The Net Advance of Physics RETRO:
The Autobiography of Charles Babbage


Over the course of 2014 and 2015, The Net Advance of Physics plans to serialise Charles Babbage's meandering autobiographical essay Passages from the Life of a Philosopher. New chapters will be added at five-week intervals.

While the table of contents provides some idea of the subjects Babbage treats, his peculiar style is perhaps better seen from the title page above !


  1. My Ancestors
  2. Childhood
  3. Boyhood
  4. Cambridge
  5. Difference Engine No. 1 [Part 1 / Part 2]
  6. Statement relative to the Difference Engine
  7. Difference Engine No. 2
  8. On the Analytical Engine
  9. Of the Mechanical Notation
  10. The Exhibition of 1862
  11. The late Prince Consort
  12. Recollections of the Duke of Wellington
  13. Recollections of Wollaston, Davy, and Rogers
  14. Recollections of Laplace, Biot, and Humboldt
  15. Experience by Water
  16. Experience by Fire
  17. Experience amongst Workmen
  18. Picking Locks and Deciphering
  19. Experience in St. Giles's
  20. Theatrical Experience
  21. Electioneering Experience
  22. Scene from a New After-Piece
  23. Experience at Courts: England
  24. Experience at Courts: Italy
  25. Railways
  26. Street Nuisances
  27. Wit
  28. Hints for Travellers
  29. Miracles
  30. Religion
  31. A Vision
  32. Various Reminiscences
  33. The Author's Contributions to Human Knowledge
  34. The Author's further Contributions to Human Knowledge
  35. Results of Science
  36. Agreeable Recollections


Some men write their lives to save themselves from ennui, careless of the amount they inflict on their readers.

Others write their personal history, lest some kind friend should survive them, and, in showing off his own talent, unwittingly show them up.

Others, again, write their own life from a different motive --- from fear that the vampires of literature might make it their prey.

I have frequently had applications to write my life, both from my countrymen and from foreigners. Some caterers for the public offered to pay me for it. Others required that I should pay them for its insertion ; others offered to insert it without charge. One proposed to give me a quarter of a column gratis, and as many additional lines of eloge as I chose to write and pay for at ten-pence per line. To many of these I sent a list of my works, with the remark that they formed the best life of an author ; but nobody cared to insert them.

I have no desire to write my own biography, as long as I have strength and means to do better work.

The remarkable circumstances attending those Calculating Machines, on which I have spent so large a portion of my life, make me wish to place on record some account of their past history. As, however, such a work would be utterly uninteresting to the greater part of my countrymen, I thought it might be rendered less unpalatable by relating some of my experience amongst various classes of society, widely differing from each other, in which I have occasionally mixed.

This volume does not aspire to the name of an autobiography. It relates a variety of isolated circumstances in which I have taken part --- some of them arranged in the order of time, and others grouped together in separate chapters, from similarity of subject.

The selection has been made in some cases from the importance of the matter. In others, from the celebrity of the persons concerned ; whilst several of them furnish interesting illustrations of human character.