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ALMANAC, a book or table, published from year to year, containing a calendar of the days, weeks, and months of the year, a register of ecclesiastical festivals and saints' days, and a record of various astronomical phenomena, particularly the rising and setting of the sun, the changes and phases of the moon, eclipses of the sun and moon, the times of high water at particular ports, &c. In addition to these contents, which may be regarded as essential to the almanac, it generally presents additional information, which is more or less extensive and varied according to the many different special objects contemplated in works of this kind. The derivation of the word is doubtful. The first syllable is the Arabic definite article; the rest of the word has been variously derived from the Greek pojv, a month; the Anglo-Saxon ?nowt, the moon; and (which appears the most probable derivation) the Arabic manah, to reckon.
The CALENDAR will be treated of in a separate article (which see). Here we have to do with the publication which contains the calendar of any particular year, along with other matter, astronomical, statistical, political, ti-x. The Ephemeris again, it is to be observed, is a strict astronomical term, being a register from day to day of the places and motions of the heavenly bodies.
The attention given to astronomy by Eastern nations, and the practice that prevailed among them of divination by means of the stars, must have led to the early construction of such tables as are comprised in our almanacs. Our information respecting these is extremely scanty; but we are not left in the same ignorance with regard to the practice of the ancient Romans. The peculiar arrangement of their calendar is well known, and their fasti sacri or kalendares were very similar to modern almanacs. Originally knowledge of the calendar was confined to the class of pontifices or priests, whom the people had to consult not only about the dates of the festivals, but also regarding the proper times of instituting various legal proceedings. But about 300 B.C. one Cn. Flavius, the secretary of Appius Claudius, possessed hineelf of the secret, either by the stealthy use of documents in the possession of his master, or, according to Pliny, by repeatedly consulting the pontifices and jurists, and collating the particulars of the information he obtained from them. It was neither more nor less than publishing an almanac n hen, as Livyl relates, he exhibited the fasti on white tablets round the forum. From this time tablets containing the calendar, the festivals, astronomical phenomena, and sometimes historical notices, seem to have been common. The Fasti of Ovid is a poetical relation of incidents and traditions connected with the calendar. The researches of antiquaries have brought to light numerous fasti or calendaria cut on marble and other kinds of stone. Representations of several of these will be found in Grnter's Inscriptiones. One figured there, the Farnese rustic calendar, is a cnbieal block of stone, on each of the four vertical faces of which three columns are engraved, detailing for each different month the number of days, the date of the nones, the lengths of the day and night, the sun's place in the zodiac (which is also indicated by a representation of the sign at the top of the column), the tutelary deity of the month, the rural operations of the season, and the chief festivals.
Almanacs of a ruder kind, known as clogg almanacs, were in use in some parts of England as late as the end of the 17th century. Dr Robert Plot, keeper of the Ashmolean Museum and professor of chemistry at Oxford, gives a figure of one of these, with a very minute description, in his Xatural History of Stafordshire (Oxford, 1686); and another is represented in Cough's edition of Camden's Britannia (1806, vol. ii. p. 499). The cloggs were square blocks of hard wood, about 8 inches in length, with notches along the four angles corresponding to the days of the year. The accompanying illustration shows the angle on which is registered the almanac for the months of January, February, and March, taking it from left to right. The marks on the under side in the figure exhibit the primes or golden numbers of a cycle, which is fully described in Plot's work. They generally increase by 8, 19 being struck off when that number is exceeded; and the same number will be found to stand against all the dates (approximately) of new moon throughout the year. The cross mark is for X, and the hook at the end of a line for V. The weeks are indicated by a deeper notch for every seventh day, and a broadening stroke on the upper side in the figure represents the first day of each month.
The other characters on the upper side are for saints' days and festivals. Thus Epiphany (Jan. 6) is indicated by a star, St Hilary (Jan. 13) by a bishop's double cross, the conversion of St Paul (Jan. 25) by an axe, St Valentine (Feb. 14) by a true lover's knot, St Matthias (Feb. 24) by a battle-axe, &c. All the feasts of the Virgin, as the Purification (Feb. 2) and the Annunciation (March 25), are denoted by a heart - Dr Plot was greatly puzzled to know why. St Blaise (Feb. 3), St Agatha (Feb. 5), and others were indicated by their initials; and opposite the day (March 1) consecrated to David, the patron saint of Wales, is a symbol which some consider a harp and others a leek.
The earliest almanac regarding which Lalande (whose Bibliographic Astronomigue, Paris, 1803, is the best authority on publications of this kind) could obtain any definite information belongs to the 12th century. Manuscript almanacs of considerable antiquity are preserved in the British Museum and in the libraries of Oxford and Cambridge. Of these the most remarkable are a calendar ascribed to Roger Bacon (1292), and those of Peter de Dacia (about 1300), Walter de Elvendene (1327), John Somers (1380), &c. It is to be remembered that early calendars (such as the Kalendarium Lincolniense of Bishop Robert Grosseteste) frequently bear the names, not of their compilers, but of the writers of the treatises on ecclesiastical computation on which the calendars arc based. In 1812 there was printed at Hackney what purported to be a transcription of the greater part of an almanac for 1386. This, if it exists, must be one of the earliest, perhaps the earliest, in the English language that has been preserved. The earliest English calendar in the British Museum is one for the year 1431. The first printed almanac known is one for the year 1457; the first of importance is that of Joannes de Monte-Regio, better known as Regiomontanus, which appears to have been printed at Nuremberg in 1472. In this work the almanacs for the different months embrace three Metonic cycles, or the 57 years from 1475 to 1531 inclusive. The Ephemerides of Regiomontanns, which are to be distinguished from his almanac, were sold, it is said, for ten crowns of gold, considerably more than their own weight. The earliest almanac printed in England was The Kalenclar of Shepardes, a translation from the French, printed by Richard Pynson about 1497.
The exclusive right to sell "almanacs and prognostications," enjoyed in the time of Elizabeth by two members of the Company of Stationers, was extended by James I. to the two universities and the Stationers' Company jointly; but the universities commuted their privilege for an annuity from the company. About a century ago one Thomas Carnan, a bookseller, conceiving that the company had no just title to its monopoly, published an almanac for three successive years, and was thrice imprisoned on that account by the company. In 1775 the case came before the Court of Common Pleas, and was decided in Carnan's favour. The question argued was, " Whether almanacs were such public ordinances, such matters of state, as belonged to the king by his prerogative, so as to enable him to communicate an exclusive right of printing them to a grantee of the crown 1" and the judges were unanimously of the opinion that the crown had no such right. The minister, Lord North, made an attempt in 1779 to put the company in possession, by a parliamentary enactment, of what the judges had denied it ; but the proposed monopoly was denounced by Erskine and others with such ability and severity that the bill was thrown out by a majority of forty-five. In consequence of this loss to the company of its exclusive right to issue almanacs, the universities lost their title to their annuity, and in lieu of it they received a parliamentary grant. The company continued, however, virtually to retain its monopoly by buying up as much as possible all the almanacs issued by other publishers, and by means of the great influence it possessed over the book trade. In more recent times the power to control the sale of this class of publications has altogether ceased, but a considerable proportion of the almanacs published in this country still issue from the hall of the Stationers' Company. A lively description of "Almanac Day" at Stationeri Hall will be found in Knight's Cyclopcedia of London (1851), p. 588.
The influence of the heavenly bodies on the conditions and affairs of men has been believed in, and a superstitious importance has been attached to particular times and seasons by the credulous from the remotest times. As might be imagined, therefore, since the bases on which the whole system of judicial astrology rested all fall within the field of the almanac-makers' labours, great prominence was given to omens and predictions in many of these publications. The early almanacs had commonly the name of " prognostications " in addition, and what they pro-. fessed to show may be gathered from titles like the following, which is quoted by Mr Halliwell Pronostycacyon of dayster John Thybault, medyeyner and astronomer of the Emperyall Majestie, of the year of our Lorde God bICCOcCXXXllJ., comprehending the iiij. partes of this yere, and of the influence of the mone, of peas and warre, and of the sykenesscs of this yere, with the constellaeions of them that be under the vij. planettes, and the revolueions of kynges and princes, and of the eclipses and comets." In 1579 Henry III. of France deemed it necessary to prohibit all almanac-makers from indulging in predictions. No such restriction, however, existed in this country; and it was to their prophesyings that the almanacs of the Stationers' Company were long indebted for much of their popularity. Among almanacs of this class published in England, and principally by the Stationers' Company, are Leonard Digges's Prognostication Everlasting of Right Good Effect, for 1553, 1555, &c.; William Lilly's Merlinus Anglicus Junior, for 1644, &c., and other almanacs and "prognostications;" Booker's Bloody Almanac and Bloody Irish Almanac, for 1643, 1647, &c. - the last attributed erroneously to Napier ; Partridge's Mercurius Ccelestis, for 1681, Jferlinus Redivivus, &c. The name of Partridge has been immortalised in Pope's Rape of the Lock; and his almanacs were very cleverly burlesqued by Swift, who predicted Partridge's own death, with all details of time and circumstance, in genuine prognosticator's style. The most famous of all the Stationers' Company's predicting almanacs was the Vox Stellarum of Francis Moore, dating from about 1680. Of a different but not a better sort was Poor Robin, dating from 1663, and published by the company down to 1828, which abounded in coarse, sometimes extremely coarse, humour.
On the 1st of January 1828 the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge issued the British Almanac for that year - a publication greatly superior in every way to the almanacs of the time. To quote the society's Almanac for 1829 - "This was almost the first attempt in this country to produce an almanac that should not only be useful to all classes, and of which the information should be wholly of a popular character, but which should be purified from the superstitions, prejudices, and indecencies which have characterised some of the almanacs of which the circulation has been the most extensive. By a parliamentary return of the year 1828 we find that the stamp duty paid upon the almanacs of England exhibits a circulation of 451,593 annually. It may be safely asserted that two-thirds of these publications contain some large portion of the matter just described ; and they thus keep alive a spirit of ignorance utterly opposed to the desire for sound and practical information which distinguishes our own times."
The success of the British Almanac, with its valuable supplement, the Companion to the Almanac, led to a great improvement in this class of publications. The Stationers' Company issued the English Almanac, a work of a similar kind. The entire repeal in 1834, by the 3d and 4th Will. IV., c. 57, of the heavy stamp duty on all almanacs of fifteenpence per copy, gave an additional stimulus to the publication of almanacs of a better class, and from that time the number has greatly increased. It is interesting to remark that the British Almanac and Companion still exist, and retain their original form and character, and that this has from 1870 been the principal almanac published by the Stationers' Company.
The variety of extraneous matter included in almanacs, corresponding to the very numerous other objects to which the almanac proper is often only secondary, can be merely alluded to here. A number of publications, issued in Germany from the middle of the 18th to the middle of the 19th century, under such titles as Musenalmanack, or A lmanach des Muses, contain some of the best works of some of the most celebrated German poets. The Almanach de Gotha, which has existed since 1764, and is published at present both in French and German, gives a particular account of all the royal and princely families of Europe, and ample details, compressed into little space, concerning the administration and the statistics of the different states of the world. As works of general statistical reference, the two national almanacs, Oliver and Boyd's Kew Edinburgh Almanac (from 1837) and Thom's Irish Almanac (from 1843), arc of very great value.
The Nautical Almanac is a publication the object of which is to supply information that is indispensable to the navigator and the astronomer. It gives with the utmost precision the positions of the principal heavenly bodies at short intervals of time, and other important details of celestial phenomena. The moon's exact position is registered for every hour, and also the angular distances at noon and midnight daily of the moon from the sun and several fixed stars. By means of the data thus supplied, in connection with observations of the heavenly bodies, time, latitude, and longitude can be determined. The Nautical Almanac has been published regularly since the issue in 1766 of the Almanac for 1767. It was originated by Dr Maskelyne, the astronomer-royal, who conducted it for many years. About 1830 the Lords of the Admiralty were induced by complaints of its defects to bring the subject under the notice of the Royal Astronomical Society. The society appointed a committee to consider what changes seemed necessary, and, on the committee's recommendation, the form was adopted which has continued with little change from 1834 to the present time. During that period the Almanac has been published under the superintendence of the Admiralty. It is issued generally three years at least before it comes into use. The Connaissance des Temps (from 1679), the Berliner Jahrbuch (from 1776), and the American Ephemeris and Ka-ntical Almanack (from 1855) are publications of a similar kind.
(See, in addition to works referred to above, interesting papers by Mr J. 0. Halliwell and Professor De Morgan in the Companion to the Almanac for 1839, 1840, 1845, 1846.)