13 October 2015
‘Your Puzzle-Mate’: Ada Lovelace and Charles Babbage
On Ada Lovelace Day, Alexandra Ault explores the British Library's collection of correspondence between Ada Lovelace and Charles Babbage.
Did you know that the British Library holds an incredible set of letters from Ada Lovelace to Charles Babbage? Dating between 1836-1851, the letters from the mathematician and only daughter of Lord Byron to the inventor of the first successful automatic calculator, record a working relationship and friendship between two great minds. Despite Lovelace’s young age when she began writing to Babbage who was twenty-four years her senior, her letters reveal not only an incredible mathematical talent but an organised sensibility.
Add MS 37192 contains 29 letters from Lovelace to Babbage which sit with letters to Babbage from other great Victorian inventors, writers and politicians including Charles Dickens, Sir Robert Peel, Michael Faraday and Isambard Kingdom Brunel.
Looking at excerpts from letters written by Lovelace to Babbage in 1843, it is possible to see not just collaboration between the two mathematicians, but a friendship whereby Lovelace chastised and encouraged Babbage:
On 19 (?) July 1843 Lovelace wrote
“My dear Babbage, It is quite evident to me that you have been looking over the superseded sheet 4, instead of the corrected one.”
And on the 13 July 1843:
“Will you come at mine on Saturday morning and stay as long as we find requisite. I name so early an hour because we shall have much to do I think. And it certainly must not be later than ten o’clock”.
In her letters, Lovelace displays both a keen sense of humour and dedication to mathematical investigation. On 10 July 1843 she wrote:
“Mr Dear Babbage, I am working very hard for you; like the Devil in fact (which perhaps I am). I think you will be pleased. I have made what appears to me some very important exclusions and improvements”.
21 July (?) 1843:
“My Dear Babbage, I am in much dismay at having got into so amazing a quagmire and botheration with these numbers”.
In this letter Lovelace signs herself off as “Your puzzle-mate” showing both the professional and friendly nature of their relationship.
The British Library has featured one of the Lovelace Letters on their Treasures Page: http://www.bl.uk/highlights/articles/science
Alexandra Ault, Curator, Modern Archives and Manuscripts 1601-1850.