Book Description

with An Attempt to Explain the Causes of the Frequent Elevation and Depression of Large Portions of the Earth’s Surface in Remote Periods, and to Prove that those Causes Continue in Action at the Present Time. With a Supplement. Conjectures on the Physical Condition of the Surface of the Moon. First edition. Author’s inscribed presentation copy. Octavo. Publisher’s original red cloth with gilt vignette to the upper board and titles in gilt to the spine. Illustrated with two double-page lithographed plates (one hand-coloured) and several other black and white illustrations, diagrams and tables within the text. 4pp. publisher’s advertisements at the rear. Binder’s ticket for Remnant & Edmonds, London to the rear pastedown. Engraved armorial bookplate for Edward Strutt, 1st Baron Belper, to the front pastedown. A very good copy, the binding square and firm with minor chipping to the foot of the spine, a touch of uneven fading to the upper board, and a little bumping to the corners. The contents with some occasional faint spotting (slightly more so to the first double-page plate) and the odd light pencil line to page margins are otherwise in very good order and clean throughout.
Dealer Notes
Inscribed in Charles Babbage’s hand in black ink to the front free endpaper: “To Mrs Strutt / from the author / 19 Oct 1850”. An exploration of the intriguing geological phenomena beneath the Temple of Serapis in Italy, by the mathematician, philosopher, inventor and mechanical engineer, Charles Babbage (1791-1871), commonly referred to as the ‘Father of Computing’. One of the great polymaths of the nineteenth century, foremost amongst Babbage’s many achievements was the invention of the first mechanical computer, the Difference Engine (1821), and its successor, the Analytical Engine (1834), from which all essential ideas underpinning modern computing can trace their origin.

In the present work, one of his few but nevertheless influential, forays into Earth sciences, Babbage expounded a new theory regarding the geological phenomena in the area of Pozzuoli, south-west of Naples, utilising his Difference Engine to produce supporting mathematical calculations and pioneering a new method of mechanically reproducing drawings to accurately illustrate his findings. As the historian B. P. Dolan explains, “Babbage’s geological ideas arose out of his broader concerns over reform in scientific practice and ways of representing scientific knowledge. His interests in political economy and manufactures, in the mechanisation of print and illustration, in accurate drawing and graphic design (particularly relating to his construction of his calculating engine), all shaped the way Babbage thought about geological phenomena and ways of representing the earth’s activities” (Dolan, “Representing Novelty: Charles Babbage, Charles Lyell, and Experiments in Early Victorian Geology”, History of Science, vol. 36, pp.299-327).

The recipient of the present copy, Ameila Strutt (née Otter), was the wife of the Whig politician Edward Strutt (1801-1880), himself, the son of the inventor, civil engineer, architect, and cotton spinner William Strutt (1756-1830), a friend and colleague of Erasmus Darwin, Marc Isambard Brunel, and James Watt. Sharing in his father’s interests, Edward spent a great deal of time, particularly in his later years, engaged in the study of the sciences, becoming an elected fellow of the Royal Society (1860) and the Geological and Zoological societies of London. In the course of his career, he also dedicated himself to social and economic questions, developing a close friendship with Jeremy Bentham (a friend of his father, whose Round Mill influenced Bentham’s famous ‘Panopticon’) and James and John Stuart Mill. To be found amongst his many friends and correspondents in this rich scientific-philosophical milieu was, perhaps expectedly, Charles Babbage, whose frequent visits to mills and factories had earlier acquainted him with Edward’s father, William. Indeed, figures such as William Strutt, as well as other great industrialists of the age like Matthew Boulton and James Watt, played an important role in Babbage’s intellectual landscape, with Babbage perceiving himself as their philosophical equivalent. As the British Library’s holdings demonstrate, Babbage maintained an ongoing correspondence with both William and Edward, revealing the development a long, stimulating friendship between Babbage and the Strutt family. The present copy offers further evidence of this, as do the other titles by Babbage from the Strutt’s library which have occasionally appeared on the market over the years (most recently at Christie’s in 2020).

An attractive association copy.

[Origins of Cyberspace, 63; Tomash & Williams, B48].
Author BABBAGE, Charles:
Date 1847
Publisher [London]: Privately Printed [by Richard and John E. Taylor for the Author].

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