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Time and the French Revolution

Time and the French Revolution: The Republican Calendar, 1789-Year XIV

Matthew Shaw
Volume: 78
Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 198
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  • Book Info
    Time and the French Revolution
    Book Description:

    The French Republican Calendar was perhaps the boldest of all the reforms undertaken in Revolutionary France. Introduced in 1793 and used until 1806, the Calendar not only reformed the weeks and months of the year, but decimalisedthe hours of the day and

    eISBN: 978-1-84615-847-6
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-vii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. viii-viii)
  4. Preface
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. Acknowledgements
    (pp. xi-xii)
    Matthew Shaw
  6. Abbreviations
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  7. Introduction: Writing the History of the Republican Calendar
    (pp. 1-16)

    The upheavals of the French Revolution gave the world many things. Perhaps the most mellifluous of these are the series of Latin and Greek-based names – germinal, thermidor, and so forth – chosen by the dramatist and politician Philippe-François-Nazaire Fabre d’Églantine as the new months of the republican calendar.¹ These neologisms, with their linguistic allusions to the seasons and the agricultural year, remain inseparably linked to the period, dating such events as the fall of Robespierre on 9 thermidor or Napoleon Bonaparte’s coup of 18 brumaire. In this fashion, the Revolution left its impression on time. Such an imprint was...

  8. 1 Time and History
    (pp. 17-28)

    Time is an elusive category. On the one hand, as the literary critic Stuart Sherman has noted, the eighteenth century was marked by ‘its unprecedented passion for chronometric exactitude, in its timepieces and in its prose’.¹ Time could be understood as a metaphor for regularity, order and control, with a Supreme Being setting the world in motion like clockwork. Montesquieu, for example, privileged the machinery of clockwork as a simile in the 1757 foreword to his L’Esprit des loix: ‘the spring that makes republican government move, as honor is the spring that makes monarchy move’.² Yet, as Michèle Perrot suggests,...

  9. 2 The French Republican Calendar, 1793–1806: A Narrative Account
    (pp. 29-58)

    On 14 July of the fourteenth year of the reign of King Louis XVI (1790), one year after the fall of the Bastille, some 350,000 men, women and children gathered on the Champ de Mars in Paris to celebrate the great fête de la fédération. The rain that fell during the ceremony surely did not detract from the great sense of occasion shared by the huge crowd as Talleyrand, the bishop of Autun, celebrated mass, and the king of the French, Louis XVI, swore his oath of loyalty to the constitution before an altar to the fatherland. The festival, at...

  10. 3 Cultivating the Calendar: The Calendar and Republican Culture in the Year II
    (pp. 59-82)

    Time has not been kind to the papers of many of the French Revolutionaries; perhaps no others have been as widely dispersed as the manuscripts originally belonging to Charles Gilbert Romme, the creator of the French republican calendar. Although some of his papers, scattered through national and regional archives and libraries, can be consulted in France, many remain in Moscow. Following a sale by a Russian émigré in 1939, the Museo del Risorgimento, in Milan, purchased a small collection of Romme material and in consequence, among the papers of Camillo Cavour, Massimo D’Azeglio and Giuseppe Mazzini, three cartons containing seventy...

  11. 4 The Clash with Religion
    (pp. 83-104)

    One of the more popular humorous causeries of the Revolutionary period consisted of a dialogue between ‘Monsieur Dimanche and Citoyen Décadi’, two caricatures of the ideals of the Revolution and its antithesis. As Citizen Décadi noted, Sunday religious observance ‘date[d] from the Deluge’ and had, as M. Dimanche said, ‘arrived hale and hearty down to the 18th Century’. It was contrasted with the rational but ‘sterile’ or ‘ludicrous’ reforms introduced by the republic. As the historian Alphonse Aulard observed, the contrast between these two embodied feast days formed a powerful metaphor for ‘the quarrel between the Church and the state’....

  12. 5 Work and Rest
    (pp. 105-121)

    In the Year III, during a debate on the décadi, Joseph Terral reminded the National Convention of the moral dangers of the old festivals: ‘Remember that under the ancien régime, the local fêtes, the days marked by dances, were generally the occasion for immorality, and the place of crime, especially in the Midi: fathers would keep their children away from them.’¹ It was not just parents who were concerned about the potential corrupting influence of such times.² Much police business had traditionally concerned itself with temporal regulations, and a real continuity in policy can be detected between pre-revolutionary and revolutionary...

  13. 6 Republican Hours
    (pp. 122-144)

    Of those members of the committee of public safety arrested along with Robespierre in the summer of Year IV, the youngest and perhaps most ideologically- driven was Saint-Just. He also, it seems, paid a particular attention to his appearance. When he was arrested, he was carrying that most republican of fashion accessories, a decimal timepiece made by A. Elyor, a reputed clockmaker in the Galerie de l’Égalité, the republican name for the Palais Royal.¹ What should we make of this? That the most self-consciously ‘Spartan’ of all the Revolutionaries clearly saw the need to adopt the new decimal hours of...

  14. Conclusion: The Legacy of the Republican Calendar
    (pp. 145-154)

    This book has sought to uncover the history of revolutionary time not just in the pages of almanacs, diaries and official pronouncements, but in the ways that the years following the dramatic events of 1789 shaped the experience of everyday life. Accounts of the reshaping of everyday life have usually been stories of conflict or negotiation, often framed by intensely local contexts, but given political and ideological colouring. In contrast to the great journées of 1789, such as the storming of the Bastille or the abolition of feudalism, they may also appear at first glance to be matters of relative...

  15. APPENDIX 1 Timeline of Key Events, 1788–1806
    (pp. 157-160)
  16. APPENDIX 2 The Republican Calendar: a Glossary
    (pp. 161-162)
  17. APPENDIX 3 Names of the Days of the Republican Year
    (pp. 163-164)
  18. APPENDIX 4 Concordance for the Gregorian and Republican Calendars
    (pp. 165-166)
  19. Bibliography
    (pp. 167-182)
  20. Index
    (pp. 183-189)
  21. Back Matter
    (pp. 190-190)