Beyond the Brownings–Charles Babbage (1791-1871)

NPG Ax18347; Charles Babbage by Henri Claudet

© National Portrait Gallery, London

By Melinda Creech, Graduate Assistant, Armstrong Browning Library

Charles Babbage is credited with originating the concept of a programmable computer. He was a visitor at John Kenyon’s parties and probably acquainted with the Brownings. There are several references to him in Elizabeth’s letters, including this passage from a letter from EBB to Robert Browning, 17 February 1845. This letter, part of Wellesley College Special Collections, is also in The Browning Letters digital collection at Baylor University through the Baylor-Wellesley collaboration:

Do you know Tennyson? that is, with a face to face knowledge? I have great admiration for him. In execution, he is exquisite,-and, in music, a most subtle weigher out to the ear, of fine airs. That such a poet shd submit blindly to the suggestions of his critics, (I do not say that suggestions from without may not be accepted with discrimination sometimes, to the benefit of the acceptor) blindly & implicitly to the suggestions of his critics, .. is much as if Babbage were to take my opinion & undo his calculating machine by it. Napoleon called poetry ‘science creuse’-which, although he was not scientific in poetry himself, is true enough. But anybody is qualified, according to everybody, for giving opinions upon poetry. It is not so in chymistry and mathematics. Nor is it so, I believe, in whist and the polka.    

The Armstrong Browning Library has three of Babbage’s letters in its collection.

Babbage-to-Booth-letterLetter from Charles Babbage to [James] Booth.
20 December 1856.

Babbage thanks Booth, the executor of Kenyon’s will, for the gift of a telescope, which had belonged to their valued friend, John Kenyon.

Many thanks to you and Miss Bayley for the kind thought of giving me a memorial of our valued friend Kenyon. I shall gladly accept the telescope which you propose for that purpose…

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