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Chambers, Robert, 1802-1871 / Chambers's book of days, a miscellany of popular antiquities in connection with the calendar, including anecdote, biography & history, curiosities of literature and oddities of human life and character
Vol. I (1879)

Time and its natural measurers,   pp. 1-14 ff. PDF (9.3 MB)


Page 8

THE BOOK OF DAYS.
Five days at the end, corresponding to our
17th, 18th, 19th, 20th, and 21st of September,
were supplementary, and named sans-culottides,
in honour ot the half-naked populace who took
so prominent a part in the affairs of the Revolu-
tion. At the same time, to extinguish all traces
of religion in the calendar, each month was
divided into three decades, or periods of ten
days, whereof the last was to be a holiday, the
names of the days being merely expressive of
numbers-Primidi, Duodi, Tredi, &c. And this
arrangement was actually maintained for several
years, with only this peculiarity, that many of
the people preferred holding the Christian Sunday
as a weekly holiday. The plan was ridiculed by
an English wit in the following professed trans-
lation of the new French Calendar:
'Autumn-wheezy, sneezy, freezy.
Winter-slippy, drippy, nippy.
Spring-showery, flowery, bowery.
Summer-hoppy, croppy, poppy.'
'Thirty days hath September,
April, June, and November;
All the rest have thirty-one,
But February twenty-eight alone,
Except in leap-year, once in four,
When February has one day more.'
Sir Walter Scott, in conversation with a friend,
adverted jocularly to 'that ancient and respect-
able, but unknown poet who had given us the
invaluable formula, Thirty days hath September,
&c.' It is truly a composition of considerable
age, for it appears in a play entitled The Return
from Parnassus, published in 1606, as well as in
Winter's Cambridge Almanac for 1635.
From what has here been stated introductorily,
the reader will be, in some measure, prepared to
enter on a treatment of the individual days of
the year. Knowing how the length of the year
has been determined, how it has been divided
into months, and how many days have been
assigned to each of these minor periods, he will
understand on what grounds men have proceeded
in various seasonal observations, as well as in
various civil and religious arrangements. He
has seen the basis, in short, of both the Calendar
and the Almanac.
THE CALENDAR-PRIMITIVE
ALMANACS.
It was a custom in ancient Rome, one which
came down from a very early period, to proclaim
the first of the month, and affix a notice of its
occurrence on a public place, that the people
might be apprised of the religious festivals in
which they would have to bear a part. From
the Greek verb vaxew, I call or proclaim, this first
of the month came to be styled the Xalenda
or Kalends, and Fasti Calendares became a name
for the placard. Subsequently, by a very natural
process of ideas, a book for accounts referring to
days was called Calendarium, a calendar; and
from this we have derived our word, applicable
to an exposition of time arrangements generally.
8
At Pompeii there has been found an ancient
calendar, cut upon a square block of marble,
upon each side of which three months are regis-
tered in perpendicular columns, each headed by
the proper sign of the zodiac. The information
given is astronomical, agricultural, and religious.
-Lib. Ent. Knowl.-Pompeii, vol. ii. pp. 287-8.
' The calendar, strictly speaking, refers to time
in general-the almanac to only that portion of
time which is comprehended in the annual revo-
lution of the earth round the sun, and marking,
by previous computation, numerous particulars
of general interest and utility ; religious feasts;
public holidays; the days of the week, corre-
sponding with those of the month; the increasing
and decreasing length of the day ; the variations
between true and solar time; tables of the tides;
the sun's passage through the zodiac; eclipses;
conjunctions and other motions of the planets,
&c., all calculated for that portion of duration
comprehended within the year. . . The calendar
denotes the settled and national mode of regis-
tering the course of time by the sun's progress :
an almanac is a subsidiary manual formed out of
that instrument. . . . . The etymology of the
word almanac has been, perhaps, the subject of
more dispute than that of any term admitted
into our language. With the single exception of
Verstegan, all our lexicographers derive the first
syllable at from the article definite of the Arabic,
which signifies the; but the roots of the remaining
syllables are variously accounted for, some taking
it from the Greek pavaicos, a lunary circle; others
from the Hebrew manach, to count; Johnson
derives it from the Greek Arie, a month; but why
the first syllable should be in one language, which
these authorities agree in, and the two last in
any other language, it is not easy to comprehend.
Whether, therefore, the Saxons originally took
their term from the Arabic, either wholly or in
part, Verstegan seems the most to be relied on.
- They," he says, alluding to our ancient Saxon
ancestors, " used to engrave upon certaine squared
sticks, about a foot in length, or shorter, or longer
as they pleased, the courses of the moones of the
whole yeere, whereby they could alwaies cer-
tainely tell when the new moones, full moones,
and changes should happen, as also their festivall
daies; and such a carved stick they called an
al-man-aght; that is to say, al-mon-heed, to wit,
the regard or observation of all the moones; and
hence is derived the name of almanac." An
instrument of this kind, of a very ancient date, is
to be seen in St John's College at Cambridge,
and there are still in the midland counties several
remains of them.'-Brady.*
tte clog gl1manac.
The simple-minded, yet for his time intelligent
and inquiring Dr Robert Plot, in his Natural His-
tory of Staffordshire (folio, 1686), gives an account
of what he calls the Clog Almanac, which he found
in popular use in that and other northern coun-
ties, but unknown further south, and which, from
its being also used in Denmark, he conceived to
* Analysis of the Calendar, i. 143.


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