A Matter of Time

Calendar Reform: 18th-19th Century France

During the 18th century, radical French philosophers concluded that the existing Gregorian calendar was not appropriate for the coming Age of Reason. Sylvain Maréchal took the first step. He started the year in March, suggested alternative names for months (March becoming 'Princeps', etc.), and proposed new 'patron saints' for every day of the year: philosophers, writers and scientists.

After the French Revolution, an entirely new calendar was introduced. The Republican Era started in 1792, on the autumn equinox, around 22 September. The year had 12 months with names like Brumaire, Germinal and Thermidor. Each month consisted of three ten-day weeks. The year ended with five 'complementary days', national holidays. The calendar was in use from 1794 to 1805.

In 1849 Auguste Comte proposed a 'positivist' calendar, consisting of 13 months of four seven-day weeks. The year ended with an extra day, the 'memorial day of the dead'. Months were named after historical figures, such as Archimedes and Dante. Comte proposed his calendar as "a provisional institution, destined for the present exceptional century to serve as an introduction to the abstract worship of Humanity", but it never caught on. Later proposals combined elements of the Republican Calendar with the scheme of 12 months of three ten-seven-day weeks. Regnard's calendar of 1890 is an example of such an armchair proposal.