Vampire Poets Part the Third

Happy 220th Birthday Charles Babbage!  I hope you enjoy your present, another amusing instalment of your Thrilling Adventures in…



Poetic Licences, the official stamp on the first panel, are required for poetry in the Pocket Universe; in our own so much more sensible universe, it is of course comic books.

William Wordsworth seems the suitable person to be issuing the licences; not only was he Poet Laureate between  1843 and 1850 (during which he wrote no poetry at all), but he is also the traditional example of the post-Romantic authoritarian sell-out.

Babbage declared that he would have been a poet if he had been blind in this charming batch of anecdotes, also featuring Lovelace. The reporter fails to secure the vital information of why exactly Babbage would have had to be blind. I guess there’s some connection with Homer and Milton, blind super-genius poets, but super-genius Babbage’s logic escapes me on completing this syllogism.

The ‘Byron Devil’ is used to describe Lovelace possibly by Babbage in my favorite document that I never tire of linking to. It’s a bit ambiguous who uses the exact words oh please oh please oh please let it be Babbage!!

Indoor target practice was a habit of both Sherlock Holmes and Lord Byron, so it’s only natural to transfer it to Lovelace. Particularly as she possibly did own a pair of duelling pistols-

“Dear Babbage. I unfortunately forgot a very principal thing I had to say to you last eve, & that can be less well explained in writing. It is to ask you if you would be so very kind as to see a gentleman (one of the Leighs) on Tuesday next at 11 o’clock,- who wants to sell me, a Rifle & a pair of Pistols which he declares to have been my father’s.

History does not record whether she bought these! If you want to see them in action, there’s a fellow firing a similar one here; and they don’t go off backwards and blow his nose off even once!

— Did Charlotte Bronte and Ada Lovelace meet?  Can’t find anything definite but they brush past each other in notable celebrities of London here.

–P=NP is the most famous unsolved problem in Computer Science. There is an excellent elucidation of it in Wikipedia and also at MIT, with some amusing comments. 

That Thing Babbage did for the Post Office– Babbage claims for himself the concept of the Penny Post, where the mail is sent for the same price regardless of distance (making up the expense of travel in efficiency in processing), in his autobiography. It was Post-Master General (and at one point school-master to Babbage’s sons) Rowland Hill who actually implemented it, writing a pamphlet advocating for it in 1837.

If you’re keen on the subject, you may view the immediate effects of the penny post recorded by Mr Rowland Hill himself, in the papers of the Statistical Society.

Maybe I should work in more post-office stuff, but I feel I might be re-treading ground so excellently covered in Going Postal.  But I simply must find a place somewhere for the instructive verse at the bottom of this post by the postal museum!

Post-women can’t have been unheard of, as a search for the term turns up a lot of hits; I offer this seasonal treat, For the Post-Woman at Christmas.


Whew! Happy Charles Babbage Birthday everyone, hope you are all enjoying the best of the Season!



  1. K.R.S. on May 1, 2012 at 8:06 pm

    Poor Wordsworth. Gets a bum rap from everyone for being either too conservative or too boring. I think his decision to take up civil duties was reasonable, considering:

    – He was completely disillusioned to the point of deep depression by the violence of the French Revolution that he had so idealistically believed in and the fact that he had to leave his first great love + his infant daughter in France as a result and also
    – He never had much money and had to support wife + kids + spinster sister + his illegitimate French daughter on fairly modest means.

    His conservatism makes sense for him, especially matched by the deep and abiding decency he exhibited to the people in his life (I’m looking at you, COLERIDGE) as well as his continual focus on the plight of the ordinary and the outcasts.

    In short: poor Wordsworth, a good man, but not terribly in fashion for how Poets Ought To Be.

    I also love Babbage and Lovelace, but I confess, I’m an English major first.

  2. Winter on February 16, 2012 at 5:15 pm

    It’s great to see Lovelace picking up some (more?) Holmes-like traits. The title of this story reminds me of Lord Byron’s connexion to vampires through Polidori’s Lord Ruthven. And ever since I learned about the Ruthven family of Scotland, I have wanted to read about a Scottish vampire.

    Sorry if I accidentally spoiled anything.

  3. Becky Holdford on February 1, 2012 at 3:26 am

    Just a note to tell you how much I enjoy this comic. I’ve always been a fan of Ada Lovelace and now I’m a fan of your work. Hang in there; however long it is between installments I’ll be waiting here to read it. And if my raise comes through I might be able to make a donation to a starving artist:-)

  4. Alice on January 5, 2012 at 11:23 pm

    Quick question: Obviously I knew Holmes liked shooting up the wall, but I didn’t know that about Byron (another one of those people who just gets more awesome the more you learn about him). Any chance you could post the source material for that someplace? (Unless you have already and I am being obtuse.)

  5. Dark Puss on January 5, 2012 at 8:28 pm

    Wonderful! Many thanks indeed for this.

  6. Shackleford on January 4, 2012 at 1:55 pm

    Is it just me, or is Babbage flirting with the Bronte Sisters?

    • Bruce Byfield on January 5, 2012 at 5:50 am

      Flirting? In a way, but I think it’s more accurate to say that Babbage imagines himself a gracious host and the life and soul of any social gathering. He acts much the same way when Queen Victoria and the Duke of Wellington visit in “The Client.”

  7. Kai on January 3, 2012 at 4:18 pm

    “Barley Cabbage” the ultimate Charles Babbage insult!

  8. =Tamar on December 29, 2011 at 7:28 am

    The license, of course, is signed across the stamp – because that makes it legal!

  9. Scott Nickle on December 29, 2011 at 12:48 am

    I cast another vote of delight for the cog leaning against the stair, AND for the seal on the poetic license (“overdone”? I think not!)

    Thankee Sydney!

  10. soupytwist on December 28, 2011 at 11:24 pm

    This installment is fantastic. I love Lovelace as Holmes, and I especially love poetry as her 7% solution. And Babbage’s somewhat saucy admission that he occasionally indulges…. Take all the time you need to keep producing work of this caliber.

  11. Kaazz on December 28, 2011 at 8:59 pm

    Oh, madame author – you continue to send me to new heights of squee-ity! P=NP, indeed! As the holder of a master’s degree in computer science, I could barely contain my delight upon seeing this classic statement (AND the traveling salesman problem) in this Fine Comic!

    Seriously, each installment puts a smile on my face and makes me happy on so many levels! Thank you! I hope your muse (and the footnotes) never runs dry! ;-)

  12. Samara on December 28, 2011 at 3:48 am

    I suspect that the thing about Babbage being a blind poet is more to do with the other things that he *couldn’t* have done without his sight — poetry would be all that would be left to him — but as he *could* see, of course the assembly of machines, the collection of data, and interesting uses for multi-colored footlights had to come first, and they crowded the poetry out.

  13. Phillippa on December 27, 2011 at 7:25 pm

    excellent excellent! the more i see your babbage, the more i want to be his best friend. the blind poet comment is so, so wonderful and strange! maybe more from the brontes in part three/four/whatever? waiting patiently!

  14. Ray Girvan on December 27, 2011 at 6:10 pm

    Brilliant as always! I took the liberty of shopping this episode to The Snowclones Database as an example of “this is your brain on X”.

  15. Leifbk on December 27, 2011 at 7:04 am

    Loved it. Still: I’m not a native English speaker, but I doubt if Miss Lovelace really has a “herediatry succeptibility” to the dangers of poetry.

    • Kristin Norwood on December 30, 2011 at 9:03 pm

      See previous discussions in this site, especially the first “Lovelace: Origins.” Lovelace did have some struggles in her life with her emotions, and her father, the poet Byron, was famously unstable, “Mad, bad, and dangerous to know.”

      • sydney on December 30, 2011 at 9:30 pm

        I believe the esteemed commenter is referring to the eccentric spelling of ‘herediatry’ .. Lefibk- you only THINK I meant ‘hereditary’, in fact, ‘herediatry’ is the related condition of being the daughter of an idol.

      • George W Harris on January 1, 2012 at 1:52 am

        …or perhaps it was to the eccentric spelling of ‘susceptibility’ (which, I confess, distracted my from the eccentric spelling of ‘hereditary’, having previously been knocked out of equilibrium in the third panel by the eccentric sspelling of ‘neither’).

        Overall, however, delightful.

  16. Malcolm on December 27, 2011 at 6:57 am

    “Women of letters”.
    Oh, well done.

  17. the doodler on December 27, 2011 at 4:08 am

    I love the Sherlock Holmes reference. That part made for a huge silly grin. Aw, let’s face it, I love the whole thing. Nerdieness at its absolute finest.

  18. Hugh on December 27, 2011 at 12:27 am

    Thank you!

    We are going to get the next installment before Babbage’s next birthday?

  19. tudza on December 26, 2011 at 10:19 pm

    While I seem to remember that Holmes used a regular pistol for his shooting into the wall (VR), to prove that someone bound in a particular manner could still shoot well with a pistol and not just for laughs, they did make pistols designed for use indoors.

    Parlor pistols fired small bullets and used no powder, the bullets were propelled by the blast of the primer cap alone. They were meant to be used for target practice indoors. I managed to find a new product something like them:

    • Scott Nickle on December 29, 2011 at 12:25 am

      “While I seem to remember that Holmes used a regular pistol for his shooting into the wall (VR), to prove that someone bound in a particular manner could still shoot well with a pistol and not just for laughs”

      That does seem like a Sherlockian thing to do, but I’m afraid your memory doesn’t match the Canon. Quote from The Musgrave Ritual: “I have always held, too, that pistol practice should be distinctly an open-air pastime; and when Holmes, in one of his queer humours, would sit in an armchair with his hair-trigger and a hundred Boxer cartridges and proceed to adorn the opposite wall with a patriotic V. R. done in bullet pocks, I felt strongly that neither the atmosphere nor the appearance of our room was improved by it.”

  20. MadRat on December 26, 2011 at 8:22 pm

    Nice to see Lovelace in a more traditional (and dangerously impractical) skirt again. I can’t tell you how frustrating it is when comics about super-hero, mad scientist who fight crime and undead monsters in an 1830s alternate reality aren’t historically accurate (just kidding). I loved the gear leaning beside the staircase. The facial expressions are fantastic, worthy of the best animators! I also love how the sense of darkness is seamlessly woven into the artwork. There were a few extraneous specs but I understand, you can’t afford your own clean-up artist and you have limited time. The license gag was a over done but it’s hard to get the right balance between blatantly conspicuous, subtlety and complete obscurity. Lot of famous writers (you know, the kind who are required reading in school) use so much subtlety that most of their audience miss a lot of the beauty of the story unless it’s explained to them.

    Thank you so much for doing this comic! The only drawback to reading it is figuring out how to deal with the withdraw symptoms I get between chapters.

  21. Bruce Byfield on December 26, 2011 at 7:46 pm

    Good to see Babbage’s character being fleshed out more The expressions on his face are wonderful, as always, as he passes from genial host to eccentric to wary and nervous friend.

  22. Redshift on December 26, 2011 at 7:22 pm

    Hurrah! I especially enjoyed the Holmes-esque Lovelace pondering computational problems through patterns of bullet holes.

  23. Richard on December 26, 2011 at 7:00 pm

    Brillliant as always. Thanks for the Christmas Treat, Sydney.

  24. John on December 26, 2011 at 6:12 pm

    A note on a note (surely fallen off the page and now stuck to somebody’s foot, so please everybody check) is that Babbage’s suggestion of plotting the most efficient route between the “sonnet dens” (ha!) is the Traveling Salesman Problem, possibly the single most traditional NP-Complete problem. (Some of the really interesting P/NP discussion, by the way, skirts the edges of the issue by trying to figure out if there’s any possible construct where the NP problems can be solved in polynomial time, for example, if you had a magic box that could solve the Traveling Salesman Problem instantly.)

    And the jackets are complex for a very elegant reason, but this margin is too narrow to contain it. Or possibly to keep redrawn Victorians cool in the summer.

    Sadly, for Babbage Day, nobody seems to have bought me even a single error-free table of numbers, but the “poets” catch makes up for it.

    • Andrew Ragland on December 27, 2011 at 2:58 pm

      Bravo, sir, bravo! Not only have you expanded on the example of the Traveling Salesman problem that Babbage alludes to with his proposition for use of the Engine, explaining the reference for those who did not (shame!) click through to the really quite amusing explanation from MIT that Our Author provided in her footnote, but you’ve managed to allude to Fermat’s Last Theorem in a comment upon her complaint re: Victorian jackets. Well done, sir, well done!

  25. Pete Arundel on December 26, 2011 at 5:58 pm

    Prologue . . .
    Part One . . .
    Part Three . . ?

    Not that I’m complaining, mind. Any Babbage is good Babbage so I took what I could get . . . err . . . sorry went a bit Bachman Turner Overdrive there . . .

    • sydney on December 26, 2011 at 6:04 pm

      Pocket Universe sequences often have these unexpected quantum episode jumps.

      • Pete Arundel on December 26, 2011 at 10:06 pm

        To quote an expert;

        “People assume that time is a strict progression of cause to effect, but actually—from a non-linear, non-subjective viewpoint—it’s more like a big ball of wibbly-wobbly…timey-wimey…stuff.”

      • stray on December 31, 2011 at 1:13 am

        And apparently there’s a lever for that.

      • Mary Ellen on January 10, 2012 at 12:08 am

        Glad to hear this – – I lost about 10 minutes of my this-continuum lifeline trying to figure out if there was a HIDDEN Part Two , possibly on a shelf inside Brunel’s hat and accessible only to the cognoscenti, like an Easter egg – – or if, as is usual with anything involvin numbers, it was Just Me. But now I can look forward to the little quantum jiggle that will get me those minutes back, maybe with some ice cream included. I like strawberry.