THE nature of the arguments advanced in this volume having obliged me to refer, more frequently than I should have chosen, to the Calculating Engine, it becomes necessary to give the reader some brief account of its progress and present state.
About the year 1821, I undertook to superintend, for the Government, the construction of an engine for calculating and printing mathematical and astronomical tables. Early in the year 1833, a small portion of the machine was put together, and was found to perform its work with all the precision which had been anticipated. At that period circumstances, which I could not control, caused what I then considered a temporary suspension of its progress; and the Government, on whose [186/187] decision the continuance or discontinuance of the work depended, have not yet communicated to me their wishes on the question. The first illustration (p. 33 to 43) I have employed is derived from the calculations made by this engine.
About October, 1834, I commenced the design of another, and far more powerful engine. Many of the contrivances necessary for its performance have since been discussed and drawn according to various principles; and all of them have been invented in more than one form. I consider them, even in their present state, as susceptible of practical execution; but time, thought, and expense, will probably improve them. As the remaining illustrations are all drawn from the powers of this new engine, it may be right to state, that it will calculate the numerical value of any algebraical function — that, at any period previously fixed upon, or contingent on certain events, it will cease to tabulate that algebraic function, and commence the calculation of a different one, and that these changes may be repeated to any extent.
The former engine could employ about 120 figures in its calculations; the present machine is intended to compute with about 4,000.
Here I should willingly have left the subject; but the public having erroneously imagined, that the sums [187/188] of money paid to the workmen for the construction of the engine, were the remuneration of my own services, for inventing and directing its progress; and a Committee of the House of Commons having incidentally led the public to believe that a sum of money was voted to me for that purpose, — I think it right to give to that report the most direct and unequivocal contradiction. [188/189]