Argh, sorry about the long delay folks, I’ve been out of town for a couple of weeks. But I am back! and so are Babbage and Lovelace! and so is… someone else..
My own poetic licence was revoked under circumstances too embarrassing to recount here, involving unwise use of mixed metaphors and exactly the wrong place to put an anapest.
I had some considerable anxiety over this episode because the Brontes kind of belong to Kate Beaton now, but Vampire Poets has always started for me with Emily Bronte breaking windows for Babbage’s chart, and that’s just how it had to be! Charlotte Bronte provides a description of her sister in the preface to the 1851 edition of Wuthering Heights; Emily did not in actuality accompany the other two sisters on their well-known visit to London, probably because this is just the sort of thing they were afraid would happen. She succumbed to Poetry at the age of 30. Complete poems here.
I had some difficulty finding that chart, because it’s attributed in the Mechanics Magazine mysteriously to a ‘distinguished statistician’! I had to track it down in a roundabout way, via the Insurance Cyclopedia, which in itself I could only see the cover in in Google Books. Being published in 1878 it is just outside of Google Books possibly excessively cautious 1870 copyright cutoff in Europe. You see, without delving into the life history of its author Mr. Cornelius Walford, it cannot be 100% guaranteed that this 1878 book falls outside of life+70 years. Cornelius may have been a youthful 20-year-old firebrand, eager to make his name in the field of actuarial history, who pursued his craft until the age of 95! This however would have made him 10 years old on the publication of The Insurance Guide and Handbook on Fire, Life, Marine, Tontine, and Casualty Insurance, an unusually precocious age for an interest in actuarial theory. In the end no less a person than James Gleick was kind enough to send me a PDF of this inestimable volume with its entire chapter on the history of glass breakage insurance, so I’m delighted to have another chance to plug his excellent book with its very substantial section on Babbage and Lovelace.
Where was I? Statistics! Zoo animal food consumption and frequency of surname starting-letters are just some of the subjects on which the tireless Babbage wished to have accurate data. You can read about his project in On the Tables of Constants in Nature and Art.
Isambard Kingdom Brunel kept notebooks in little shelves in his hat; I don’t know if this was a standard thing but I would certainly expect it of Babbage!
Sorry again for the long wait, next one should come much brisker!
This incoherent, fragmentary manuscript, plainly the work of a diseased mind, was discovered in a crypt, clutched in one skeletal hand of a corpse. We were unable to prise the glass of whiskey out of the other hand.
It’s Gothic! It’s Horrible! It’s a Gothic Horrible! IT’S VAMPIRE POETS!!!
NOTES HAUNTED BY A MYSTERIOUS GUILT, DRESSED EITHER ENTIRELY IN WHITE OR ENTIRELY IN BLACK, DEFINITELY NOT IN BLACK AND WHITE POLKA DOTS
Not a whole lot of notes I can give before fully introducing our Mysterious Stranger, some pertinent ones are appended to the related comic The Person From Porlock.
But I have to have SOME notes to maintain the balance of this Universe so please enjoy some awful Victorian poetry featuring our fearless protagonists (click on the verses for the full versions, if for some crazy reason you want to read them):
Babbage’s elaborate visions of a mechanistic universe sees him turn up here as a spectre of Determinism (not sure if Whewell belongs there though? Don’t know huge amounts about this guy but he doesn’t sound like a Determinist)
And some thoroughly enjoyable doggerel with Babbage in cuddlier calculator mode:
And finally, I can’t tell you how pleased I am to present this Ode To Lady Lovelace, whose agonizing awfulness will quite diminish by contrast the awfulness of my own verses:
For those who were sensibly doodling during their English classes
That’s quite enough of THAT debauchery, I suggest we all cleanse ourselves by studying Babbage’s work on comparative methods of compiling actuarial tables.
EDITED TO ADD: Always I forget a note! “It was a dark and stormy night” is of course the immortal opening of Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s Paul Clifford. Bulwer-Lytton was a friend and neighbour of Lovelace’s, and she had a great admiration of his books, thus establishing the traditional geek love for awful doorstop pulp fiction. Maybe she was just waiting for him to get around to his proto-science fiction, but sadly she died before he wrote it.
Also– in reply to comments from the poster– the instruments Lovelace is using to ward of the Vampyre are a straightedge and a compass, the instruments with which she is accustomed to solving all known problems.