20 November 2005

Life Wasn't Always So Good.

In reading a biography of Charles Babbage (1791-1871), who was most famous for inventing a mechanical precursor to the computer, one sentence in particular struck me.

The year 1827 was a year of tragedy for Babbage; his father, his wife and two of his children all died that year. He own health gave way and he was advised to travel on the Continent.

Please recognize that Baggage was no pauper. He attended private schools at his parents' expense and had a tutor from Oxford to prepare him for college. He was a graduate of Trinity College, Cambridge, and he was appointed in 1827 to be Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge, yet never taught a course as his research was so valued. He was a published member of the Royal Society of London and the Royal Society of Edinburgh. He helped to found and was an officer of the Royal Astronomical Society and also helped to found the British Association for the Advancement of Science.

When a man like this can loose his entire family in a single year, you know that the world is a pretty squalid place. Today, such a thing would be virtually unthinkable for all but the very worst off. Modern medicine, while not equal in sharing its benefits, has been democratic.

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