London: Taylor and Francis, 1856. 1st Edition. FIRST EDITION IN ORIGINAL WRAPS OF RARE AND PARTICULARLY CURIOUS PAPER OFFERING DETAILED IMPROVEMENTS TO SCHEUTZ'S FULLY FUNCTIONAL MODEL OF BABBAGE'S DIFFERENCE ENGINE by one of Babbage’s “most vigorous detractors” (Computer History Website). The credit of inventing the first computing machines goes to the two Stockholm Based scientists, George and Edvard Scheutz .
“Inspired in 1834 by Babbage's work, Georg Scheutz (1785-1873) a Swedish printer, publisher, journalist, translator and inventor, set about building a difference engine of his own. At first, he speculated that just one of Babbage's engines 'would suffice the needs of the whole world'” (ibid). “Each of its long shafts holds disks, and each disk has wheels with ten teeth that correspond to marks in the disks. A scientist could set the disks with known figures, odd or even, turn a crank, and by reading down on each shaft, find the result of a calculation. “The Scheutzes had no interest in pleasing design. Their device worked well, though, for they had followed to practical completion the concepts of one of the 19th century's most brilliant minds.
Inventor and philosopher, Babbage produced a prototype of the original Difference Engine as early as 1822, then kept adding refinements without ever quite finishing it. He enthusiastically endorsed the work of his friends Georg and Edvard Scheutz. But during the years it took them to complete their machine, the inventor's mind was groping toward a mechanical device that would go far beyond calculation. It would actually store the data that it produced, then reuse the information to add more. Babbage described this process as ‘the engine eating its own tail’ (Park, “What a difference the Difference Engine made: from Charles Babbage's calculator emerged today's computer,” Smithsonian Magazine, Feb. 1996).
During this period George Airy was Astronomer Royal from 1835-1881 and a highly influential advisor to the government whose opinions greatly impacted the fate of Babbage’s engine; this makes it all the more curious that in this paper he offered suggestion to improving the Scheutze model of Babbage’s engine. “The post of Astronomer Royal was the highest office in the civil science in England and carried with it responsibility for the Royal Observatory at Greenwich.
Though not part of his official duties, Airy, through diligence and distinguished service, became de facto science adviser to the British Government and his views had a defining influence on the fate of Babbage's engines. In 1842 he advised the Treasury that the engines were 'useless' and that Babbage's project should be abandoned. The Government axed the project shortly after. Airy was not alone in his opposition. Astronomers in Sweden and France also rejected the utility of the machines.
“Airy's opposition to the utility of the engines was reasoned and credible but confined to their potential use to practical tabulation, and mainly to practices at the Greenwich Observatory. He seemed immune to the broader mathematical potential of the engines despite his mathematical brilliance at university. Airy is often portrayed as a dull and unimaginative bureaucrat, influential but uninspired. Others see him as the voice of reason. In a published attack in 1851 Babbage accused Airy of rejecting the engines as part of a personal vendetta against him. Airy brushed off the intemperate lunge. In Babbage and Airy we have a visionary and a pragmatist. In the case of the engines, the pragmatist prevailed” (Computer History Website). Item #214
CONDITION & DETAILS: London: Taylor and Francis., Volume 12., No. 78. September 1856. 4to (9 x 5.5 inches; 225 x 140mm). Complete. A fine unopened copy in the original printed wrappers.