Lovelace and Babbage vs The Organist, Part 9

This entry is part 9 of 12 in the series The Organist

Soooo many monkeys.. day late, dollar short,  here is it is! Part 9!  Remember, every single panel of Lovelace and Babbage is drawn only with ink distilled from the blood of the finest genuine Victorian orphans!   Enjoy!


— not a whole lot of notes for the first part, though if you want to read the actual training methods of Victorian Organ Grinder’s monkeys this is fairly horrifying. So, historical accuracy on the psycho monkeys.

— mostly this episode (this whole story, really) is grown from a spore that implanted itself in my brain from The Ninth Bridgewater Treatise. It’s a bit hard to explain what this is.. let’s turn to the ever-invaluable Google Books, shall we?

First, the Bridgewater Project:

So far, so clear? This is an age that comes before “Origin of Species” but one that was already copying with volley of blows against its intellectual foundations from that usurping berserker, Science. The Bridgewater series was supposed to assure everyone that everything was Okay and not to worry. It seems to have gone pretty well with a bunch of respectable chemists and so on writing eight respectable little books on, essentially, Intelligent Design.

Anyways in one of these, natural-philosopher-about-town William Whewell (coiner of the word ‘Scientist’ by the way, in reference to Mary Sommerville) wrote the following:

We may thus, with the greatest propriety, deny to the mechanical philosophers and mathematicians of recent times any authority with regard to their views of the administration of the universe; … But we might perhaps go farther, and assert that they are in some respects less likely than men employed in other pursuits, to make any clear advance towards such a subject of speculation.

I confess I couldn’t follow Whewell’s argument myself, but I do know fightin’ words when I see them.  As the living representative of Mathematics on Earth, Babbage couldn’t be expected to take this lying down, and thus wrote the ‘Ninth Bridgewater Treatise,  to, as one reviewer put it, “call the unpromising subject of mathematics into the field.”

The 9th Bridgewater isn’t very long but it is pretty fantastic, though even his best friends must admit it’s a little disorganized.  I heartily recommend downloading the PDF or ePUB version (link is on the far right), if you want a snapshot of both 1830s scientific thought, and of the brain of that marvellous mixture of Mr Pickwick, Mr. Toad, Don Quixote, and Leonardo Da Vinci that was Charles Babbage.  It includes:

– the importance of diversity in science.  Yes, he uses the word ‘diversity’.  It’s Political Correctness gone mad!– All about Geology! — an astonishingly modern description of Evolution.. imagine if there was ONE RULE that controlled evolution.. what could it be.. what could it.. oh look a squirrel!  — FUND MY DIFFERENCE ENGINE YOU BASTARDS– Wanting to be really really famous is totally not a character flaw — the most unconvincing explanation of miracles using statistical analysis you are ever likely to read–  — oh and a whole Christmas cracker of other stuff.  What there isn’t a whole lot of is an explanation of how mathematics demonstrates the benificence of God, but, whatever. Particularly striking is his God-the-Programmer view of the Universe, and his thought experiment– what if God created a whole bunch of universes– an infinite number!  each with different laws!

In amidst this stuff is the bit about the eternal reverberations in the atmosphere from which I’ve extracted the above.  This was the Big Hit of this book, though maybe does not hold up as well in terms of Science as the multiple universes thing.  At this point I should throw around some half-digested bullshit about Chaos Theory and butterflies or something.

Wonderful as Bridgewater is, its reception by the baffled book reviewers is also entertaining.. highlights:

“Some chapters have no end; many more have no beginning; and one at least may be fairly said to have no beginning, middle, or end.”

The Lucasian professor still seems to labour, to use his own words, under that ‘imputation of mental incapacity’ of which he so loudly complains..  I particularly enjoy the comparison of Babbage’s ‘morbid sensitivity to neglect’ to none other than… Lord Byron!

You can read these and a few more in my collection of primary docs, Bridgewater. Collected and annotated with MUCH LABOUR BY YOUR TIRELESS AND HUMBLE SERVANT who is now going to bed.

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  1. rainycity1 on May 7, 2016 at 5:24 pm

    Hello London…

    First thing I thought of:
    (Abney Park – steam punk band)

  2. Alha on December 18, 2012 at 4:24 am

    Love the reversing the polarity bit.

  3. Floyd on January 19, 2011 at 1:16 am

    “Pump It Up.” Thank you Elvis Costello, or Sydney, or whoever put that reference in there.

  4. Mary Ellen on December 15, 2010 at 11:54 pm

    Well, if we’re going to contemplate nuclear chain reaction and the Doctor, anybody might like to see this , which I drew but which isn’t a cartoon really. Advisory: specifically the 8th Doctor, if you’re particular, and also contains Albert Einstein.

    I took a very brief look at the intro to the 9th Bridgewater, and was immediately struck by the similarity of Babbage’s tone to that in Da Vinci’s notes where he made scathing remarks about the intellects of those who sought to explain the presence of fossil seashells on Italian mountaintops by saying God put them there specially. People with really big brains have a tendency to call a spade a spade, I’ve noticed.

    (Sydney, I’m not sure it’s possible to make a convincingly chibi Brunel! )

    • rainycity1 on May 7, 2016 at 5:06 pm

      …call a spade a spade and an opposing view an ‘idiot’ ;-) (not that I’m disagreeing, mind you, just saying….)

  5. insomniac on December 12, 2010 at 5:17 am

    “it’s spelled Whewell but pronounced Throat-Warbler-Mangrove!”

    I think the mousetrap-ping pong ball Disney movie was “The Absent-Minded Professor” (the Fred MacMurray one).

  6. janie condie on December 7, 2010 at 11:39 pm

    Ms Padua, in you is embodied the perfect synergy of art and science – with a little touch of crazy mixed in for piquancy. Loving this story and looking forward to reading, with luck, parts 10-15 of 8!

  7. John Spencer on December 7, 2010 at 3:40 pm

    Hurrah for episode 9 of 8 ! It’s as overflowing with style, wit and information its predecessors.

  8. Nimrod1943 on December 7, 2010 at 3:05 am

    Ahahaha! Brilliant! Ooooh yay other people noticed the wonderful (sort of) obscure Doctor Who reference! Oooh I thought of “Hello London” part as another Doctor Who reference too,( from the New Series Season 5 finale in which the 11th Doctor says “Hello Stonehenge!” )
    Ahah, another very enjoyable episode! :)

  9. mark v thomas on December 5, 2010 at 11:56 pm

    Re: Disciple’s comment
    [i]”Ford, there’s a infinite number of monkeys who wish to talk to you, about the Shakespeare script, that they’ve managed to write…”[/i]
    Arthur Dent to Ford Prefect – Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy (BBC T.V Version)

  10. Ceridwen on December 5, 2010 at 6:06 pm

    Love all the charts appearing out of thin air. Babbage doesn’t even need to pull, it appears on command.

  11. Steampunk Beatnik on December 5, 2010 at 8:33 am

    Mary Ellen and I are on the same page… When I saw the monkeys, I was reminded of an illustration of a nuclear chain reaction in one of those old Disney films, using ping pong balls and mouse traps.

  12. Kaptain Kobold on December 5, 2010 at 2:43 am

    Do I detect an oblique ‘Doctor Who’ reference in there :)

  13. Disciple on December 4, 2010 at 10:10 pm

    Horrors! Will our heroine likewise be abmonkted by duckies…I mean abducted by monkeys?

    All those monkeys… Surely you are aware of the amazing invention of William Austin Burt (the “B” is spoken), which prints to paper by striking it with movable type one letter at a time? If each monkey…

    Well, why couldn’t it work? These are no ordinary monkeys. Consider the praeternatural tidiness of the floor of their den. They may even be susceptible to the power of Ada’s formidable charts!

    A fine episode indeed.

  14. Mary Ellen on December 4, 2010 at 9:38 pm

    Forgive me in advance if this is an irredeemably silly question — I plead bad cold and non-scientist status — but is the many monkeys rousing in sequence around Ada and the first stepped-on tail panel a sort of illustration of a nuclear chain reaction, by any chance?

    I know, way out of period.

    Ok, if you want to leave the it’s-es for future critics and scholars… this is art, not absolutism after all.
    Thomas Jefferson wrote it’s where we now consider it should be its. So did lots of other Great Lights, I’m sure.

    When I get over my cold, I’ll be able to understand/enjoy the science in this lovely ep. For now, I’m just feebly grooving on “bee bop a loo/bopperdy skipperdi doo”! And awed by Babbage’s ability to dominate the conversation while strapped to a table.

    Also, any chance of manufacturing and marketing Ada Lovelace Action Costumes? I so want one. You could make a forchune.

  15. sydney on December 4, 2010 at 9:03 pm

    Hello everyone–

    — typo will remain, to give a window for future scholars to argue about my basic competence with the English language. They need something to keep them occupied poor dears! Its only fair.

    — Teenygozer– goodness, thanks for the catch!! Corrected.

    — Matthew– I think the arguments from the calculating engine are actually pretty compelling to a modern eye (well, not the miracles part), but without immersion in a world of information-managing machines I can see where his point would have been hard to grasp. Particularly as he had a not entirely unearned reputation as a bit of an egomaniac.

    — Iguardo– yes!! I love Kirby-dots. I built my own special Kirby-dots brush.

    — Yamara– Faradayman will appear, in a sense. Although I think the great Lost Episode of 2dgoggles will be Electro-Animal-Magnetism. Also, if I put Whewell in the comic he will introduce himself, ‘The W is silent, as in Ptarmigan.”

    — Tealin– not sure about Connecticut Yankee– doesn’t he get hit on the head? The eternal-echo thing was very famous certainly and got quoted a lot on both sides of the Atlantic. More to the point is something I ought to have put in the notes– I’ve been listening to a history of audio recording, “Perfecting Sound Forever”, which starts by talking about Marconi, inventor of the radio, who wanted to build an instrument sensitive enough to hear the lingering echoes of the voice of Julius Caesar.

    — Hugh– the superpower of Charles Babbage is to be able to summon charts out of thin air by pure force of will

    — John– pace of comic is indeed frantic, thank you!

  16. Redshift on December 4, 2010 at 8:49 pm

    I also like that The Organist has a thoroughly rock-and-roll attitude, as befits a proponent of amplified music (and one who is perhaps less concerned with quality and refinement.)

    Also, an infinite number of monkeys!


  17. Teenygozer on December 4, 2010 at 8:30 pm

    A FORMIDABLE CHAPTER, INDEED! I particularly love the energy of that last panel.

    But your link to primary docs, Bridgewater gets me to a strange collection of links including Bridgewater Real Estate (first one) and a whole lotta links to various Bridgewater Swingers associations. I did not know they were so organized!

  18. Pernilla on December 4, 2010 at 7:55 pm

    Also Third Doctor reference! I can’t believe nobody else has noticed. ^^

  19. Yamara on December 4, 2010 at 5:07 pm


    up the awesome work.


  20. Yamara on December 4, 2010 at 5:03 pm

    1) Mathematics would only trace the sound waves to their source: The speakers everyone in London is already looking at in shock and awe. Babbage is doomed! Electro-magnetism is silently hiding the villains’ hideout. This looks like a job for… FARADAYMAN.

    (Optical telegraphs send up the Faradaysignal.)

    2) Regarding the use of its versus it’s. Let no one trouble Mr. Angry Flower for his opinion in this instance. NEITHER are correct in this context, as editors of the period largely eschewed the use of contractions. The correct form, therefore is simply “IT IS”.

    I mean, seriously: “it’s”!? How would any one know if you meant “it is” or “it has”? Chaos!

    Oh, perhaps that was the point. I beg your pardon.

    3) Ah, I wondered when we would see the protrusion of the laurel-bound head of Rev. William Whewell. (Pronounced “Hewell”, by the bye. The first “W” is silent. Really. No, really. JUST IGNORE THAT BIG CAPITAL W EVERY TIME HIS NAME RESOUNDS IN YOUR HEAD.) I see that you’re quoting his quote from Babbage’s Treatise.

    You are quite right that Biology was no great threat to religious dogma of the time, but Geology already was. This was because geological discoveries had imposed a vast timescale onto the universe, something the Bible had been interpreted… not to have.

    Whewell dives into the debate by insisting that only what has been observed can be determined as scientifically true–for instance, he devastates the argument of astronomers that the planets are populated simply because they exist–and that God works within laws He has set. Whewell’s famous quote from 1837 reads:

    “But with regard to the material world, we can at least go so far as this—we can perceive that events are brought about not by insulated interpositions of Divine power, exerted in each particular case, but by the establishment of general laws.”

    The spiritual, including the original creation of Man, he regarded as the purpose of the universe, and the rest of its mechanical operation could not call God’s omnipotence to task.

    I understand that Rev. Whewell was not well pleased when Mr. Darwin chose to use that quote to open On the Origin of Species. Oh look: a finch.

    4) Keep the awesome work! Every one looks forward to subsequent installments, as it is discovered that each is the equal or the superior of the last.

  21. Matthew Morse on December 4, 2010 at 4:46 pm

    I took a look at the Ninth Bridgewater, following your assertion that it’s not very long. It’s 300 pages! Fascinating, even if bonkers. Or perhaps because it’s bonkers.

  22. Iguardo on December 4, 2010 at 4:00 pm

    Nice work! The monkey sequence is awesome, as is your judicous + effective deployment of the ‘Kirby dots’ or ‘cosmic dots’ in the chaos-is-groovy panels.

  23. John on December 4, 2010 at 2:16 pm

    I’m conflicted as to whether the top- or side-view of the screaming monkey wave is the more impressive. Though, given the lecture, I now also wonder if monkeys are agitating throughout Asia in response to this single EXTREME SLOW-MOTION (which seems an interesting choice in a comic) incident.

    As to the (gasp!) dreaded typo, I say leave it as-is.
    – It reflects a frantic pace of the comic,
    – Spelling consistency is a very recent invention, and
    – It drives the self-appointed grammar cops insane, which is fun.

    Do you have an orphan press in the house, by the way, or is there a store where the blood can be procured? Not that I…uhm…have plans or anything. Mostly I’m worried that the conspicuous note might be hiding a darker truth, in that we can split hairs and wonder if an adult whose parents have died is also an orphan.

    But hey, as long as it keeps you safe from certain singing pirates, it should all be good.

  24. Zander Nyrond on December 4, 2010 at 10:59 am

    Yay! Thank you!

  25. Akheloios on December 4, 2010 at 9:03 am

    Weeeee another chapter, thanks very much.

  26. norumbegan on December 4, 2010 at 4:14 am

    ITS != IT’S

    This is not hard. Please to be fixing now.

  27. Kim on December 4, 2010 at 2:37 am

    Wonderful. I’ve been waiting for this for ages. I’m sure you can fix the TWO “it’s/its” problems in that one paragraph.

    Please keep up the good work.

  28. Sara Davis on December 4, 2010 at 1:38 am

    Well, you have certainly made my weekend! Thank you.

    I love that Babbage is so ADHD in his essays. It so fits with your fictional Babbage that it makes it schmarvelous.

  29. Jim on December 4, 2010 at 1:17 am

    “every atom of it’s atmosphere”? APOSTROPHE ERROR!!

  30. Tealin on December 4, 2010 at 1:01 am

    Needless to say: YAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAY!!

    Was this ‘eternal reverberation of sound’ thing something to do with the inciting incident in A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court? I seem to remembering encountering it somewhere before, and I can’t remember the rest of that story (unless it involves predicting eclipses, in which case I remember that much) but I know it was used as the basis for time travel in some story somewhere, once. Babbage’s mention of the theory pulled a little string which was connected to a bell that was hung from one of the two brain cells responsible for remembering Connecticut Yankee.

    Bla bla bla blabla bla.

    Your summary of Mr Babbage’s no doubt excellent essay is MOST entertaining.

  31. Hugh on December 4, 2010 at 12:30 am

    > The notes were written in a grumpy state of hunger and sleepiness …

    Which is very Victorian :-) but doesn’t show.

    Loved Babbage using charts to explain *while* being bound to a table.