So, he sits down to read the veriest Poet Laureate -- and something that promises to be a bit entertainingly risque and or instructive of the perils of immoral dissipation, too: The Vision of Sin.
You or even me, we'd read Alfred, Lord Tennyson and be emotionally moved. Mr. Babbage, perhaps he is, too; but he stumbles on a counterfactual line and gets his geek on:
"Mr. Babbage, the famous mathematician, is said to have addressed the following letter to Tennyson in reference to this couplet:-- 'Every minute dies a man,/Every minute one is born': I need hardly point out to you that this calculation would tend to keep the sum total of the world's population in a state of perpetual equipoise, whereas it is a well-known fact that the said sum total is constantly on the increase. I would therefore take the liberty of suggesting that, in the next edition of your excellent poem, the erroneous calculation to which I refer should be corrected as follows:-- 'Every moment dies a man,/And one and a sixteenth is born.'
I may add that the exact figures are 1.167, but something must, of course, be conceded to the laws of metre."
There's evidence geekery gets results, too. Though it does seem that "something must, of course, be conceded to the laws" of poetry, in subsequent editions of the poem, that couplet reads, "Every moment dies a man,/Every moment one is born." The precise term has been replaced by an approximate one...with at least 0.167 in leeway....
T. R. MCELROY'S STREAMLINED TELEGRAPH KEYS
9 months ago