R is for Gilbert Romme

I am again focusing on the famous, the forgotten and the misbegotten for Round 21 of the popular ABC Wednesday meme. But finding suitable characters is getting harder, so apologies in advance if there are repeats of previous posts.

Gilbert RommeThe French Revolution resulted in many ridiculous ideas, but perhaps the most risible was the French Republican Calendar devised by Gilbert Romme.

The thinking behind the new calendar was twofold. First that it should remove all religious references and second that time itself should embrace decimalisation. The result was a largely unworkable system.

Romme was born in the Auvergne region in 1750 and was educated in medicine and mathematics. He had travelled to Russia where he was the tutor to Pavel Stroganov of the beef dish fame.

He entered politics on his way to Paris, an odd choice for someone once described as ‘a small, awkward and clumsy man with an ill complexion, and a dull orator’.

Republican Clock

A Republican Clock

But it is for the Republican Calendar that he is best remembered. In keeping with the prevailing decimalisation, each day was divided into ten hours and each decimal hour was made up of 100 decimal minutes, so each new hour equalled 144 minutes of the ones that people were used to.

Minutes were made up of 86.4 ‘old’ seconds, while each metric second was 13.6% shorter than its duodecimal equivalent.

Unsurprisingly, the idea didn’t catch on, even though clocks were made to display the new rational system of timekeeping, like the one above. Decimal time was officially suspended on 7 April 1795, although it continued to be used in some French cities until as late as 1801.

But if the telling the time was complicated, then so was keeping track of days under Romme’s Republican calendar. Weeks now had ten days instead of seven, unimaginatively named ‘primadi’ through to ‘décadi’, or first day to tenth.

Oddly, the calendar retained twelve months, although each was made up of 30 days. They were given new names based on nature or the prevailing weather conditions in Paris at that time of year, for example this post would have appeared in the month of Brumaire from the French for fog.

In England, some wit translated them as Wheezy, Sneezy and Freezy; Slippy, Drippy and Nippy; Showery, Flowery and Bowery; Wheaty, Heaty and Sweety.

Perhaps the oddest innovation was to give each and every day of the year its own name to replace the Roman Catholic calendar of saints. Days ending in zero were named after a tool, ending in five an animal, and flowers or minerals for the rest. For example, today’s date would have been Dentelaire from the Leadwort plant.

If you’ve done your sums, you’ll realise that the Republican calendar only had 360 days which would have been more than a little inconvenient, so Romme got round this by adding five or six national holidays at the end of the year that became known as ‘les jours complémentaires’.

The calendar experiment last for twelve years until it was abolished by Napoleon in 1806. As for Romme, he had been sentenced to the guillotine eleven years earlier, but managed to commit suicide by repeatedly stabbing himself with a smuggled knife on the steps of the courtroom.

Romme’s last words were ‘I die for the republic‘.

For further information, see Romme’s Wikipedia page, the French Republican Calendar, Archontology and French Pamphlet Collections at Newberry Library,

Nobody’s prefect. If you find any spelling mistakes or other errors in this post, please let me know by highlighting the text and pressing Ctrl+Enter.

5 comments… Add yours
  • ABC Wednesday 8th November 2017

    Some ideas never realy came through, a good thing 😉

    Althoug… being used to something does not mean that changes would make it worse

    Have a splendid, ♥-warming ABC-WEDNES-day / – week
    ♫ M e l ☺ d y ♫ (abc-w-team)
    http://melodymusic.nl/21-R

    Reply
  • photo cache 8th November 2017

    You are the master of educating the clueless like me. Thanks.

    My ABC WEDNESDAY

    Reply
  • Roger O Green 8th November 2017

    So much of the metric system makes sense. This one, not so much.

    ROG, ABCW

    Reply
  • Bev Baird 9th November 2017

    This was fascinating! I had never heard of him or this new calendar. Thanks for sharing it. Definitely learned something new today

    Reply
  • Yorkshire Pudding 9th November 2017

    Well, well, well you have again taught me things I did not know. Until I read this post I thought that Wheezy, Sneezy and Freezy; Slippy, Drippy and Nippy; Showery, Flowery and Bowery; Wheaty, Heaty and Sweety were nicknames for the members of Theresa May’s cabinet.

    You left out Shitty (Foreign Secretary).

    Reply

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