Browse Prior Art Database

Letter From Babbage to Quetelet Disclosure Number: IPCOM000129957D
Original Publication Date: 1996-Sep-30
Included in the Prior Art Database: 2005-Oct-07
Document File: 2 page(s) / 16K

Publishing Venue

Software Patent Institute

Related People

C.J.D. (Jim) Roberts: AUTHOR [+2]


5 Snowdon Mansions Gondar Gardens London NW6 IES, England

This text was extracted from a PDF file.
This is the abbreviated version, containing approximately 51% of the total text.

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Copyright ©; 1996 by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

Letter From Babbage to Quetelet

C.J.D. (Jim) Roberts

5 Snowdon Mansions Gondar Gardens London NW6 IES, England

This is a reply to "'On Babbage and Kings' and 'How Sausage Was Made': And Now for the Rest of the Story" (Annals, vol. 17, no. 4, 1995, pp. 7-23). Having now read all articles relevant to this issue, I feel I must have my say on the matter, as it was I who located the Babbage to Quetelet letter and made it available to the editor of the Works of Babbage. I will state quite categorically that at the time I was not aware of the prior and same find by Herman Berg or his dealings with the editors of the Annals. I had never heard of him or his interest in Babbage until this whole matter blew up. And neither had Martin Campbell-Kelly. We proceeded entirely on the grounds that the Works of Babbage deserved the "best available" English translation of that letter, the original.

Apart from all that, what has happened to history? I feel in all this that sight has been lost of the real goals of historians and that the proper methods of their craft have been quite forgotten. A historian is not just a stamp-collector of facts and documents, but if he practices his art properly, he must also necessarily be an interpreter of those facts and documents, placing them in their proper historical context. Do we remember the name of the little Palestinian shepherd boy who located the Dead Sea Scrolls or those of the many chicleros who led the archaeologists to many of the so-called lost Mayan sites in the jungles of Central America? The simple and cruel answer, I am afraid, is no! Fame takes a lot more hard work. Let us return to the real issue involved: the letter itself. There are many unanswered questions that I would like to address in this communication. For instance, it has not been mentioned that Babbage, with the same intention, wrote at least three similar letters at about the same time and period: one to Quetelet (the one that got translated into French and published in Belgium); one to Alexander Humboldt in Germany (there is a draft of this in the British Library Manuscripts Department's collection of Babbage's correspondence); and one to Professor Planta in Turin, Italy, the original of which is still to be seen in the collection at Turin's Academy of Science. These are men of scientific influence in each of their respective countries. Did Babbage give Quetelet (or either of the other two) permission to publish his letter? Not specifically so, but I think he would not...