Sketch of the Analytical Engine invented by Charles Babbage Esq. By L. F. Menabrea of Turin, Officer of the Military Engineers, with Notes by the Translator.

London: Richard & John E. Taylor, 1843.

First edition, journal issue, of the best contemporary description of Babbage’s Analytical Engine, the first programmable (mechanical) computer. It is a translation by Lovelace of a report by Menabrea of a series of lectures given by Babbage while he was in Turin. At Babbage’s suggestion, Lovelace added seven explanatory notes; as a result, the translation is three times as long as the original. Two of these notes are essentially programs for the Analytical Engine; their inclusion has given rise to the claim that Lovelace was the first computer programmer. “In the fall if 1841, after eight years of work, Babbage described his landmark Analytical Engine at a seminar in Turin. Although the Engine was never constructed, there is no doubt that in conception and design, it embodied all of the essential elements of what is recognized today as a general-purpose digital computer. L.F. Menabrea, an Italian military engineer who attended the seminar, reported the presentation the following year in an obscure Swiss serial, and Babbage urged Ada Lovelace to translate the report into English. In fact, Lovelace undertook a far larger task: adding to her translation a series of important explanatory 'Notes' substantially longer than Menabrea's article” (Grolier Extraordinary Women, p. 122). The collaboration “between Byron’s celebrity daughter and Babbage is one of the more unusual in the history of science … Ada’s translation of Menabrea’s paper, with its lengthy explanatory notes, represents the most complete contemporary account in English of the intended design and operation of the first programmable digital computer. Babbage considered this paper a complete summary of the mathematical aspects of the machine, proving ‘that the whole of the development and operations of Analysis are now capable of being executed by machinery.’ As part of his contribution to the project, Babbage supplied Ada with algorithms for the solution of various problems. These he had worked out years ago, except for one involving Bernoulli numbers, which was new. Ada illustrated these algorithms in her notes in the form of charts detailing the stepwise sequence of events as the hypothetical machine would progress through a string of instructions input from punched cards” (Swade, p. 165). These procedures, and the procedures published in the original edition of Menabrea’s paper, were the first published examples of computer ‘programs.’ “Ada also expanded upon Babbage’s general views of the Analytical Engine as a symbol-manipulating device rather than a mere processor of numbers. She brought to the project a fine sense of style that resulted in the frequently quoted analogy, ‘We may say most aptly that the Analytical Engine weaves algebraic patterns just as the Jacquard-loom weaves flowers and leaves.’ She suggested that … ‘Many persons who are not conversant with mathematical studies, imagine that because the business of the engine is to give its results in numerical notation, the nature of its processes must consequently be arithmetical and numerical, rather than algebraical and analytical. This is an error. The engine can arrange and combine its numerical quantities exactly as if they were letters or any other general symbols; and in fact it might bring out its results in algebraical notation, were provisions made accordingly’ (p. 713)” (OOC). Lady Lovelace signed these notes ‘A.A.L.,’ masking her class and gender in deference to the conventions of the time. ABPC/RBH list only the OOC copy (Christie’s, 23 February 2005, lot 32, $10,800).

In 1828, during his grand tour of Europe, Babbage had suggested a meeting of Italian scientists to the Grand Duke of Tuscany. On his return to England Babbage corresponded with the Duke, sending specimens of British manufactures and receiving on one occasion from the Duke a thermometer from the time of Galileo. In 1839 Babbage was invited to attend a meeting of Italian scientists at Pisa, but he was not ready and declined. “In 1840 a similar meeting was arranged in Turin. By then Babbage did feel ready, and accepted the invitation from [Giovanni] Plana (1781-1864) to present the Analytical Engine before the assembled philosophers of Italy … In the middle of August 1840, Babbage left England …

“Babbage had persuaded his friend Professor MacCullagh of Dublin to abandon a climbing trip in the Tyrol to join him at the Turin meeting. There in Babbage’s apartments for several mornings met Plana, Menabrea, Mosotti, MacCullagh, Plantamour, and other mathematicians and engineers of Italy. Babbage had taken with him drawings, models and sheets of his mechanical notations to help explain the principles and mode of operation of the Analytical Engine. The discussions in Turin were the only public presentation before a group of competent scientists during Babbage’s lifetime of those extraordinary forebears of the modern digital computer. It is an eternal disgrace that no comparable opportunity was ever offered to Babbage in his own country …

“The problems of understanding the principles of the Analytical Engines were by no means straightforward even for the assembly of formidable scientific talents which gathered in Babbage’s apartments in Turin. The difficulty lay not as much in detail but rather in the basic concepts. Those men would certainly have been familiar with the use of punched cards in the Jacquard loom, and it may reasonably be assumed that the models would have been sufficient to explain the mechanical operation in so far as Babbage deemed necessary. Mosotti, for example, admitted the power of the mechanism to handle the relations of arithmetic, and even of algebraic relations, but he had great difficulty in comprehending how a machine could handle general conditional operations: that is to say what the machine does if its course of action must be determined by results arising from its own previous calculations. By a series of particular examples, Babbage gradually led his audience to understand and accept the general principles of his engine. In particular, he explained how the machine could, as a result of its own calculations, advance or back the operation cards, which controlled the sequence of operations of the Engine, by any required number of steps. This was perhaps the crucial point: only one example of conditional operations within the Engine, it was a big step in the direction of the stored program, so familiar today to the tens of millions of people who use electronic computers.

“In explaining the Engines Babbage was forced to put his thoughts into ordinary language; and, as discussion proceeded his own ideas crystallized and developed. At first Plana had intended to make notes of the discussions so that he could prepare a description of the principles of the Engines. But Plana was old, his letters of the time are in a shaky hand, and the task fell upon a young mathematician called Menabrea, later to be Prime Minister of the newly united Italy. It is interesting to reflect that no one remotely approaching Menabrea in scientific competence has ever been Prime Minister of Britain …

“Babbage’s primary object in attending the Turin meeting had been to secure understanding and recognition for the Analytical Engine. He hoped that Plana would make a brief formal report on the Engine to the Academy of Turin and that Menabrea would soon complete his article. Babbage sent him further explanations to complement the notes he had made during Babbage’s exposition and the discussions in Turin. Babbage had certainly little hope of government comprehension or support in England but he was determined not to miss the slightest opportunity of securing recognition for his Engines.

“He set down his own thoughts in a letter written at about this time to Angelo Sismoda, whom he had often seen during the Turin meeting: ‘The discovery of the Analytical Engine is so much in advance of my own country, and I fear even of the age, that it is very important for its success that the fact should not rest upon my unsupported testimony. I therefore selected the meeting at Turin as the time of its publication, partly from the celebrity of its academy and partly from my high estimation of Plana, and I hoped that a report on the principles on which it is formed would have been already made to the Royal Academy.’ But Plana was old and ill: no report was forthcoming …

“Babbage returned from the sunny hills and valleys of Tuscany where he had basked in Ducal warmth and the approbation of philosophers to a chilly climate in England. He sent further explanations to Menabrea who in turn entirely rewrote the article. On 27 January 1842 Menabrea wrote to Babbage from Turin: ‘Je donnerai la dernière main a l’écrit qui vous concerne et j’espère dans quelques jours l’envoyer a Genève au bureau de la Bibliothèque Universelle.’ In number 82 of October 1842 the article finally appeared” (Hyman, Charles Babbage (1982), pp. 181-190).

“Babbage’s friend Charles Wheatstone commissioned Ada Lovelace to translate Menabrea’s paper into English. She then augmented the paper with notes, which were added to the translation. Ada Lovelace spent the better part of a year doing this, assisted with input from Babbage. These notes, which are more extensive than Menabrea’s paper, were then published in the September 1843 edition of Taylor's Scientific Memoirs under the initialism AAL.

“Ada Lovelace’s notes were labelled alphabetically from A to G. In note G, she describes an algorithm for the Analytical Engine to compute Bernoulli numbers. It is considered to be the first published algorithm ever specifically tailored for implementation on a computer, and Ada Lovelace has often been cited as the first computer programmer for this reason. The engine was never completed so her program was never tested … The engine has now been recognised as an early model for a computer and her notes as a description of a computer and software.

“In her notes, Lovelace emphasised the difference between the Analytical Engine and previous calculating machines, particularly its ability to be programmed to solve problems of any complexity. She realised the potential of the device extended far beyond mere number crunching. In her notes, she wrote:

‘[The Analytical Engine] might act upon other things besides number, were objects found whose mutual fundamental relations could be expressed by those of the abstract science of operations, and which should be also susceptible of adaptations to the action of the operating notation and mechanism of the engine … Supposing, for instance, that the fundamental relations of pitched sounds in the science of harmony and of musical composition were susceptible of such expression and adaptations, the engine might compose elaborate and scientific pieces of music of any degree of complexity or extent.’

“This analysis was an important development from previous ideas about the capabilities of computing devices and anticipated the implications of modern computing one hundred years before they were realised. Walter Isaacson [Fortune, 18 September 2014] ascribes Lovelace’s insight regarding the application of computing to any process based on logical symbols to an observation about textiles: ‘When she saw some mechanical looms that used punch-cards to direct the weaving of beautiful patterns, it reminded her of how Babbage's engine used punched cards to make calculations’ …

“According to the historian of computing and Babbage specialist Doron Swade:

‘Ada saw something that Babbage in some sense failed to see. In Babbage's world his engines were bound by number … What Lovelace saw—what Ada Byron saw—was that number could represent entities other than quantity. So once you had a machine for manipulating numbers, if those numbers represented other things, letters, musical notes, then the machine could manipulate symbols of which number was one instance, according to rules. It is this fundamental transition from a machine which is a number cruncher to a machine for manipulating symbols according to rules that is the fundamental transition from calculation to computation—to general-purpose computation—and looking back from the present high ground of modern computing, if we are looking and sifting history for that transition, then that transition was made explicitly by Ada in that 1843 paper.’

“Though Lovelace is referred to as the first computer programmer, some biographers, computer scientists and historians of computing claim otherwise. Allan G. Bromley, in the 1990 article Difference and Analytical Engines [in Aspray (ed.), Computing Before Computers, 1990, pp. 59-98]:

‘All but one of the programs cited in her notes had been prepared by Babbage from three to seven years earlier. The exception was prepared by Babbage for her, although she did detect a ‘bug’ in it. Not only is there no evidence that Ada ever prepared a program for the Analytical Engine, but her correspondence with Babbage shows that she did not have the knowledge to do so’ (p. 89) …

“Eugene Eric Kim and Betty Alexandra Toole [‘Ada and the First Computer,’ Scientific American 280 (1999), p. 76] consider it ‘incorrect’ to regard Lovelace as the first computer programmer, as Babbage wrote the initial programs for his Analytical Engine, although the majority were never published. Bromley notes several dozen sample programs prepared by Babbage between 1837 and 1840, all substantially predating Lovelace’s notes. Dorothy K. Stein [‘Lady Lovelace's Notes: Technical Text and Cultural Context,’ Victorian Studies 28 (1984), pp. 33–67] regards Lovelace’s notes as ‘more a reflection of the mathematical uncertainty of the author, the political purposes of the inventor, and, above all, of the social and cultural context in which it was written, than a blueprint for a scientific development’ (p. 34)” (Wikipedia, accessed May 15, 2019).

Extraordinary Women in Science & Medicine (Grolier Club 2013) 112; Origins of Cyberspace 62; Van Sinderen 55. Swade, The Cogwheel Brain: Charles Babbage and the Quest to Build the First Computer, 2000.



Pp. 666-731 and one folding table, in: Scientific Memoirs 3 (1843). 8vo, pp. vi, 734, with 10 plates and one folding table. Contemporary red half-calf and marbled boards, spine lettered in gilt (extremities rubbed), old inscription at head of title (title with a couple of small stains).

Item #4788

Price: $45,000.00