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Author: Simon Schaffer


“Mr Babbage’s invention puts an engine in place of the computer”

In summer 1823 the new and controversial Astronomical Society of London decided to award its gold medal to one of its own founder members, the equally controversial Cambridge-trained mathematician Charles Babbage. The award formed part of an energetic campaign to launch the construction of a Difference Engine to calculate navigational and astronomical tables. In his address to the Society in early 1824, the Society’s president, the financier, mathematician and orientalist Henry Colebrooke, summed up the significance of Babbage’s planned device. He referred to contemporary developments of industrial machinery only to contrast them with the Difference Engine. “In other cases, mechanical devices have substituted machines for simpler tools or for bodily labour….But the invention to which I am adverting comes in place of mental exertion: it substitutes mechanical performance for an intellectual process”. In other words, “Mr Babbage’s invention puts an engine in place of the computer”. [1] This may seem a paradoxical comment on the man who is now lauded as the computer’s inventor. But as with terms such as “typewriter”, the word “computer” referred here to a human being, in this case the hireling employed to perform the exhausting reckoning which every astronomical operation required. Babbage himself applied for the post of computer at the Royal Observatory, Greenwich, in summer 1814, until Herschel dissuaded him from the thankless task. The labour of verifying “the calculations of the computers” required in compiling astronomical tables for the new Society soon prompted a characteristic expostulation: “I wish to God these calculations had been executed by steam !” Hence developed the plans for the Difference Engine. [2]

Through his gesture at the urgent issues of technological redundancy and the subordination of the labour process, Colebrooke’s remark provides the theme of this story of the apt connection which Babbage helped forge between the development of machinofacture and the design of intelligent machines. A key to this link is the term “intelligence”. The word refers both to signals received from without and to the capacity to register and interpret these signals. In early nineteenth century Britain, the site for Michel Foucault’s explorations of the origins of the human sciences, Ian Hacking’s account of the emergence of statistics, and Adrian Desmond’s stories of the origins of materialist evolutionism, the word “intelligence” simultaneously embodied the growing system of social surveillance and the emerging mechanisation of natural philosophies of mind. [3] In what follows, I explore the co-production of ideologically freighted accounts of intelligence and of politically charged systems of machinery.

The politics of intelligence has been signally absent from much recent analysis of computation. Discussions of the limits of expert systems and the delimitation of the scope of artificial intelligence have too often hinged on a deracinated account of the very term “intelligence” and on an abstracted exposition of the capacity of machines to display this virtue. However, two salient themes of this contemporary literature will help my analysis of the constitution of Babbage’s intelligence:

First, consider a notorious paper (1980) by the philosopher John Searle directed against the strong claim that appropriately programmed computers may have cognitive states. [4] Searle proposed a simulacrum of such a computer, a “Chinese room” occupied by a human being completely devoid of intelligence about Chinese but supplied with a set of symbols and rules which would allow her to respond to inquiries from outside the room. Searle envisages that such a system might pass the Turing test, that is, become indistinguishable from native Chinese speakers. But neither necessary nor sufficient conditions could be given for attributing intelligence to such a system. In response to the suggestion that while the human being might not possess intelligence, yet the entire system might be said to do so, Searle counters that the enterprise of artificial intelligence “must be able to distinguish the principles on which the mind works from those on which non-mental systems work”, and to judge that a system is intelligent just because of its inputs and outputs would compel us to attribute intelligence to a wide range of non-mental systems. I am not concerned with the force of this response. I am concerned with one implication of the story of the Chinese room. It dramatises the spatial mode of such debates. The site of intelligence, whether within the human, within the machine, or within the human-machine system, is an intrinsic puzzle for debates about the mechanics of intelligence. In this paper, I seek to show that the spatial distribution of intelligence in the early nineteenth century factory system was a vital political problem.

Second, consider a recent book (1990) by the sociologist Harry Collins, Artificial Experts: social knowledge and intelligent machines. In the model of knowledge and skill transfer upon which much recent sociology of scientific knowledge depends, skills are principally acquired through enculturation, the acquisition of tacit capacities whose transmission is invisible and capricious and cannot, therefore, fully be spelt out in formal algorithms. This model tells against a classical account of experimentation in which trials may be replicated through the public and formal understanding of a set of demonstrative rules. So the model supports studies of laboratory life in which experimenters need to share a culture in order to go on in similar ways. Collins explores the implications for this model of attempts to build expert systems. Were it possible to design expert systems, in which programs could be developed exactly to simulate skilful human performances, the enculturational model might seem threatened. In Collins’ analysis, much is made of the collaborative work required from human beings to make their machines look expert and intelligent. “One of the reasons we tend to think a calculator can do arithmetic is the natural way we help it out and rectify its deficiencies without noticing. All the abilities we bring to the calculation – everything that surrounds what the calculator does itself are so widespread and familiar that they have disappeared for us”. [5] This is the other theme which my story highlights. The intelligence attributed to machines hinges on the cultural invisibility of the human skills which surround them. Collins’ argument sits very well with comparable sociological and historical studies on the invisibility of laboratory technicians or on the invisibility of support staff in art worlds. [6] In Babbage’s world, the artisanal skills which surrounded machinery were systematically rendered invisible. Then and only then might the machine seem intelligent. The attribution of automatism to the factory system accompanied the judgment that its mechanical components possessed intelligence.

In a desperate attempt to be unsystematic, the paper that follows is divided into five sections. The first summarises the career of the calculating engines between the 1820s and the 1840s. Babbage worked hard to make these machines intelligent. His definition of intelligence, the combination of memory and foresight, was explicitly applied both to the engines and to his exactly contemporary work in political economy. The engines were therefore small-scale manufactories. In the second section, it is shown that these accounts of intelligent machines were developed polemically in debates about the character of workers’ skill. Babbage had immediate experience of these conflicts in his own relationship with the engineers and support staff who built the calculating engines. By the 1840s, Babbage’s machine philosophy was a resource for, and derived its intelligence from, the new automatic system which emerged in the machine-tool industry and the factory system. In the third and fourth sections, the factory system is described through the experiences of the factory tourists of the 1830s and 1840s, of whom Babbage was one. These tourists were the first to represent the factory system and helped make it. The account of the factory as a transparent and rational system was designed to demolish traditional and customary networks of skill and artisan culture. Finally, Babbage’s attribution of machine intelligence to his God shows how skills were disembodied in the philosophy of machines. The characteristic Victorian obsessions of natural theology and of waste disposal were important sites for the development of this philosophy and where it did its political work.

Systems are socially constructed and so, as we are increasingly reminded, are the productive and unproductive bodies which inhabit them. This is why Babbage’s most penetrating contemporary reader, Karl Marx, famously reckoned that it would be easier to write “a critical history of technology,….a history of the productive organs of man in society” than Darwin’s “history of natural technology”. Babbage’s moment was decisive for the construction of sociotechnical systems, for the productive bodies of the workforce, and for the perception that their world was ordered systematically. These processes of construction and perception should not be separated. There is a whole history to be written of the counter-claim that they can be teased apart, that the point of view from which the systematic character of the social world can be detected is independent of that world. Early Victorian society provided major resources for this claim and it must be studied in detail to show how this position was developed. The philosophers of manufacture, like Babbage, carefully constructed a place from which they could make out the lineaments of the factory system. Critics of this philosophy, like Marx, pointed out the political implications of this construction. The issue of the science embodied in the machinery of the automatic system and the fate of the worker’s body was debated in speeches to London Chartists in 1856, where Marx announced that “all our invention and progress seem to result in endowing material forces with intellectual life, and in stultifying human life into a material force”, and in his notebooks of 1857-8, where he observed that “it is the machine which possess skill and strength in place of the worker, is itself the virtuoso, with a soul of its own in the mechanical laws acting through it”. Under the “system of machinery”, as he defined it in early 1858, “the automatic one is merely its most complete, most adequate form, and alone transforms machinery into a system”. What follows is not a “critical history of technology” but it is an attempt to show where the systematic vision came from and some of the effects it had. [7]

Calculating Engines and Intelligence

“The engine, from its capability of performing by itself all those purely material operations, spares intellectual labour, which may be more profitably employed. Thus the engine may be considered as a real manufactory of figures”

L.F.Menabrea, 1842, translated by Ada Lovelace, 1843. [8]

Babbage’s designs for intelligent machines dominated his career from the moment he reached Regency London as an independently wealthy and ambitious analyst. His Difference Engine was based on the principle that the nth differences of successive values of n-power polynomials were constants and thus tables of these values could be computed by the addition and subtraction of a set of predetermined constants. The device was launched in London in summer 1822, received the promise of Treasury backing in spring 1823, and Babbage began active collaboration on the project with the master engineer Joseph Clement the following summer. To pursue the enterprise Clement’s workshop at Newington Butts took on as many as eight men, including one specialist draughtsman. Furious fights between Clement and Babbage on the ownership of tools, designs and hardware began in spring 1829. Despite interventions by the Prime Minister Wellington, the mediation of other engineers such as Henry Maudslay, and the nationalisation of the engine in early 1830, the project collapsed forever amidst recriminations in summer 1834. [9] But in the mid-1830s Babbage began negotiating a new contract with Clement’s former draughtsman, C.G.Jarvis, with whom he developed plans for what they baptised the Analytical Engine. “The railroad mania withdrew from other pursuits the most intellectual and skilful draftsmen”, Babbage recalled. In 1842-3 he arranged for a major publicity campaign, initially through Italian contacts such as the Piedmontese military engineer and future premier L.F.Menabrea and then through his close ally the aristocratic philomath Ada Lovelace. [10] This new machine was an unprecedented technical system. It was designed to carry in its memory one thousand numbers each of fifty digits. The store consisted of sets of parallel figure wheels, structured like those in the store of the Difference Engine; the input-output device was based on sets of number cards and variable cards, the latter of which would control which gear-axis would be used; and the control was transmitted though what Babbage baptized operation cards. Sequences of cards carried instructions to the engine, which were decoded in the store using the machine’s library of logarithmic and other functions, and then distributed to the operating sections of the mill. Such distribution could itself be modified by variables set by the existing state of operations in the machine. These crucial aspects of the Engine, its capacity for memory and for anticipation, were to be profound resources for Babbage’s metaphysics and his political economy. “Nothing but teaching the Engine to foresee and then to act upon that foresight could ever lead me to the object I desired”. [11]

These resources were publicised throughout the 1840s, notably during Babbage’s important visit to the meeting of Italian scienzati at Turin in 1840, where he gave a public address on the new engine in the milieu of civil reform and nationalist sentiment. Babbage was invited to the meeting by Giovanni Plana, a Laplacian graduate of the Ecole Polytechnique and Piedmontese government astronomer. Plana evoked the Engine with a brilliant political analogy: “hitherto the legislative department of our analysis has been all powerful – the executive all feeble. Your engine seems to give us the same control over the executive which we have hitherto only possessed over the legislative department”. The debates at Turin with Plana and the leading physicist Mossotti centred on the “intelligence” of this machine. They agreed that such intelligence would be measured by the capacity for anticipation. When Mossotti said he could not imagine how the engine could “perform the act of judgment”, Babbage described his recursion method for extracting roots from an equation of any degree: “his real difficulty consisted in teaching the engine to know when to change from one set of cards to another… intervals not known to the person who gave the orders”. The discussions with the Italian rationalists questioned the account of knowledge which such complex processes of training and judgement might involve. When Menabrea completed his essay on the machine, he remarked that “the machine is not a thinking being, but simply an automaton which acts according to the laws imposed upon it”. [12]

In the context of British and Piedmontese debates about industrialisation and social change, this was a powerful if questionable image. Menabrea and Plana worked hard to link their algebraic analyses of moving forces with urgent practical demands of military and civil engineering and thus to reform the labour force of the new state. Babbage and Lovelace, who translated and annotated Menabrea’s memoir in 1843, used highly anthropomorphic language to describe the faculty of anticipation, feeling and choice which they reckoned the engine would display. In 1838 Babbage conceded that “in substituting mechanism for the performance of operations hitherto executed by intellectual labour….the analogy between these acts and the operations of mind almost forced upon me the figurative employment of the same terms. They were found at once convenient and expressive, and I prefer to continue their use”. Hence he was committed to phrases such as “the engine knows”, to describe its predetermined move from one calculation to the next. The machine might be an automaton, but it carried intelligence. Lovelace put the issue like this: “although it is not itself the being that reflects, it may yet be considered as the being which executes the conceptions of intelligence. The cards receive the impress of these conceptions, and transmit to the various trains of mechanism composing the engine the orders necessary for their action”. This execution of intelligence was directly linked to the capacities of reliable, subordinate, workmen: “it will by means of some simple notations be easy to consign the execution of them to a workman. Thus the whole intellectual labour will be limited to the preparation of the formulae, which must be adapted for calculation by the engine”. The subordination of machinofacture to intelligence was crucial. The Analytical Engine raised the issue of the class division of intelligence. Menabrea ended his memoir with a reflection on the “economy of intelligence”. “The engine may be considered as a real manufactory of numbers”. In her remarkable annotations to this text, Lovelace extended and qualified these remarks about the manufacture process. She urged that the issue of whether the “executive faculties of this engine…are really even able to follow analysis in its whole extent” could only be answered by watching the engine work. She explicitly analogized between the working of the machine and the mind, notably in respect of the separation between operation cards, variable cards and number cards. “It were much to be desired”, she noted, “that when mathematical processes pass through the human brain instead of through the medium of inanimate mechanisms, it were equally a necessity of things that the reasonings connected with operations should hold the same just place as a clear and well-defined branch of the subject of analysis…which they must do in studying the engine”. The science of operations was proposed as a new discipline of utter generality both within the surveillance of mental labour and in the manufacture of exact values. The Analytical Engine was simply the “material and mechanical representative of analysis”, and through its working “not only the mental and material but the theoretical and the practical in the mathematical world are brought into more intimate and effective connexion with each other”. [13]

Mental labour became a measurable form of work and embodied in machine intelligence. The exactly contemporary discourse of political economy, especially the philosophy of manufactures, provided Babbage both with an account of what he called the “domestic economy of the factory”, as he baptized it, and also with an analysis of the skilled mental labour embodied in machinery. Since the analytical engines were always compared with the Jacquard card looms of the weaving trade, this analogy was close and just. “The Analytical Engine weaves algebraical patterns just as the Jacquard loom weaves flowers and leaves”, wrote Lovelace. Readers were instructed to visit the popular London shows of practical science at the Adelaide Gallery and the Polytechnic Institution to learn about this loom for themselves, while Babbage presented the Piedmontese court with a woven silk portrait of Jacquard purchased in the Lyons silk factories – it formed part of his evangelical promotion of machinofacture in Victor Emmanuel’s capital. [14] Furthermore, since Babbage’s collaborators on the calculating engines were themselves veterans of the machine tool industry inaugurated by Maudslay and Clement, this experience was of direct relevance to the construction of the engines. The precision, discipline and domestic order of the factory was this an intimate concern of Babbage’s project.

Babbage’s publications on the political and domestic economy of the factory were exactly contemporary with the project to build the calculating engines. In the late 1820s Babbage took the Lucasian chair of mathematics in Cambridge and, in a series of lectures he planned to deliver in the university, he composed a thorough survey of British manufactures, first released as a contribution on the mechanical arts in the popular Encyclopaedia Metropolitana (1829), then published in 1832 as On the Economy of Machinery and Manufactures. This remarkable exercise in the political economy of machinery reached a fourth edition by 1835 and was, by then, already in print in German, French, Italian, Spanish, Swedish and Russian. In Britain it was published by the agent of the reformist Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge, Charles Knight. When the leading Ricardian economist John McCulloch, a principal advocate of the benevolent effects of mechanization, complained about the absence of political economic data from the first edition, Babbage added new sections against the abstractions of the Ricardians and made more use of the numbers available to him through his allies in the statistical movement. Babbage put the third edition in the library of the London Mechanics’ Institution, a forum for the educational improvement of metropolitan artisans, and he used the text during his unsuccessful election campaign on a radical platform in the London constituency of Finsbury in late 1832: “if you are a manufacturer…and would see industry as free as the air you breathe – Go and vote for Mr Babbage. If you are a mechanic, depending on your daily bread on a constant and steady demand for the products of your skill…. – Go and vote for Mr Babbage”, thundered the Mechanics’ Magazine. [15]

Babbage himself made no attempt to deny the link between the engine project and the engine survey. The book’s very first sentence reads: “the present volume may be considered as one of the consequences that have resulted from the calculating engine, the construction of which I have been so long superintending. Having been induced, during the last ten years, to visit a considerable number of workshops and factories….I was insensibly led to apply to them those principles of generalization to which my other pursuits had naturally given rise”. [16] In his chapter on “the division of mental labour” Babbage cashed out this promissory note with a discussion of French schemes for the application of labour management to mathematical tabulation. The principles of hierarchy and the minimization of mental skill which Babbage found in G.F.Prony’s celebrated programme for the computation of new decimal tables in the 1790s were there made explicit as foundations of a general science of machine intelligence. This programme had been Babbage’s inspiration from his first pamphlets of 1822. Despite the fact that these tables were never published, they remained emblematic for British proponents of mechanized calculation. When Babbage visited Paris in 1819 he met the tables’ printer Didot and was given a copy of the section of the sine tables which had been set. Babbage left this invaluable compilation to his son in his will. One lesson he drew from the work of Prony and Legendre was that the subordinate computers “had no knowledge of arithmetic beyond the two first rules which they were thus called upon to exercise, and that these persons were usually found more correct in their calculations than those who possessed a more extensive knowledge”. [17]

This intriguing relation between subordination and accuracy was immediately applied to the calculating engines. Babbage always contrasted mechanisms which “perform the whole operation without any mental attention” and those which “require a moderate portion of mental attention”. His popular expositions of this distinction invoked the analogue with human intelligence revealed in the French project to dramatise the equivalence with machine intelligence and then to point out a contrast. Thus the fundamental operation of addition might be mechanized by “following exactly the usual process of the human mind”. But since “the calculations made by machinery should be done in a much shorter time than those performed by the human mind, Babbage argued that it was necessary to mechanize the “faculty of memory” rather than that of addition. “Memory” in the carriage of digits was, for example, represented as the addition of an extra projecting tooth to each number wheel in the difference engine, a tooth which could in its turn by engaged after the first stage of summation was completed. Finally, memory was to be replaced by anticipation. This was the key change between the Difference and the Analytical Engine. “It occurred to me that it might be possible to teach mechanism to accomplish another mental process – namely, foresight”. [18]

The transition from the Difference to the Analytical during the later 1830s raised three salient problems in the mechanization of memory and foresight. First, an issue discussed with the great science writer Mary Somerville and the Irish mathematician James McCullagh, the capacity of the engines to carry unlimited numbers of functions and variables and to represent unlimited series of digits, briefly, “an unlimited number of laws”. Babbage’s solution to this hard task was to draw on the Jacquard principle and to translate the “infinity of space, which was required by the conditions of the problem, into the infinity of time”. This “infinity of time” would be occupied by printing cards for the mill and in the printer itself, however long it be used, “the force to be exerted always remains the same”. The resources Babbage drew from political economy were directly deployed in the planning of the Analytical Engine through the application of time economy and supervision of work rate. [19] The second issue which Babbage raised was discussed with McCullagh and the German scientists Friedrich Bessel and Karl Jacobi, Prussian delegates to the 1842 meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science at Manchester. This involved the engine’s “knowledge” of tabular numbers used during calculations. Babbage designed his engines to recognize correct values of logarithms and other variables and to ring a bell and stop when needed. The mechanism for the machine to check tabular inputs meant that “the Engine will always reject a wrong card by continually ringing a loud bell and stopping itself until supplied with the precise intellectual food it demands”. Once again, this anthropomorphic language exemplified Babbage’s move to make specialised mental labour redundant. Ultimately, he claimed, such tabular inputs would be made unnecessary. [20] Finally, Babbage even playfully contemplated means by which the Analytical Engine could be stopped during operation and its figure wheels disturbed; the Engine would then automatically restore the wheels to their proper values. “The property itself is useless”, he wrote, but it dramatised the self-regulation he sought to embody in his Engines. This self-regulatory automatism was a key aspect of the general division of labour which he sought to design into these analytical mechanisms, and thus the systematic character he wished to grant them. [21]

In each division of the Analytical project, the interaction between engine design and the principles of machinofacture was understood through Babbage’s model of intelligence, a term designed to capture both “information” and “skill”. Machine intelligence was therefore at once managerial skill, the skill embodied in machines and the data amassed by the analyst of machinofacture. At the same time, machine intelligence was mapped by the progressive redundancy of operatives’ manual skills. Babbage’s text on the economy of machinery was itself supposed to be an experiment in these principles of intelligence. It included series of questionnaires which managers were to complete when gathering exact information on mechanization. “The habit of forming an estimate of the magnitude of any object or the frequency of any occurrence, immediately previous to our applying to it measure or number, tends materially to fix the attention and improve the judgment”. [22] Babbage’s work in political economy depended on the application of precision measures and calculation to surveys of the factories and within them. He then erected a basic analogy between the development of the calculating engines and that of the economy at large. In 1851, for example, he announced his development of the engines with the statement that “man is a tool making animal”. The science of progress was emblematic of these arguments about mechanization and improvement. Progress was defined as “the substitution of machinery, not merely for the skill of the human hand, but for the relief of the human intellect”. The same principle guided the move from individual tools to complete factories. [23] As the Analytical Engine was a “manufactory of figures”, Babbage had to outline his definition of a “manufactory”. “A considerable difference exists between the terms making and manufacturing”, he explained. The difference lay in the economical regulation of the domestic system of the factory. This led to Babbage’s implementation of the division of labour, and, as he emphasised, the fundamental principle of that division which allowed the sensitive analytical regulation of the process of manufacture. The “Babbage principle”, as it came to be known, applied equally to the regulation of the factory and of the calculating engines:

“That the master manufacturer by dividing the work to be executed into different processes, each requiring different degrees of skill or of force, can purchase exactly that precise quantity of both which is necessary for each process; whereas if the whole work were executed by one workman, that person must possess sufficient skill to perform the most difficult and sufficient strength to execute the most laborious of the operations into which the art is divided”. [24]

As Babbage and his allies among the political economists showed, the disaggregation of the production process into its simplest components allowed a series of economies and practices of surveillance. Mechanized production required strict discipline. The same was true of the Analytical Engine. Parcelling the processes of Lagrangean algebra into specific components allowed the increase in speed of the machine, the transformation of infinities of space into manageable durations of time, the most economical recompense to each component in terms of consumed power (if mechanical) or consumed wages (if human). “The whole history of the invention has been a struggle against time”, Babbage wrote in 1837. The replacement of individual human intelligence by machine intelligence was as apparent in the workshop as in the engines. In the former, this task was both politically and economically necessary. “One great advantage which we derive from machinery is the check which it affords against the inattention, idleness or the dishonesty of human agents”. This set of failings could produce erroneous astronomical tables, hence the significance of Prony’s reports on the performance of the least intelligent computers when subject to the right management. Unreliable agents could also form trade union combinations, which, Babbage held, were always “injurious” to the workforce itself. His aim here was to contest the influence of “designing persons” and show the working classes that “the prosperity and success of the master manufacturer is essential to the welfare of the workman”, even though “I am compelled to admit that this connexion is in many cases too remote to be understood by the latter”. [25]

Babbage’s political strategies of the strife-ridden decade of the 1830s outlined a crucial role for the analytic manager. In his texts on political economy, such as his brief chapter on “the future prospects of manufacture as connected with science”, he mapped out this role in some detail. The combination of theory and practice adumbrated both in the Economy of Machinery and in the notes on the Analytical Engine was necessary and possible, if only because the machinery of the factory and the calculating engines precisely embodied the intelligence of theory and abrogated the individual intelligence of the worker. Only the superior combination and correlation of each component guaranteed efficient, economical, planned and therefore intelligent performance. This general, abstract, lawlike behaviour was only visible to the overseer, the manager, men such as Babbage. No doubt his own status as a gentlemanly specialist helped. He inherited £100,000 from his banker father in 1827, while the state spent more than £17,000 on his engines within the next decade. “The efforts for the improvement of its manufactures which any country can make with the greatest probability of success”, he argued in his text on machinery, “must arise from the combined exertions of all those most skilled in the theory, as well as in the practice of the arts; each labouring in that department for which his natural capacity and acquired habits rendered him most fit”. Such declarations, reiterated in Babbage’s successive reformist propaganda throughout his career, made his new class of managerial analysts the supreme economic managers and legislators of social welfare. In good Bonapartist style he thought they should be rewarded with newfangled life peerages and political power. The original cases of the division of mental labour had both inspired the first Difference Engine and also demonstrated the relevance of the principles of manufacture to the sciences themselves. This made the science of calculation the supreme legislative discipline, just as, according to Plana, the calculating engines provided both legislative and executive co-ordination. In 1832 Babbage spoke on the hustings in a Clerkenwell pub about the political advantage of his “wholesome habit…to be careful in the obtaining and sifting of facts”. In 1838 Babbage claimed that “whenever engines of this kind exist in the capitals and universities of the world, it is obvious that all the enquirers who wish to put their theories to the test of number” would design their work so that it would be subjected to the engines’ sums. “Those who neglect the indication” would be reduced to fallible human labour and thus excluded from the community of science. And in 1842, in the midst of a stormy interview with the premier Robert Peel, Babbage quoted at him Plana’s remarks about the new “control over the executive” offered by his engines: “Sir R. Peel seemed excessively angry when I knocked over his argument about professional service”. [26] This political and managerial language was not merely an elegant reformist metaphor. The calculating engines were themselves products of the system of automatic manufacture which Babbage sought to model, indeed, they were some of that system’s most famous and most visible accomplishments.

The Automatic System and Skill

“Everything which has been produced is the work of men’s hands, that is, has been made by the hands of the labouring portion of the people and of right belongs to them. No matter when it was produced or by whose head work as well as by their hands’ work it was produced, it all belongs to them because they are the workmen, or in their own language, producers” Francis Place, 1826. [27]

The first automaton which Babbage ever saw was a danseuse, one foot high, “her eyes full of imagination and irresistible”, when a very young visitor to the backstage workshop of a London exhibitor. Thirty years later he bought the danseuse at an auction sale of a bankrupt mechanical show and, after restoring its gears, displayed it at his house-parties. “A gay but by no means unintellectual crowd surrounded the automaton. In the adjacent room the Difference Engine stood nearly deserted: two foreigners alone worshipped at that altar”. [28] The anecdote illuminates the social site which the calculating engines occupied as competitors for polite attention with the vast array of automata and mechanisms on display in the London showrooms, the Jacquard looms and more catchpenny artifices among them. The trade brought a living to many operators. After he was hired in 1829 by Maudslay, the young engineer James Nasmyth sold the model of a steam engine which had got him the post to a London maker “who supplied such apparatus to lecturers at mechanics’ institutions”. Similarly, in early 1834 two models of the Difference Engine itself were made by the instrument designer Francis Watkins, who plied his trade as electrician and showman at the Adelaide Gallery. His models were designed to help Lardner’s public lectures on the Engine’s principles. When the Engine had been abandoned Babbage insisted “it should be placed where the public can see it”. It was put on display at the Strand museum of King’s College London. Next door, at the Admiralty Museum in Somerset House, visitors could view Maudslay’s celebrated block-making machinery designed for the Portsmouth naval dockyards. These technical systems were on show as the highest achievements of the early Victorian machine-tool industry. [29]

The London machine shows were designed to win income and teach important lessons to a wide range of publics. This was not an audience which knew exactly what it wanted and certainly not an audience that obviously wanted exactitude. Babbage reckoned that automatic systems, notably his own calculating engines, should yield specific truths about the relation between intelligence, work and mechanism. These truths were by no means self-evident nor uncontroversial, especially during the Swing riots and machine-breaking in the countryside and the factory towns which raged during the struggle for Reform. A Kent observer of the riots told Babbage in 1830 that “you in London, except the conspirators who are there, can form no idea of the effect the ceaseless fires are producing”. [30] Babbage’s lessons hinged on the proper ownership of machinery and thus, in the jargon of his favourite science, the source of productive value. The rights of the workers to the whole value of their labour informed much of the radical protest of these key years. Babbage announced that the capacity of his engines to produce reliable and exact values depended on their capacity to act automatically and demonstrated the immediate relationship between the intelligence of the analyst and the machine’s performance. Who should “own” these machines? Whose labour did they embody? The political implications of these questions could not have been missed, even if Babbage had not touted them so publicly in his Finsbury election campaign of 1832. During the revolutionary struggles of 1830-32, meliorist observers such as the London tailor and journalist Francis Place were persistently struck by “the systematic way in which the people proceeded”, while the “people” themselves protested against the campaigns “to make us tools” or “machines”. Plebeian agitators had been dispossessed by machines and treated as machines. These issues made urgent the problem of the source and ownership of the skills embodied in machines confessedly designed to perform mental work. [31]

The radical conflicts of the 1830s often centred on a contrast between two accounts of skilled labour. Working class interests appealed to traditional custom, in which skill was recognized as a property inherent in the persons of the workers themselves. As such, skill was reckoned to be scarcely communicable outside carefully controlled milieux which were designed to remain opaque to the surveillance of managers and inspectors. Thus attempts by observers such as Babbage to gather intelligence about machines and the workforce were politically controversial. In contrast to the traditional model, philosophers of machinery promoted an account of rational valuation, attempting to render the labour process transparent and skills rather easily measurable in the marketplace of wage labour. Babbage’s programme of intelligence about machinery and intelligence embodied in machinery was inevitably conflicted. These are early nineteenth century English conflicts which, following E.P.Thompson, we now typically associate with political economic campaigns of the against the Corn Laws and the customary moral economy of the grain rioters, where economic rationality fought with traditional forms of exchange, or, following Michel Foucault, with Benthamite strategies for the surveillance of the body in the illuminated spaces of the Panopticon. Babbage’s campaigns for machine intelligence take their place alongside these more familiar strategies for the reconfiguration of the productive body. [32]

In this context, the faculties of memory and foresight with which Babbage sought to endow the Analytical Engine also characterize his self-presentation as the unique author of the machine. They embodied his control over the engine and disembodied the skills, and camouflaged the workforce, on which it depended. He explained his view of the property of skill involved in the calculating engines in an appeal to the Duke of Wellington about their future in late 1834. He used the language of reform to defend his own status as their author. “My right to dispose, as I will, of such inventions cannot be contested; it is more sacred in its nature than any hereditary or acquired property, for they are the absolute creations of my own mind”. [33] This remarkable declaration followed a decade of strife with Clement, the brilliant (but here characteristically unnamed) engineer on whose work so much of the engine’s development depended. When the project was inaugurated Babbage had to work out whether the design was in “such a form that its execution [might be] within the reach of a skilful workman”. In turn, this prompted his immediate examination “in detail of machinery of every kind”. Fights were endemic about Babbage’s claims that the workforce should submit to, and only needed slavishly to follow, his detailed recipe for the calculating engines and that any results of this labour would belong to Babbage himself. [34]

Whatever his own sense of the capacities of the London engineers, Babbage’s first specifications placed unprecedented demands on the capacities of the machine-tool workshops at a key moment in their history. For the first engine mill he required at least six coaxial gear wheels turned to an extraordinary exactitude, while the printing system needed a further set of interlocking gears engraved with letters and figures. A report drafted in 1829 for the Royal Society by Babbage’s closest allies, including John Herschel and William Whewell, conceded that “in all those parts of the machine where the nicest precision is required the wheelwork only brings them by a first approximation (though a very nice one) to their destined places, and they are then settled into accurate adjustment by peculiar contrivances which admit of no shake or latitude of any kind”. [35] The troublesome terms in these bland remarks by the gentlemen of science were the references to nice precision, accurate adjustment and shake or latitude. At the start of the century such demands would have been judged proper solely to the closeted capacities of millwrights and turners. The great Manchester engineer William Fairbairn reminisced that “the millwright of former days was to a great extent the sole representative of mechanical art”. But in very rapid succession, in fields such as clock making, ornamental turning and, above all, the development of steam pistons and screw gears, masters such as Joseph Bramah and his chief workman Henry Maudslay began to design self-moving cutting lathes to allow the production of precise planes, reliable screws and slide-rests to control the work in the chuck. Their network of machine-tool firms dominated the training and regulation of precision engineering. Maudslay set up his own London works in Lambeth in 1797, and employees there followed suit: Richard Roberts in 1814 in Manchester, James Nasmyth, hired by Maudslay in 1829 before setting up in Manchester in 1836, and Joseph Whitworth, who began working for Maudslay in early 1825 and established his own firm in Manchester in 1833. The careers of all these men were charted and moralised in the mid-century by Samuel Smiles, the indefatigable chronicler of self-improvement and engineering achievement. [36] Clement was one of Smiles’ heroes and a veteran of this system too. The son of a handloom weaver, the trade which suffered most from rapid mechanization, Clement worked as a turner in Glasgow before training with Bramah and Maudslay in the 1810s. In 1817 he set up shop in Southwark, near Maudslay and the centre of the London engineering trade, where he soon introduced a new form of slide rest to render lathe-work regular and manageable. This remained rather domestic labour. When Babbage commissioned him in 1823 on the recommendation of the eminent engineer Marc Brunel, Clement had just one lathe set up in his own kitchen. As cash began to flow for the calculating engine project, Clement’s firm soon expanded to a scale of workforce, and of individual machine tools, quite new in the trade. Up to one-third of his business depended on the Difference Engine project. Whitworth was hired to work for Clement on the design. The Manchester City News observed that “Mr Clement contrived and manufactured numerous tools for executing the several parts of this [calculating] machine, educating, at the same time, special workers to manipulate and guide them….Mr Whitworth was possessed of a special aptitude for that minute accuracy of detail in mechanical work which necessarily must have been a marked characteristic of the skilled workmen engaged on Babbage’s machine”. [37]

These workshops were designed to train apprentices in the production of regular and repeatable accurate work through the use of highly standardised and automatic tools. A Lancashire engineer working in the 1840s recalled that “men in large shops are not troubled with a variety of work, but had one class of work and special tools. The men soon became expert and turned out a large quantity of work with the requisite exactness without a little of the thought required of those who work in small shops where fresh work continually turns up but always the same old tools”. However, as the comments on Whitworth reveal, the shops were also highly private sites of specialist aptitude routinely judged to be the personal quality of some privileged individual. Nasmyth remembered how his drawings of high pressure steam engines were decisive in obtaining employment at Maudslay’s shop: “Mechanical drawing is the alphabet of the engineer. Without this the workman is merely a hand; with it, he indicates the possession of a head”. Such local entanglements of standardised production and individualised skill were not easily unravelled by Babbage’s campaign for the mechanisation and quantification of the value of mental and manual labour. [38] Two critical problems haunted the work on the calculating engines. Firstly, the place of skill and the social and cognitive distance between designers, machinists and draughtsmen was vital for the project’s conduct. When Babbage set out on a European tour in 1828 he left Clement what he reckoned were “sufficient drawings to enable his agents to proceed with the construction of the Difference Engine during his absence”. Such written recipes soon proved hopelessly inadequate. Two years later, on his return, Babbage demanded that the engine construction site be moved from Clement’s works across the river to Babbage’s own house in Dorset Street. Brunel helpfully suggested a compromise site at the British Museum. When the government funded a new workshop next door to Dorset Street, Clement demanded a large financial recompense for the costs of splitting his workforce between two places. The financiers refused and Clement sacked most of his men. Jarvis, Clement’s ex-draughtsman and future co-designer of the Analytical Engine, explained to Babbage why it was important that work proceed “under your immediate inspection”: “you might be at once appealed to whenever it was found very difficult to produce nearly [the desired] effect which is a very common case in machinery”. The lesson is a familiar one. The production and reproduction of skills and material technology requires intense and immediate interaction in spaces specifically designed for the purpose. Such designs violated the conventions by which the machinists plied their trade. In Maudslay’s works, a large locked door protected “his beautiful private workshop” where “many treasured relics of the first embodiments of his constructive genius” were hung. “They were kept as relics of his progress towards mechanical perfection”. Such shrines were importantly protected from the intrusions of customers and patrons alike. Clement, for example, always refused to make out bills for his work and tools “because it not the custom of engineers to do so”. [39]

A second decisive problem for the engine project was therefore the issue of ownership and public knowledge. The costs of the work were traditionally in the hands of the engineer, while his tools, in this case the lathes, planes and vices, were always his own property. Thus the question of whether the Difference Engine was itself a tool became moot. From 1829 Babbage and Clement were in dispute about property and prices. Clement nominated Maudslay and Babbage nominated Bryan Donkin, designer of machinery for national weights and measures, to adjudicate the fight. Clement at once appealed to the customs of his craft: all the tools, especially the new self-acting lathes, belonged exclusively to him and he insisted on his right to make more calculating engines without Babbage’s permission. Once again, Jarvis explained the point to the infuriated mathematician:

“It should be borne in mind that the inventor of a machine and the maker of it have two distinct ends to obtain. The object of the first is to make the machine as complete as possible. The object of the second – and we have no right to expect he will be influenced by any other feeling – is to gain as much as possible by making the machine, and it is in his interest to make it as complicated as possible”. [40]

The Imperial Engine

Babbage’s characteristic solution was to propose the nationalisation of the engine, the tools and the designs. He was pursuing what he reckoned was the practical logic of much of the machine-tool industry. Outstanding initiatives, such as the campaign to establish imperial measures, the recoinage run from the Royal Mint, the development of precision tools at Greenwich Observatory, and the installation of a production-line for blockmaking machines at the Admiralty’s dockyards, were all state-funded projects. Such projects formed part of the activity of what has been labelled the “fiscal-military state”, involving large-scale military investment, a major financial bureaucracy and commitment to the accumulation of quantitative information about civil society. Babbage’s machine intelligence was designed to appeal to, and reinforce, these rather fragile interests. [41] In his direct appeals to the government, therefore, Babbage was forced to explain how rationally managed design might look like costly disorder. He told Wellington in summer 1834 that the shift from the Difference to the Analytical design was part of this order. “The fact of a new superseding an old machine in a very few years is one of constant occurrence in our manufactories….half finished machines have been thrown aside as useless before their completion”. This scarcely consoled the administration nor did it easily engage with the culture of the machine shops, where personal skill and thus individual property was at stake in every “improved” design and workshop layout. Once the engine had been nationalised and shifted to Babbage’s own workshop, it was proposed that Jarvis work there but remain under Clement’s management. Clement refused the deal because “my plan may be followed without my being in any way a gainer”, and Jarvis refused because he would be blamed for any failure “as being necessarily most familiar with the details, whereas all the praise which perfection would secure would attach to Mr Clement who would come over now and then and sanction my plans only when he could not substitute any of his own”. The machinist refused to become “party to my own degradation”. Babbage and his Royal Society allies might judge this as rational management, while the engineers often saw it as a challenge to their rights and skills. [42]

But while Babbage’s early projects collapsed under the force of these challenges, his campaign for machine intelligence and the automatic system successfully captured the interests of the engineering managers and their new system. The intelligence gathered for his work on manufacture offered two important lessons about wage rates and skill patterns. The engineers were prepared to value the calculating engine project by raising the wages of workmen who had been involved in the scheme and they were committed to the design of increasingly automated systems which would break down craft divisions and allow the employment of increasingly cheap hands and increasingly subordinate labour processes. In a telling annotation to his correspondence with Wellington, Babbage remarked that “I have been informed by men who are now scattered about in our manufacturing districts, that they all get higher wages than their fellow workmen in consequence of having worked at that machine”. Babbage’s source was Richard Wright, whom he first employed as a valet on his European tour in 1828. Five years later, Wright set up as an engineer in Lambeth Road, very near Maudslay. Armed with Babbage’s instructions, the young man set out on a tour of the northern workshops as part of the campaign to gather intelligence for Babbage’s book. In summer 1834 Wright went to Manchester to work for Whitworth, who had opened his mill there a year earlier after leaving the Difference Engine project. “They are building as large a Factory as any in Manchester”, Wright told Babbage. The struggle between craft custom and innovative production-line techniques was striking. According to an American visitor to the Whitworth factory, because of subordination of the workforce and the increasing use of self-acting machines “no-one in his works dared to think”. So Wright set out to make himself fit for the Babbage engine scheme. He went to classes at the local Mechanics’ Institute and drawing academy. He reported to Babbage that “there is much talk about the [calculating] Machine here, so much so that a man who has worked at it has a greater chance of the best work and I am proud to say that I am getting more wages than any other workman in the Factory”. Wright offered himself to Babbage as a possible master-engineer. “I should be glad to convince you that I am able to complete it by making either a model….or by making any difficult part of the Machine either calculating or printing”. During the later 1830s Wright was on the tramp throughout the factory system. In 1835, for example, he walked from London to Yorkshire, where he surveyed the factories and the mines, then on to Scotland, Ulster and Lancashire. Though he complained that “the habits and conversation of the Factory are indeed disgusting to a thinking mind”, by the end of the decade he had set up his own works in Manchester, where “I intend to employ nothing but the best workmen and material”, and from the early 1840s was in active consultation on the Analytical project. By making himself a “thinking mind”, Wright became Babbage’s ideal, a Smilesian paragon who reckoned that rational management and the careful surveillance of the division of labour provided the key to success in making the calculating engines. In a lengthy epistle Wright explained to Babbage how the new system should work and how management should rule the skills of the workforce:

“The man you select for the workshop ought to be a good general workman both at Vice and Lathe for such a man can see by the way a man begins a job whether he will finish it in a workmanlike manner or not. Perhaps you are not quite aware that at Mr Clement’s and most other Factories the work is divided into the branches Vice and Lathe, and in most cases the man who works at the one is nearly ignorant of the other….He ought above all to have studied the dispositions of workmen so as to keep the workshop free from contention and disorder and the causes of the repeated failures of so much new Machinery for I am sure there is more failures through waste of labour and bad management than there is through bad schemes or any other cause”. [43]

Wright’s was the anonymous voice recorded in the pages of Babbage’s Economy of Machinery and which this text helped make representative of the automatic system in the machine-tool trades. In the philosophy of manufacture much was made of the highly personal skills embodied in the master-engineers. In his travel notes for the engine survey, Babbage recorded that “causes of failure” should be found by consulting a “man of science on the principle” and “a practical engineer on mechanical difficulties”. It was acknowledged, and celebrated, that manual dexterity remained a central attribute of “the skilled workman”. Babbage reckoned that “the first necessity” for his Difference Engine was “to preserve the life of Mr Clement…it would be extremely difficult if not impossible to find any other person of equal talent both as a draftsman and as a mechanician”. Engine masters became heroes. According to Nasmyth “by a few masterly strokes Maudslay could produce plane surfaces so true that when their accuracy was tested by a standard plane surface of absolute truth, they were never found defective”. At the same time, “absolute truth” was increasingly vested in the standardised tool-kit of the machine shops. No doubt this was why the authoritative scales and tools in use were so often fetishised. Maudslay’s benchtop scale was “humorously called….The Lord Chancellor”, while Nasmyth and his colleagues boasted of “the progeny of legitimate descendants” which they had produced. [44]

In London, Lancashire, Clydeside and elsewhere, the systems these men helped forge were the sites of a new managerial and technical network, dependent as much on strenuous regulation of the labour process as on the development of new automatic machinery. The development of ready-made metal textile machinery, for example, was a result of this system. In the process, craft customs were subverted and standardised, accurate production secured. [45] The managers of the most advanced workshops eventually became Babbage’s closest allies and sources of intelligence and support. In his Economy of Machinery, Babbage made much of the means through which the lathe would guarantee “identity” and “accuracy”, and then accounted accuracy as an economy of time, since “it would be possible for a very skilful workman, with files and polishing substances”, to produce a perfect surface. So artisan skill could be transmuted into its wage equivalent. In 1847, he contributed a discussion of this theory of lathe-work and metal-turning to the definitive textbook produced by Charles Holtzapffel, doyen of specialist lathe designers. Holtzapffel himself then contributed a long description of Babbage’s own tools on the engine project. In the next decade, both Whitworth and Nasmyth offered Babbage support in completing the Analytical Engine and testified in public to the benefits of the calculating engines for their own trade. Babbage’s friend the dissenting mathematician Augustus de Morgan brilliantly summarised the relation between the lathe, emblem of automatic skill, and Babbage, master of mechanical analysis in a cartoon showing him at the lathe armed only with a series of logarithmic functions. [46]

Two salient features of this new network mattered for Babbage’s own project. Firstly, the systematisation of machine-tool production and working was immensely controversial and highly charged politically. Secondly, this process demanded the reorganisation of the productive body and of the visible space in which it performed. The pre-eminent example of these two features of the automatic system was provided at Portsmouth dockyard, the very earliest site at which the automatic machine-tool system was implemented. Between 1795 and 1807 the entire system of production of pulley-blocks for the Royal Navy was overhauled. Traditionally this production relied on highly specialised crafts in woodworking and milling. Turning and shaping had relied on manual skill and recompense claimed in terms of the informal acquisition by the workforce of wood-chips from the yards for domestic fuel and independent working. In the face of mass protests, military force was used. The new production-line system destroyed and reorganised every feature of this pattern. Pulley-blocks were standardised and marked to prevent what was now called “theft”. Standardised machinists replaced specialist craftsmen. Wood was replaced by steam-driven all-metal machinery and separate artisan tasks embodied in purpose-built lathes and clamps. The protagonists of this reorganisation were also the protagonists of much wider social change. The system was developed by Samuel Bentham, the inspector of naval works, who in collaboration with his brother Jeremy had already introduced an identical system of surveillance in Russian wordworking schemes in the early 1780s, a scheme soon to be known as the Panopticon. The engineering works were laid out by Marc Brunel and implemented by his close ally Henry Maudslay. These were the men who introduced Clement to Babbage, and the men who made this system of inspection, regulation and line-production a visible exemplar of rational management. [47]

Samuel Bentham and his colleagues made Portsmouth dockyard a site of “incessant work” and then turned it into a tourist attraction. The Panopticon could be switched from its initial function as a system of surveillance over wood-workers into a general machine for social control. The Portsmouth team argued that public visibility could be an invaluable aspect of their industrial reformation. Bentham “considered it highly conducive to the hastening the introduction of a general System of machinery that public opinion should be obtained in its favour, and that this was likely to be more surely effected by a display of well arranged machines, for the accomplishing of one particular object”. So from the 1810s the block machinery became a common resort for interested visitors. As Peter Linebaugh has argued, the new system of technological repression institutionalised at Portsmouth can be taken as exemplary of the emergence of the wage form and of the productive labourer. “On entering the block mill, the spectator is struck with the multiplicity of its movements and the rapidity of its operations”. [48] The impersonal pronouns in this account are eloquent. The combination of the disembodied labour process and the public representation of systematic mechanisation were equally vital for Babbage’s political economy. A mark of this significance was his development of and publicity for the mechanical notation which he developed to represent the structure and motions of machinery. Initially designed to “see at a glance what every moving piece in the machinery was doing at each instant of time”, this panoptic notation was proffered as a technology of universal management. In a draft of his 1826 paper Babbage stressed the advantages of machine semiotics because “of all our senses that of sight conveys intelligence most rapidly to the mind”. The industrial journalist Dionysius Lardner reported that the working of the human body and of the factory system could both be represented and managed this way. The analogy of machine, body and workshop was developed at once: “not only the mechanical connection of the solid members of the bodies of men” but also, “in the form of a connected map or plan, the organization of an extensive factory, or any great public institution, in which a vast number of individuals are employed, and their duties regulated (as they generally are or ought to be) by a consistent and well-digested system”. It is for this reason that the term “system” requires further historical analysis. The panoptic gaze which revealed the order of the factory system and the mechanism of the body also rendered the workforce and its resistance rather hard to make out. [49]

Touring the Factory System

“You wish to make yourself acquainted with the state of affairs in England. You drop a remark or two as to the condition of the workers. The manufacturer understands you, knows what he has to do. He accompanies you to his factory in the country. The presence of the employer keeps you from asking indiscreet questions. You begin to be converted from your exaggerated ideas of misery and starvation. But…if you should desire to see the development of the factory system in a factory town, you may wait long before these rich bourgeoisie will help you!” Friedrich Engels, 1845. [50]

Babbage’s survey of machinery and manufacture took its place in a vast genre of such works, texts such as James Kay Shuttleworth’s Moral and physical conditions of the working classes (1832), Andrew Ure’s Philosophy of Manufactures (1835), Peter Gaskell’s Artisans and Machinery (1836), Robert Vaughan’s Age of Great Cities (1843), William Cooke Taylor’s Factories and the Factory System (1844) and, of course, Friedrich Engels’ Condition of the Working Class in England (1845), which were both products of well-publicised tours of the new factory system and also producers of intelligence about the factory system which flowed from the steam-presses in the 1830s and 1840s.

These publications emerged at a novel cultural moment which saw a tense encounter between literary tourists and the violent changes of industrial society. “I went, some weeks ago, to Manchester, and saw the worst cotton mill”, Babbage’s friend Charles Dickens noted in November 1838. “And then I saw the best. Ex uno disce omnes. There was no great difference between them”. Babbage’s predicament appears in its relation to manufacture at least twice in Dickens’ fictions: notoriously in Little Dorrit (1857), in the guise of the frustrated inventor Daniel Doyce, a victim of government circumlocution and the evils of patent laws, and, more tangentially, in Hard Times (1850), the novel which Dickens always promised to write against the industrial interest after his Manchester visit, in which the utilitarian Thomas Gradgrind inhabits an “Observatory” stocked with parliamentary reports and statistical tables amidst the nightmarish industrial cityscape of Coketown. Dickens’ description of this Observatory – “a stern room, with a deadly statistical clock in it, which measured every second with a beat like a rap upon a coffin-lid” bears a remarkable similarity to Babbage’s account of his Difference Engine in his Economy of Machinery, in which the tabulation of the values of polynomial functions using the summation of constant differences was analogized to “three clocks placed on a table side by side, each having only one hand and each having a thousand divisions instead of twelve hours marked on the face”. [51] Faced with easy satire and stern moralising, the genre to which Babbage’s Economy belonged steered an uneasy course between sensational journalism, sober but politically charged parliamentary reportage and the analyses of political economists, and the incendiary imagery of gothic horrors and unimaginable power. Often stunned by the unprecedented formation of industrial capital and labour power, and lacking a reliable vocabulary with which to analyse or account for the rapidity of population growth, economic concentration and worldwide trade networks, these writers produced accounts which were as significant for their omissions as the details which they contained.

As Maxine Berg notes, “the factory system itself was a term which frequently concealed more than it revealed”. [52] Babbage’s tours were no exception. Babbage often appealed to the traditional romanticised imagery with which the factory tourists all larded their stories. Visiting the blast furnace of an ironworks at Leeds he reported that “the intensity of the fire was peculiarly impressive. It recalled the past, disturbed the present and suggested the future…Candour obliges me to admit that my speculations on the future were not entirely devoid of anxiety, though I trust they were orthodox”. It was characteristic that such pictures drew attention away from conditions of labour towards the orthodoxies of apocalyptic. Nasmyth described the Coalbrookdale forges in exactly the same terms: “the workmen within seemed to be running about amidst the flames as in a pandemonium, while around and outside the horizon was a glowing belt of fire, making even the stars look pale and feeble”. At least as important, however, was vigilance in restricting access to the workplace. In Bradford, for example, seeking information about labour co-operatives, Babbage was bluntly refused access to the secret codes of the local trades unions. At exactly the same moment, in 1833, agitators such as the Owenite James Morrison reckoned that while “these ceremonies [are] so many relics of barbarism”, it was necessary to preserve proletarian ritual to recruit members to the new socialist unions. The seclusion of the workplace was at least as important for the managers. In London, Babbage self-consciously reported the “inconvenience” which tourists posed to managers: “when the establishment is very extensive, and its departments skillfully arranged, the exclusion of visitors arises, not from any illiberal jealousy, nor, generally, from any desire of concealment….but from the substantial inconvenience and loss of time throughout an entire series of well-combined operations which must be occasioned even by short and casual operations”. He also made much of the problem of public access to his own workshop. In 1835 he told one aspiring tourist of the calculating engine that “if I were to admit the numerous claimants I should not have one moment left in which to finish it”. Even as strenuous a journalist as Harriet Martineau, who printed reports in Dickens’ magazine about the Birmingham glass-works which supplied the Crystal Palace, was discouraged by the managers’ instructions to suppress the news that female labour was used instead of men. It was very much in the interests of the artisans’ culture of the workplace to maintain the closure of their world in the name of the custom of their trade. The very lack of systematisation of the rituals which surrounded the workplace made it rather opaque to the bourgeois tourist, evangelising missionary or government inspector, and thus promoted the conflicting images of the newly systematic and transparent factory and the ancient, secretive and subversive workshop. [53]

The system was, by definition, visible to the instructed viewer. Orthodox authors of factory tours routinely appealed to platitudes about the systematic character of the industrial economy. It was thus that the very term “factory system” was produced through these texts. The writers exploited an exceptionally powerful account of the production of systems developed in eighteenth century Scotland by philosophers such as David Hume, Adam Smith and Adam Ferguson. Smith had famously argued that the benevolent “invisible hand” which truly guided the economy was apparent to the wise philosopher, even if obscured from economic and self-interested agents themselves, subject as they were to the tyranny of the division of labour. As culture, so nature. James Hutton, Smith’s literary executor, had argued very similarly that events in earth history, such as earthquakes or volcanic explosions, might seem random or miraculous to the uneducated or superstitious observer, but to the enlightened philosophic naturalist they could be accounted as elemental parts of a rational and providentially planned system of earth history. [54] In an early essay by Smith which Hutton published in 1795 it was argued that “when we enter the work-houses of the most common artizans, such as dyers, brewers, distillers, we observe a number of appearances, which present themselves in an order that seems to us very strange and wonderful. Our thought cannot easily follow it, we feel an interval betwixt every two of them, and require some chain of intermediate events to fill it up and link them together”. Smith argued that artisans themselves would never see the need for such a systematic chain and that casual observers would merely be astonished by the conduct of the workshop. In good Humean spirit, Smith reckoned that only philosophic observers, “those of liberal fortunes, whose attention is not much occupied either with business or with pleasure”, would construct systems which made sense of the conduct of everyday labour. Significantly, Smith made the analogy between such explanatory systems and the machines they were designed to explain:

“Systems in many respects resemble machines. A machine is a little system, created to perform, as well as to connect together, in reality, those different movements and effects which the artist has occasion for. A system is an imaginary machine invented to connect together in the fancy those different movements and effects which are already in reality performed.” [55]

The Moral Economy of the Factory System

By the 1820s the programme of political economy and philosophy of mind promulgated among the Scottish elite was dominated by the Edinburgh professor Dugald Stewart, Adam Smith’s earliest academic expositor and a primary source and personal support for Babbage’s own work on analysis and economics. Under Stewart’s leadership, reformers urged the close relationship between the design of machine systems and the systematic gaze to which they should be subject. In the new colleges and mechanics institutes, the new periodicals and Benthamite professional committees, this model of intelligence and vision remained a crucial topic of debate for the designers and observers of the early nineteenth century factory system. [56]

A locus classicus of “Scotch knowledge” applied to the factories was The Philosophy of Manufactures produced in 1835 by the Scottish consulting chemist Andrew Ure, a veteran of reformist Glaswegian technical education. His disastrous performances as lecturer to Glasgow artisans prompted their secession from his courses, the establishment of independent mechanics’ institutes and his own permanent alienation from the workers’ movement and sustained support for the “Proprietors of our great Factories”. In 1830 he arrived in London from Glasgow. His Philosophy, distributed through the same useful knowledge network as Babbage’s Economy, was the first work to include the phrase “factory system” in its title. In a survey of what he baptised the “moral economy of the factory system”, Ure spelt out the point that such information about factory economy and machinery was often lacking amongst the mill-owners themselves. “Such complex mechanisms, like the topography of an irregular city, are most readily comprehended by the inspection of a plan, in which the mutual bearings and connections of the parts are analytically shown”. Ure made the modish Scots analogy between the “organic systems” of manufacture, mechanical, moral and commercial, and “the muscular, the nervous and the sanguiferous systems of an animal”. His systematic analysis, which Marx famously castigated as “his apotheosis of large-scale industry”, depended on a tour taken after being advised by his physician “to try the effects of travelling with light intellectual exercise”. His philosophic survey was ultimately a carefully-judged polemic on the openness of the factory system and the systematic expropriation of manual labour by industrial and self-acting machinery. When he had finished his survey he even tried, unsuccessfully, to gain access to Babbage’s workshops. Babbage was told that Ure had “drawings of the most delicate parts of the machinery at Manchester, etc., some of which machinery nobody has hitherto been permitted even to see, but the proprietors have nobly sacrificed the vulgar prejudice in favour of secrecy in order to promote science”. This moral, and this philosophic, pose, came to dominate the observers of the factory system from the 1830s on. [57]

Such observers were liberally supplied with handbooks. Literary companions were produced as a skilful mixture of travel diary and tourist guide. Readers were repeatedly instructed on the right mode of deportment when on tour in the manufacturing districts. Representative was the work of the Irish journalist William Cooke Taylor, a well-connected client of the Christian economist Richard Whateley, Dugald Stewart’s principal interpreter south of the border. Cooke Taylor was a notable propagandist for free trade and the manufacturing interests of Manchester, and an amateur ethnographer, the author of a treatise on The Natural History of Society (1840), in which class struggle was explained in terms of mutual ignorance and a devotee of the statistical movement – he attended its debates at the same British Association meeting in Manchester where Bessel and Jacobi discussed the Analytical Engine with Babbage. In his Factories and the Factory System of 1844, a work dedicated to the Tory premier and reluctant free trader Robert Peel, Cooke Taylor noted the contrast between hasty visions of the industrial sublime and philosophical meditation on the systematic benefits of the factory. “It is not surprising that many false notions should prevail respecting the influence of machinery; the tourist, visiting a factory district for the first time, cannot contemplate without wonder and even some emotions of involuntary fear the …. mighty steam-engine performing its functions with a monotonous regularity not less impressive than the enormous force which it sets in motion. His earliest impression is that fire and water – proverbially the best servants and the worst masters – have here established despotic dominion over man, and that here matter has acquired undisputed empire over mind”. The prosody was significant and owed much to Scottish philosophical discourse. Gothic imagery was linked with intemperate confusion and, above all, hideous materialist power. Such errors, which Cooke Taylor reckoned had bred unfortunate evangelical efforts to limit and control factory conditions, could only be corrected by “time and patience, repeated observation, and calm reflection”. The philosophic gaze would see that “the giant, steam, is not the tyrant but the slave of the operatives, not their rival but their fellow-labourer, employed as a drudge to do all the heavy work, leaving to them the lighter and more delicate operations”. Under Cooke Taylor’s wizardry, steam power was fetishised as human labour, and human labour transformed into a form of delicate leisure. [58]

These careful transformations were hammered home in the tour guides produced in the 1830s and 1840s. A handbook for visitors to Manchester, the “metropolis of manufactures”, produced in 1839, counselled all tourists to read Ure thoroughly and then obtain letters of introduction to the mills run by Fairbairn and Nasmyth, the bastions of mass-production engineering and the deployment of machine tools on a large scale. Amongst almost one hundred various machine firms in the city, walking through Fairbairn’s ironworks, or travelling on a specially-built train through Nasmyth’s Bridgewater foundry, a “gratifying treat”, would give the appropriate sense of wonder together with the understanding of regular system. “The visitor should take a walk among the mills, and whatever his notions may be respecting their smoke and steam and dust, he will be compelled to indulge in feelings of wonder at their stupendous appearance”. But in troubled times such feelings, as Cooke Taylor also stressed, should be immediately tempered by the sense of regular order. The Bridgewater Foundry, for example, was established in 1836, where major strikes of Lancashire engineers soon erupted in protest against harsh wage rates and the destruction of the apprentice system. From summer 1838, Chartist demonstrations in Manchester demanding the enfranchisement of the working class commanded more than fifty thousand marchers. In contrast, the ideal tourist would expect to see Nasmyth’s “straight-line system” of throughput and the widespread application of self-acting machine tools. At Fairbairn’s works “in every direction the utmost system prevails, and each mechanic appears to have his peculiar description of work assigned with the utmost economical subdivision of labour”. Once again, the power of mind over matter was much lauded. “It is by means of these admirable adaptations of human skill and intelligence that we are giving to the present age its peculiar and wonderful characteristic, namely the triumph of mind over matter”. [59]

This triumph was at once a claim about the machine tool system, and thus the control of matter by human intelligence, and a claim about labour discipline, and thus the control of the workforce by its masters. Ure stressed the relation between “the automatic plan” and “the equalization of labour”. “On the handicraft plan, labour more or less skilled, as usually the most expensive element of production – Materiam superabat opus; but on the automatic plan, skilled labour gets progressively superseded…. The grand object therefore of the modern manufacturer is, through the union of capital and science, to reduce the task of his work-people to the exercise of vigilance and dexterity”. It was precisely for this reason that in his tours Ure judged the factory as a form of laboratory, a potentially utopian site devoid of strife and replete with scientific truth. “The science of the factory” was at once a means of disciplining labour and an object-lesson in thermal physics, “better studied in a week’s residence in Lancashire than in a session of any university in Europe”. The Manchester guide explained that the self-acting principle applied to slide control in machine lathes “is that which enables a child or the machine itself to operate on masses of metal and to cut shavings off iron as if it was deprived of all hardness and so mathematically correct than even Euclid himself might be the workman!” In teaching inquirers how to interpret the relation between labour unrest and mechanization, Nasmyth also struck the Euclidean theme. “Those wonderful improvements in automaton machinery that produce you…the piston rod of a steam engine of such an accuracy as would make Euclid’s mouth water to look at” were immediately prompted by the “intolerable annoyance resulting from strikes”. The tour guides agreed. “The frequent and insufferable annoyances which engineers have experienced from trades unions” produced “those admirable contrivances which are enabling mechanicians to perform such wonders in overcoming the resistance of the material world”. [60] In their accounts of this resistance, a characteristic series of themes were developed in the literature of factory tourism. The apparently overwhelming power of the works should rightly be understood as labour discipline within a system of division and co-ordination, producing geometrical precision out of mere manual skill in despite of proletarian resistance.

Intelligence in the Factory System

“I regard the Factory System as un fait accompli….The Factory System originated in no preconceived plan – it sprang from no sudden exercise of wisdom, like Minerva from the brain of Jupiter, but it was formed and shaped by the irresistible force of circumstances. Those who are called the fathers of the Factory System were neither such demons as it has been sometimes the fashion to describe the millowners, nor yet were they perfect angels; they were simply men of great intelligence, industry, and enterprise” William Cooke Taylor, 1844. [61]

The familiar tropes of precision, discipline and class struggle were matters of considerable debate. Thus Engels summarised what he judged the farcical and sinister performances of factory tourism: “You come to Manchester….You naturally have good introductions to respectable people. You drop a remark or two as to the condition of the workers”. Engels brilliantly satirised the “easy, patriarchal relation” which tourists would see: “you see what the bourgeoisie promises the workers if they become its slaves, mentally and morally…Dr Ure sings a dithyramb upon the theme”. Engels’ critique hinged on the contrast between the gaze of the bourgeois philosopher, which he reckoned sightless, and a more penetrating analysis which saw behind the factory’s scenes. This was why the question of intelligence was so central in the political production of the factory system, the intelligence gathered about the works and the intelligence embodied within them. The factory system was not an inevitable consequence of the development of power machinery in the textile trades, but, instead, machines were designed to fit new forms of discipline and labour processes within the workshops. Arkwright’s new spindles were only licensed in units of a thousand or more so that he could maintain control over the technique, thus spawning large-scale textile enterprises. Manchester strikes in the cotton trade in the 1820s prompted the development of self-acting mules which would give more control of the production process to the employers. Ure characteristically lapsed into the imagery of Olympus and of Frankenstein to describe Richard Roberts’ new mule as “the Iron Man sprung out of the hands of our modern Prometheus at the bidding of Minerva – a creation destined to restore order among the industrious classes”. The comment was picked up by Marx as an archetype of the disciplinary function of the machine and of “the spirit of the factory”. Uneven developments in the implementation of such techniques as Roberts’ mule show that the automatic system depended on the extent to which it fitted managerial demands. As William Lazonick has argued, overlookers preferred less mechanical methods for winding yarn onto spindles because such methods yielded much greater intelligence about the conduct and quality of labour. [62] Contemporary analysts would hesitate between the attribution of productive success and labour discipline to the machines themselves, and thus to the logic of the system, or to the human workforce, and thus to the skill of proletarians and engineers alike. The development of these new social formations, as Engels claimed, involved an apparently paradoxical relation between machinery and human intelligence. He opened his analysis with a crude picture of pre-industrial life dominated by machine-like agricultural labour. “The industrial revolution has simply carried this out to its logical end by making the workers machines pure and simple, taking from them the last trace of independent activity, and so forcing them to think and demand a position worthy of men”. [63]

The two central political issues of the revolutionary decade of the 1830s were those of the intelligence to be attributed to the working class and of the possibility of representing the new factory regime and its associated system as a natural, and providential, rather than artificial, and thus corrupt, formation. These issues were hard to tease apart. Apologists repeatedly emphasised the inevitability and the virtue of the factory system. Cooke Taylor reckoned that “factories are a result of the universal tendency to association which is inherent in our nature” and that “the factory system is not only innocent in itself but a necessary element in the progress of civilization and a most efficient means of promoting human happiness.” In a fashion characteristic of the Scottish philosophy of mind, these remarks referred the co-ordination and discipline of the work-force to principles inherent in human consciousness. Eighteenth century associationism, it was claimed, reached its apotheosis in the cotton works. Thence it was easy to argue that the apparent evils of the factory system were entirely external to its logic. Thus while Cooke Taylor blamed “the want of intelligence in the ruling power….and not the factory system, which does not possess any means for self-legislation”, the eminent reformist physician James Kay Shuttleworth, whose revelations about the health of the manufacturing towns supplied countless journalists with scare stories, commented that the evils affecting the Mancunian working class “result from foreign and accidental causes. A system, which promotes the advance of civilization and diffuses it all over the world….founded on the benefits of commercial association, cannot be inconsistent with the happiness of the great mass of the people”. [64] The systematic character of the factories was precisely what allowed them to represented as virtuous, and this virtue was allegedly achieved automatically.

The crisis of proletarian intelligence in the factory system emerged as a problem of automatism. “The factory system has a tendency within itself to correct many of the evils”. If the factory were not merely the product of an automatic law of moral progress but the consequence of the adoption of the automatic system of manufacture, it was still necessary but difficult to represent the inmates of the factory as themselves possessed of intelligence. The puzzle of the thinking machine was the very stuff of this debate. No doubt this was why the images of the modern Prometheus and of Athena springing fully-clad from the mind of Zeus were so common. Defining the site of intelligence was a key political task. Critics reiterated their suspicion that automatic machinery and factory discipline mechanized the proletariat. Cooke Taylor addressed the puzzle directly. “I am willing to confess that the mechanical processes which require a continuous and unvarying repetition of the same operation…have a tendency to degrade the workman into an automaton”. He conceded that “there is a tendency in the use of machinery to materialize the thoughts”. But in drawing a picture of the balance between the necessary division of labour and the combination of tasks required within the factory system, he urged that “such combination requires no small exercise of mind and no conceivable adaptation of wood and iron will produce a machine that can think”. Nasmyth told the parliamentary commissioners that automatic machinery prompted workers’ intellectual development, just because under benevolent management removed the need for hard work. Challenged that under the division of labour “the labourer becomes part of the machine instead of an entire machine”, Nasmyth replied that “some of our modern machines are most interesting, and after a time the men begin to feel it…the mere looking at anything absolutely correct or true in geometrical form, I think, has in itself a tendency to improve the mind”. [65]

The suspicion, however, was that this vaunted intellectual improvement flowed from the master-machines, and thus from their masters. Ure characteristically and frankly celebrated this subordination. The Manchester guidebook quoted him approvingly: “the benignant power of steam summons around him his myriads of willing menials, and assigns to each the regulated task, substituting for painful muscular effort upon their part the energies of his own gigantic arm”. There was thus an unresolved contradiction between stress on the subordination, and thus mechanization, of workers’ intelligence, and on the co-ordination, and thus cerebration, of their labour. A notorious example appeared in Ure’s attempts to define the term “factory”. On the very same page of his Philosophy of Manufactures he defined the factory both as “a vast automaton composed of various mechanical and intellectual organs….all of them being subordinated to a self-regulated moving force”, and also as “the combined operation of many orders of work-people…in tending with assiduous skill a system of productive machines”. Marx immediately picked up this striking contradiction between automatism and skill and associated it closely with Babbage’s account of the division of labour in the machine system. “These two descriptions [by Ure] are far from being identical. In one, the combined collective worker appears as the dominant subject, and the mechanical automaton as the object; in the other, the automaton itself is the subject, and the workers are merely conscious organs”. The “automatic workshop” posed in an unprecedently acute form the challenge of situating its intellectual and thus governing principle: within the skilful workforce, as Cooke Taylor hinted, within the managerial regime, as Nasmyth so often claimed, or within the machines, as Ure and Babbage boasted. [66]

The Labour of the Head

This problem of the geography of intelligence depended on the fetishisation of the machines and the reification of the labour power exerted around them. As Raphael Samuel has demonstrated, mid-Victorian industrial mechanization was accompanied by the preservation, intensification and expansion of skilled manual labour throughout the economy. “The mid-Victorian engineer was still characteristically a craftsman, an artisan or mechanic rather than an operative or hand”. [67] The representation of this dual process of the intensification of skill and the subordination of mechanization involved a remarkable balancing act amongst the commentators on the factory system. In the report of his Lancashire tour during the Chartist general strike of 1842, in which almost every cotton works was closed, Cooke Taylor premised that “the diffusion of the Factory System has created a larger demand than previously existed for intelligence and contrivance” among the workforce, and deduced that the machines themselves could not, or should not, be granted tyrannic power. “The operatives are stringently ruled by their own consent…So strange a combination of perfect despotism with perfect freedom never before existed, and to have produced such a state is one of the noblest triumphs of morality and intelligence”. [68] The problem remained. Whose intelligence had produced this splendid state of voluntary servitude and supreme skill? Protagonists of the cotton masters had no doubt – it flowed from the machines themselves. Thus Edward Baines, a veteran lecturer against the Chartists on the benefits of rapid automation, argued in his history of the cotton industry that “all the precision, power and incessant motion belong to the machines alone, and the work-people have merely to supply them with work”. The embodiment of skill within the automatic system was used to distract attention from the labour power exerted by the workforce itself. The most hostile critics of the machine economy, such as the Liberal Manchester medic Peter Gaskell, countered that it followed that any worker would be “reduced to a mere watcher or feeder of his mighty assistant”, and that “the struggle carrying on between human power on the one hand, and steam aided by machinery, is gradually approaching a crisis”. [69]

The terms of this critical struggle provided the vocabulary for all early Victorian accounts of the relation between skill, labour power and the machine. For the political economists, on whom Babbage drew so much, the property of skill was switched from its traditional place as an aspect of the customary life of the artisan, and transferred as a species of mental capital to the factory system itself. The claim that skill was a property of the artisan collective body had long warranted various forms of working-class resistance to mechanization and deskilling. The more heroic achievements of early Victorian engineering, including the Difference Engine, might be attributed solely to their named authors, such as Babbage, the managerial entrepreneur, but many artisans retained and expressed their sense of the skilful labour which they had devoted to these projects. The socialist Thomas Hodgskin, editor of the Mechanics’ Magazine, lectured at the London Institute in 1826 that “the enlightened skill of different classes of workmen” had indeed produced higher improvements in machinery but that it was wrong to attribute “the productive power of this skill” to “its visible products, the instruments”, and even worse that “the mere owners….who neither make nor use them imagine themselves to be very productive persons”. Six years later in a London pub Hodgskin challenged Babbage on the Finsbury hustings about the fate of the public money which had been poured into the Difference Engine. [70] In response to such demands for recognition of artisanal skill, the Ricardian economists John McCulloch and Nassau Senior both saw artisan skill as a product of the intensity of the division of labour and not a quality imminent in, nor belonging to, the workforce itself. Richard Jones, Christian economist and close ally of William Whewell, argued that capital alone contributed “the formation of the human agency by which the continuity of labour is secured; the maintenance of the intellect which enlightens its application [and] the employment of power which resides either in a higher order of moving forces or in mechanical contrivance”. According to Jones and his colleagues, manufacture’s “sovereign power over the material world” was entirely dependent on “the eye of a superior enforcing everywhere steady and conscientious labour”. [71]

These claims were highly consequential for the politics of intelligence. Intelligence just was the warrant of humanity’s power over matter. Under the new orthodoxies of political economy, the surplus value extracted from the machines was the product of the intelligence of capital made real in the force of steam-driven engines. On this showing, “intelligence” itself was easily identified with just those qualities displayed by manufacturing capital and the subordinate “servants of the machine”, notably foresight and vigilance. So when Whewell and Jones debated the right model of value in the 1840s, the Cambridge mathematician reckoned that in a cotton mill “the value of its produce must equal the value of the moving power plus the value of the mechanism”. These analysts used the term “labouring force” to describe the former value, thus decisively shifting their model towards a general theory of machinery. Jones agreed: “we can have no measure of the power…employed in production unless we are familiar with the greater or less degree of perfection of the machinery and implements”. The value of the factory system was therefore entirely to be located in the array of mechanisms deployed in the workshops and its intelligence was to be referred to the planning and the discipline with which these machines were managed. [72]

The aim of this polemic was to make the identity of intelligence and capitalist machine management self-evident. Socialist, radical and plebeian critics sought, in contrast, to make it nonsensical or disastrous. This made the problem of workers’ intelligence vital in political debate. Trades union newspapers argued that “continued improvements in machinery” might increase the demand for manual labour but destroyed demand for “the labour of the head”. Lecturers at the Mechanics’ Institutes insisted that “if the body have lost its value, the mind must get into business without delay”. Chartist pamphleteers announced that “the Duke of Wellington could have gained ten Waterloo battles easier than he could have learned to form one single nail to the perfection attained by some poor men in the forlorn and sooted smithy”. [73] The pervasiveness of the language of machine intelligence was most marked in the more sophisticated socialist analyses, for in these texts claims for the liberation of the proletariat from the subordination of factory discipline simultaneously used, and assumed, the image of the human body as “living machinery”. So when the pre-eminent socialist campaigner Robert Owen promulgated his New View of Society in 1816, he appealed to mill-owners’ own interests in tending their workforce just as carefully as their “inanimate mechanisms”: “the more delicate complex living mechanism would be equally improved by being trained to strength and activity”, Owen charged, “that its mental movements might not experience too much irritating friction, to endeavour by every means to make it more perfect”. Where the Lanark utopian judged that manufacturers would immediately understand the rationality of social improvement because they saw their workers as living machines, Engels reckoned that in Manchester the process which mechanized the very bodies and minds of the workforce would also radicalize their politics despite the capitalists’ power. Machine systems helped divide the body into specialised, monstrous capacities. “No activity…claims the operative’s thinking powers”. Engels straightforwardly rejected the meliorist claims of Cooke Taylor, Ure and their colleagues that machine superintendence was a form of leisure. It was rather a form of tedium. “The operative is condemned to let his physical and mental powers decay”, Engels added; “if the operatives have nevertheless not only rescued their intelligence but cultivated and sharpened it more than other workingmen, they have found this possible only in rebellion against their fate and the bourgeoisie”. [74]

Such remarks indicate the need to legitimate the discourse on the factory system produced in the 1830s and 1840s and its polemical vocabulary of machine intelligence. The processes of automation and co-ordination which had spawned the factory system had made the problem of the place of intelligence urgent. Proponents of machinofacture reckoned that the factory system was evidently a consequence of intelligent reason and thus providential and virtuous. They situated this intelligence in the complex relation between the fixed capital of the steam-driven engines and the mental capital of the millowners. The workforce itself was only judged a producer of value to the extent that it matched precisely the capacities of the machines. The qualities attributed to this intelligence were just those required from this form of superintendence, anticipation and meticulous scrutiny. This was the definition of intelligence which Babbage embodied in his machines and the sense of intelligence which he reckoned those machines displayed. He even claimed that these were the virtues of divinity.

The Apotheosis of Machine Intelligence

“Innumerable are the illusions of Custom, but of all these, perhaps the cleverest is her knack of persuading us that the Miraculous, by simple repetition, ceases to be Miraculous….Am I to view the Stupendous with stupid indifference, because I have seen it twice, or two hundred, or two million times? There is no reason in Nature or in Art why I should: unless, indeed, I am a mere Work-Machine, for whom the divine gift of Thought were no other than the terrestrial gift of Steam is to the Steam-Engine, a power whereby Cotton might be spun, and money and money’s worth realised” Thomas Carlyle, 1831. [75]

It was, perhaps, inevitable that Babbage should ultimately teach the supreme value of machines possessed of foresight and memory by attributing these powers to the Deity. Natural theology was the indispensable medium through which early Victorian savants broadcast their messages. The dominant texts of this genre were the Bridgewater Treatises produced in the early 1830s by eminent divines and natural philosophers under the management of the Royal Society’s presidency. The treatise produced by William Whewell, then mathematics tutor at Trinity College Cambridge, was among the most successful of these works and included a claim about the relation between mathematics, automatism and atheism which Babbage decided he had to answer. His machine philosophy was here assailed from a perspective in complete contrast to those of the radical artisans. Whewell, a moderate evangelical and follower of Coleridgean politics, argued that whereas the great scientific discoverers were men of faith, because their acts of induction would inevitably prompt them to identify divine intelligence in the creation, mathematical deductivists might falsely hold that the laws of the world could be spun out by analysis and that the world itself might seem to be an automatic system. Whewell maintained a consistent hostility to the implications of mechanised analysis: “we may thus deny to the mechanical philosophers and mathematicians of recent times any authority with regard to their views of the administration of the Universe”. Worse was to follow. Whewell brutally denied that mechanised analytical calculation was proper to the formation of the clerisy. In classical geometry “we tread the ground ourselves at every step feeling ourselves firm” but in machine analysis “we are carried along as in a railroad carriage, entering it at one station and coming out of it at another… is plain that the latter is not a mode of exercising our own locomotive powers…It may be the best way for men of business to travel but it cannot fitly be made a part of the gymnastics of education”. [76]

These remarks were direct blows to Babbage’s programme. He called the reply to Whewell he produced in 1837 the Ninth Bridgewater Treatise and labelled it “a fragment”. It contained a series of sketches of his religious faith, his cosmology and his ambitions for the calculating engines. It amounted to a confession of his faith that the established clerisy was incompetent, dangerous and innumerate. Babbage had shown that memory and foresight were the two features of intelligence represented in his machines. He now showed, using resources from his calculating engines and from Hume’s notorious critique of miracles and revelation, that these features of machine intelligence were all that was needed to understand and model the rule of God, whether based on the miraculous work of the Supreme Intelligence or on His promise of an afterlife. “Foresight” could be shown to be responsible for all apparently miraculous and specially providential events in nature. Throughout the 1830s Babbage regaled his guests with a portentous party trick. He could set the machine to print a series of integers from unity to one million. Any observer of the machine’s output would assume that this series would continue indefinitely. But the initial setting of the machine could be adjusted so that at a certain point the machine would then advance in steps of ten thousand. An indefinite number of different rules might be set this way. To the observer, each discontinuity would seem to be a “miracle”, an event unpredictable from the apparent law-like course of the machine. Yet in fact the manager of the system would have given it foresight. Whewell’s Bridgewater Treatise appeared at the start of March 1833. Less than two months later Babbage had already worked out an experiment using the Difference Engine to print the series of even integers up to ten thousand and then increase each term in steps of three. The sudden discontinuity was both predictable to the analyst and yet surprising to the audience. Babbage drew the analogy with divine foresight, whether in the production of new species or in miraculous intervention. In May 1833, therefore, Babbage was ready to show a mechanical miracle.

His onlookers were almost always impressed. The dour Thomas Carlyle was predictably sceptical, and thundered his complaint about Babbage’s analogy between thought and steam power. But as early as June 1833 Lady Byron and her daughter “both went to see the thinking machine (for such it seems) and were treated to Babbage’s miraculous show of apparently sudden breaks in its output. “There was a sublimity in the views thus opened of the ultimate results of intellectual power”, she reported. Two years later George Ticknor was treated to a lecture of three hours on the topic of programmed discontinuities: “the whole, of course, seems incomprehensible, without the exercise of volition and thought”. Here, then, was the theological equivalent of the systematic gaze. In answer to Whewell’s boast that only induction might reveal the divine plan of the world, and that machine analysis could never do so, Babbage countered that the world could be represented as an automatic array only visible as a system from the point of view of its manager. The world-system was a macroscopic version of a factory, the philosophy of machinery the true path to faith, and the calculating engines’ power of “volition and thought” demonstrated to all. [77]

The mechanical metaphor for miracles, creations and extinctions was, of course, profoundly influential on the actualist naturalists among Babbage’s friends, including Charles Lyell and Charles Darwin. In the Ninth Treatise, Babbage reproduced his own views on crustal elevation and stratigraphy and two crucial letters from John Herschel on the uniformity of earth history and the production of life. He sent copies to figures of political eminence, including both the new Queen Victoria and the Piedmontese premier Cavour. He also sent the text to the gentlemen of science. Lyell predicted that “some people would not like any reasoning which made miracles more reconcilable with possibilities in the ordinary course of the Universe”, while the American mathematician Nathaniel Bowditch told Babbage that “when you carried me from the simple machine made by a man to the grand machine of the Universe I wish I could express to you one half of the enthusiasm I felt….I want no priestcraft, but I want high feelings always to exist in men’s minds in regard to God”. [78] Babbage was not content with making mechanizable foresight responsible for all apparently miraculous and specially providential events. Mechanizable memory was to be associated with the doctrine of a future state of rewards and punishments. “We must possess the memory of what we did during our existence in order to give them those characteristics. In fact, memory seems to be the only faculty which must of necessity be preserved in order to render a future state possible”. Babbage even managed to offer a material cause for the preservation of memory, for since all sound, and thus all speech, was preserved in aerial vibrations, the memory of all previous consciousness would be preserved in the atmosphere. However hypothetical, with this model Babbage managed to show that just those features of intelligence displayed in his machine were also required for religion. Without memory, there could be no heaven nor hell, and without foresight, no providence. [79]

The apotheosis of the intelligent machine was an integral part of Babbage’s ambitious programme. This programme has been used here to illuminate the complex character of systematic vision in the Industrial Revolution. In the Ninth Bridgewater Treatise, the system was coextensive with the universe, and Babbage explained that its order and logic would only be visible from a privileged point of view. In his surveys of the factories and workshops, Babbage set out to reveal the systematic character of the machine economy by pointing out the rationale of the production, distribution and deployment of power in the workshops of industrial Britain. In his project to build intelligent calculating engines, he attempted to represent himself as the intellectual manager of the complex labour relations of the machine-tool industry, initially disastrously, and then as part of his overall vision of a newly rational system of automatic precision engineering. In the setting of early Victorian society, the connections between these spheres of theological, political and technological work cannot be seen as merely metaphorical. These techniques helped make a new social order and a new form of knowledge. The systematic gaze was designed to produce the rational order it purported to discover. This is to place Babbage’s project alongside those of Bentham, whose panoptic schemes have been associated with the production of the docile body, and of Smiles, whose hagiographies cleverly connected the self-fashioning of the Victorian engineers with the transformations they wrought on the material world. [80] A third, and highly suggestive, contemporary is Henry Mayhew, the surveyor of the unproductive bodies of the London poor in a four volume work of 1861 subtitled A Cyclopaedia of the condition and earnings of those that will work, those that cannot work, and those that will not work. In Mayhew’s ghastly and obsessive stories, the apparent nomadic disorder of the diseased bodies of the London streets is inexorably revealed as systematic and possessed of its own rationality, and thus, paradoxically, its own productivity. Mayhew cites Babbage directly at this key point in his work – the discussion of waste. In Babbage’s Economy of Machinery, the reader is regaled with details of the admirable system for slaughtering horses at the factories in Paris. Even the rats which live off rotting horse carcasses could be systematically caught, killed and sold. With an exhaustive and exhausting tabulation of data, Babbage showed that a twelve shilling horse carcass could produce more than four pounds of income. Mayhew went one better, by linking the statistics of dead horses to the entire economy of productive waste and waste- sellers on the London streets. As Catherine Gallagher has remarked, Mayhew here effects the “conversion of economic into physiological categories”. [81] This interconversion holds the key to the systematic vision. Under Babbage’s productive gaze, the powers of the body were simultaneously rendered mechanical and thus profitable, or wasteful and thus consigned to oblivion.


Thanks to Billy Ashworth, Bob Brain, William Ginn, Iwan Morus, Otto Sibum and Richard Staley for their generous help, and to the librarians at the Cambridge University Library, the British Library and the Royal Society for help with manuscripts in their possession.

[1] Henry Colebrooke, “Address on presenting the Gold Medal of the Astronomical Society to Charles Babbage”, Memoirs of the Astronomical Society 1 (1825), 509-12, pp. 509-10; Babbage to Herschel, 27 June 1823, Royal Society HS 2.184.

[2] Herschel to Babbage, 25 October 1814, Royal Society HS 2.31; H.W.Buxton, Memoir of the Life and Labours of the Late Charles Babbage, ed. R.A.Hyman ([1880] Cambridge, MA.: M.I.T. Press, 1988), p. 46.

[3] Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1979), pp. 195-228; Ian Hacking, The Taming of Chance (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990) pp. 55-64; Adrian Desmond, The Politics of Evolution (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1989).

[4] John R. Searle, “Minds, Brains and Programs”, in Rainer Born, ed., Artificial Intelligence: the case against (Beckenham: Croom Helm, 1987), 18-40 (originally in Behavioural and Brain Sciences 3 (1980), 417-24).

[5] H.M.Collins, Artificial Experts (Cambridge, MA.: M.I.T. Press, 1990), pp. 64-5.

[6] Steven Shapin, “The Invisible Technician”, American Scientist 77 (1989), 554-63; Howard Becker, Art Worlds (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1982).

[7] Karl Marx, Capital Volume One ( [1867] Penguin: Harmondsworth, 1976), p. 493 n.4; “Speech at the Anniversary of the People’s Paper” [April 14 1856] in Selected Works, ed. V.Adoratsky , 2 vols. (London: Lawrence and Wishart, 1942), 2: 428; Grundrisse, Notebook 6 [February 1858], ed. Martin Nicolaus (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1973), pp. 692-3. For Marx as a systems theorist see Thomas P. Hughes, “The Order of the Technological World”, History of Technology 5 (1980), 1-16, pp. 5-7 and Raniero Panzieri, “The Capitalist Use of Machinery”, in Phil Slater, ed., Outlines of a Critique of Technology (London: Ink Links, 1980), 44-68.

[8] Ada Lovelace, “Sketch of the Analytical Engine by L.F.Menabrea”, Taylor’s Scientific Memoirs, 3 (1843), 666-731, pp. 689-90 (translation of L.F.Menabrea, “Notions sur la machine analytique de M. Charles Babbage”, Bibliotheque universelle de Geneve 41 (1842), 352-76, p. 376).

[9] Charles Babbage, Passages from the Life of a Philosopher (London: Longmans, 1864), pp. 53-74; Buxton, Memoir of Babbage, pp. 80-102; Anthony Hyman, Charles Babbage: Pioneer of the Computer (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982), pp. 123-35; Michael Lindgren, Glory and Failure: the Difference Engines of Johann Mueller, Charles Babbage and Georg and Edvard Scheutz (Cambridge, MA.: M.I.T.Press, 1990), pp. 52-59.

[10] For these plans see Babbage, Passages, pp. 112-41; Hyman, Charles Babbage, pp. 164-73; for Ada Lovelace’s role see Dorothy Stein, Ada: a Life and a Legacy (Cambridge, MA.: M.I.T.Press, 1985), pp. 108-20 (who plays down her originality) and Betty Alexandra Toole, Ada, the Enchantress of Numbers (Mill Valley, CA.: Strawberry Press, 1992), pp. 194-260 (who emphasises it).

[11] Babbage, Passages, p.114.

[12] Babbage, Passages, pp.129-35; Lovelace/Menabrea, “Sketch of the Analytical Engine”, p. 675. For Piedmontese science policy, Plana and Menabrea see Pietro Redondi, “Cultura e scienza dall’illuminismo al positivismo”, in Gianni Micheli, ed., Storia d’Italia: Scienza e tecnica nella cultura e nella societa dal Rinascimento a oggi (Turin: Einaudi, 1980), 685-814, pp. 766-76.

[13] Buxton, Memoir of Babbage, p.216 n.8; Lovelace/Menabrea, “Sketch of the Analytical Engine”, pp. 675, 689, 692, 723. For the ambitions for a new science see Toole, Ada, pp. 209-16.

[14] Lovelace/Menabrea, “Sketch of the Analytical Engine”, pp. 696, 706; Babbage, Passages, pp. 306-8. Passages was dedicated to Victor Emmanuel, then King of unified Italy. Babbage was an enthusiastic correspondent of his premier, Cavour.

[15] Hyman, Charles Babbage, pp. 82-3; Maxine Berg, The Machinery Question and the Making of Political Economy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1980), p. 162. For the Ricardian critique see [J.R.McCulloch], “Babbage on Machinery and Manufactures”, Edinburgh Review 56 (1833), 313- 32, p.326; Biancamaria Fontana, Rethinking the Politics of Commercial Society: the Edinburgh Review 1802-1832 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985), pp. 140-6 .

[16] Charles Babbage, On the Economy of Machinery and Manufactures 4th ed. (London: Charles Knight, 1835), preface (1832), p. iii.

[17] Babbage, Economy of Machinery, p. 195. The first reference to Prony is in Babbage to Davy, 3 July 1822, published as A Letter to Humphry Davy (London: Booth, 1822), p.8. The gift from Didot in 1819 is recorded at the front of Babbage’s copy of the sine tables, Cambridge University Library MSS ADD 8705.37. For other responses see [Dionysius Lardner], “Babbage’s Calculating Engines”, Edinburgh Review 59 (1834), 263-327, p. 275.

[18] Babbage, Passages, pp. 59-63 and 114-116.

[19] Babbage, Passages, pp. 123-9 and The Exposition of 1851, 2nd ed. (London: John Murray, 1851), pp. 184-5.

[20] Babbage, Passages, pp. 120-2.

[21] Babbage, Passages, p. 67 and Exposition, p.188.

[22] Babbage, Economy of Machinery, p. 118. For Babbage’s notes on his own tours, compiled for the book, see Cambridge University Library MSS ADD 8705.25, p. 10.

[23] Babbage, Exposition, p.171. For political economy and the science of progress in the 1830s see Simon Schaffer, “The Nebular Hypothesis and the Science of Progress” in J.R.Moore, ed., History, Humanity and Evolution (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989).

[24] Babbage, Economy of Machinery, pp. 120, 175. See Richard M. Romano, “The Economic Ideas of Charles Babbage”, History of Political Economy 14 (1982), 385-405, p. 391. For Marx’s response to the Babbage principle see Karl Marx, Capital: Volume One (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1976), p.469: “the collective worker now possesses all the qualities necessary for production in an equal degree of excellence, and expends them in the most economical way”.

[25] Babbage, Economy of Machinery, pp. 54, 250-1; Buxton, Memoir of Babbage, p. 194.

[26] Babbage, Economy of Machinery, pp. 379, 388; Hyman, Babbage, p.86; Buxton, Memoir of Babbage, pp. 215, 111. For Babbage on honours see Exposition, pp.220-49 and for the Bonapartist connexion see Reflections on the Decline of Science in England (London: Fellowes, 1830), pp. 25-27.

[27] [Francis Place], in Trades’ Magazine and Mechanics’ Weekly Gazette, 49 (June 1826), 779-80, cited in Gregory Claeys, “The Reaction to Political Radicalism and the Popularisation of Political Economy in early Nineteenth Century Britain”, in Terry Shinn and Richard Whitley, eds., Expository Science (Dordrecht: Reidel, 1985), 119-136, p. 129. Here Place summarised the socialist views on productive labour which he rejected.

[28] Babbage, Passages, pp. 17-18, 365-7, 425-7. See Hyman, Babbage, p.175.

[29] Hyman, Babbage, p. 192; James Nasmyth, Autobiography, ed. Samuel Smiles (London: John Murray, 1883), pp. 142-3, 134; Carolyn Cooper, “The Portsmouth System of Manufacture”, Technology and Culture 25 (1984), 182-225, p. 213. For Watkins’ models see Watkins to Babbage, 15 January 1834, British Library MSS Add 37188 f.160.

[30] Hyman, Babbage, p.79.

[31] E.P.Thompson, The Making of the English Working Class (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1968), pp. 889, 915; John Rule, The Labouring Classes in Early Industrial England (London: Longman, 1986), pp. 357-63.

[32] E.P.Thompson, “The Moral Economy of the English Crowd”, Past and Present 38 (1967) and Customs in Common ((London: Merlin, 1991), chapters 4 and 5; Foucault, Discipline and Punish, part 3 and “The Eye of Power”, in Colin Gordon, ed., Michel Foucault: Power/Knowledge (Brighton: Harvester, 1980), chapter 8. For customary skill see John Rule, “The Property of Skill in the Period of Manufacture”, in Patrick Joyce, ed., The Historical Meanings of Work (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987), 99-118.

[33] Babbage to Wellington, 23 December 1834, British Library MSS ADD 40611 f.181.

[34] Babbage, “The science of number reduced to mechanism” (1822) in Buxton, Memoir of Babbage, p. 65.

[35] Buxton, Memoir of Babbage, p.86.

[36] William Fairbairn, Treatise on Mills and Machines (London, 1861), p. v; Samuel Smiles, Industrial Biography: Iron Workers and Tool Makers (London, 1863). The Life of Clement is chapter 12.

[37] K.R.Gilbert, “Machine-Tools”, in C.Singer et al., eds., History of Technology Volume 4 (Oxford: Clarendon, 1958), 417-41; A.E.Musson, “Joseph Whitworth and the Growth of Mass Production Engineering”, Business History 17 (1975), 109-49, p. 115.

[38] “Autobiography of Thomas Wood” in John Burnett, ed., Useful Toil: Autobiographies of Working People (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1984), p. 310; Nasmyth, Autobiography, p.125.

[39] Buxton, Memoir of Babbage, pp. 81-2, 97; Hyman, Babbage, pp. 125, 130-2; Nasmyth, Autobiography, p.130. For the move to Dorset Street, see Babbage to Clement, 18 May 1832, British Library MSS Add 37186 f.400. For Clement’s refusal to give bills, see Clement to Babbage, 18 November 1829, British Library MSS Add 37184, f. 419.

[40] Hyman, Babbage, pp. 124, 128 and Jarvis to Babbage, February 1831, British Library MSS ADD 37185 f.419. The best discussion of the fight with Clement is William Ginn, Philosophers and Artisans: the relationship between men of science and instrument makers in London 1820-1860 (PhD thesis, Kent, 1991), pp. 157-69.

[41] For state standardisation, see Julian Hoppit, “Reforming Britain’s Weights and Measures”, English Historical Review (1993), 82-104; for the fiscal-military state see John Brewer, The Sinews of Power: War, Money and the English State (London: Unwin Hyman, 1989).

[42] Babbage to Wellington, July 1834, in Buxton, Memoir of Babbage, p. 104; Jarvis and Clement to Babbage, in Hyman, Babbage, pp. 131-2.

[43] Wright to Babbage, 18 June 1834 and 13 January 1839, British Library MSS ADD 37188 f.390 and 37191 ff. 99-100; compare Hyman, Babbage, pp. 66, 107.

[44] Babbage, “Notes for Economy of Manufacture”, University Library Cambridge MSS Add 8705.25 p. 10; Babbage, “Report on the Calculating Machine”, 1830, British Library MSS ADD 37185 f. 264 ; Nasmyth, Autobiography, pp. 148-9, 179. Compare Ginn, Philosophers and Artisans, p. 167, on the uniqueness of artisan skill.

[45] John Foster, Class Struggle and the Industrial Revolution (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1974), pp. 224-5; Ian Inkster, Science and Technology in History (London: Macmillan, 1991), pp. 82-83.

[46] Babbage, Economy of Machinery, p. 67; Charles Hotzapffel, Turning and Mechanical Manipulation, 5 vols. (London, 1843-1884), 2: 984-91; Nasmyth to Babbage, 22 June 1855 and Babbage to Whitworth, July 1855, British Library MSS ADD ff. 249, 366. The cartoon is in de Morgan to Babbage, 21 October 1839, British Library MSS ADD 37191 f. 256.

[47] Cooper, “Portsmouth System”; Peter Linebaugh, “Technological Repression and the Origin of the Wage”, The London Hanged (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1991), chapter 11.

[48] Cooper, “Portsmouth System”, pp. 213-14; Linebaugh, London Hanged, pp. 399-401.

[49] Babbage, “On a Method of Expressing by Signs the Action of Machinery”, Philosophical Transactions 116 (1826), 250-65 and draft in Cambridge University Library MSS ADD 8705.21; [Lardner], “Babbage’s Calculating Engine”, pp. 318-319. For Lardner’s collaboration on mechanical notation with Babbage, and its publicity in Paris and Berlin, see Babbage to Dupin, 20 December 1833 and Babbage to Humboldt, December 1833, British Library MSS ADD 37188 ff. 117, 123.

[50] Friedrich Engels, The Condition of the Working Class in England, ed. Eric Hobsbawm ([1845] London: Granada, 1982), p.214.

[51] Charles Dickens (1838) cited in Stephen Marcus, Engels, Manchester and the Working Class (New York: Norton, 1985), p. 31; Doyce in Little Dorrit, Book 1 chapter 10 and Gradgrind’s Observatory in Hard Times, Book 1 chapter 15. Babbage describes the three clocks in Economy, p.198.

[52] Maxine Berg, The Age of Manufactures 1700-1820 (London: Fontana, 1985), p.229.

[53] Babbage, Passages, pp. 230-2; Economy, pp. 115-16, 269-71; Babbage to Evans, British Library MSS ADD 37189 f. 18; Nasmyth, Autobiography, p.164. On workshop secrecy see Clive Behagg, “Secrecy, Ritual and Folk Violence: the Opacity of the Workplace in the First Half of the Nineteenth Century”, in R.D.Storch, ed., Popular Culture and Custom in Nineteenth Century England (London: Croom Helm, 1982), 154-79, pp. 156, 159.

[54] For Smith’s invisible hand see A.L.Macfie, “The Invisible Hand of Jupiter”, Journal of the History of Ideas 32 (1971), 595-9; for Hutton’s system see R.Grant, “Hutton’s Theory of the Earth”, in L.Jordanova and R.S.Porter, eds., Images of the Earth (Chalfont St Giles: British Society for History of Science, 1979), 23-38.

[55] Adam Smith, Essays on Philosophical Subjects, ed. W.P.D.Wightman, J.C.Bryce and I.S.Ross ([1795] Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1980), pp. 44, 50, 66.

[56] For Stewart’s role see Anand C.Chitnis, The Scottish Enlightenment and Early Victorian English Society (London: Croom Helm, 1986), pp. 22-28; Pietro Corsi, “The Heritage of Dugald Stewart: Oxford Philosophy and the Method of Political Economy 1809-32″, Nuncius, 2 (1987), 89-144; Boyd Hilton, The Age of Atonement (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988), pp. 38-41, 170. For Babbage’s close alliance with Stewart see Hyman, Babbage, p.55; Buxton, Memoir of Babbage, p. 350. In 1821 Babbage testified to the “influence which [Stewart's] works on the Philosophy of Mind made in directing the course” of his own : Babbage to Helen Stewart, April 1821, British Library MSS ADD 37182 (thanks to Billy Ashworth for this source).

[57] W.V.Farrar, “Andrew Ure and the Philosophy of Manufactures”, Notes and Records of the Royal Society 27 (1973), 299-324, p. 309; Andrew Ure, The Philosophy of Manufactures (London: Charles Knight, 1835), pp. ix, 42-44, 55-66 ; Hilton, Age of Atonement, p. 198; Karl Marx, Capital: Volume One (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1976), p.470; Evans to Babbage, 16 February 1835, British Library MSS ADD 37189 f.17. For Ure’s organic systems theory see Boyd Hilton.

[58] William Cooke Taylor, Factories and the Factory System (London: Jeremiah How, 1844), p.11. For his presence at the BAAS see Cooke Taylor, Tour in the Manufacturing Districts of Lancashire, 2nd ed. (London: Duncan and Malcolm, 1842), pp. 223; for his ethnography see Christopher Herbert, Culture and Anomie: Ethnographic Imagination in the Nineteenth Century (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991), pp. 61-64.

[59] Manchester as it is (Manchester: Love and Barton, 1839), pp. 201-2, 214-17, 210. For Nasmyth on the strikes see Nasmyth, Autobiography, pp. 222-8. For Manchester and machine tools see A.E.Musson, “Joseph Whitworth and the Growth of Mass-production Engineering”, Business History 17 (1975), 109-49, p. 113. For Chartist demonstrations see Dorothy Thompson, The Chartists (Aldershot: Wildwood House, 1984), ch.3.

[60] Ure, Philosophy of Manufactures, pp. 20-21, 25; Manchester as it is, pp. 217, 32-33; Nasmyth’s parliamentary evidence 1867-8, in Maxine Berg, ed., Technology and Toil in Nineteenth Century Britain (London: CSE Books, 1979), p. 159.

[61] Cooke Taylor, Factories and the Factory System, pp. i-ii.

[62] Berg, Age of Manufactures, p. 243; Tine Bruland, “Industrial Conflict as a source of technical innovation: the development of the automatic spinning mule”, Economy and Society 11 (1982), 91- 121; Ure, Philosophy of Manufactures, p.367; Marx, Capital, p.563; William Lazonick, “Industrial Relations and Technical Change: the case of the self-acting mule”, Cambridge Journal of Economics 3 (1979), 231-262. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818) was subtitled “the modern Prometheus”.

[63] Engels, Condition of the Working Class, pp. 214-15, 39. Compare Marcus, Engels, pp. 135-7, 178- 99.

[64] Cooke Taylor, Factories and the Factory System, pp. 1, 5, 77; James Kay Shuttleworth, Moral and Physical Condition of the Working Classes employed in the Cotton Manufacture in Manchester (London, 1832), p. 47.

[65] Cooke Taylor, Tour in the Manufacturing Districts, pp. 140, 126, 139 and Factories and the Factory System, p.3; Nasmyth’s testimony in Berg, Technology and Toil, p.158.

[66] Andrew Ure, Dictionary of Arts, in Manchester as it is, p.207; Ure, Philosophy of Manufactures, p.13; Marx, Capital, p.544: he had already discussed this passage from Ure in Poverty of Philosophy ([1847] Peking: Foreign Languages Press, 1978), p.138 and Grundrisse ([1858] Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1973), p. 690, where it is linked with Babbage’s Economy of Machinery.

[67] Raphael Samuel, “The Workshop of the World: Steam Power and Hand Technology in mid-Victorian Britain”, History Workshop Journal, 3 (1977), 6-72, p. 40.

[68] Cooke Taylor, Tour, pp. 116, 123-4. For the strike see Mick Jenkins, The General Strike of 1842 (London: Lawrence and Wishart, 1980), chapter 2.

[69] Edward Baines, History of the Cotton Manufacture of Great Britain (London, 1835), p.460 and Peter Gaskell, Artisans and Machinery (London: Parker, 1836), pp. 7-9. For Baines see Berg, Machinery Question, pp. 103-4, 196-7; for Gaskell see Engels, Condition of the Working Class, p. 98.

[70] Berg, Machinery Question, p.172; Hyman, Babbage, p.84.

[71] Berg, Machinery Question, pp. 126-8. On the “property of skill” see Peter Linebaugh, “Labour History without the Labour Process”, Social History, 7 (1982) and Rule, “The Property of Skill in the Period of Manufacture”.

[72] Whewell to Jones, 14 February 1843 in Isaac Todhunter, ed. William Whewell: an Account of his Writings, 2 vols. (London: Macmillan, 1876), 2: 312-13; William Whewell, ed., Literary Remains (London: Longmans, 1859), p.25. See Berg, Machinery Question, pp. 130-133; Philip Mirowski, More Heat than Light (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989), p. 126; M.Norton Wise and Crosbie Smith, “Work and Waste”, History of Science (1989).

[73] Official Gazette of the Trades Union (August 1834) in Berg, Technology and Toil, p.84; James Martineau at Liverpool, in Berg, Machinery Question, p.158; Humphry Price, A Glance at the Present Times chiefly with reference to the Working Men (London, 1838), pp. 3-5. Price was a Kidderminster priest who worked for Chartism in the west country.

[74] Robert Owen, A New View of Society ([1816] London: Dent, 1927), p. 9; Engels, Condition of the Working Class, pp. 169, 204.

[75] Thomas Carlyle, Sartor Resartus ([1833] London: Collins, 1931), p. 232.

[76] William Whewell, Astronomy and General Physics Considered with reference to Natural Theology (London: Pickering, 1834), p. 334 and Of a Liberal Education in General (London: Pickering, 1845), pp. 40-41. See Richard Yeo, “William Whewell, Natural Theology and the Philosophy of Science in mid-nineteenth-century Britain”, Annals of Science 36 (1979), 493-516.

[77] Babbage, Ninth Bridgewater Treatise, 2nd ed. (London: John Murray, 1838), pp. 32-43; Babbage’s first experiment with the Difference Engine, 18 May 1833, Cambridge University Library MSS ADD 8705.38 p.38. For the date of Whewell’s Treatise and his intention to single out William Rowan Hamilton as a notable exception to the irreligion of mathematicians, see Whewell to Jones, 2 February 1833 and Whewell to Hamilton, 18 March 1833, in Todhunter, Whewell, 2: 154, 162.

[78] Lady Byron to King, 21 June 1833, in Doris Langley Moore, Ada Countess of Lovelace (London: John Murray, 1977), p.44; George Ticknor, Life, Letters and Journals (London, 1876).

[79] Lyell to Babbage, May 1837, in K.Lyell, Life, Letters and Journals of Charles Lyell, 2 vols. (London: John Murray, 1881), 2: 9-10; Bowditch to Babbage, 21 February 1835, British Library MSS ADD 37189 f.28. For the Treatise and actualism see W.F.Cannon, “The Problem of Miracles in the 1830s”, Victorian Studies 4 (1960), 5-32.

[80] Babbage, Ninth Bridgewater Treatise, pp. 108-19 and Passages, p.405.

[81] Foucault, “The Eye of Power”; for Smiles on self-fashioning and system building see Thomas Parke Hughes, “Introduction”, in Smiles, Selections from Lives of the Engineers (Cambridge, MA.: M.I.T.Press, 1966), pp. 9-25.

[82] Henry Mayhew, London Labour and the London Poor, 4 vols. (London: Griffin, Bohn, 1861-2), 2: 6-9 citing Babbage, Economy of Machinery, pp. 10-11, 393-6. For Mayhew on the unproductive body see Catherine Gallagher, “The Body versus the Social Body in Malthus and Mayhew”, in C.Gallagher and Thomas Laqueur, eds., The Making of the Modern Body (Los Angeles: California University Press, 1987), 83- 106, p. 99; Herbert, “Mayhew’s Cockney Polynesia”, in Culture and Anomie, chapter 4.

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