to have been any reason why the same decision should
not have been arrived at by the Government as was at last actually
pronounced.

It was during this last period that all the great principles on which
the _Analytical_ Engine rests were discovered, and that the mechanical
contrivances in which they might be embodied were invented. The
establishment which Mr. Babbage had long maintained in his own house,
and at his own expense, was now directed with increased energy to the
new inquiries required for its perfection.

In this Statement the heavy sacrifices, both pecuniary and {96}
personal, which the invention of these machines has entailed upon
their author, have been alluded to as slightly as possible. Few can
imagine, and none will ever know their full extent. Some idea of
those sacrifices must nevertheless have occurred to every one who has
read this Statement. During upwards of twenty years Mr. Babbage has
employed, in his own house, and at his own expense, workmen of various
kinds, to assist him in making experiments necessary for attaining a
knowledge of every art which could possibly tend to the perfection
of those Engines; and with that object he has frequently visited the
manufactories of the Continent, as well as our own.

Since the discontinuance of the Difference Engine belonging to the
Government, Mr. Babbage has himself maintained an establishment for
making drawings and descriptions demonstrating the nature and power
of the _Analytical_ Engine, and for its construction at some future
period, when its value may be appreciated.

To these remarks it will only be added, that at an early stage of the
construction of the _Difference_ Engine he refused more than one highly
desirable and profitable situation, in order that he might give his
whole time and thoughts to the fulfilment of the engagement which he
considered himself to have entered into with the Government.

_August, 1843._

{97}




CHAPTER VII.

DIFFERENCE ENGINE NO. II.


Difference Engine No. 2 — The Earl of Rosse, President of the Royal
Society, proposed to the Government a Plan by which the Difference
Engine No. 2 might have been executed — It was addressed to the Earl
of Derby, and rejected by his Chancellor of the Exchequer.



Online LibraryCharles BabbagePassages from the Life of a Philosopher → online text (page 7 of 36)