Charles Babbage and the Devil
Maybe I don’t have enough brain to be sparing any for posting some of this stuff, but dangit, I want the change of pace.
So, Charles Babbage, who I mentioned last post. Difference Engine yeah yeah Analytical Engine sure we’ve all heard about those things. If you read 2D Goggles, you’ve also heard about his one-man war against street musicians, which is a bit less well-known.
Did you know that as a kid, he tried to summon the Devil?
True story, at least according to his autobiography (which is kind of this random string of anecdotes; he says at the beginning that everybody kept after him to write his memoirs or something, and this was the only way he could interest himself in the project). Apparently wee!Babbage began to doubt the existence of the Devil, because it just didn’t make sense to him. Nor did it to a lot of Victorians, for that matter, as they started to get all scientific about their religion and demand that it make rational sense. Anyway, wee!Babbage questioned the existence of the Devil, and then he thought about all those stories where Faustus or whoever summons Satan to make a pact with him, and so wee!Babbage decides to do the same thing — minus the pact. He’s not out to damn himself, people; he’s just conducting an experimental inquiry as to the existence or non-existence of the Devil. Failure to show won’t prove non-existence, of course, but if the Devil poofs into his magic circle, well. Wee!Babbage can thank him for his time and send him away, question answered and immortal soul secure. Surely God won’t hold a little Devil-summoning against him, not when it’s for Science!
I have no intention of writing a “Babbage made a secret pact with the Devil” story — though now that I think of it, “Babbage didn’t make a secret pact with the Devil and that’s why he was constantly pestered by street musicians” is kind of an entertaining concept — but that anecdote amused me. Almost as much as the one about how he and a friend used to sneak out of the dormitory of their boarding school late at night in order to go study. And when one of the other boys wanted to join him they said no, he couldn’t, because he would just want to play. Which led to hijinks involving the kid tying successively thicker bits of string between his thumb and the dormitory doorknob that wee!Babbage kept cutting with his pocketknife until the night the kid, determined to know when he was sneaking out, used a chain.
Wee!Babbage may have been a little crazy. It seems to have been endemic to the period.
Anyway, consider this the book report for Passages from the Life of a Philosopher, which mostly ended up being irrelevant to my research, but was an entertaining read.
Edited: Comments are now closed because of ridiculous ammounts of spam.