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the palpably absurd statement which is found in various works in general estimation, namely, that the first of the Augustan leap-years was A. D. 7, after which they proceeded without mistake. How the leap-years afterwards obeyed the rule of falling into dates which are divisible without remainder by 4, is a mystery to those who adopt the statement, and think about it.
When a reckoning is made from 1, the century terminates at 100; but when it is made from 0, through 1, 2, &c., it terminates with 99. About the year 1799, there was discussion whether the eighteenth century terminated at the end of 1799, or at the end of 1800. This was equivalent to a discussion whether the usual reckoning had a year 0, or began with 1. It so happens that the history of our mode of reckoning has been made to have a point of obscurity which may tend to prolong this discussion; and perhaps some may be found to doubt whether this present year 1850, ends the first half of the nineteenth century, or begins the second.
A century is any collection of one hundred; its restriction to collection of years is modern. Most readers remember the "century of inventions," and many remember that they thought at first it was the account of some inventive century. Bale's work on English writers is divided into centuries, not of years, but of scholars; and centuries have been published of nativities, and of other things.
A century of years may begin or end with any year, just as a year of days may begin or end with any day; and as the year ending April 7 began at the preceding April 8, so the century ending 1745 began with 1646. But, in like manner as the year of reckoning (as distinguished from a year-space of measurement of time) begins with January 1, so it is presumed that a century is also a unit of reckoning, and has a definite commencement: and that it is so is clear, as to modern times, from the constant phraseology of writers, who talk of the twelfth century, the nineteenth century, &c. But it generally happens that, in speaking of centuries, writers are using a rough denomination thus no one who finds a paragraph which alludes to the religious troubles of the sixteenth century, can possibly guess whether that century be meant to begin with 1500 or
There is no ancient usage as to the beginning of centuries,
It is to be regretted that we are obliged to talk of centuries under numeral figures which contradict the dates. Fourteen hundred and twenty is in the fifteenth century. We are always obliged to pause a moment before we put a year into its century: and even practised historical writers sometimes make a slip. The second edition of Mr. Macaulay's essays is their third impression; and yet (vol. ii. p. 15) it is said, "We know that, during the fierce contests of the sixteenth century, both the hostile parties spoke of the time of Elizabeth as a golden age." The italics, of course, are our own.
for the term, as applied to time, is not ancient. Ducange and old Latin dictionaries do not recognise centuria as meaning a hundred years. The bull for the reformation of the calendar (1582), when speaking of 1700, 1800, &c., as not being leapyears, calls them anni centesimi, hundredth years. But no argument can be derived in favour of an implication that technical centuries end with these years; for no such technical term seems to have been then in use.
Again, this very regulation with respect to 1700, &c., affects the calendar rules in such manner, that a rule which lasts from 1700 to 1799 has to be changed for 1800, &c. It is, therefore, matter of necessity that writers on the calendar speak of 1700— 1799 as a century. This happens in the tables annexed to the act for the change of style, in which mention is made for instance of "the next century, that is, from the year 1800 till the year 1899 inclusive." Hence many have argued that it is settled by law that the present century begins with 1800. But the body of the act, which is of equal authority, calls 1800 a hundredth year, when, if the centuries be settled by the wording of the annexed tables, it should be called a first year. But no inference can be drawn; for if Clavius had taken, say 1816, to be one of the Gregorian omissions of a leap-year, then the tables annexed to the act must have spoken of the century beginning with 1816 and ending with 1915, because that particular century-space would have fallen under one rule.
Clavius gives it as the reason why centesimal years should be chosen for omission of leap-years, that these are years of great note, being observed by the church as years of jubilee. Had he attached to 1600, 1700, &c., any idea either of commencement or termination of a century, as a unit of reckoning, he would surely have made allusion to it here. What there is shows that, in common usage, the centesimal years were terminations, and not commencements; for a jubilee is a festival of commemoration, not of anticipation. In the year 1800 Mr. Pye, then poet laureate, published his Carmen Seculare, with a preliminary dissertation in defence of 1800 being the first year of the new century. Among other arguments, he urges that Prior had done the same in 1700; but he forgets that secular odes have always been retrospective, and properly belong to the last of the old century, not the first of the new. Hear Prior:
"Hardly the muse can sit the headstrong horse,
Nor would she, if she could, check his impetuous force;
While she through earth and air pursues the king."
But Prior's noisy muse was riding on horseback after William
III., not to bring him tidings of future events, but as a convenience for the contemplation of the past.
"She now beholds him on the Belgic shore,
Whilst Britain's tears his ready help implore ;"
and a great deal more.
We have looked through many of the pieces of this controversy, and have found little or no allusion to how people did count; the matter was assumed to demand settlement by the way in which people ought to count. Great pains were taken to prove that there must have been a year 0 after the Christian æra; and those who could attribute the habits of a modern mathematician to the old computers-who reckoned I., II., III., IV., &c., and had never dreamed of a zero symbol-made a very plausible figure with those who could not correct them. The astronomers Maskelyne and William Herschel took the side of 1800 as the first year of the century, and of course led many, who did not see that the question is for the antiquarian to decide, not the astronomer, as such. But if astronomers may decide, they have settled the point by what is now universal consent, and not without having had it frequently before them. For they never open the proper page of any common account of the progress of their science without seeing themselves invited to deny, if they think fit, the statement that the planet Ceres was discovered on the first day of the present century: it was discovered January 1, 1801. We hold it clear that no usage can exist, except one of very modern times. The present practice of astronomers and chronologers is to make the first year of the reckoning to be the first year of a century, so that A. D. 1—100 is the first century, a. D. 1801-1900 is the nineteenth century.
Remembrances of the monadic system of counting have been before now made to appear in the following statement; that a date, such as 1843, does not mean the whole year 1843, but the indivisible moment at which a certain year begins. If this had been the case, and the term century had been used, then, probably, the moment at which A. D. 100 begins would have been made to terminate the century. That the year ranked as
a moment, in reckoning year after year monadically, is true enough; but it had not then a beginning distinct from its end, nor any intermediate parts. It has been urged in support of the above view, that the hours of the clock are reckoned in the same way; thus four o'clock refers to a moment of time, not to an amount of duration. But the phrase contains its own answer, for four of the clock merely refers to the place where IV. is written.
An appeal is also made to the intention of Dionysius Exiguus, who introduced the present mode of reckoning in the sixth century. Intentions, unless carried into effect, make no rule in chronology: we do not date from the Christian æra because Dionysius so pleased, but because those who followed him succeeded in establishing a usage; and their usage, not the intention of Dionysius, is the rule. Nevertheless, we mean to enter upon this point, not for its importance, but only to give the reader an idea of the manner in which chronological conclusions have been treated.
We hold chronology to be a subject into which more learned confusion has been introduced than into all others put together. We have given a notable instance of this (see the Companion for 1845, page 8), in the fact of so diligent a reader and accurate a scholar as Delambre pronouncing, on the mass of mingled citation before him, that the synodical epistle of the Nicene Council had not been preserved. The mistake originated with the laboured attempt which Clavius and others had made to fasten upon the Council, by subsequent evidence, a proceeding of which the epistle shows no trace. Dionysius Exiguus has been treated in the same manner as the Nicene bishops: every possible kind of assertion as to his system and his meaning, has been fearlessly brought forward and easily granted, upon the testimony of writers who lived many centuries after him.
There is no better proof of want of precision in chronological writers than this, that their most technical term, æra, cannot have its meaning settled without dispute from their writings. Is the æra a point of time from which reckoning is made, or the whole duration in which reckoning is made? When we talk of the year 1849 of the Christian æra, do we understand of in the sense of after, or in that of part of?
It may be matter of opinion what the usage is of the world at large upon this point. To us it seems that people in general would divide time into that which is before, and that which is after, the Christian æra, not into before and during. Writers who define, generally make the æra a moment of time. Thus we light upon the lexicographers Laurentius and Forcellini, the first of whom calls it a beginning of time, temporis initium, a quo supputationes astrologi incipiunt; the second, a definite and noted term from which the following years are numbered, terminus certus et insignis (ut apud nos Christianos est Nativitas D. N. J. C.) a quo sequentes anni numerantur. The chronologer Strauchius, who formally defines his terms, makes era and epoch of identical
meaning, termini solemnes, a quo tempora putamus. Æra, says Dr. Hutton, is in chronology, the same as epoch. Dr. Carey (1677), whose Paleologia Chronica is very learned and clear, strives to use ara as the duration beginning from the epoch; but he occasionally confuses the two words. John Gregorie, 'De Eris et Epochis,' 1649, uses the words synonymously. Joseph Scaliger uses æra for the duration, on account of finding many cases, out of chronology, which show that the oldest use of the word was in the sense of number, so that A.D. 500 might be called the 500th æra. Calvisius counts the æra from the epoch, as we collect, for he does not define. Petavius uses the word doubtfully in many cases; but at times æra sive epocha occurs in his writings. Riccioli avoids the term in great part, preferring to use epoch: but he often uses it with Scaliger: thus there occurs, "If the æra should exceed 38," &c. But throughout the writers who distinguish æra from epoch, occur continual instances in which the former word is used in the sense of the latter.
In the first page we opened of the Art de vérifier les dates our eye was caught by the assertion that the year 715 of Rome is the 39th before our vulgar æra (should be in that work epoch or beginning of æra), and that the Spanish æra precedes (devance) the Christian æra by 38 years.
It seems that those who define are almost all at variance with many who use. Hence it arises that in a recent technological dictionary the æra is made a fixed point of time at the beginning, while in the middle of the article we read of an æra commencing from a certain point. And in Dr. Smith's Dictionary of Antiquities, it is "a point of time from which subsequent or preceding years may be counted." But still, we almost immediately read of an era which begins at a certain year; meaning that the counting then begins.
The term itself, as used in chronology, appears to have been introduced by the Spaniards, and appropriated to the æra just mentioned, being the commencement of their reign of Augustus. As ara is a very doubtful Latin word (that is, as a singular noun) various methods have been tried to explain it. The translator of Alfraganus derives it from the Arabic, as a corruption of Tarikh, which, according to D'Herbelot, is used, among other and non-chronological senses, in that of epoch: others speak of an Arabic verb arah, to count. Some have suggested an abbreviation of Annus ERat Augusti, by picking out the letters here given as capitals; as if two letters would have been selected from the unimportant verb. The following conjecture (which is mentioned without source by