29 February 2016

A journey through Lent 2016
with Samuel Johnson (20)

‘This is the occasion of the bissextile or ‘leap-year’

Patrick Comerford

During Lent this year, I am taking time each morning to reflect on words from Samuel Johnson (1709-1784), the Lichfield lexicographer and writer who compiled the first authoritative English-language dictionary.

This is a leap year, but the legislation reforming a Leap Year and introducing the Gregorian Calendar was not passed until 1751, and came into force in 1752. Confusion reigned in England in September 1752, and Ireland did not follow until 1780.

On 29 February, in this leap year, it is worth noting that in the 1775 edition of his Dictionary, Johnson provides an up-to-date definition of a Leap Year and a way of calculating a Leap Year that explained the new legislation:

Leap-year or bissextile is every fourth year, and so called from its leaping a day more that year than in a common year: so that the common year hath 365 days, but the leap-year 366; and then February hath 29 days, which in common years hath but 28. To find the leap-year you have this rule:

Divide by 4; what’s left shall be
For leap-year 0, for past 1, 2, 3. Harris.

That the sun consisteth of 365 days and almost six hours, wanting eleven minutes; which six hours omitted will, in process of time, largely deprave the compute; and this is the occasion of the bissextile or leap-year. Brown’s Vulg. Err.

Yesterday’s reflection.

Continued tomorrow.

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