‘Charles Babbage from the beginning’ starts off exploring who his ancestors were, what they did for a living and where in Devon they lived. Ancestry was something that Charles was immensely interested in. He found his own name amusing and unusual – which it was, there were very few recorded Babbages at this time.
The first record of the actual spelling of Babbage emerges in Church records in 1567 in Chudleigh, in Devon. This is because a Mr. Babbage is paid 6 shillings for gluing the keys of the church organ, so it seems to run in the family, this fix-it-or-re-organise-it gene. His ancestors survived war, famine and the plague, and the convictions of their opinions … well, only just – as Cromwell had them on his hit list. They openly declared their allegiance to the throne. Seeing as one of his grandmothers appears to be directly related to the Royal Family it is of no surprise.
For Charles Babbage an understanding of his ancestry gave an order to all things and order was his underlying motivation. In September 1824 Charles Babbage became the director of the newly-formed assurance company called ‘The Protector’. This project gave him the opportunity to organise and make sense of life in the form of ‘Actuary Tables of Statistical Life Expectancies,‘ which were to become the very foundation of the modern insurance industry. Further evidence of his belief in the underpinning significance of statistics was the fact that he was one of the founder members of what was to become the Royal Statistical Society.
Babbage was convinced everything could be rationalised and therefore having a calculable value. Figures could be organised so why not everything else? Babbage saw a pattern in everything including nature.
He wrote in his book the ‘The Fifth Bridgwater Treatise’ that he saw God as a deity that was constantly updating species like a programmer allowing for evolution. That nature was replacing itself with a stronger species and the weaker becoming extinct. This was published 12 years before Darwin’s ‘Origin of the Species.’ He had sent Darwin his findings many years earlier to which Darwin replied that he was ‘coming to the same conclusion.’ Babbage then tackled Hume, to whom he was distantly related and argued that ‘God’ programmed irregularities into nature.’
So whether he was looking at an ancestor’s place in the family tree, or a species in the tree of life, or the relationship of one cog to another in a grand machine – relative order was his shining light: never truer than when speaking about Babbage is that expression ‘A place for everything and Everything in its place