The Republican Calendar

The clocks have changed, the nights are growing longer, and the cold wintry days of Frimaire are now upon us. The French Republican calendar is not used anymore, but it was in use for a significant period of time following the French Revolution, and approximately up to the coronation of Napoleon. The UL and a number of college libraries hold numerous books published during this period, many of which have publication dates that are incomprehensible to the modern eye.

The Republican calendar was intended to remove influences of religion and monarchy, and as such the names of the months were derived from seasonal conditions or events such as fog or the harvest, and every day of the year was named to reflect some aspect of the rural calendar. November 27 this year, based on the most popular method of translating to the Gregorian calendar, is 7 Frimaire: the day of the cauliflower.

The calendar is fully explained to a contemporary audience in the tables and introduction given in the (frankly, adorable) volume at Syn.9.79.1: Nouveau calendrier de la République Française. Presumably primarily used as a reference work at the time, this was published from 1793 onwards and measures just over 9 cm high. The volume was received in the UL from the library of Henry Bradshaw (a scholar, book collector and librarian) in 1886.

Mémoire sur les basaltes de la Saxe : accompagné d'observations sur l'origine des basaltes en géneral : lu à la classe des sciences-physiques et mathématiques de l'Institut-National, en frimaire an 11 / par J.F. Daubuisson (MF.45.16) Note the journal reference towards the bottom of the page.

Mémoire sur les basaltes de la Saxe : accompagné d’observations sur l’origine des basaltes en géneral : lu à la classe des sciences-physiques et mathématiques de l’Institut-National, en frimaire an 11 / par J.F. Daubuisson (MF.45.16)
(Note the journal reference towards the bottom of the page.)

The Republican calendar appears on a number of works in the UL, including books about the revolution, as well as in unrelated books that just happened to be published during the revolutionary period. Mémoire sur les basaltes de la Saxe : accompagné d’observations sur l’origine des basaltes en géneral : lu à la classe des sciences-physiques et mathématiques de l’Institut-National, en frimaire an 11 / par J.F. Daubuisson (MF.45.16) was printed, according to the title page, in “An XI—1803”. It’s a pretty straightforward scientific text, including charts as to the chemical makeup of basalt. The copy in the UL bears the arms of Tobias Rustat: it was purchased using funds left to the Library in 1667.

Published two years earlier (and purchased only in 1987) is the more revolutionary text Réponse d’un républicain français au libelle de Sir Francis d’Yvernois, naturalisé anglais, contre le premier consul de la République française / par l’auteur de la Lettre d’un citoyen français à Lord Grenville (S560.c.80.6) . This book was published in Frimaire an 9, and the copy in the UL contains a pencilled inscription on the first page (presumably from a previous librarian) explaining that Francois d’Ivernois was a “bourgeois de Genève, exile en Angleterre…”—an inscription that was presumably added before the era of Wikipedia. The book is bound in a marbled paper wrapper—a 20th century binding that was probably completed around the time of purchase by the UL.

Mémoire sur la collection des grands et petits voyages : et sur la collection des voyages de Melchisedech Thévenot / par A. G. Camus..., imprimé par l'ordre et aux frais de l'Institut (VIII.14.11)

Mémoire sur la collection des grands et petits voyages : et sur la collection des voyages de Melchisedech Thévenot / par A. G. Camus…, imprimé par l’ordre et aux frais de l’Institut (VIII.14.11)

A work of bibliographic history,   Mémoire sur la collection des grands et petits voyages : et sur la collection des voyages de Melchisedech Thévenot / par A. G. Camus…, imprimé par l’ordre et aux frais de l’Institut (VIII.14.11) is interesting in this context because it is full of dates, and there was no attempt to translate historical dates to the Republican calendar. This is theoretically consistent with the concept of the calendar—it was meant to remove royalist and religious influence in the calendar, rather than abolish all traces of them from history.

On the other side of the spectrum, however, are the pamphlets at classmark 7560.c.59, which are mostly transcripts of speeches given at the Conseil des cinq-cents in the first years of the republic. These almost all cover matters of state or military activities. They are all signed with the day that the speech was pronounced such as, “séance du 23 Thermidor, an 5” or “Fructidor, an V” (which somebody has helpfully annotated in pen on the UL copy: “4 Sept. 1797”). The latter is on the title “Proces-verbal de la séance permanente du conseil des cinq-cents, des 18, 19, 20, 21, 22 & 23 fructidor, an cinquième de la République française, une & indivisible”.

The helpfully annotated title page.

The helpfully annotated title page.

It can be relatively difficult to find books containing republican dates in the library catalogue. The way library catalogues work in general is that records for all books have dates that are coded according to the Gregorian calendar, so even if a book says that it was published in “l’an IV de la République” (Essai sur les journées des treize et quatorze vendémiaire / par P.F. Réal, 7560.c.57), a librarian at some point will have determined that this was 1795 or 1796, and coded the record accordingly. This is done so that catalogues can correctly sort books in date order. The specific guidance given to librarians is that “[if] the date as it appears in the resource is not of the Gregorian or Julian calendar, add the corresponding date or dates of the Gregorian or Julian calendar” (RDA 2.8.6.3). Therefore, both keyword searches or searches limited by date ranges can help to reveal these books.

There is still considerable research happening around the Republican calendar, which is reflected in the holdings of the University Library. A search on LibrarySearch+ reveals a large number of articles published in the past five years. A recent Cambridge University Press book by Sanja Perovic, entitled The Calendar in Revolutionary France Perceptions of Time in Literature, Culture, Politics is available both in print (561:6.c.201.5) and as an ebook. In addition, artist Ruth Ewan, one of North West Cambridge’s Artists in Residence, has been pursuing a deeper understanding of the republican calendar through installations such as her Back to the Fields, which was held at the Camden Arts Centre earlier this year.

Josh Hutchinson

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