Page images
PDF
EPUB

THE

CHRISTIAN REMEMBRANCER.

JANUARY, 1866.

Art. I.--1. The Ninth Bridgewater Treatise ; a Fragment. By

CHARLES BABBAGE, Esq. Second Edition. London: J.

Murray. 1838. 2. Passages from the Life of a Philosopher. By CHARLES BABBAGE,

Esq. M.A. F.R.S. F.R.S.E. &c. &c. &c. &c. Commander of the Italian Order of S. Maurice and S. Lazarus, Inst. imp. (Acad. Moral.) Paris, Corr. Acad. Amer. &c. &c. &c. London: Longmans. 1864.

6

The et cæteras are ours; for it would be too much to go through the whole four lines of titles—many of them utterly incomprehensible to any but the happy possessor, which Mr. Babbage sports. Who can say, off-hand, for instance, what ACAD. REG. MONAC. HAFN, may mean? We note at once that they have all been added in the interval between the publication of the books at the head of our article. I now gave my mind to philosophy:

the great object of my ambition was to make out a complete * system of the universe. Instead of countenance, encourage

ment, and applause, I was exposed to calumny and misrepre*sentation. Some even went so far as to accuse me of infidelity.” This, which our author prints as a 'motto 'on his title-page, and which he professes to quote from The Autobiography of an Oyster, deciphered by the aid of photography in the shell of a philosopher of that race, recently scalloped,' does really contain the sum and substance of the volumea theoretical contempt for mankind, between whom and cheese mites Mr. Babbage draws out a long comparison, by no means to the advantage of the former; and the very ‘niracles' vouchsafed to whom he looks on as 'singular instances happening strictly according to the law of the universe—just as the Difference Engine, having for so many hundred thousand times fornied squares, forms a cube just once, and then, reverting to its squares, repeats the excepotion at just the same interval—a theoretical contempt for men,

NO. CXXXI.N.S.

6

B

combined with a practical sensitiveness to the opinion of others, and a morbid impatience of their dissent from him. Not a very pleasant character, one would say; and yet Mr. Babbage is a fairly pleasant companion, if you give him his head, and do not touch him on any of his numerous 'raws '-ay, and an amusing one too. His jokes are heavy, of the 'common-room' calibre; but he has seen a good many great people, and such a man always has something to say which is worth reading. It is his egotism, strangely enough, which saves the man.

He is not conceited, only, but so ridiculously vain, that his very conceit keeps him from being the morbid nuisance which he else might become. His book is amusing, because there is no one subject in the whole range of science and art on which he does not feel competent to pass an opinion; and very few to which he does not claim to have done good service. His thirty-third chapter, detailing the author's contributions to human knowledge,' shows us how he started philosophical societies in Italy, how he is the parent of our own Statistical Society, how he has done much towards political economy-above all, how (in the 'Ninth Bridgewater Treatise ') first he gave that view of miracles which we have mentioned that they are not exceptions, but isolated cases coming out in the ordinary course of things. This view,' he says, 'has been examined by some of the deepest thinkers in many

lands. Its adoption by them has been unanimous,'—which certainly is not the case in spite of the difference of their theological opinions. Then we have, in chapter thirty-four, the author's further contributions to human knowledge. escapes him. He has his theory on glaciers. He forms a plan for transmitting letters enclosed in small cylinders, along wires suspended from posts, towers, or church steeples,' anticipating the shrewdness of the old lady who, wishing her letter to be quickly delivered, hung it on the wires of the electric telegraph. Passing over inventions as numerous as those of the projectors whom Gulliver saw at Ladago, we must note his system of occulting numerical lights, which might surely be advantageously adopted in our lighthouses. In reference to this Mr. Babbage tells two of his best anecdotes. He had prepared twelve copies of a description of his contrivance, of which he was exceedingly proud, and despatched them to the proper authorities of the great maritime countries. One was sent to the French Prince President,' on 30th November, 1852. Two days after came the coup d'état. However,' says our author) three days later I received • from M. Mocquard (the correspondent of the Owl) the prettiest note, thanking me, and assuring me that the Prince was as much attached as ever to science, '-_avery comforting assurance, truly, at that particular time. His letter to the United States

Nothing

[ocr errors]
« PreviousContinue »