Friday, 21 September 2012

The Vision of Sin

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In the 1840s, shortly after reading Alfred Tennyson's poem, "The Vision of Sin," mathematician and "father of the computer," Charles Babbage, wrote the following letter to the poet and suggested an alteration in the name of accuracy.

For a modern day equivalent, see Simon Singh's take on Katie Melua's song, Nine Million Bicycles.

(Source: The Difference Engine: Charles Babbage and the Quest to Build the First Computer; Image: Charles Babbage in 1860, via LIFE.)

Sir:

In your otherwise beautiful poem "The Vision of Sin" there is a verse which reads – "Every moment dies a man, Every moment one is born." It must be manifest that if this were true, the population of the world would be at a standstill. In truth, the rate of birth is slightly in excess of that of death.

I would suggest that in the next edition of your poem you have it read – "Every moment dies a man, Every moment 1 1/16 is born."

The actual figure is so long I cannot get it onto a line, but I believe the figure 1 1/16 will be sufficiently accurate for poetry.

I am, Sir, yours, etc.,

Charles Babbage