The American Cyclopædia (1879)/Almanac
ALMANAC (probably from the Arabic al-manah, the reckoning), a publication of the calendar, generally containing chronological records of religious festivals and memorable events, and astronomical data, as well as miscellaneous information. Tables representing almanacs were first used by the Arabs mainly as astronomical guides, and from them became known among the Alexandrian Greeks and in Europe. Manuscripts of some of those of the middle ages are preserved in various English and continental libraries. An almanac for 1836 was printed recently from a manuscript prepared in 1300 by Petrus of Dacia, containing chaotic astronomical, chronological, and medical data. The British museum and Corpus Christi college, Cambridge, preserve manuscript almanacs of the 14th century. The earliest printed almanac is believed to have been that of the German astronomer Purbach (Vienna, 1457). His pupil Regiomontanus published toward the end of the 15th century, under the auspices of the Hungarian king Matthias Corvinus, several numbers of a Kalendarium Novum, in German and Latin. "The Kalendayr of the Shyppars," or "Shepherds' Calendar," an English translation of a French work, was published in Paris in 1497. Every month is introduced with a fragment of doggerel verses. The following is a specimen of its contents:
"Saturne is hyest and coldest, being full old,
And Mars with his bluddy swerde ever ready to kyll.
Sol and Luna is half good and half ill."
New editions of this almanac were published in the early part of the 16th century. The chief attractions of these and subsequent annual publications were prognostications of the weather and fortune-telling, and they became highly popular. Paynter's burlesque, "Four Great Syers" (about 1560), was followed in 1609 by Thomas Dekker's "Raven's Almanacke," and in 1618 by Laurence Lisle's "Owle's Almanack." "Poor Robin's Almanack," the most famous of them all, was begun in 1663. Under James I. almanacs were monopolized by the universities and the stationers' company, astrology and superstition being their principal ingredients. Francis Moore's Vox Stellarum led the way in advertising quack medicines. "Poor Robin's Almanack" flourished until the monopoly of the stationers' company was broken up in 1775. An attempt for its renewal, made by Lord North in parliament, was baffled by Erskine's argument against it (1779), but the company nevertheless endeavored to retain the monopoly by buying up rival publications. "The Ladies' Diary," established in 1794, was of a better kind; but it was not until after the issue of the "British Almanac" (1828) that the stationers' company purged their "New Englishman's Almanac" of obnoxious matter.—In France, Rabelais made an ineffectual attempt to destroy the popular faith in the astrological predictions of almanacs. Nostradamus (1550-'66) made prophecies popular to such an extent that potical predictions in almanacs were prohibited by the French authorities on several occasions. Matthieu Laensbergh, a citizen of Liége of the 17th century, was the founder of the Almanach liégeois, printed under the name of Lansbert in 1625, and since 1647 under that of Laensbergh. It contained information about the planets, absurd medical prescriptions, and notices of religious holidays and historical events, and attained great popularity by predictions of weather and occurrences. An occasional hit, as for instance that of the predicted downfall of Mme. du Barry in consequence of the death of Louis XV., confirmed the credulous in their confidence in the almanac. At first it was also made convenient to the illiterate by the adoption of signs indicative of dates in place of letters. In 1823 the Netherlands authorities used repressive measures against the almanac on account of the objectionable political allusions, and its circulation was more seriously checked in 1852 by the French government. Since the year 1625 a calendar for shepherds (Calendrier des bergers) has been included in each annual almanac. Various spurious Almanachs liégeois are published in France, as for instance the Triple véritable almanach de Liége. Matthieu Laensbergh, the original founder, is still so popular in Belgium and France that from 1824 to 1829 a daily journal of Liége bore his name as a title, and he figures as the hero in a recent French comedy. Though modern works have in a great measure superseded these almanacs, the peasantry all over Europe still retain a great partiality for them. The Almanach impérial (since 1871 national) and Almanach de France, and the Annuaire-Almanach du commerce (published by Didot Jan. 1, 1872), are the leading French almanacs. Many almanacs are at the present day published in France under the title of Annuaires, or Annuaires-Almanachs. On the other hand, literary annuals and albums are published in France, Germany, and other countries under the title of almanacs, as for instance the German Musenalmanach, and the French Almanach des muses. Germany originated these annual collections about 1815, and they circulate there more extensively than the ordinary almanacs do in other European countries. A little Breton Almanac for 1872, Almanak Breiz-Izel, prepared by some of the best Celtic scholars in France, contains, besides agricultural, veterinary, philological, political, and historical lore, some popular tales, proverbs, patriotic poems, &c. The Almanach de Gotha is published both in French and German by Justus Perthes, at Gotha, Germany, and is (1873) in its 110th year. It is a high authority on the genealogy of sovereign and princely families, and statistics and official information respecting the different countries of the world.—Nautical almanacs, containing astronomical information designed to aid in the determination of latitude and longitude at sea, &c., have been published in France since 1679, and in Germany since 1776, under the respective titles of Annuaires and Jahrbücher or Annalen, and in England since 1767. The "American Nautical Almanac" was founded by Admiral Charles Henry Davis, U. S. N., who was appointed its first superintendent in 1849. The first volume, for 1855, was published in 1853.—The first ordinary American almanac is believed to have been issued from the press of William Bradford in Philadelphia in 1687. Franklin's celebrated "Poor Richard's Almanac," first published by him in 1732, and continued about 25 years, became very popular in this country as well as in England and France, where its proverbial and wise utterances were reprinted and translated. The "American Almanac and Repository of Useful Knowledge" was published at Boston from 1828 to 1861. The "National Almanac," designed as a continuation of the above, was published at Philadelphia for 1863 and 1864 only. There are now upward of 100 almanacs published in the United States, a number of them being illustrated, relating to almost all imaginable subjects of desirable information for all classes and occupations, and also including comic almanacs as well as versions in foreign languages, chiefly in German.