Charles Babbage FRS

Mathematician, philosopher, inventor and mechanical engineer and English Polymath Charles Babbage, FRS was born 26 December 1791. Babbage attended country school inAlphington near Exeter, then attended King Edward VI Grammar School in Totnes, South Devon, but his health forced him back to private tutors for a time Babbage then joined Holmwood academy, in Baker Street, Enfield,Middlesex, The academy’s library kindled Babbage’s love of mathematics. He studied with two more private tutors after leaving the academy. He was brought home, to study at the Totnes school: Babbage was accepted by Cambridge University and arrived at Trinity College, Cambridge, in October 1810, where he formed the Analytical society in 1812 with John Herschel and George Peacock ; Babbage was also a member of The Ghost Club, which investigated supernatural phenomena, and the Extractors Club, dedicated to liberating its members from the madhouse, should any be committed to one .In 1812 Babbage transferred to Peterhouse, Cambridge. He was the top mathematician there, but did not graduate with honours, receiving a degree without examination instead in 1814 after having defended a thesis that was considered blasphemous in the preliminary public disputation;

In 1815 Babbage lectured at the Royal Institution on astronomy and was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1816. After graduation, Babbage and Herschel visited the Society of Arcueil in Paris, meeting leading French mathematicians and physicists and also worked on a basic explanation of the Electrodynamics of Arago’s rotation with Herschel, and Michael Farraday. These are now part of the theory of eddy currents. He also worked on the unification of electromagnetics. Babbage was also interested in the Coarative View of the Various institutions for the Assurance of Lives and calculated Acturial tables for an insurance Company using Equitable Society Mortality Data from 1762. Babbage helped found the Astronomical Society in 1820, whose aims were to reduce astronomical calculations to a more standard form, and publish the data. In 1824 Babbage won the Astronomical Society’s Gold Medal, “for his invention of an engine for calculating mathematical and astronomical tables” to overcome errors made in tables by mechanisation and to improve the Nautical Almanac after decrepencies were found in traditional calculations. Babbage also helped establish a modern postal system, with his friend Thomas Frederick Colby, And introduced the Uniform Fourpenny Post supplanted by the Uniform Penny Post. In 1816 Babbage, Herschel and Peacock published a translation from French of the lectures of Sylvestre Lacroix concerning Calculus, the Formal Power Series which affected functional equations (including the difference equations fundamental to the difference engine) and operator (D-module) methods for differential equations. He also originated the concept of a programmable computer” and invented the first mechanical computer that eventually led to more complex designs.

The analogy of difference and differential equations was notationally changing Δ to D, as a “finite” difference becomes “infinitesimal”. These symbolic directions became popular, as operational calculus, and pushed to the point of diminishing returns. Woodhouse had already founded this second “British Lagrangian School” Babbage worked intensively on functional equations in general, influenced by Arbogast’s ideas. From 1828 to 1839 Babbage was Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge. Not a conventional resident don, and inattentive to teaching, he wrote three topical books during this period of his life. He was elected a Foreign Honorary Member of theAmerican Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1832. Babbage planned to lecture in 1831 on political economy. Babbage’s reforming direction Aiming to make university education more inclusive, with universities doing more for research, a broader syllabus and more interest in applications, but the idea was rejected. Another controversy Babbage had with Richard Jones lasted for six years and he never gave another lecture. Babbage also tried to enter politics, his views included disestablishment of the Church of England, a broader political franchise, and inclusion of manufacturers as stakeholders. He twice stood for Parliament as a candidate for the borough of Finsbury. In 1832 he came in third among five candidates, missing out by some 500 votes in the two-member constituency when two other reformist candidates, Thomas Wakley and Christopher Temple, split the vote. Babbage wrote another book Reflections on the Decline of Science and some of its Causes (1830) attacking the establishment and aiming to improve British science, by ousting Davies Gilbert as President of the Royal Society. Babbage also wished to become the junior secretary of the Royal Society, as Herschel was the senior, but failed after antagonizing Humphry Davy. subsequently the British Association for the Advancement of Science (BAAS) was formed in 1831.

Babbage used symbols to express the actions of his Difference and Analytical Engines in his influential book Economy of Machinery and Manufactures, which dealt with the organisation of industrial production. And An essay on the general principles which regulate the application of machinery to manufactures and the mechanical arts, was featured in the Encyclopædia Metropolitana. In his book Babbage developed the schematic classification of machines, whether for Domestic or industrial use andThe book also contained ideas on rational design in factories, and profit sharing and described The Babbage Principal. This discussed the commercial advantages available with more careful division of labour This principal had already been mentioned in the work of Melchiorre Gioia in 1815.The term was introduced in 1974 by Harry Braverman. Related formulations are the “principle of multiples” of Philip Sargant Florence, and the “balance of processes”. Babbage noticed that skilled workers typically spend parts of their time performing tasks that are below their skill level. If the labour process can be divided among several workers, labour costs may be cut by assigning only high-skill tasks to high-cost workers, restricting other tasks to lower-paid workers And that apprenticeship can be taken as fixed cost but returns to scale are available favoring the factory system. He also published a detailed breakdown of the cost structure of book publishing exposing the trade’s profitability,much to the chagrin of many publishers and namedthe organisers of the trade’s restrictive practices.

Babbage’s theories also influenced the 1851 Great Exhibition his views having a strong effect on many. Karl Marx argued that the source of the productivity of the factory system was the combination of the division of labour with machinery but mentioned that the motivation for division of labour was often for the sake of profitability, rather than productivity. Babbage also influenced the economic thinking of John Stuart Mill, George Holyoake, the economist Claude Lucien Bergery, William Jevons and Charles Fourier among others

In 1837, Babbage published On the Power, Wisdom and Goodness of God. A work of natural theology in which Babbage favored uniformitarianism preferring the conception of creation in which natural law dominated, removing the need for “contrivance. It incorporated extracts from related correspondence of Herschel withCharles Lyell. Babbage put forward the thesis that God had the omnipotence and foresight to create as a divine legislator. He could make laws which then produced species at the appropriate times, rather than continually interfering with ad hoc miracles each time a new species was required. The British Association as inspired by the Deutsche Naturforscher-Versammlung, founded in 1822. It rejected romantic science as well as metaphysics, and started to entrench the divisions of science from literature, and professionals from amateurs. Babbage also identified closely with industrialists And Suggested that industrial society was the culmination of human development. In 1838 a clash with Roderick Murchison led to his withdrawal from further involvement and he also resigned as Lucasian professor,

His interests became more focussed, on computation and metrology, and on international contacts And announced A project to tabulate all physical constants (referred to as “constants of nature”, a phrase in itself a neologism), and then to compile an encyclopedic work of numerical information. He was a pioneer in the field of “absolute measurement”.] His ideas followed on from those of Johann Christian Poggendorff, and were mentioned to Brewster in 1832. There were to be 19 categories of constants, and Ian Hacking sees these as reflecting in part Babbage’s “eccentric enthusiasms” Babbage’s paper On Tables of the Constants of Nature and Art was reprinted by the Smithsonian Institution in 1856, with an added note that the physical tables of Arnold Henry Guyot “will form a part of the important work proposed in this article”.Exact measurement was also key to the development of machine tools. Here again Babbage is considered a pioneer, with Henry Maudslay, William Sellers, and Joseph Whitworth

Babbage also met the the Engineers Marc Brunel and Joseph Clement at the Royal Society And introduced them to Isambard Kingdom Brunel in 1830, for a contact with the proposed Bristol & Birmingham Railway. He also carried out studies, around 1838, showing the superiority of the broad gauge for railways, used by Brunel’s Great Western Railway ln 1838, And invented the pilot (also called a cow-catcher), the metal frame attached to the front of locomotives that clears the tracks of obstacles; he also constructed a dynamometer car. His eldest son, Benjamin Herschel Babbage, also worked as an engineer for Brunel on the railways before emigrating to Australia in the 1850s. Babbage also invented an ophthalmoscope, however the optician Thomas Wharton Jones, ignored it and It Was only widely used after being independently invented by Hermann von Helmholtz.

Babbage also decoded Vigenère’s autokey cipher during the Crimean War His discovery being kept a military secret And later wrote a letter anonymously to the Journal of the Society for Arts concerning “Cypher Writing” . Babbage lived and worked for over 40 years at 1 Dorset Street, Marylebone, where he died, at the age of 79, on 18 October 1871; he was buried in London’s Kensal Green Cemetery. According to Horsley, Babbage died “of renal inadequacy, secondary to cystitis.” He had declined both a knighthood and baronetcy. He also argued against hereditary peerages, favoring life peerages instead .In 1983 the autopsy report for Charles Babbage was discovered and later published by his great-great-grandson A copy of the original is also available. Half of Babbage’s brain is preserved at the Hunterian Museum in the Royal College of Surgeons in London The other half of Babbage’s brain is on display in the Science Museum, London.


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