The Proto-Trolling of Charles Babbage

No one, not even his closest friends, would deny that Charles Babbage was a first rate pedant. In 1842, Alfred, Lord Tennyson wrote a poem entitled “The Vision of Sin”, which included the following verse:

Fill the cup, and fill the can:
Have a rouse before the morn:
Every moment dies a man,
Every moment one is born.

Good stuff that. I feel all inspired to fill life up with joy, because it is fleeting and meaningless. The “carpe-est” of “diems”, if you will*. I am so moved that the editor in me is not even bothered in the slightest** about the unorthodox punctuation choices.

Charles Babbage is a better pedant than I. He wrote a letter to the poet:

In your otherwise beautiful poem, one verse reads, “Every minute dies a man, Every minute one is born”; I need hardly point out to you that this calculation would tend ot keep the sum total of the world’s population in a state of perpetual equipoise, whereas it is a well-known fact that the said sum totatl is constantly on the increase. I would therefore take the liberty of suggesting that in the next edition of your excellent poem the erroneous calculation to which I refer should be corrected as follows: “Every moment*** dies a man, And one and a sixteenth is born.”

Babbage trolled Tennyson. Babbage trolled Tennyson hard.

*Please don’t.

**Botheration is stastically indistinguishable from “not bothered in the slightest”, primarily due to large sample variance.

***Apparently, the original version used “minute” which Tennyson later changed to “moment”.

SOURCE: The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace & Babbage by Sydney Padua , which you go and buy now. In fact, I ‘ve already judged you more than a little if you have already bought the book, read it, and been completely familiar with this story, because you read the end notes like a true scholar.

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