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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 12

I                     THE BOOK OF DAYS.
Sidrophel in ludibras has been supposed to re-
present Lilly, but probably Butler merely meant
to hold up to ridicule and scorn the class of persons
of whom Lilly may be regarded as a type. He
was evidently a crafty, time-serving knave, who
made a good living out of the credulity of his
countrymen   He was consulted as an astrologer
about the affairs of the king, but afterwards, in
1645, when the royal cause began to decline, he
became one of the parliamentary party. He was
born in 1602. was educated at the grammar-school
of Ashby-de-la-Zouch, came to London when he
was about eighteen years of age, and spent the
latter part of his life at Hersham, near Walton.
on-Thames, where he died in 1681. In the chapter
of his autobiography, Of the Manner how I came
to London, he states that he was engaged as a
servant in the house of Mr Gilbert Wright, who
could neither read nor write, lived upon his annual
rents, and was of no calling or profession. He
states: 'My work was to go before my master to
church; to attend my master when he went
abroad; to make clean his shoes; sweep the street;
help to drive bucks when he washed; fetch water
in a tub from the Thames (I have helped to carry
eighteen tubs of water in one morning); weed the
garden. All manner of drudgeries I performed,
scraped trenchers,' &c .  '.... In 1644, I published
Merlinus Anglicus Junior about April. In that
year I published Prophetical Merlin, and had
eight pounds for the copy.' Alluding to the comet
which appeared in 1677, Lilly says: 'All comets
signify wars, terrors, and strange events in the
world.' He gives a curious explanation of the
prophetic nature of these bodies: 'The spirits,
well knowing what accidents shall come to pass,
do form a star or comet, and give it what figure
or shape they please, and cause its motion through
the air, that people might behold it, and thence
draw a signification of its events.' Further, a
comet appearing in the sign Taurus portends
'mortality to the greater part of cattle, as horses,
oxen, cows, &c.,' and also 'prodigious shipwrecks,
damage in fisheries, monstrous floods, and de-
struction of fruit by caterpillars and other ver-
mine.' Lilly, in his autobiography, appears on
one occasion to have acted in one of the meanest
of capacities. There is no doubt that he was em-
ployed as a spy ; but the chief source of income
to Lilly, and to most of the other astrologers, was
probably what was called casting nativities, and
foretelling, or rather foreshadowing, the future
events of the lives of individuals; in fact, fortune-
It has been mentioned before that the Station-
ers' Company had no objection to supply an
almanac to the sceptics and scoffers who treated
the celestial science with ridicule and contempt.
Such an almanac was 'Poor Robin, 1664: an
Almanack after a New Fashion, wherein the Reader
may see (if he be not blinde) many Remarkable
Things worthy of Observation, containing a Two-
fold Kalender-viz., the Julian or English, and
the Roundheads or Fanatics, with their several
Saints' Daies, and Observations upon every Month.
Written by Poor Robin, Knight of the Burnt
Island, a well-wisher to the Mathematics; calcu-
lated for the Meridian of Saffron Walden, where
the Pole is elevated 52 degrees and 6 minutes
above the Horizon. Printed for the Company of
Poor Robin has four lines of verse at the head
of each of the odd pages of the Calendar. For
instance, under January, we have
'Now blustering Boreas sends out of his quiver
Arrows of snow and hail, which makes men shiver;
And though we hate sects and their vile partakers,
Yet those who want fires must now turn Quakers.'
As a specimen of his humour in prose, under
January we are told that 'there will be much
frost and cold weather in Greenland.' Under
February, 'We may expect some showers of rain
this month, or the next, or the next after that,
or else we shall have a very dry pring.' Poor
Robin first appeared in 1663. Robert Herrick,
the poet, is said to have assisted in the compilation
of the early numbers. It was not discontinued
till 1828. The humour of the whole series was
generally coarse, with little of originality, and a
great deal of indecency.
In 1664, John Evelyn published his Kalen-
darium Hortense, the first Gardener's Almanac,
containing directions for the employment of each
month. This was dedicated to the poet Cowley,
who acknowledged the compliment in one of his
best pieces, entitled ' The Garden.' It was per-
haps in this almanac that there appeared a sage
counsel, to which Sir Walter Scott somewhere
alludes, as being presented in an almanac of
Charles II.'s time-namely, that every man ought
for his health's sake to take a country walk of a
mile, every morning before breakfast-' and, if
possible, let it be upon your own ground.'
The next almanac-maker to whom the attention
of the public was particularly directed was John
Partridge, chiefly in consequence of Swift's pre-
tended prophecy of his death. Partridge was
born in 1644, and died in 1714. He was brought
up to the trade of a shoemaker, which he practised
in Covent Garden in 1680; but having acquired
some knowledge of Latin, astronomy, and astro-
logy, he at length published an almanac. Swift
began his humorous attacks by Predictions for
the Year 1708, wherein the Month and the Day of
the Month are set down, the Persons named, and
the Great Actions and Events of Next Year par-
ticularly related as they will come to pass. Written
to prevent the People of Englandfrom beingfarther
imposed upon by the Vulgar Almanac-makers.
After discussing with much gravity the subject of
almanac-making, and censuring the almanac-
makers for their methods of proceeding, he con-
tinues as follows: 'But now it is time to proceed
to my predictions, which I have begun to calcu-
late from the time the sun enters Aries, and this
I take to be properly the beginning of the natural
year. I pursue them to the time when he enters
Libra, or somewhat more, which is the busy time
of the year; the remainder I have not yet ad-
justed,' &c. . . . 'My first prediction is but a trifle,
yet I will mention it to shew how ignorant those
sottish pretenders to astronomy are in their own
concerns. It relates to Partridge the almanac-
maker.   I have consulted the star of his nativity
by my own rules, and find he will infallily die
on the 29th of March next, about eleven at night,
of a raging fever; therefore, I advise him to con.

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