When Laws of Nature must concede to the Laws of Metre

Here is a wonderful anecdote about Charles Babbage: he sent the following letter to Lord Alfred Tennyson about an factual imprecision in his poem “The Vision of Sin” in the following 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 minute 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.

Babbage reveals himself not only as the superior poet by being faithful to truth as the highest inspiration, but also as a superior scientist by respecting the limits of his craft.

Sorry, got it wrong:

Babbage reveals himself not only as the superior scientist by being faithful to truth as the highest inspiration, but also as a superior poet by respecting the limits of his craft.

 

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