Charles Lamb: The Praise of Chimney-Sweepers

Reprinted from Roots & Branches.

In Praise Of Chimney SweepersThere are many remarkable things to be found in the GMR library, and this small volume is one of them. It is from a series of six chapbooks from Dent, reprints of essays by Charles Lamb (three of the six), Kenneth Grahame, W.H. Hudson and Leigh Hunt (one each).

In Praise of Chimney-Sweepers is a gentle little book, a romantic look at the children who cleaned chimneys for a living, spending their days in the duct-work removing creosote buildup in order to prevent chimney fires, one of the great dangers of fuel-burning heating systems. Lamb talks of their humour, their love for sassafras tea (the original root beer), their joyful smiles. He eulogizes a friend, James White, who organized an annual banquet for young chimney-sweepers in Smithfield. He touches only briefly on the popular rumour that adult chimney-sweepers often kidnapped young boys, toddlers, even, to use as apprentices, since they could go where adults could not. He does not mention at all the ghastly, dangerous, often fatal working conditions. Lamb’s chimney-sweepers are rather younger than Mary Poppins’, but no less unrealistic.

Charles Lamb, or Elia as he called himself, was one of the great essayists, poets and critics of the early 19th century. Alone or with his sister Mary (when she wasn’t violently insane), he wrote such works as Tales from Shakespeare, The Adventures of Ulysses, Poetry for Children, The Works of Charles Lamb, The Essays of Elia and The Last Essays of Elia. The piece in this volume is from The Essays of Elia.

Roberta F.C. Waudby illustrated many secular and religious books for children with her lively drawings. Some of her other works include Children Who Knew Jesus, Isaac of the Tents and Hosanna to the King.

(J.M. Dent & Sons, Ltd., 1929)

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