For five days I’m writing about the most interesting methods people have used throughout history to raise brilliant children of all types. Yesterday I wrote To Yell or Not to Yell. That is My Question.
Young Ada Loveless lived on a grand estate with her noble mother in nineteenth-century England. The 9 year-old romanticized her father, a famous English poet living in Greece on self-imposed exile. She had never met him and as a child, knew very little of him. Ada asked her mother when he’d be back, but Lady Anne Isabella Byron never told her daughter the colorful truths about her dad– Lord Byron. When he died a hero to the Greeks for financing their war of Independence from Turkey, all Ada knew is that he fell ill and died far away from her.
Ada’s father–no ordinary poet, is regarded as one of the greatest British poets of all time and remains widely read and influential. He was also no ordinary man. Good-looking to boot–he loved many women and men leaving broken hearts in his wake as he traveled the world. One English socialite once disguised herself as a page to enter his bed-chamber. Of Lord Byron she said, he is “mad, bad, and dangerous to know.“
Ada’s dangerous-to-know father’s father (her grandfather) was “Mad Jack”. And his grandfather (stay with me here) committed suicide. Lord Byron’s mother ran the Byron estate while the men made ill and herself suffered from ongoing melancholy.
When Ada insisted on hearing stories of her father, her mother sought the advice of a trusted neighbor– the Scottish polymath, Mary Somerville. Somerville provided a sure solution: rigorous education in mathematics.
Lady Byron took the advice and hired mathematics tutors for her daughter at a time when girls did not study math. The helpful neighbor, Somerville, became Ada’s lifelong mentor. Together, the two women (and the many hired tutors) educated any potential “madness” out of little Ada.
I’d say they did well. Ada became a prominent mathematician in Victorian England and never showed a traced of madness. She worked with Charles Babbage drafting the blueprints to the world’s first computer and she wrote the first computer program in history. Ada turned out not mad nor bad and probably not very dangerous either.