The Physiognomy of the Days

THERE is always a peculiar pleasure in the discovery that some subtle and unspoken-of flavor, vaguely felt by ourselves as belonging to any object or experience, is shared in the same intangible way by others. Is it not so with our sense of the particular quality of its own, characteristic of each day of the week ? Given the regular starting-point, and we know the days apart without any calendar. When one says to me, “Tuesday” or “Friday,” the word does not stand merely for a day, any day, a seventh part of a week, that might as well be any other such interval of time, but it brings up a curiously indefinite-definite conception of its own. Each day has its physiognomy. If, finding I have misunderstood the word, my companion tells me he said, not Tuesday, but Thursday, I have to shift pictures instantly, in my mind ; as if by mistake I had thought of John, with his short nose and auburn hair, and had suddenly to change the mental image for that of Thomas, with his long nose and black hair.

Yet it is hard to say what makes up each day’s particular countenance. Different as it is from every other, I find it something of a psychological gymnastic to put my finger, so to speak, on the intangible features that go to the composition of this hazy physiognomy. It is as much as to get a photograph, not now of space, but of time. The mindplate is sensitive enough, and the image is there, but the feat is to develop it and fix it by the cheap and adulterated chemicals of words.

Sunday, no doubt, is the day most easily conceived as a separate image. It is full of peculiar associations. It is a time of emancipation. Some bondage of routine has held the spirit for all the week. To-day the mill ceases to grind. The man belongs to himself. The father makes the acquaintance of his children; the mother renews her youth, and again “ keeps company ” with her mate. The lover of open nature gets back to it with a great sigh of relief; while he who craves the touch of worshiping multitudes seeks it in temples built with hands. The name, whether the Hebrew “ Sabbath ” or the Christian “ Sunday,” brings immediately to the mind its rest and peace; its shut shops in the city ; its quiet spaces in country door-yards, where the sunshine no longer dances with the leaves, though the crickets have piped unto it all the forenoon, but lies asleep and unutterably still, so that the deep bark of a dog, or the crowing of a cock, long-drawn and somnolent, comes from half a mile away.

The flavor of Monday (and now it takes no clairvoyant to see what picture is instantly wafted into every reader’s mind at the word), do we not all perceive it, by more senses than one ? — the bubbly tub, with smooth-armed Aphrodite above it, new-risen from the foam, the saponic pungency, the fluttering foliage of the clothes-line, which to Dickens’s disconsolate lover seemed so ‘‘ like groves.” Yet it is not this pomp and pageantry that make up the essential quality of our mental image of the day, but a circumstance which lies behind these humid purgations, as their cause. It is the fact that Monday comes after Sunday, with all that this involves: the cold plunge into mundane work again; the sad cropping up of little things we meant to have finished the week before ; the feeling of slight reluctance to undertaking (videlicet getting underneath) the accustomed burdens, and this oddly mixed with a certain sense of freshness of fibre in tackling them. Then there is that affluent consciousness of having the whole week before us ; a kind of illogically increased expectation of life, as if the safe start on Monday morning implied an agreement that the coming six days should all be our own. This is the time, moreover, of the accumulation of two days’ mails in one ; and, besides, such a still further increased number of the friendly or only semi-business sort of letters as leads to the suspicion that most people make of Sunday not only a read-letter day, but a written-letter day as well.

Tuesday, on the other hand, is a comparatively characterless day. It is like the laboring man whose anxious better half recommended him to me lately because he “ had no habits.” Or it is like those people to whom we dread being introduced, because they have no expression of face, and it is morally certain we never shall be able to recognize them again. Tuesday has only this hold on our recognition, that it is not so far from Sunday but there is a distinct, if diminished, flavor of its being still " along the first of the week.” Things promised for this conveniently vague period can still be creditably performed. But to-morrow, we feel, will be already the middle of the week. There is, accordingly, a slight “ hurryup ” tinge about Tuesday.

Wednesday is still worse off for identity of countenance. Its face is chiefly to be known by its not being that of any other day in the week, as some persons are known only by their not being anybody else. The middle of its forenoon is the time when we ask some one, “ What day is this ? ” It has occurred to me that there might be, in quiet families, some special bit of food as a mnemonic for Wednesday. If the fish was sacred to the Teutonic Venus, and so came into Friga’s day, is there not some flesh or fowl that might be considered to belong to Woden? Do we not know, indeed, of a wholesome vegetable, a little under a cloud, perhaps, whose subdued fragrancy in the house might stir the fountains of memory (and of tears), and mark the day? Yet if we search cautiously in our mental impression of Wednesday, we may find a kind of leisurely and humdrum look that is all its own. The hour for the first-ofthe-week dash into great enterprises is gone. We are in the midst of everything, with time enough before us to prevent hurry, but not enough to invite any vigor of attack. This early-middle-ofthe-week-ness it is which vaguely marks Wednesday to the mind.

Thursday, however, begins to have a dim penumbra of a sense of end-of-theweek about it. It has to a greater degree the hurry-up suggestiveness of Tuesday, but with this marked difference : on Tuesday it was the haste of hope ; now it is the haste of fear. It is the day of feeling oppressed with the lot of things that were to have been (on Wednesday we should have said “ to be done ; ” now we use the regretful or remorseful “ to have been ”) done this week, — “ and here we are.” we say, “past the middle of it.” Thursday is therefore the working-day par excellence. If a man ever does any stroke of solid work, — if he is not constitutionally opposed to “ working between meals ” at all, — he is likely to do it now.

Friday has its fish, — inversely appropriate for fasting, as being the most voracious of animals. It is as if one cried, " Shameless monster of appetite, behold to what end it hath brought thee ; for thus I thee devour ! ” — though in point of fact, no doubt, it was its fecundity that consecrated it to Friday’s ancient deity. The day has, too, for a feature of its physiognomy, the repute for ill-luck ; or for good-luck, in some heretical households. As for me and my house, we commonly set out on journeys, and begin building, and “ move,” and marry, and have even been known to commit the indiscretion of being born, on this fateful day. It was long ago that we discovered it to be the time of all others for travel, for the reason that so many avoid it; by which circumstance we not only gain in elbow-room, but in the conspicuous absence of fools.

The face of Friday, by its particular distance from the end of the week, — being the accented penultimate of this heptasyllabic word of time, — has an unmistakable expression to the mind. There is only one more day to the jumping-off place. Letters that are to go any distance before Sunday must be dispatched to-day. It is the last full day of school or of college work.

Is there not in the mind, almost out of the region of visibility, but not out of consciousness, a kind of hieroglyph of the week in the shape of two lines, one slanting upward to a peak, the other sloping down ? The one line runs up from Sunday to about Wednesday evening, the other down from Thursday morning to Saturday night. The imagination does not exactly see these lines, in conceiving of the week, but it feels them in the dark, as it were. Friday is where the downward slope gets steep, especially toward evening.

Saturday faces backward. It is a time of retrospect. We clean up odd jobs. To the children it is play-day. To the college world it continues that character; and we never entirely outgrow the sense of it. If any tough bit of work is suggested on Saturday, especially toward afternoon, we feel that the proposition is uncalled for and untimely. At any hour during tire day we are “ liable ” to remind ourselves that “ All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” (The last words of this sentiment. my friend the professor says, took the form to his mind, in boyhood, of “ jackadulboy,” and he used to wonder what kind of a thing that might be.) Saturday night, everybody feels, ends the week ; but does anybody feel that Sunday morning begins a new one ? Does not Sunday rather seem a time by itself, lying between the two weeks ? Life, to most people, is work : and the week begins when the work begins.

How came there to be a week? We may grope a long way back in history for an answer, and then find only such obscurity that the question is apt to escape into a flight of airy speculation. It is our only large division of time that seems purely artificial. The sun marks the year, and the moon the month, and the earth the day : but what determines the week? Why might it not have been of ten days, like that of the Greeks and the French Revolutionists ? Or shall we say that the waxing and waning face of the moon marks it, as a sort of celestial switch-signal ? — first the crescent, then the straight-cut line of the halfmoon (a dichotomized “green cheese”), then the full orb, then the half-cut line again. There ought, it would seem, to be another Luna, or Lunula ; a moonling that should revolve every seven days and mark the week. Was there one before the records of history commence, and did its fragments help to strew the “ drift ” upon our planet, after givingorigin to the seven-day period ?

That the hebdomas, or seven-day division, came to us from Egypt (a very ancient thing there, as in Assyria) is the almost universal opinion among scholars. Where the names came from, and how, is more doubtful. We find our days named, at present, after the sun and moon, and the ancient Teutonic deities, Tíw, Woden, Thor, Fria, and Saeter. (I give these names in their most familiar form. They are variously spelt in the different Teutonic tongues. The old Norse, curiously enough, instead of Saeter’s day, has Laugardagr, or bathing day.)

It is uncertain when these names first appeared in Europe. The probability seems to be that they were translations made from the names of the Roman divinities, about the second century of our era. The original prototypes of these in Egypt were probably not religious names, but astrological; that is to say, “ planetary ” Dion Cassius says the Egyptians gave “ the first hour to Kronos (Saturn), the second to Zeus (Jupiter), the third to Ares (Mars), the fourth to Helios (the sun), the fifth to Aphrodite (Venus), the sixth to Hermes (Mercury), the seventh to Selene (the moon),” and so on, the same order of these seven " planets ” being followed throughout the twenty-four hours. The next day’s series will then begin with the Sun.

This process, curiously enough, whether or not it gives the key to the mystery of the naming of the days, certainly does assign the first hour of the successive days to the very names whose equivalents we now use. If we assume, for example, that the day whose first hour fell to the Egyptian representative of Saturn was entitled his day,

Saturn’s day (and Herodotus testifies that each day did belong to a particular divinity), then the next would be the Sun’s day, the next the Moon’s day, and so on through the week in the precise order of our own days. The order of the names indicates a very ancient astronomical knowledge in Egypt, for they follow the order of the times of revolution of the “ planets,” the sun being included according to the geocentric theory. These, the seven planetary or “wandering ” heavenly bodies then known, were no doubt believed, or fabled, to have peculiar sway over human destinies. The Egyptian Tables of the Hours note that, for a given day, ” on the first hour Orion is lord of the left elbow; on the second hour the Twins have influence on the left ear ; on the fifth hour the Pleiads are sovereign over both chambers of the heart.” William Jones, in his work on Credulities, quotes a Saxon manuscript as saying, “ Three days there are in the year which we call Egyptian days ; that is, in our language, dangerous days.” They are the last Monday in April, the second in August, the first in December. “ If one drink some time in these three days, he will end his life ; and he that tastes of goose-flesh within forty days’ space, his life he will end.” The same author cites " A Newe Almanacke and Prognostication for the yeare of our Lord God 1615, by Thomas Bretnor.” For the months of October and November, the list runs as follows : —


1, 2, 5. Follow and feare not.

7, 8, 9. Something hollow harted.

14, 15. Welcome at a word.

16, 20. Not very free.

21, 23. It falles pat.

31. His countenance carries it.


3, 4, 6. Crosse and intricate.

10, 11, 12, 13. Up to the ears.

17, 18, 19. Mad medling.

25, 28, 30. Stay the bels.

24, 26, 27. A lash at last.

29. Shrunke in the wetting.


1, 4, 6. Wit may win her.

7, 8. That or nothing.

11, 12, 15. Build upon it.

19, 20, 21. As sure as a club.

29, 30. Downe upon the nail.


2, 5, 9. Take another time.

3, 10, 13. Cost ill bestowed.

14, 16, 17, 18. Beleeve not a word.

22, 23, 24. Past all hope.

25, 26, 27, 28. Relye not upon it.

Various days were held, by different ancient nations, to be unlucky days. The superstition is as old as the hills, or older. It would be difficult to say how much of the old " keeping” of Saturday evening, or even the whole afternoon at one period, went back for origin to this sort of astrology. Brand gives an extract from an old English manuscript, showing the religious form of the custom : —

“ It is writen in the liffe of Seynt . . . that he was bisi on Ester Eve before None that he made one to shave him or the sunne went doune. And the fiend aspied that, and gadirid up his heeris; and whan this holi man sawe it, he conjured him and badde him tell him whi he did so. Thane said he, bycause yu didest no reverence to the Sundaie, and therfore this heris wolle I kepe unto ye day of Dome in reproffe of the. Thane he left of all his shavyng, and toke the heris of the fiend, and made to brene hem in his owne hand for penaunce, whiche him thought he was worthé to suffre ; and bode unshaven unto Monday. This is saide in reproffe of hem that worchen at afternone on Saturdayes.”

It is likely that this precious anecdote was often brought to the attention of mothers and schoolmasters by the Early English urchin.

The very word week is of origin so ancient as to be open to enticing guesswork, such as that concerning the hieroglyphic UK. The “ authorities ” all tell us that the Egyptians fixed the week at seven days because of the seven known heavenly bodies; but no one knows for certain that this is true. To say “ Egypt.’' in history, is to begin to speculate ; as to say “ electricity,” in physical science.

A favorite theory as to the ancient sanctity of the number seven has always been based on its peculiar arithmetical properties. (For a single instance of the numbers between one and ten, including the latter, all except seven are either factors or products of others.) We find the number a favorite one in most of the old cosmogonies. The first series of Manetho’s Egyptian gods, or dynasties of gods, includes seven. The original Kabiri of Phœnicia, or the sons of Ptah, according to Bunsen, were seven. Among George Smith’s Assyrian discoveries is a calendar, in which every month is divided into four weeks, and the seventh days are noted as unsuitable for the undertaking of any work. In the translation of Rev. A. H. Sayce the first such seventh day has the note : “A sabbath (literally, dies nefastus). The king in his chariot rides not. Medicine for his sickness of body he applies not.”

It is possible that the origin of the world-old estimation of this week-number may go back to something older than astrology or astronomy, — older even than the science of aritlmietic ; namely, to a primeval psychological fact.

May it not be that the number seven was chosen because it falls in with a certain limitation of the human mind ? Seven represents the limit of ordinary ability to grasp particular objects as a total, without subdivision into smaller groups. If we make seven dots upon paper, or place seven pebbles closely in a line, the eye (that is to say, the mind ) can apprehend them as a single group, and at the same time be aware of the number of individuals composing it. If it were eight, they would be decomposed into fours, or twos. It is an experiment which each may try for himself. For my own part, I find that if I make a long line of dots on the paper, by fixing my eye on any one of them I easily include the three at each side in the same perception, either as separated, or all seven united like Alpine climbers by their rope. Thus the mind conceives a whole week pretty easily at one grasp, and may alternately separate it into successive days, and telescope these back into the total conception of the week, at will. We say to ourselves, Such a week I spent at this place, and such another at that; and find no difficulty either in the total conception of each, or in the instantaneous separation of it into its days. Is not seven the largest group with which this process would have been easy ? Could we have done it with thirteen, or easily with nine ; and would not eight or ten have inevitably split apart into groups of fours or fives, each week thus falling into two weeks, in spite of us ? It is odd enough how perfectly we have come to feel, after all these centuries — more likely, after all these thousands of years — of the employment of the seven-day week, that it is a part of original nature. We can hardly shake off the sense that time, abstract time, everywhere and always, comes cut into these particular blocks. The year — everybody’s year, every epoch’s and every planet’s year — consists, to our inveterate feeling, of just these fifty-two divisions, as rigidly as any chain consists of its links. It is like the old story (none the worse for a certain nutty flavor it may now have) of the Englishman, who remarked, " How queer that the French say 'pain’ for ‘bread’!” And when his friend replied,”No queerer than that we should say ‘ bread,’ ” he exclaimed, “Ah, but it is ‘bread,’ you know! ”

E. R. Sill.