Simanaitis Says

On cars, old, new and future; science & technology; vintage airplanes, computer flight simulation of them; Sherlockiana; our English language; travel; and other stuff


AN ARTICLE in the London Review of Books, June 21, 2018, taught me a new word and more about Ada Lovelace, the world’s first computer programmer. Indeed, Ada invented the word “gobblebook” to describe her love of reading. She was no more than seven at the time. The programming came later while collaborating with Charles Babbage.

Augusta Ada King-Noel, Countess of Lovelace, née Byron, 1815–1852, English mathematician and writer. Image of Ada Byron, c. 1835, from the London Review of Books, June 21 2018.

Ada was the only legitimate child of poet Lord Byron and his wife Anne Isabella “Annabella” Milbanke, Lady Wentworth. Ada’s mother had had mathematical training (Byron called her his “Princess of Parallelograms”) and insisted that the girl’s tutoring include this subject, something rare at the time.

Ada’s mathematical adventures are detailed in a wonderful graphic novel, The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage discussed briefly here at SimanatisSays.

The following tidbits are from Rosemary Hill’s “Gobblebook” review of two other books, In Byron’s Wake: The Turbulent Lives of Lord Byron’s Wife and Daughter: Annabella Milbanke and Ada Lovelace, by Miranda Seymour; and Ada Lovelace: The Making of a Computer Scientist, by Christopher Hollings, Ursula Martin, and Adrian Rice.

On Stiffing the Clergy. Hill observes that the Annabella Milbanke/George Gordon Byron happy marriage “lasted barely 24 hours; the ‘ever after’ is with us still. Even the clergyman who performed the service was soon disillusioned. The Rev. Thomas Noel [an illegitimate cousin of Annabella] had been promised some ‘substantial’ token of the groom’s appreciation. He received instead one of the rings of which Byron kept a plentiful supply to distribute to admirers.”

I love Rosemary Hill’s way with words.

Anne Isabella Noel Byron, 11th Baroness Wentworth and Baroness Byron, née Milbanke, 1792–1860. Wife of Lord Byron, 1815-1816; mother of Ada Byron. Portrait by Charles Hayter, National Portrait Gallery.

On Remembering an Ex. Hill notes, “Exactly what happened in the 12 months before Annabella left Bryon, taking with her their baby daughter, Ada, is impossible now to know…. Byron satirised Annabella in Don Juan, while she herself told and retold the story over the four and a half decades between the end of her marriage and her death in 1860.”

“As its afterlife grew ever longer in proportion to the marriage itself,” Hill writes, “his [Byron’s] widow continued to recast events with the aid of ‘memory’s broad and idealising brush’….”

Don’t you love that metaphor?

On Ada’s Mathematical Education. According to Wikipedia, “Lady Byron had felt that an education in mathematics and logic would counteract any possible inherited tendency towards Lord Byron’s insanity and romantic excess.”

Now there’s a reason to take mathematics!

On Ada’s Precocity. Hill writes, “At 11 while experimenting with various kinds of paper wings, she informed her mother that she would ‘bring the art of flying’ to such a pitch that ‘I think of writing a book of Flyology illustrated with plates.”

Geez. At 11, I couldn’t even spell “Flyology.”

What’s more, Hill writes that British mathematician Augustus de Morgan was charged with tutoring Ada and found that “she evinced an intelligence ‘utterly out of the common way for … man or woman.’ ”

Augustus de Morgan, 1806-1871, British mathematician and logician. Image by Sophia Elizabeth de Morgan.

Nor was Augustus de Morgan any slouch. Today, the De Morgan Laws are fundamental to areas of mathematical logic and set theory.

Natural Philosopher to Scientist. A bit of intellectual history: Hill observes that “Ada lived through the period when ‘natural philosophy’ was becoming ‘science,’ and it was her friend William Whewell who coined the word ‘scientist.’ ”

To wit, Sir Isaac Newton, 1643–1727, was a natural philosopher; Charles Darwin, 1809-1882, was a scientist.

Did Mary Shelley Ever Meet Ada Lovelace? As is well known (even described here at SimanaitisSays), Mary Wollstonecraft composed her Frankenstein tale as part of a dark and stormy night at Lord Byron’s Geneva home in June 1816. Later that year, she became Mrs. Percy Bysshe Shelley once his first wife committed suicide, another tale entirely.

Mary Shelley was 18 at the time; Ada Byron had been born three years before. English arts circles being what they were, Hill conjectures that the two may have interacted later in life.

“More important, however,” Hill writes, “is the undeniable line of intellectual descent from the author of Frankenstein to the self-described ‘bride of science’ and her collaboration with Babbage, the ‘logarithmetical Frankenstein’ of the London Literary Gazette.

I’m not altogether sure this is a comforting thought, but it’s an interesting one. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2018

One comment on “ADA LOVELACE REDUX

  1. carmacarcounselor
    July 24, 2018

    Phillip Pullman used variations of root concepts and words for the language in his alternative world in “His Dark Materials” like “coal spirit” instead of petroleum, “anbaric” (from amber – a source of static electricity) for electricity. The thinly disguised authoritarian church (“Magisterium”) called science “Natural Theology” and “Experimental Theology.”

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