Musings From The Hill: Different Months

For a great many years I was a member of the Book-of-the-Month and other similar clubs. Oh, no, not the others which I, seeking erudition considered trash, those offering romance or mystery, which I might actually have read.

The “good” books piled up, moving with me across Nebraska, then to California, Pennsylvania and finally being unpacked one more time here.

By then I had resumed Will and Ariel Durants’ series, meting out one chapter each month. In time I reached the French Revolution. The chapters which told of that era really enticed me. I read Dickens, a poor Daphne du Maurier, Carlyle and others as I slowly moved through “Rousseau and Revolution” and on to “The Age of Napoleon.” In spite of their having signed off in retirement, the Durants did return to author this final in their eleven-part series. I enjoy the way he writes and was delighted when I saw I could continue a while longer.

The French Revolution was a period of which I was entirely ignorant, silly since our country was so involved there as well as having so much going on here at home. Sadly, my last history class was in junior high. I’d remedy that were I to return to school — but, at the same time, I can think of no subject that wouldn’t appeal to my curiosity now. (Well, maybe higher math which I did major in . . . for a while.)

Besides producing Napoleon, the French Revolution may well be best known for the invention and popularity of the guillotine. Sadly, the French eagerly brought that with them to the Caribbean islands where the terror continued. (You know, every time I’ve seen a picture of the French mandoline, I can’t help but whisper “Off with their heads.”)

Also at that time came what was commonly called the French Republican Calendar. Hoping to remove all traces of religious and royalist influences from the previous calendar, it was part of a larger attempt to move the country to decimalisation. As well as France it was used in parts of the Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland, Malta and Italy.

I found their concept intriguing if more than a little impractical for those of us who have trouble with the ons and offs of Daylight Savings Time.

Years were marked with the Roman numeral, “I” indicating the first year of the French First Republic. By law each year had to start at midnight on the day of the apparent autumnal equinox, 22 September 1792.

Basically based on the decimal system, although twelve months remained ,each was divided into three 10-day weeks. The tenth day was declared a day of rest and festivity. Obviously that left the solar calendar five or six days short. These they grouped together at the end of the year, “complementary days,” an idea I could easily cotton to. The first was 17 or 18 September, a “Celebration of Virtue.” Celebration of Talent, Labour, Convictions, Honor or Awards followed on consecutive days with “Celebration of the Revolution” added in leap years.

The new month names were based on the seasons: grape harvest, mist, frost, snowy, rainy, windy, and so forth.

Each day was also given a nature name. For example, our December 28 and those to follow would be Manure, Saltpeter, Flail and Granite. (Somebody wasn’t pleased with the weather of this season.)

Ten hours of 100 decimal minutes with 100 decimal seconds made up one day. Hours were much longer than ours, seconds a bit shorter. And, yes, they even made clocks to shows this time but they never caught on.

“The French Republic ended with the coronation of Napoleon I as Empereur des Francais (Emperor of the French) on 11 Frimaire, Year XIII (2 December 1804). Napoleon finally abolished the calendar with effect from 1 January 1806 (the day after 10 Nivose Year XIV), a little over twelve years after its introduction.”

Head spinning yet? So did the British. One contemporary wit there renamed the months Wheezy, Sneezy and Freezy; Slippy, Drippy and Nippy; Showery, Flowery and Bowery; Hoppy, Croppy and Poppy.

I could get used to that.

Susan Crossett has lived outside Cassadaga for more than 20 years. A lifetime of writing led to these columns as well as two novels. Her Reason for Being was published in 2008 with Love in Three Acts following in 2014. Both novels are now available at Lakewood’s Off the Beaten Path bookstore. Information on all the Musings, her books and the author may be found at Susancrossett.com.

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