Passages from the Life of a Philosopher - Charles Babbage
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Charles Babbage was a Victorian polymath, and someone with a seemingly never-ending intellectual curiosity about the world around him. A mathematician by training, he also wrote copiously on subjects such as economics, physics, engineering, computation, cryptography, religion and education, along with conducting practical experiments with pretty much anything that had grabbed his interest at the time. Today, he’s widely viewed to be the father of the computer with his Difference and Analytical Engines. Although neither were fully completed during his lifetime, a working replica of the Difference Engine was built in the 1990s, and an Analytical Engine is currently in the planning stages.
This autobiography (first published near the end of his life in 1864) veers from topic to topic and rarely settles on any subject for more than a chapter. Apart from his early life and an explanation of the thinking behind his computing Engines, Babbage also transcribes his memories of climbing into an active volcano, arguing with street musicians, picking locks, standing in elections, and imagining life as a cheese mite, among other diverse subjects. The original meaning of the titular word “Philosopher” is “lover of wisdom,” and this book shows Babbage to be just that.
Passages from the Life of a Philosopher
By Charles Babbage.
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“I’m a philosopher. Confound them all—Don Juan
Birds, beasts, and men; but no, not womankind.”
“I now gave my mind to philosophy: the great object of my ambition was to make out a complete system of the universe, including and comprehending the origin, causes, consequences, and termination of all things. Instead of countenance, encouragement, and applause, which I should have received from everyone who has the true dignity of an oyster at heart, I was exposed to calumny and misrepresentation. While engaged in my great work on the universe, some even went so far as to accuse me of infidelity;—such is the malignity of oysters.”Autobiography of an Oyster deciphered by the aid of photography in the shell of a philosopher of that race—recently scalloped.
In dedicating this volume to your Majesty, I am also doing an act of justice to the memory of your illustrious father.
In 1840, the King, Charles Albert, invited the learned of Italy to assemble in his capital. At the request of her most gifted Analyst, I brought with me the drawings and explanations of the Analytical Engine. These were thoroughly examined and their truth acknowledged by Italy’s choicest sons.
To the King, your father, I am indebted for the first public and official acknowledgment of this invention.
I am happy in thus expressing my deep sense of that obligation to his son, the Sovereign of united Italy, the country of Archimedes and of Galileo.
Some men write their lives to save themselves from ennui, careless of the amount they inflict on their readers.
Others write their personal history, lest some kind friend should survive them, and, in showing off his own talent, unwittingly show them up.
Others, again, write their own life from a different motive—from fear that the vampires of literature might make it their prey.
I have frequently had applications to write my