“Sketch of the Analytical Engine invented by Charles Babbage …

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Bonhams : [LOVELACE, AUGUSTA ADA BYRON, COUNTESS OF, translator.] MENABREA, LUIGI FEDERICO. “Sketch of the Analytical Engine invented by Charles Babbage … with notes by the translator.” Pp 666-731. Folding table and text tables. IN: Scientific Memoirs,.

“Sketch of the Analytical Engine invented by Charles Babbage … with notes by the translator.” Pp 666-731. Folding table and text tables. IN: Scientific Memoirs, Richard Taylor, ed. London: 1843. Vol 3. (Vols 1-2 & 4-5 also included.)

8vo. Near-period brick-red cloth, recased with later endpapers. Minor rubbing to cloth, light chipping to flyleaves; overall in excellent condition and the table very clean and well-margined.

Provenance: WILLIAM WHEWELL, 1794-1866 (offset image from his removed bookplates to flyleaves); B.C. Gregory (ownership inscriptions to front pastedowns).

FIRST EDITION, JOURNAL ISSUE, OF THE MOST IMPORTANT EARLY PAPER IN THE HISTORY OF DIGITAL COMPUTING. “Countess Lovelace’s notes … stand as one of the first thorough studies of the nature and power of digital computers, written a hundred years before any working computer existed” (Ceruzzi, The Reckoners p 56).

“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 had worked out years ago, except for one involving Bernouilli 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 2000, 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. Their authorship remained a mystery until Charles Weld credited them to “a lady of distinguished rank and talent” in his History of the Royal Society, 1848. He adds in a footnote: “I am authorized by Lord Lovelace to say, that the translator is Lady Lovelace.” A copy of this 2-volume work is included with the lot.
The present set is of particular interest as having once been owned by Babbage’s friend and sometime philosophical adversary, William Whewell. Whewell was an Anglican priest and historian of science at Trinity College, Cambridge. He was chosen over Babbage to write a Bridgewater Treatise and his contribution was warmly rebutted by Babbage in his Ninth Bridgewater Treatise. Extraordinary Women in Science & Medicine (Grolier Club 2013) 112; Origins of Cyberspace 62; Van Sinderen 1980, 55.

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1 Comment

  1. Thanks for posting this material on the “Sketch of the Analytical Engine invented by Charles Babbage … with notes by the translator.” It is just what I need as I meet with women faculty to talk about our first Ada Lovelace Day celebration at Hofstra University on October 14, 2014!

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