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 YEAR: 1834
 PUBLISHER: Edinburgh Review, and Critical Journal
 Volume: LIX  Number: CXX
 COUNTRY: UK
 IN OUR COLLECTION: Yes
Click here for further information on our rarity scale RARITY: Unknown
Article on Babbage's Calculating Engine

 

Although not the first time that Babbage's Calculating Engine was mentioned in print, it was the most extensive account of his work on the Difference Engine #1 at that time. Published in the July 1834 issue of the Edinburgh Review, The article included a rationale for the invention, effusive praise for the invention and Babbage, drawings of how the calculations would be made, and an explanation of how the "engine" would work. (The steam engine had radically changed England and introduced the Industrial Revolution...so, the word "engine" was commonly used to describe any significant mechanical advance.1)

The article was extensive, 74 pages long! And the author was not shy about the importance of the article:

Notwithstanding the interest with which this invention has been regarded in every part of the world, it has never yet been embodied in a written, much less in a published form. We trust, therefore, that some credit will be conceded to us for having been the first to make the public acquainted with the object, principle, and structure of a piece of machinery, which, though at present unknown (except as to a few of its probable results), must, when completed, produce important effects, not only on the progress of science, but on that of civilisation.

If we view Babbage's inventions as the foundation of the modern computer, the author was correct about its impact on civilisation (as the British spell it).

Our copy is in fair condition, with both the front and back covers missing. Some pages are starting to come loose. It is clean inside with a couple of old library stamps that do not detract.

Babbage's work was funded by the King of England. Like computers today, Babbage's Difference Engine had military implications. England had built her empire based on her command of the seas and having error-free navigation tables improved the empire's of holding on to that empire. The author makes it a point to mention that the government owns the work.

The present state of the Difference Engine, which has always been the property of Government, is as follows: —The drawings are nearly finished, and the mechanical notation of the whole, recording every motion of which it is susceptible, is completed. A part of that Engine, comprising sixteen figures, arranged in three orders of differences, has been put together, and has frequently been used during the last eight years. It performs its work with absolute precision. This portion of the Difference Engine, together with all the drawings, are at present deposited in the Museum of King's College, London.

1There is an interesting sci-fi book by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling entitled, "The Difference Engine" which posits what the world might have looked like had Babbage actually build one of his calculating machines and attached it to a steam engine to speed up computations. (Personally, I think that anything by William Gibson is a good read!)





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