Today in 1812, Lord Byron gave his first address as a member of the House of Lords, in a parliamentary debate on the Frame Breaking Act.Byron told his peers: “During the short time I recently passed in Nottingham, not twelve hours elapsed without some fresh act of violence; and on that day I left the the county I was informed that forty Frames had been broken the preceding evening, as usual, without resistance and without detection.
“Such was the state of that county, and such I have reason to believe it to be at this moment. But whilst these outrages must be admitted to exist to an alarming extent, it cannot be denied that they have arisen from circumstances of the most unparalleled distress: the perseverance of these miserable men in their proceedings, tends to prove that nothing but absolute want could have driven a large, and once honest and industrious, body of the people, into the commission of excesses so hazardous to themselves, their families, and the community.
“They were not ashamed to beg, but there was none to relieve them: their own means of subsistence were cut off, all other employment preoccupied; and their excesses, however to be deplored and condemned, can hardly be subject to surprise.”
The first two cantos of Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage came out on March 3, the same week as his maiden speech. He became an overnight superstar, says Fiona MacCarthy, his recent biographer, “the first European cultural celebrity of the modern age.”
Later, in canto 3, Byron wrote about “The child of love,–though born in bitterness, and nurtured in convulsion.” His daughter, born just before her parents separated, was Ada Augusta, later Lady Lovelace, promoter and explicator of Charles Babbage, the inventor of the Difference/Analytical Engine, and the godfather of the modern computer.
In 2003, Kurt Vonnegut wrote: “Do you know what a Luddite is? That’s a person who doesn’t like newfangled contraptions. Contraptions like nuclear submarines armed with Poseidon missiles that have H-bombs in their warheads, and like computers that cheat you out of becoming. Bill Gates says, ‘Wait till you can see what your computer can become.’ But it’s you who should be doing the becoming. What you can become is the miracle you were born to work—not the damn fool computer.”
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