Letters of Note has recently included the famous Charles Babbage reply to Tennyson’s poem, “The Vision of Sin.” If it is possible for a single passage to encapsulate a worldview, this is Babbage in a nutshell:


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