Friday, 21 September 2012

LETTERS OF NOTE: Poetic License

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Today's Letter of Note finds me bending the rules a little bit - using artistic license in relation to the purpose of this blog, if you will. However, since it is about artistic or poetic license, I think I can get away with it. That, and it's one of my favourite pieces of correspondence that I've come across from doing those posts and subscribing to Letters of Note.

In 1842 the poet Alfred Tennyson published his collection Poems, which included his famous work 'Ulysses' (To strive, to seek, to find and not to yield etc.) and 'The Vision of Sin'. The latter featured the lines Every moment dies a man,/ Every moment one is born. - a line pleasing to all except one pernickety soul named Charles Babbage, inventor of the difference engine and pioneer of the modern computer.

Babbage believed Tennyson's line to be mathematically incorrect, and wrote to the future Poet Laureate asking him to amend it for future editions. Tennyson unsurprisingly ignored his suggestion for a replacement - Every moment dies a man,/ Every moment, 1 1/16 is born.

You can read Babbage's short letter in its entirety here. Alternatively, you can watch Stephen Fry reading it when the matter came up on QI some time ago:
Daniel

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