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A model rejection letter

Howard Wainer sends in this rejection letter from Sir David Brewster of The Edinburgh Journal of Science to Charles Babbage:

It is no inconsiderable degree of reluctance that I decline the offer of any Paper from you. I think, however, you will upon reconsideration of the subject be of the opinion that I have no other alternative. The subjects you propose for a series of Mathematical and Metaphysical Essays are so profound, that there is perhaps not a single subscriber to our Journal who could follow them.

Nowadays, he could just submit to Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews . . .


  1. John Mashey says:

    Here we find a strange confluence.

    1) I do not know about this particular case, but Babbage designs for mechanical computers.
    He was never able to completed one, but they actually would have worked. Science Museum in London built one from the plans, using 1850s tolerance for machine tools.

    2) There is a second at The Computer History Museum generally demoed most days by trained crankers, in Mountain View CA, in one of the few old SGI buildings not Googled. IT is a wonder to see in action.

    3) Now, the odd confluence, from Freakonomics-land, Nathan Myrvhold. Without any comment on other activities, Nathan funded the construction of this and the printer that goes with it, but we “borrowed” it on the way to his living room. He has been very kind to let us keep it way longer than he first promised. IT will be around another year (or maybe longer, but cannot count on it.)

    • JohnB says:

      Huh, I did not know that. I have some friends who live a couple of hundred yards away from there, I’ll have to drop by with them and check it out before it goes away.

    • Nick Cox says:

      Not quite on 1). Early versions of his Difference Engine were completed and often demonstrated publicly.

      • John Mashey says:

        Sorry, to be more precise, he never completed one of this model, #2, which is what the UK government paid for. I do believe this goes down as the first proposed supercomputer that cost too much and was never finished by the designer … well, it certainly was a supercomputer for its day.
        Many thanks to Doron Swade for starting this in London … and he came out and spent time with us well, later.

  2. Peter Flom says:

    And the best response to a bad review (although not technically a rejection letter) is from GB Shaw:

    “Dear Sir
    I am sitting in the smallest room in my house. I have your review in front of me. Shortly, it will be behind me.


    GB Shaw”

  3. […] Gelman quotes from the best possible rejection letter from a journal (sent to Charles Babbage): It is no inconsiderable degree of reluctance that I […]

  4. Jim Purdy says:

    The author of the rejection letter to Babbage had quite a way with words. I need to use that praising technique more often.

  5. Nick Cox says:

    There is a “with” missing: “… it is with no inconsiderable degree ….”.