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)
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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