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Happy Birthday Mr. Babbage

IP.com Disclosure Number: IPCOM000129673D
Original Publication Date: 1991-Mar-31
Included in the Prior Art Database: 2005-Oct-06

Publishing Venue

Software Patent Institute

Related People

Alfred W. Van Sinderen: AUTHOR [+3]

Abstract

This birthday tribute to Charles Babbage incorporates a few extracts from his, and his friends private letters in the hope of illuminating something of Babbage the man, rather than Babbage the scientist. The major portion of this tribute is a transcript of a 23 page letter (certainly one of the longest Babbage ever wrote) which, although it could be classified as a semi-formal document, is very illuminating as to the feelings and thought processes of Babbage in his later years. Categories and Subject Descriptors: K2 [Computing Millieux]: History of Computing -- hardware; people; calculating machines. General Terms -- Design. Additional Terms -- Babbage, Difference Engine, Analytical Engine.

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THIS DOCUMENT IS AN APPROXIMATE REPRESENTATION OF THE ORIGINAL.

Copyright ©; 1991 by the American Federation of Information Processing Societies, Inc. Used with permission.

Happy Birthday Mr. Babbage

Alfred W. Van Sinderen

Michael R. Williams

This birthday tribute to Charles Babbage incorporates a few extracts from his, and his friends private letters in the hope of illuminating something of Babbage the man, rather than Babbage the scientist. The major portion of this tribute is a transcript of a 23 page letter (certainly one of the longest Babbage ever wrote) which, although it could be classified as a semi-formal document, is very illuminating as to the feelings and thought processes of Babbage in his later years.

Categories and Subject Descriptors: K2 [Computing Millieux]: History of Computing -- hardware; people; calculating machines. General Terms -- Design. Additional Terms -- Babbage, Difference Engine, Analytical Engine.

The Private Babbage. Michael R. Williams

In this year, the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Babbage, we can easily obtain almost as much information as one could wish for on Babbage's attempted construction of Difference and Analytical Engines. It is, however, much more difficult to find information on his life, his philosophy, his attitude to his many disappointments, and his relations with his friends and family. In large measure this dearth of detail is due to Babbage's own opinion of what type of information should be preserved for the future. When asked for facts about his life and work, he usually replied that a list of his writings was the best autobiograph a person could have. Even when Babbage was asked to look over, and correct, a biography written by a professional author, he would characteristically avoid the situation by replying11 to the publisher that it was full of errors which could only be corrected by entirely rewriting it and he did not, at that moment, have the time to spare.

Some personal information is, of course, contained in his writings, most notably his autobiography Passages from the Life of a Philosopher, but anything that has been written for public consumption is often carefully written and edited so that the underlying feelings and personal details are not readily obvious. Thus, to find information about Babbage's family life, the details of his relationships with others, the depth of his inner feelings etc., we must look at his less formal writings -- mainly his private correspondence.

We are fortunate that a very large collection of letters to and from Babbage still exists. The two major collections are contained in the British Library and the Library of the Royal Society, but several hundred letters are in private hands, hundreds more scattered in various libraries, and still others in various document collections in locations ranging from Europe to Australia and New Zealand.

One must be just as careful when reading private correspondence as when reading careful...