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Guide to the Ada Lovelace Letter, August 5, [1841 or 1847]

Summary

Ada Lovelace was a mathematician in 19th century England and the only legitimate child of the poet George Gordon, Lord Byron. She is often recognized as the creator of the first set of instructions meant to be carried out by a machine, and is thus seen as a pioneer of what would later become computer programming. The Ada Lovelace letter is a one-page note to [Fortunato] Prandi, an Italian interpreter, regarding ten guineas Lovelace owed Prandi.

Collection Details

Collection Number
RL.11338
Title
Ada Lovelace Letter
Date
August 5, [1841 or 1847]
Extent
1 items
Repository
David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library
Language
Materials in English

Collection Overview

Consists of a single hand-written letter to [Fortunato] Prandi, dated Thursday 5th August. Date could be 1841 or 1847. One page, folded, written on front and back.

The letter is apparently in reply to a request for ten guineas owed by Lovelace to Prandi. She discusses putting off sending him the sum because of travel and also "disagreeable business." She goes on to say she is well in spite of being a "disconsolate widow" and will soon "leave town", "probably to Brighton". The letter closes with an apology for the lateness of repayment and includes a postscript noting her amusement at the "modesty" of his request. It is signed A. A. Lovelace.

More Biographical / Historical Info

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More copyright and citation information

How to Cite

[Identification of item], Ada Lovelace Letter, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University.

Contents of the Collection

Letter
Folder 1
 

Historical Note

Ada Lovelace was a mathematician in 19th century England who is often recognized as the creator of the first set of instructions meant to be carried out by a machine, and is thus seen as a pioneer of what would later become computer programming.

Born Augusta Ada Byron on December 10, 1815, she was the only legitimate daughter of the poet George Gordon, Lord Byron, and his wife Anne Isabella Milbanke, Lady Wentworth. Five weeks after Ada's birth, Lady Wentworth legally separated from her husband and gained sole custody of Ada. Lord Byron left England shortly after the separation and did not return, dying in 1824 in Greece, when Ada was eight years old.

Ada was taught mathematics and science from an early age, as her mother wished to ensure she would not become a poet like her father or share his temperament, which Lady Wentworth referred to as dangerous or insane. Ada demonstrated a talent for mathematics and became friends with one of her tutors Mary Somerville, a mathematician and writer who was one of the first female members of the Royal Astronomical Society. Through Mary Somerville, Ada met Charles Babbage, the creator of the Difference Engine and the Analytical Engine, in 1833. Ada Lovelace and Charles Babbage corresponded throughout the rest of her life. In 1842 Ada translated an article written by Luigi Menabrea on Babbage's machine, based on a lecture Babbage gave in Turin, Italy. Ada added extensive notes of her own to the translated article, and these notes include discussion of the potential functions and uses of computing machines, as well as a set of instructions for the Analytical Engine which is now recognized as an algorithm, and thus the first program written for a computer. The extent to which Ada was interpreting Babbage's ideas and programs or creating her own is unknown, but she did write and publish her notes and is generally recognized as contributing significant insight into and interpretation of the Analytical Engine and its potential.

Ada Byron married William King, Baron King, on July 8, 1835, and became Lady Ada King. In 1838, William King became the first Earl of Lovelace and Viscount Ockham, making Ada Lady Lovelace. The couple had three children, Byron (1836-1862), Anne Isabella (Lady Anne Blunt, 1831-1917), and Ralph (1839-1906). Ada Lovelace died November 27, 1852, of uterine cancer, at the age of 36.

Fortunato Prandi was an Italian exile living in England in the 1840s. He acted as an interpreter for Charles Babbage on his trip to Italy in 1840 and worked as an interpreter in England afterwards. He appears to have been a revolutionary in Italy, an associate of Giuseppe Mazzini, possibly leading to his exile in England.

Related Material

Lady Wilde letter, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University.


Click to find related materials at Duke University Libraries.

Provenance

The Ada Lovelace Letter was received by the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library as a purchase in 2015.

Sponsor

Cataloging completed with funds provided by Claire Foerster and Daniel Bernstein; 2016.

Processing Information

Processed by Tracy M. Jackson, November 2016

Accessions described in this collection guide: 2015.0050.LUBMSS290