London: John Murray, 1851.
First edition, rare, especially in the original publisher’s cloth. Chapter 13, entitled ‘Calculating engines,’ contains a description of the current state of development of Babbage’s Analytical Engine. Conceived by him in 1834, this machine was designed to evaluate any mathematical formula and to have even higher powers of analysis than his original Difference Engine of the 1820s. Only part of the machine as a trial piece was completed before Babbage’s death in 1871. “The Analytical Engine was a quantum leap in logical conception and physical size, and its design ranks as one of the startling intellectual achievements of the century… The Analytical Engine features many essential principles found in the modern digital computer and its conception marks the transition from mechanized arithmetic to fully-fledged general purpose computation… It is on the Analytical Engine that Babbage’s standing as ‘the first computer pioneer’ largely rests” (computerhistory.org).
The Great Exhibition of 1851 was the outstanding public event of the Victorian era. Housed in Joseph Paxton’s glass and iron Crystal Palace, it presented a vast array of objects, technologies and works of art from around the world. The first industrial exhibition of international scope, contemporary commentators attributed much wider significance to it. Prince Albert, in particular, argued that the Great Exhibition would bring nations together in a spirit of friendly rivalry, following the social upheavals of the previous decade.
“Lyon Playfair, who played a leading role in organizing the exhibition, had originally suggested that Babbage be put in charge of the exhibition’s Industrial Commission, but Playfair’s suggestion was rejected by the British government, which was still at loggerheads with Babbage over funding for his calculating engines. Babbage was also refused permission to display the completed portion of his Difference Engine no. 1 at the exhibition, even though the exhibition’s purpose was to display the latest advances in industry, and Babbage’s machine, though built twenty years earlier, was arguably the finest product of precision mechanical engineering to date.
“Angered at these slights, Babbage published this vitriolic history of the exhibition, in which he skewered the insularity and snobbism of its organizers, put forth his own ideas about how the exhibition should have been run, and sounded off on the corrupt state of science in England…” (OOC).
“Charles Babbage (1791–1871), one of the most original thinkers of the nineteenth century, is best remembered as the pioneer of computing technology, but he also made significant contributions to mathematics, mechanical engineering, philosophy and political economy. This book, first published in 1851, is an example of his active and effective campaigning for the role of scientists and the place of science, technology and technical education in society. Ahead of his time, Babbage was critical of government and the scientific community for not valuing science and technology in education. The work develops these themes, using the Great Exhibition as a backdrop to highlight the political and cultural factors that can impede scientific and technological progress. Britain's industrial supremacy, he argued, disguised the need to develop technical education. As relevant and persuasive today as in 1851, Babbage's arguments emphasise the fundamental importance of technology to the advancement of society” (from the introduction to the Cambridge University Press reprint, 2012).
A second edition was published later in the same year.
Origins of Cyberspace 67. A. W. Van Sinderen, ‘The printed papers of Charles Babbage,’ Annals of the History of Computing, Vol. 2, 1980, pp. 169-850, no. 61. For a detailed account of the analytical engine, see A. G. Bromley, ‘Charles Babbage’s Analytical Engine 1838,’ Annals of the History of Computing, Vol. 4, 1982, pp. 196-217).
8vo (225 x 141 mm), pp. xvi, 231, , [4:adverts for other works by Babbage], 16 (publisher's general adverts), original green cloth stamped in gilt and blind, some light spotting to front fly leaf and half title as well as the last page of adverts and rear fly leaf, otherwise fine and clean throughout, engraved book plate to front pastedown and previous owner's signature to fly leaf. A very fine and completely unrepaired copy.