As early as the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, almanacs were being brightened up with verses, burlesques and other amusing creations. These 'extras' were located in the calendar part of the almanac or in separate booklets bound in the back. They were mostly jokes and gags that many people today would regard as vulgar, politically incorrect or discriminatory. One frequently printed joke features the almanac itself. A woman complains to her reading husband, 'If only I were a book, then at least you'd pay some attention to me.' To which he answers, 'If only you were an almanac, then I'd have a new one every year.'
During the next two centuries, however, public interest grew in the literary miscellany. In the eighteenth century, collections of poetry to which several authors had contributed became fashionable. The initiative to put together such compilations usually came from the publisher, who put out a call to poets to send in their contributions. The same formula was used for the almanacs. The texts were printed anonymously or signed by initials only. Because many of the contributors also published their work elsewhere, the identity of their initials can easily be decoded. The contributions of J.E.d.W. in the Almanak van vernuft en smaak [Almanac of Industry and Taste] are undoubtedly those of the poet Jacob Eduard de Witte. And if we come across poems in the same almanac that are signed by M.v.Z., their author can have been none other than Maria van Zuylekom, De Witte's wife, with whom he also wrote other pieces. Decoding the initials thereby becomes a reconstruction of a poets' network.
Extras outshine main text
In addition to the anonymous poems we also run across the occasional famous text by authors such as Shakespeare or Chaucer. But it would take until the nineteenth century, the golden age of literary almanacs, before all the authors were identified by name and surname. No longer were literary texts such as novels, poems, epistolary novels and plays relegated to a minor status. This is also evident in the many charming, often romantic illustrations. The extras began to outshine what had initially been the main text. Only an abridged calendar in the front of the book recalled the almanac's earlier phases.
The muse almanac was a special kind of literary almanac. After the first Almanach des muses was published in Paris in 1765, the Greek goddesses of art and science were invoked in almanacs throughout Western Europe. One of the most famous Dutch versions, Aurora, is an almanac in name only. Even the calendar has been pushed out of the picture. Aurora is a beautifully designed literary collection that appeared on the market once a year.
Vergeet mij niet, Muzen-almanakfor 1865