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The Year

The length of the year is strictly expressed by the space of time required for the revolution of the earth round the sun�namely, 365 days, 5 hours, 48 minutes, 49 seconds, and 7 tenths of a second, for to such a nicety has this time been ascertained.

But for convenience in reckoning, it has been found necessary to make the year terminate with a day instead of a fraction of one, lumping the fractions together so as to make up a day among themselves. About forty-five years before Christ, Julius Caesar, having, by the help of Sosigenes, an Alexandrian philosopher, come to a tolerably clear under standing of the length of the year, decreed that every fourth year should be held to consist of 366 days for the purpose of absorbing the odd hours.

The arrangement he dictated was a rather clumsy one. A day in February, the sixth before the calends of March (sextilis), was to be repeated in that fourth year; and each fourth year was thus to be bissextile. It was as if we were to reckon the 23rd of February twice over. Seeing that, in reality, a day every fourth year is too much by 11 minutes, 10 seconds, and 3 tenths of a second, it inevitably followed that the beginning of the year moved onward ahead of the point at which it was in the days of Caesar; in other words, the natural time fell behind the reckoning.

From the time of the Council of Nice, in 325, when the vernal equinox fell correctly on the 21st of March, Pope Gregory found in 1582 that there had been an over- reckoning to the extent of ten days, and now the vernal equinox fell on the 11th of March. To correct the past error, he decreed that the 5th of October that year should be reckoned as the 15th, and to keep the year right in future, the overplus being 18 hours, 37 minutes, and 10 seconds in a century, he ordered that every centurial year that could not be divided by 4, (1700, 1800, 1900, 2100, 2200, &c.) should not be bissextile, as it otherwise would be; thus, in short, dropping the extra day three times every four hundred years.

The Gregorian style, as it was called, readily obtained sway in Catholic, but not in Protestant countries. It was not adopted in Britain till the year 1752, by which time the discrepancy between the Julian and Gregorian periods amounted to eleven days. An act of parliament was passed, dictating that the 3 rd of September that year should be reckoned the 14th, and that three of every four of the centurial years should, as in Pope Gregory's arrangement, not be bissextile or leap-years. It has consequently a risen�1800 not having been a leapyear�that the new and old styles now differ by twelve days, the let of January old style being the 13th of the month new style. In Russia alone, of all Christian countries, is the old style still retained ; wherefore it becomes necessary for one writing in that country to any foreign correspondent, to set down his date as thus: 12th/24th March, or 25th September /7th October.

'The old style is still retained in the accounts of Her Majesty's Treasury. This is why the Christmas dividends are not considered due till Twelfth Day, nor the midsummer dividends till the 5th of July; and in the same way it is not until the 5th of April that Lady Day is supposed to arrive. There is another piece of antiquity visible in the public accounts. In old times, the year was held to begin on the 25th of March, and this usage is also still observed in the computations over which the Chancellor of the Exchequer presides. The consequence is, that the first day of the financial year is the 5th of April, being old Lady Day, and with that day the reckonings of our annual budgets begin and end.' �Times, February 16th, 1861.

Part IV: On Time