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Article from the 1911 Encyclopedia


ALMANAC, a book or table 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 &c. The derivation of the word is doubtful. The word almanac was used by Roger Bacon (Opus Majus, 1267) for tables of the apparent motions of the heavenly bodies. The Italian form is almanacco, French almanach, and the Spanish is almanaque; all of which, according to the New English Dictionary, are probably connected with the Arabic al-manakh, a combination of the definite article al, and maliakh, a word of uncertain origin. An Arabic-Castilian vocabulary (1505) gives manakh, a calendar, and manah, a sun-dial; manakh has also been connected with the Latin manacus, a sun-dial.

The attention given to astronomy by Eastern nations probably led to the early construction of such tables as are comprised in our almanacs; of these we know little or nothing. The fasti (q.v.) of the Romans are far better known and were similar to modern almanacs. Almanacs of a rude kind, known as clogg almanacs, consisting of square blocks of hard wood, about 8 in. in length, with notches along the four angles corresponding to the days of the year, were in use in some parts of England as late as the end of the 17th century. Dr Robert Plot (1640-1696), keeper of the Ashmolean Museum and professor of chemistry at Oxford, describes one of these in his Natural History of Staffordshire (Oxford, 1686); and another is represented in Gough's edition of Camden's Britannia (1806, vol. ii. p. 499).

The earliest almanac regarding which J. J. L. de Lalande (Bibliographic astronomique, Paris, 1803) 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) and John Somers (1380). 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 are based. The earliest English calendar in the British Museum is one for the year 1431. The first printed almanac known was compiled by Purbach, and appeared between the years 1450 and 1461; the first of importance is that of 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 earliest almanac printed in England was The Kalendar of Shepardes, a translation from the French, printed by Richard Pynson about 1407.

Early almanacs had commonly the name of "prognostications" in addition, and what they professed to show may be gathered from titles like the following, which is quoted by J. O. Halliwell: "Pronostycacyon of Mayster John Thybault, medycyner and astronomer of the Emperyall Majestic, of the year of our Lorde God MCCCCCXXXIJ., comprehending the iiij. partes of this yere, and of the influence of the mone, of peas and warre, and of the sykenesses of this yere, with the constellacions of them that be under the vij. pianettes, and the revolucions of kynges and princes, and of the eclipses and comets." 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 Merlinius Anglicus Junior for 1644, &c., and other almanacs and "prognostications"; John Booker's Bloody Almanac and Bloody Irish Almanac for 1643, 1647, &c.--the last attributed erroneously to Richard Napier; John Partridge's Mercurius Coelestis for 1681, Merlinus Redivivus, &c. The name of Partridge has been immortalized in Pope's Rape of the Lock; and his almanacs were very cleverly burlesqued by Swift, who predicted Partridge's own death, in genuine prognosticator's style. The most famous of all the Stationers' Company's predicting almanacs was the Vox Stellarum of Francis Moore (1657--1715?), the first number of which was completed in July 1700, and contained predictions for 1701. Its publication has been continued under the title of Old Moore's Almanac. 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.

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This article is from the 1911 edition of an encyclopedia, which is out of copyright here in the U.S. See the encyclopedia main page for disclaimer and copyright information.

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