(Ada Lovelace, 1843)

The Analytical Engine, on the contrary, is not merely adapted for tabulating the results of one particular function and of no other, but for developing and tabulating any function whatever. In fact the engine may be described as being the material expression of any indefinite function of any degree of generality and complexity…

The operating mechanism can even be thrown into action independently of any object to operate upon (although of course no result could then be developed). Again, it might act upon other things besides number, were objects found whose mutual fundamental relations could be expressed by those of the abstract science of operations, and which should be also susceptible of adaptations to the action of the operating notation and mechanism of the engine. Supposing, for instance, that the fundamental relations of pitched sounds in the science of harmony and of musical composition were susceptible of such expression and adaptations, the engine might compose elaborate and scientific pieces of music of any degree of complexity or extent….

We shall now draw further attention to the fact, already noticed, of its being by no means necessary that a formula proposed for solution should ever have been actually worked out, as a condition for enabling the engine to solve it. Provided we know the series of operations to be gone through, that is sufficient. In the foregoing instance this will be obvious enough on a slight consideration. And it is a circumstance which deserves particular notice, since herein may reside a latent value of such an engine almost incalculable in its possible ultimate results. We already know that there are functions whose numerical value it is of importance for the purposes both of abstract and of practical science to ascertain, but whose determination requires processes so lengthy and so complicated, that, although it is possible to arrive at them through great expenditure of time, labour and money, it is yet on these accounts practically almost unattainable; and we can conceive there being some results which it may be absolutely impossible in practice to attain with any accuracy, and whose precise determination it may prove highly important for some of the future wants of science, in its manifold, complicated and rapidly-developing fields of inquiry, to arrive at.



The Analytical Engine was the second calculating machine designed by “gentleman scientist” Charles Babbage in the 1820s-30s. Like the first – the Difference Engine – it was intended to automate computation, and thereby to eliminate human error. Unlike the Difference Engine, however, the Analytical Engine was designed not just to carry out addition ad infinitum but also to store numerical information and perform a variety of mathematical operations; it was meant to be generally programmable. Ada Lovelace studied mathematics with Babbage, and in 1843 published extensive notes on how the programming capacities of the Analytical Engine could be used – including for the purpose of composing music.
Completely mechanical and requiring thousands of precision parts, the Analytical Engine was never built. But unlike many items in our collection, it now stands not as a fantastical or failed vision, but as a major intellectual achievement and invention before its time. Today, Ada Lovelace is widely celebrated as the first computer programmer for her notes on this imaginary – and by her reckoning, potentially musical – machine.
Text: Ada Augusta, Countess of Lovelace, notes on L. F. Menabrea’s “Sketch of the Analytical Engine Invented by Charles Babbage,” Scientific Memoirs (Sept., 1843)
Image: “The General Plan of Mr. Babbage’s Great Calculating Engine,” (1840)