CHARLES BABBAGE (1791-1871):

The Calculating Engine

in the South Carolina College Library

Introduction | Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | References

Designing the Difference Engine
Charles Babbage, “On a Method of Expressing by Signs the Actions of Machinery,”
Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, 116 (1826): 
–Babbage had, not only to envision, but to design and supervise the manufacture of his invention.  Each piece had to be made and tested by hand, by skilled craftsmen working from drawings made under his supervision.  In this essay Babbage described his new system of notation for indicating on the drawings how each part would move when the engine was activated.

Dionysus Lardner on the Difference Engine
Dionysus Lardner, 1793-1839, 
“Babbage’s Calculating Engine,”
Edinburgh Review, 59 (April 1834): 263-327.
–Manufacture of the Difference Engine took years longer than Babbage (or the government) expected, with horrendous cost-overruns.  The initial grant was for L2250, yet by 1834, government expenditure had been L17,478, besides Babbage’s substantial personal investment, and only 12,000 of the required 25,000 parts had been made.  What was finished, in 1832, was a small demonstration section of the engine, which Babbage kept in his London house and displayed to society visitors.  This article from the leading Whig periodical by a popular science journalist, Dionysus Lardner (editor of the Cabinet Encyclopedia), is the first detailed published description of the project. 

Babbage and Industrial Manufacture
Charles Babbage, “On the General Principles which Regulate the Application of Machinery to Manufacture and the Mechanical Arts,” Encyclopaedia Metropolitana, 8 (1829): 1-84.
And: Charles Babbage, 
On the economy of machinery and manufactures.
3d ed. enl. London, C. Knight, 1832 [i.e. 1833].Modern red binder's cloth 
–Babbage’s interest in manufacturing processes led to his commission to write this substantial and very original essay.  In preparation, he traveled widely visiting factories both in Britain and on the continent, analyzing the economic issues as well as technical factors involved in industrial development.  The essay was republished in book form in 1832, reprinted several times in Britain and America, and translated into four languages.   As the pages displayed show, the problem of designing a machine for calculation provided one of the model cases in his analysis.

Babbage on Scientific Patronage and the Royal Society
Charles Babbage
Reflections on the decline of science in England, and on some
 of its causes.
London: B. Fellowes, 1830. Nineteenth century calf.  South Carolina College Library Collection.
–In the 1820's and 1830's, British science was dominated by wealthy and aristocratic amateurs.  This book, a scathing indictment of the Royal Society and its Council, played a significant role in the process by which patronage was gradually transferred from amateurs to professional scientists, but the ad hominem nature of Babbage’s attack–his appendix, for instance, tabulates an inverse ration for Fellows between the number of scientific publications and their length of Council service–alienated many of the senior figures whose support Babbage needed for his Engine. 

Calculating the (Im)Probabilities of Random Creation
Charles Babbage,
The ninth Bridgewater treatise. A fragment.
London, J. Murray, 1837. Later calf.  South Carolina College Library.
And: Charles Babbage,
The ninth Bridgewater treatise: a fragment.
Philadelphia: Lea & Blanchard, 1841.  1stAmerican from the 2nd London ed.  Original cloth.
–Babbage’s alienation from the scientific establishment, aided by his lingering reputation as religiously unorthodox, precluded his participation in one of the major scientific boondoggles of the nineteenth century, the Bridgewater Bequest.  On his death in 1829, the eccentric Right Honourable and Reverend  the Earl of Bridgwater left the huge sum of L8000 to the Royal Society.  The money was to fund eight eminent scientists in writing the Bridgewater Treatises, demonstrating the “power, wisdom and goodness of God” from the complexity of the natural world.  In his unofficial and unfunded Ninth Treatise, Babbage used his calculating engine to calculate the probabilities of random creation.

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