[LOVELACE, Augusta Ada King, Countess of (1815-1852, translator)] – MENABREA, Luigi Federico (1809-1896). 'Sketch of the Analytical Engine invented by Charles Babbage... with notes by the translator'. Offprint from: Scientific Memoirs. Vol. 3 (1843). London: Richard and John E. Taylor, 1843.
First separate edition, a presentation copy inscribed by Ada Lovelace to Richard Ford, of the most important paper in the history of digital computing before modern times. ‘Lovelace’s paper is an extraordinary accomplishment, probably understood and recognized by very few in its time, yet still perfectly understandable nearly two centuries later. It covers algebra, mathematics, logic and even philosophy; a presentation of the unchanging principles of the general-purpose computer; a comprehensive and detailed account of the so-called “first computer program”; and an overview of the practical engineering of data, cards, memory and programming’ (Hollings et al., p.86). We are aware of just one other presentation copy inscribed by Ada herself, given to John Gardner Wilkinson (1795-1875) and held by the National Trust at the Gardner Wilkinson Library, Calke Abbey.
After the appearance in French of Menabrea's paper on Charles Babbage’s Analytical Engine, Ada Lovelace, daughter of Lord Byron, began to prepare an English translation. At Babbage’s suggestion, she added seven lengthy explanatory notes, which ran to about twice the length of the original. This translation represents the most extensive contemporary account in English of the intended design and operation of the first programmable digital computer. Babbage considered it a complete summary of the mathematical aspects of the machine, proving ‘that the whole of the development and operations of Analysis are now capable of being executed by machinery.’ As part of his contribution to the project, Babbage supplied Ada with algorithms for the solution of various problems. Ada illustrated these algorithms in her notes in the form of charts detailing the sequence of events as the hypothetical machine would progress through a set of instructions input from punched cards. These procedures, and the procedures published in the original edition of Menabrea's paper, may be regarded as the first published examples of computer ‘programs.’
Richard Ford (1796-1858) was a celebrated travel writer and art connoisseur, whose great work A Handbook for Travellers in Spain (1845) was described by William Stirling-Maxwell as being ‘among the best books of travel, humour, and history, social, literary, political, and artistic, in the English language' (The Times, 1858). He became acquainted with Ada through her husband Lord Lovelace and, although almost thirty years her senior, enjoyed with her a close friendship and a ‘mischievous’ correspondence. ‘He addressed her as “My Senora & Duena mia”, an outrageous familiarity in polite society but one which Ada, preferring the unpolite, probably encouraged’ (Woolley, p.339). The most intriguing episode in their relationship occurred over the winter of 1850-51, when Ada led Ford and four other gentlemen in a gambling ring based on her invented system for beating the bookmakers at the horse races. Ada’s elaborate strategies and mathematical formulae, which Ford referred to admiringly as ‘wonderful combinations’, were evidently rather convincing. While hesitant to commit large funds to Ada’s scheme, his ‘willingness to be drawn into Ada’s net of speculators reminds us of just how dangerously alluring Byron’s daughter could be’ (Seymour, p.365). Ford was quite right to be cautious; by May 1851, another member of the ring had lost £1800 while Ada’s personal losses totalled an enormous £3200.
The present work is bound with 11 works by Lord Lovelace, each being a presentation copy from him to Richard Ford. A full description is available upon request. Miranda Seymour. In Byron’s Wake. London: Simon and Schuster, 2018; Benjamin Woolley. The Bride of Science. London: Macmillan, 1999; Christopher Hollings, Ursula Martin and Adrian Rice. Ada Lovelace: The Making of a Computer Scientist. Oxford: The Bodleian Library, 2018; Origins of Cyberspace 61.
Octavo (210 x 131mm). Folding table, textual charts (very faint browning, two letters of the inscription trimmed by the binder). Contemporary full polished calf by J. Leighton, Brewer Street, red and green morocco spine labels lettered in gilt ‘REVIEWS’ and ‘LORD & LADY LOVELACE’, spine gilt (joints lightly rubbed, foot of upper joint just starting, tiny chip to spine label). Provenance: Richard Ford (1796-1858; bookplate, presentation inscription from Ada Lovelace on the title: 'Richard Ford Esqre with the Translator's Complimen[ts]', and Ford's ownership inscription dated June 7, 1844) – by descent to the present owners.