Note:  Do not rely on this information. It is very old.


Almanack, or Almanac, properly a calendar setting forth the days of the year and their recognised divisions, together with notifications of astronomical phenomena and of ecclesiastical, civil, and other fixtures; forecasts of future occurrences and chronological records of past events being often introduced. Later on the original purpose was not seldom lost sight of in such publications, which then became magazines or annuals devoted to some particular branch of science, art, or information. Thus we have the Almanack de Gotha, a kind of European' peerage, the Musen Almanak, a collection of German poetry, and sundry well-known compilations that aim at giving almost cyclopaedic views of human affairs. The origin of the word cannot be satisfactorily traced. At first sight it would seem to be made up of "al," the Arabic demonstrative, and some root (Heb. manah; Arab, mamay) signifying "to reckon." But no such compound has been proved to exist in Arabic, whilst it is certain that Eusebius in the third century used almenacha, with its modern signification. Tables or calendars must have been one of the first-fruits of primitive civilisation amongst many nations, but references to them in ancient authors are scanty. Such contrivances were usually kept secret by priestly castes in the earlier stages of social development. In Rome, for instance, the pontifices preserved the fasti a mystery until 300 B.C., when Cn. Flavius published them on wooden tablets. So long as few men could read or write, cubes of stone or wood engraved with lines to note the days and with special marks to indicate fasts, festivals, changes of the moon, and so forth, amply supplied popular needs. The Farnese "rustic calendars" and our own "Clogg Almanacs" are specimens of these rude inventions. Of more elaborate schemes we hear nothing' until the twelfth century. Roger Bacon (1292), Peter de Dacia (1302), Walter de Elvenden (1327), and John Somers (1380) were the authors of the most celebrated calendars of this period, some of which are preserved in the libraries of Oxford, Cambridge, and the British Museum. They were based for the most part on cyclical arrangements of time in accordance with lunar movements. The introduction of printing naturally stimulated this kind of literary activity. Perhaps the earliest printed almanack was that of Regiomontanus published at Nuremberg in 1472. Pynson's Kalendar of Shepardes (1497) was the first that appeared in England, and Tybalt's Prognostications, issued forty years later, won high repute. Nearly all of these productions claimed the gift of prophecy by virtue of astrological lore or occult power. Elizabeth granted a monopoly of almanac-printing to the Stationers' Company, who retained this right until 1775, when the judges decided that the concession was ultra vires. In the meanwhile a great number of publications had issued from the press, chief among them being Lilly's Ephemeris (1644), Poor Robin's Almanac (1652), The British Merlin (1658), The Edinburgh Almanac (1683), Moore's Almanac (1680 ?), and The Lady's Diary (1705). In not a few cases humour of the coarsest quality and woodcuts to match were mixed up with more wholesome or useful matter; but a heavy stamp duty imposed in 1710 checked for over a century the excessive circulation of this class of literature. By far the most valuable compilation of them all was The Nautical Almanack started by Dr. Neville Maskelyne in 1767, remodelled under the auspices of the Royal Society in 1830, and continued to this day. Hone's Every Day Book, published in 1826, was a new departure in another direction. The Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge awoke in 1828 to the mischief that was being done by the diffusion of superstition, error, and bad taste under the guise of popular information, and brought out The British Almanack followed by The Companion to the Almanack. The Stationers, still the owners of the majority of the copyrights, strove to excel their rivals with The English Almanack. In 1834 the stamp duty was abolished, and from that date the quantity and quality of such periodicals have grown year by year. Whitaker's Almanac, published yearly, was started in 1869, and has since then gradually been enlarged, until it is now a most valuable handbook of useful information.