Sir George Cayley, the aeronautical baronet, and Charles Babbage were friends for many years, and some of their correspondence has survived. They often teased each other, including about some of their scientific preoccupations: Sir George would refer in amused tones to how long Babbage was working on his calculating machine – a forerunner of the computer; and Babbage would tease Sir George about the time he was devoting to inventing an ‘air engine’ to replace steam engines in locomotives – and hopefully to be light enough to power flight (Sir George never managed to invent a light-enough engine for that purpose, despite years of working on the problem).
Here is a letter dated 29 April, probably in 1842, from Brompton, where Sir George was confined by a kidney problem. It is a typical example of his slightly heavy-handed facetiousness. Sir George’s handwriting was very crabbed, and, as is common in his letters, one or two words are uncertain or illegible.
I am invalided here down in Yorkshire, having some time ago run down by train to give my vote for a medical friend as physician to our Lunatic Asylum, by which I shook my own kidneys, had the pleasure of being beat by a majority of one, & brought unto medical [undecipherable word follows] into the bargain; so much for doing work gratis, you will say!
But to my point, & now mind if you had not been bored by this note, you would have been more perhaps by my having got in person into your snug pit[?] study, so take me quietly & give me three words gratis in brotherly love to an old Brother in the mechanical line.
I am much requested to enter into a Society or Association for promoting the wooden paving, or what may be the best pavings for London, under the auspices of a Mr Cochrane as president who lives in Devonshire place (number not specified). I have had but little experience in London matters & always dread being the dupe of persons seeking the means of patronage for sharks & managers [the word ‘manager’ could mean someone who was promoting a scam enterprise]. As you stand in the position to be fully acquainted with all that arises in a genuine way on matters of practical science, I want a jog of the elbow, if you can, as to this particular case. I send you the printed prospectus which as “proof confidential” you may keep snug or return.
I do not want you to bore yourself with writing more than two words, fudge or a true bill.
I hope in a few weeks to get up to town again & be able to get a little more leisure time with you over roast beef, the only legitimate leisure of the philosopher.* –
Yours ever sincerely
*Excepting as has ever been excepted, when Ladies are in the case. Then even you kneel at their shrine.
PS As a man of the world I wrote to Edward Cayley, who is in my house in Hertford St as to this point yesterday; but as to the mechanical value of the matter, or Mr Cochrane’s position as an efficient mechanical head to such an association, he can have no means of judging. GC
The Edward Cayley referred to in the Postscript was almost certainly Edward Stillingfleet Cayley (1802-62), who married his cousin, Sir George’s daughter Emma, and who was MP for the North Riding of Yorkshire from 1832 to his death.
[Source – British Library ADD 37192 f.73]