Our Notes & References
An attractive example of this very rare almanac, unusually preserving its gilt floral wrappers and presenting notes of its contemporary Russian female owner. With an overview of national and international events, including from America in the aftermath of the independence.
The Imperial Academy of Sciences had been the major producer and editor of annual calendars or almanacs from its earliest years in 1725-26 till 1869. Over the decades, such calendars expanded to be an entertaining and practical read including predictions of the weather for the whole year ahead, history reports and popular science notes. Besides the present Mesiatsoslov na leto…, published annually in 1725-1801, the Academy issued Pridvornyi mesiatsoslov [Court Almanac] and Mesiatsoslov s rospisiu chinovnykh osob [Almanac with a Register of the Government Officials] which however were confined to the calendar itself and a long directory of all the Russian establishment members only. In the second half of the 18th century, the Academy’s leadership loosened and Russian readers experienced over a dozen different kinds of similar calendars by different publishers. This lead the Academy to claim a monopoly legally in 1780.
Extremely rare: we could find only one copy of this edition in public institutions worldwide: in the Russian National Library in St. Petersburg, a copy with only frugal manuscript notes on occasional birthdays. We could not trace any example at auction.
WorldCat shows only one library with other editions of these series of Mesiatsoslov, the Bibliothèque Cantonale et Universitaire in Lausanne, with copies for 1777, 1778 and 1783. Other Russian almanacs can be found at the NYPL, LoC, Harvard and Yale, but mostly from the 19th century; only few from the 1770s-80s.
From 1775 until 1801 (ie. including our edition), the Academy’s Mesiatsoslov was edited by Sergei Rumovskii (1734-1812), a Russian astronomer and mathematician, and one of the first Russian academicians; he often prepared astronomical articles for the annual publication.
The first section of this edition of the almanac is the monthly calendar itself and contains blank tables for the owner to complete with their own observations; two of these, for January and February, have been cut away, while others have been partially completed and left in place. From what we could infer, these notes were written by a woman (as verbs in past tense are used in feminine form) who most likely lived near Moscow as she keeps records of her husband Dmitrii Aleksandrovich’s occasional trips there. She uses this Mesiatsoslov to document family events (guest visits, departures and arrivals of family members, sheds on fire…), bookkeeping (a few records of various purchases, including singing canaries, note of 8-year loan taken by the family), her health (several records of bloodletting), her own hobbies (a short note for a marine painting she started), natural phenomena (in August, “the whole sky lit up in a fiery colour” during thunder and hail at 4am; and another day, a very bad tempest in St Petersburg almost took the life of a “Prince Mikhail”).
The rest of the Mesiatsoslov includes a table of distances between different cities within the Russian Empire, State and church holidays, a list of the new Russian cities established during the reign of Catherine II, and predictions of sunsets and sunrises in different parts of the Russian empire. Some forecasts are particularly remarkable for their precision: spring in St Petersburg will start “on March 9 at 2.17 pm when the sun enters the sign of Aries and all over the globe day is equal to night”; this upcoming year will have four eclipses, two solar and two lunar, with their exact dates, and that Mercury will pass by the Sun on November 1. Readers are also made aware of the main meteorological observations of the past year 1780 in St Petersburg (extreme temperatures, rainy days etc.), together with a comparative table of dates when the Neva river froze and melted in 1718-81.
The section on noteworthy events in October 1780 – September 1781 was compiled by the Russian-German historian Login Bakmeister (also Hartwig Ludwig Bacmeister, 1730-1806), famous in particular for being one of the first Russian bibliographers. Continuing his relatively recent review of events from the 1780 edition, the list offers a surprisingly wide range of worldwide news, such as:
– natural disasters, like the Great Hurricane in the Atlantic Ocean in 1780: “Barbados, St Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Martinique and other islands were turned into a pile of stone, thousands of people died”
– life events of European and Russian sovereigns; for instance Grand Dukes Aleksandr and Konstantin Pavlovich were vaccinated against smallpox; the Khan of Crimea is also mentioned, shortly before its annexation by the Russian empire (in 1783)
– curiosities: a woman in Rotterdam gave birth to three sons and one daughter at one time
– literary and artistic news, such as the death of G.E. Lessing, “one of the most remarkable German writers”
– military conflicts and political events, including in particular news from the American Revolutionary War, such as the Kings Mountain Battle, the Battle of Cowpens, the Battle of Guilford Court House, the unsuccessful attempt of the French to land in Long Island (July 6, 1781), the Battle of the Chesapeake between the English and French fleet, and some events of the Spanish conquest of West Florida (including the siege of Pensacola by the forces of Don Bernardo de Gálvez). It mentions Captain Morgan among others, and also that Maryland joined 12 other American colonies (May 1, 1781) that soon established a people’s bank (May 8, 1781). The last event in the section is dated September 29, 1781, “American States sent to print the foundation text of independence and its explanation, as well as the articles about the union between these states, and treatises with other powers”.
Bitovt 2907; Guberti III-133 (giving it almost 3 pages); Svod. Kat. IV-403; A. Samarin, Pervye mesiatseslovy Rossiiskoi Imperii (online).