Lovelace and Babbage Vs. The Organist, Part 4

This entry is part 4 of 12 in the series The Organist

Too late have I realized this series should be called “Lovelace and Babbage Vs Organized Crime”. Dang it! For the sountrack to the first part of this comic, press play:

Music is the silence between the notes, they say, just as the comic is the bunch of drawings between these NOTES:

— Obviously the most historically problematic part of the comic is the inclusion of Brunhilde among The Sopranos. This ultimate iconic role wasn’t performed until 1876- ALTHOUGH, it was created in the 1850s, so it’s not as silly as it may have initially seemed.

— the Lair of the Organist is located in St Louis, Missouri.

— The Assorted Musical Miscreants, otherwise known as the Clockwork Quartet, feed me exquisite chocolates and and are here to raise the fashion tone around this comic.

— The Organist bears a suspicious, and yet Entirely Coincidental resemblance to Mr Bruce of The Correspondents, because every time I see that guy I think, ‘that guy NEEDS to be a Super-villain’. Um, I hope that’s okay.

Street Organists do in fact seem to have been a bit of a mafia. Babbage was not the only one to claim the organ grinders were a protection racket (“nice quiet street you got here. Shame if someone started playing a really loud organ.”). Mostly the organs were owned by a central depot and rented out to hacks, somewhat like taxicabs. According to the Museum of Self-Playing Instruments in Kew, an automatic street-piano would cost 2/6d to rent per day in the 1890s from the Tomasso and Sons company- here’s one from that very same nefarious organisation, enjoy!

Business idea: create virus that will autoplay barrel-organ music, with handy pop-up explaining music will stop with a donation to an untraceable account. Include cute monkey icon!

Charles Wheatstone! So, I knew I wanted him in the comic for various reasons but I have to say he’s given me a hard time. It turns out I’ve been spoiled rotten on the fantastic wealth of entertaining primary documents around Babbage and Lovelace, because would you believe it all I keep getting for this guy is a bunch of interesting scientific papers! What the heck is up with that? The one spark I’m trying to fan into a flame is that, while an inexhaustible talker in private, he was so terrified of public speaking that Michael Faraday used to have to give his lectures for him at the Royal Society. Also, I’m not sure if Babbage ever forgave Wheatstone for inventing the concertina.

With historical basis however is that he was given to Cunning Plans, one of which it involved our very own Lady Lovelace. From a late 1844 letter from Lovelace to her husband:

“I have had Wheatstone with me the last 5 hours.. he has given me much important information, & still more important advice. He is anxious I should take such a position as may enable me to influence Prince Albert, who is, he knows, a very clever young man.”

The gist of the Plan was that Lovelace should get close to the Prince Consort and replace him with an evil automaton replica serve him as “a sensible adviser and suggester, to indicate to him the channels for his exercising a scientific influence.” A large component of this long-range plan involved slowly building Lovelace’s reputation by having her write translations and compendia of scientific papers from the Continent. It was in fact Wheatstone and not Babbage who had first suggested, nearly two years before this meeting, that she publish something on the Analytical Engine. To me it looks like Wheatstone was one of several who was looking to Lovelace as the successor to Mary Somerville, who had been writing similar translations and elucidations a decade or so earlier but had permanently moved to Italy in 1838. Victorian Science being run on the Smurfette principle of gender balance, there was a gap in the market.

Wheatstone’s plans were to be cut short by Lovelace’s untimely death, but slowed down by other more ambiguous problems, which brings us to:

The Demon Poetry

That’s Elizabeth Barrett Browning slamming The Soul’s Expression there– Here she is rocking a hella goth look. Poetry slams can be very dangerous things, I’m here to tell you. I met my husband at one so let that be a terrible warning to you all.

Here is a very important historical document about dangerous poets.

–A fear of Lovelace developing a ‘poetic’ temperament was expressed even by Byron- “I hope the Gods have made her anything save poetical– it is enough to have one such fool in the family.” I’m reasonably sure this was a euphemism, and the concern was centred more around the alarming history of what we’d now call mental illness in the Byron line, which was to become something of an obsession for Ada’s mother.

It’s hard to write anything of medium-blog length about Lovelace, as I’m either forced to handwave or go on for pages.. I wish I could recommend a biography but although there are several, they range from the adequate to the not-adequate, which isn’t exactly a ringing endorsement. Oh well!

Diagnosing long-dead people is a harmless and futile hobby (for the five people reading this to whom this means anything, the bipolar thing is pretty much the only thing I agree with in the Stein biography). So, to use technically neutral language, there is a widening streak of weird that starts showing up periodically in Lovelace’s letters in her mid-twenties. I have to say if you’ve ever had a friend with a bipolar disorder these set off the same “Oh, geeeez..” alarm bells as an extremely lengthy and odd email from an otherwise charming friend. I could quote you some stuff but that seems like kind of a jerky thing to do, so, I won’t.

In late ’43, shortly after she finished the Notes on Babbage’s engine, Lovelace’s doctor began to attempt to treat an ‘illness’ of what Lovelace termed ‘whims and manias’ with a mixture of opium, morphine, and gin. Did it work? Amazingly, no. Noooo, it didn’t. Lovelace’s history enters an extremely murky period at this point.

A powerful faith in Self-Improvement was pretty much the only Victorian thing about Ada Lovelace– as she wrote: “There has been no end to the manias and whims I have been subject to, & which nothing but the most resolute determination on my part could have mastered.” It sure seems like a few years later the weird patches in the letters vanished as mysteriously as they came, not to return at least in the few years she had left to her. She attributes this to the elimination of ‘1. extravagant stimulating 2. extravagant dosing’ and ‘the judicious management of a very susceptible temperament’. Pocket-universe Lovelace continues the struggle against her ‘hydra-headed monster’.

Anyways, better wind this down! One last note:

– ‘that’s Tuesdays, man’ — Lovelace’s attitude to her father fluctuated a fair bit during her life, but we’ll go into that in a later comic!

(Incidentally if anyone wants to spend five hours outlining a plan whereby I would gradually ascend to Total Comics Domination I would be delighted to listen, but bring sandwiches. Five hours!)

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44 Responses to “Lovelace and Babbage Vs. The Organist, Part 4”

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  1. Tim Jones says:

    As wonderful as always! Some quick and random thoughts:

    * Elizabeth Barrett Browning looks remarkably like Polly Jean Harvey

    * I was hoping Charles Wheatstone would say something about “taking it to the bridge”.

    * I like the way you gave Babbage the episode off so he could work on other projects.

    • sydney says:

      HAHA my husband was all, “Wheatstone needs to say, ‘take it to the bridge!'” and I was all, “I don’t even know what that means” and then he played me James Brown for way too long. I shall work it into the CLIMACTIC BATTLE.

  2. David H. says:

    I love the term “widening streak of weird.” Also on the list of things I love: dissolute, on-the-make Lovelace in the “hey, aren’t you the daughter of –” Brunel only wishes he could see her looking like that. (Babbage, by contrast, would be HIGHLY ALARMED.)

  3. RedScharlach says:

    Wasn’t it The Village People who sang Can’t Stop The Music? Mind you, I suppose the difference between them and the Ancients is negligible. But I fear Babbage suddenly turning up at the YMCA (founded 1844) in the next chapter…

    • sydney says:

      Red– Yeees indeed. Oh man thank you for that Important Historical fact, now I have to work that in SOMEHOW.

  4. Andrew says:

    Freaking brilliant, and, as usual, well worth the wait. Congrats on working in the City Museum in the first panel, the Clockwork Quartet (must be nice to live in their area *sigh*), and Charles Wheatstone. *sigh* Brunel and dissipated Lovelace in the same strip and we’ll be disappointed? How could that possibly be? I don’t suppose you could post a model sheet of Browning? I’d love to see more of that outfit she’s wearing at the poetry slam.

  5. Liz says:

    best line ever: oh the humanities. :D

  6. Luke says:

    The funny thing about the way you rendered Wheatstone is that he’s actually pretty reminiscent of our Rota-playing youtube instrumentalist as well!

  7. E-Wit says:

    Am I permitted to say that “Oh yeah, I really DO remember actual barrel organs in the streets!”? Well, I’ve said it. Also, to reach even farther back, consider the infernal consult in Paradise Lost, Books I and II. (No, I wasn’t around for that.) Oh the humanities all right. Well anyway, yet another work of genius. Go Sydney!

  8. Amanda says:

    I’m afraid you’ve had the Organist introduce Wheatstone as “Wheastone” here…

  9. Just yesterday I encountered a passing mention of Wheatstone in Anthony Lane’s account of the history of 3-D movies (in the New Yorker for 8 April). I hadn’t known that he invented the stereoscope as well as the concertina and his famous and elegant Bridge.

    For a guy who’s been dead 135 years, Wheatstone is having a pretty good week on the Internet.

    Good rundown of his invention here:

  10. Lenard Lindstrom says:

    Ah, spelling mistake in panel 10: Charles “Wheastone”. Otherwise, excellent.

  11. Blythe says:

    I never know what to say to a genius.

  12. Helen Keeble says:

    … I cannot _believe_ it took me until the third read to spot the CCTV joke. *headdesk*

    Utterly fantastic!

  13. Brian says:

    A fight for fabulocity is in our future!

  14. Bob Bruhin says:

    To be serious for just a moment, being close to a person with untreated bipolar disorder (and *all* bipolar disorder was effectively untreated during Lovelace’s time) represents more than just a small amount of trial. The phrase “a widening streak of weird” doesn’t even begin to capture the essence of the situation.

    Anyway. Another brilliant comic, nonetheless! Looking forward to the CLIMATIC BATTLE!! …or whatever else comes next.

    “Babbage may not understand music — but he’ll understand… MONKEYS..”

  15. John says:

    I was going to say something about the shadowy kingpin of organ-grinders (and monkey, naturally), along the lines of shouting “I knew it,” but I guess the historical accuracy takes the wind outta my sails.

    The Triads, though, are hilarious in a “most demented pun that I’ll never be able to re-use or explain to anybody else” kind of way. Also fairly good dancers, it seems.

    Bug-eyed Ada (her first panel) is also adorable, even if she is drunk on poetry.

    “Oh, the Humanities.” As someone else mentioned, love it.

  16. Bella Green says:

    I too got a big laugh out of The Triads. Like John said, never be able to use that one, but wow! Yet again, the Awesome is in evidence. Love it!

    • sydney says:

      Andrew- that’s this outfit here. Thank you so much for the scoop on that organ!

      Liz: heh I was pretty pleased with that one..

      Luke: he’s also pretty good!

      E-Wit– if you want to revisit the horrors of your past, you can still see organists pretty often in Eastern Europe, at least going by frequency of YouTube videos

      Bill– heh I’ve been experimenting with a cut-out stereoscope for a print-out special! I love optical gizmos and made loads of paper animation toys, but that’s one I’ve never tried. It might be too complicated, time will tell.

      Amanda, Leonard– aaaaargh. There’s always ONE and then I have to go back and fix the whole image. I usually leave them for posterity, so scholars of the future can speculate that I must be an illiterate fraud.

      Blythe– ‘have a cookie’?

      Helen- hahaha I thought I flagged that one so hard too!

      Brian– there shall be a battle of some sort!

      Bob(run of Bs for some reason)– I hope I didn’t offend. It’s an awkward subject to talk about but it gets unavoidable with Lovelace and it’s difficult to find the right tone. I should emphasize again that even a specialist couldn’t actually make a diagnosis from the stack of undated, ambiguous letters over a hundred years old. Certainly there is something going on, but what and how long and how severe and why are unanswerable questions.

      John– heh that’s the very best kind of pun, that requires an entire comic to set up and is otherwise useless.

  17. Jha says:

    I was so taken by that one panel of the Triads that I made a blogpost dedicated to it.


  18. Anon, a Mouse says:

    THE ORGANIST IS FABULOUS!!! And looks frighteningly like one of my younger brothers…

    Another triumph of drawings between the notes (thanks again for the links!). The whole Den of Vice sequence is hilarious and the line “…but he’ll understand… MONKEYS” is utter genius.

    PS to Brian– great pun on “fabulous-city”

  19. Brian says:

    Jha, your efforts were not for nothing! Until I read your minutely-dissecting blogpost, I had failed to notice that the hat brim formed the ledger line.

    (Also, I have never heard of the Triads, but I figured from context that I was missing something there.)

    PPS: That picture of Elizabeth Barrett Browning is starting to scare me. If a woman looked at me like that in a dark alley I’d run.

  20. Nate says:

    Run… or smooch?

    I’m not sure my first instinct would be to run.

  21. MadRat says:

    They say laughter is a reaction to surprise and when I saw Sir Charles Wheatstone I had to stop reading because I was laughing so hard. I knew he had contributed to the science of acoustics but I had no idea he invented the concertina. I didn’t know who Elizabeth Barrett Browning was so when I saw her I thought, “Wow, that’s one heck of a dark, scary looking Emily Dickinson and what is she doing in London?” I can’t help it, I’m an American. I now know Dickinson would have been a preschooler during the time the story takes place. 2D Goggles is fun AND educational! (And don’t worry at least of us noticed the “C” clamp on the pub sign.)

  22. Ceridwen says:

    Re : Poetry Slam
    Was that Uncle Fester (Jackie Coogan) on the piano?

    Charles Wheatstone was so reminiscent of The Godfather… until he became reminiscent of a shy accountant. Elegant segue there.

    And Ada’s “I am nothing like my father!” panel… I need the super-sized coffee mug.

    The inconveniently placed caption is certainly inconveniently placed.

    Monkeys!!!!!! Woooooooot!

    Nice play on the “Oh the humanity!” quote. :D The humanities and the sciences seem to go round and round with each other over funding these days.

    Babbage at the Y? Hiding out from his disgruntled clientele, no doubt (will Brunel ever think of looking for him there?) – and will he find himself surrounded by cliched costumed singers?

    Okay, for level of energy, floppy hair and trim physique, both The Organist and, Extremely Coincidentally Mr. Bruce, remind me of my rhetoric teacher. Otherwise, the monkey and the bippity-boppity are completely original to the two Completley Disassociated, fictional and factual respectively, individuals involved and never once appeared in my rhetoric class.

  23. Jha says:

    Brian: Whew! I’m glad I got that clarified for you! I was so surprised at seeing it there, in such a clever pun no less! That panel begged deconstruction.

    Also, Elizabeth Barret-Browning, omg. I KNEW she looked familiar for some reason and was running through my head for parallels (for some reason I considered Alanis Morisette) so when I saw her portrait I LMAO’d.

  24. Paul says:

    I also laughed long and hard at the Triads gag. I think one of the prime reasons I love “The Thrilling Adventures…” is that you make no attempt to use hand-holding humour. I can’t imagine any other comic I’ve seen using such a wildly esoteric gag. Every episode is an education as well as entertainment. Thankfully there are commenters to point out any gags I miss!

    Keep up the good work. :)

  25. Paul says:

    Ha ha! Of course! A C-clamp is a vice! *facepalm*

  26. skauthen says:

    This comic has made me so happy for so many reasons. I don’t post here very often because, usually, by the time I post other people have already said what I wanted to say. But, assuming praise is beneficial and pleasing even if it is repeated praise, I shall say stuff they have already said. So, things I especially like/love/clutch to my bosom:

    – “Telegraphsomethingorother-doo-wop!” Could it be possible the organization of street musicians have their own shadowy slang by which they communicate their nefarious plots? Such as like the costermongers use when talking about their… nefarious cabbages?

    (And I must say this comic would be perfect were it not for the lack of costers with their kingsmen and their stunning flash.)

    – Den of Vice… if I ever open up a pub or a cafe…

    – I like the squiggly dotted path out of door in the last panel.

    – Clockwork Quartet! HA! I had thought that gang looked familiar. I can’t remember names or faces very well but I always have good recall on situations which involve chocolate.

    -Yessss you managed to slip a Correspondants link in there. Diseminate! Diseminate! I hadn’t seen this one before. Very entertaining, very… heehee, well, you know my thoughts on the subject.

    I have to ask you, when you were a small child did you ever wake up one morning and think to yourself, “I want to grow up and make a comic – the sort of thing that can have Charles Wheatstone seamlessly slipped into it”?

    >Michael Faraday used to have to give his lectures for him at the Royal Society

    Oooh, the angel Michael saves the day again. Are there any engravings of him? Are they chiseled in gold and do they have a slight glow to them?

    That portrait of Elizabeth Barrett Browning is so dark and gorgeous – is there any chance of her, y’know, um, being a member of a devious society of… um… certain poets whom… er, entertain a hunger for… (I will let this thought peter out into silence)

    Well! Back to Bewick. Ciao bella.

  27. Maire Smith says:

    Another episode! This made my day.

  28. Dave Van Domelen says:

    Well, a C-Clamp is a vise, not a vice, but the pun is definitely there, yes.

    Should the Triads get named, it would be wise to look up the Chinese names for musical notes and use those for the characters. :)

    Finally, you inspired me to create my own counterfactual for Babbage and Lovelace, in that after her death Babbage created the Advanced Difference-Engine Autosophont, or ADA. It’s a labored acronym, but a labor of love. ADA’s origin explained in and her first appearance in :).

  29. Kaaz says:

    *squeee* After a 5 day break from The World (and the internet) at a cottage by a lake, with a stack of books that nearly collapsed the coffee table, I come back to…to…. A NEW L&B!!!!!! I greedily devoured it, and then went back and savored it, and then after reading the comments went back a 3rd time (to get some of the jokes I had missed!). THANKYOUTHANKYOUTHANKYOU! Have a cookie!!

  30. Paul says:

    @Dave Van Domelen
    > Well, a C-Clamp is a vise, not a vice, but the pun is definitely there, yes.

    Not in England it’s not :P

  31. Nylaba says:

    I must admit I laughed straight off at the Triad joke especially with it being the so called Devil’s Interval. Also, something about this whole page reminds me of a fabulous short film called the Cat Piano. (Not a bad thing at all I assure you.) You can watch it on YouTube here

  32. Mr Bruce says:

    Dearest Sydney,

    It’s the organist here! I love your comic- I’m realising my potential for evil scheming…

    Talking of such scheme would you be interested in collaborating with us. We are about to rebrand ourselves and acquire a proper website (!) It would be amazing to have an on going Correspondents/Organist/babbage narrative.

    Please send us an email and we can throw some ideas around.

    All the best.

    Ian (Mr Bruce)

  33. Ray Girvan says:

    “that guy NEEDS to be a Super-villain”

    You’re not alone in having done this; the DC Comics supervillain Von Bach is modelled on Milan Fras, lead singer of the Slovenian band Laibach.

  34. The Foxaroo says:

    I’ve enjoyed all of your Lovelace and Babbage comics but this one is looking to be the best yet! :D Please continue when you can find the time!

    – The Foxaroo

  35. Gerry says:

    You can’t stop the music playing on – and now Ray Davies and the Kinks get quoted as well. When can we expect the last of the steam-powered trains to appear? And should we lie down on a village green to better enjoy them?

  36. Morris says:

    I just got pointed at Lovelace and Babbage a few days ago by a friend, and I’m catching up in my spare time. And even though it’s a few months late, I feel compelled to mention that I *LOVE* the fact that Wheatstone is playing the same music as the YouTube soundtrack, even if the tune itself is an anachronism by about a century.
    And as soon as I pressed the YouTube “play” button, I immediately started thinking that it was time for Wheatstone to make an appearance in the comic, so I was thrilled to see him show up further down the page.

  37. Gabriel Penn says:

    Oh, organists are all evil. I should know, I am one >8D

    Unfortunately, I am quite keen on the ol’ science and maths too, so I’m not sure which side I’d be on in this conflict…

    Actually, I’d probably be down The Vice with Lovelace listening to poetry. The life of a polymath is so cruel…

  38. Peter Lund says:

    One thing about Wheatstone that isn’t boring is his nephew Oliver Heaviside…
    (hints: pink fingernails, stone furniture, telegraph, vector calculus, and a bit of relativity theory.)

    Also, don’t miss this brilliant skit about Elizabeth Barrett Moulton-Barrett and Robert Browning (Emma Thompson and Stephen Fry, before they got famous):


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