Charles Babbage dead at age 79

"The possibility of constructing a piece of mechanism capable of performing certain operations on numbers is by no means new ; it was thought of by Pascal and geometers, and more recently it has been reduced to practice by M. Thomas, of Colmar, in France, and by the Messrs. Schülz, of Sweden; but never before or since has any scheme so gigantic as that of Mr. Babbage been anywhere imagined."

-- The Times (The London Times), The Late Mr. Charles Babbage, F. R. S, October 23, 1871

Today is the 139th anniversary of Charles Babbage's death. The Times' obituary dated October 23, 1871, can be found here. The obituary incorrectly states Babbage's birth as December 26, 1792 when, in fact, it was December 26, 1791: there is a record of his baptism on January 6, 1792 which makes his published birthday somewhat problematical. This could have been a typo, since the obituary states his death "at an age... little short of 80 years." However, other obituaries seemed to perpetuate this date of birth.

Anyway, here is a selection of quotes from various obituaries at the time:

From The American Insurance Gazette and Magazine, vol. 34, November 1871:

"A cable telegram from London reports that Charles Babbage, the mathematician and philosophical mechanist, died in England on Friday evening, at the age of seventy-nine years... Mr. Babbage was born in England in the year 1792."

From The American Journal of Science and Arts, 3rd series, vol. 3, no. 13, January 1872:

"There is no fear that the worth of the late Charles Babbage will be over-estimated by this or any generation. To the majority of people he was little known except as an irritable and eccentric person, possessed by a strange idea of a calculating machine, which he failed to carry to completion. Only those who have carefully studied a number of his writings can adequately conceive the nobility of his nature and the depth of his genius."

From Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, vol. 32 (November 1871 - June 1872):

"His love of investigation, which became the ruling passion of his life, was displayed when quite a child, and was first evinced by an experiment which he made in order to ascertain whether or not the Devil could really be raised in a personal form. The result, which was negative, removed a doubt which had obscured his religious belief, and his theological views seen from that time to have enjoyed undisturbed stability."

The Canadian Pharmaceutical Journal, vol. 5 (1871-1872), amusingly, lists Babbage's birth year as 1790.

"His researches in regard to the construction of a calculating machine have gained for him a lasting celebrity."

Proceedings of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, vol. 7, from the opening address of Sir Robert Christison, President of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, December 4, 1871:

"Strange the contrast between the careers of these early friends [John Herschel and Charles Babbage]! They began, indeed, by a grand joint success, for which alone their memory will always be justly cherished. But while the one, encouraged, yet never unduly elated, by success, steadily at work, though not of late years brilliantly, ended a long and happy life, every day of which had added its share to his scientific services; the other, enraged by the petty persecutions of men unable to understand scientific merit, or even its mere pecuniary value, spending lavishly from his private fortune to be enabled to leave to some possibly enlightened posterity a complete record of the working details for the construction of his splendid inventions, was never understood by his countrymen.

"But so it has ever been in this country. Herschel's father was a German; so of course we could appreciate him. Babbage was an Englishman; the only person who took the trouble to understand his invention was a foreigner, the skilful mathematician Menabrea, ex-minister of Victor Emmanuel."