I like to meet a sweep–understand me–not a grown sweeper–old chimney-sweepers are by no means attractive–but one of those tender novices, blooming through their first nigritude, the maternal washings not quite effaced from the cheek–such as come forth with the dawn, or somewhat earlier, with their little professional notes sounding like the peep peep of a young sparrow; or liker to the matin lark should I pronounce them, in their aerial ascents not seldom anticipating the sun-rise?
I have a kindly yearning towards these dim specks–poor
I reverence these young Africans of our own growth–these almost clergy imps, who sport their cloth without assumption; and from their little pulpits (the tops of chimneys), in the nipping air of a December morning, preach a lesson of patience to mankind.
When a child, what a mysterious pleasure it was to witness their operation! to see a chit no bigger than one’s-self enter, one knew not by what process, into what seemed the fauces Averni–to pursue him in imagination, as he went sounding on through so many dark stifling caverns, horrid shades!–to shudder with the idea that “now, surely, he must be lost for ever!”–to revive at hearing his feeble shout of discovered day-light–and then (O fulness of delight) running out of doors, to come just in time to see the sable phenomenon emerge in safety, the brandished weapon of his art victorious like some flag waved over a conquered citadel! I seem to remember having been told, that a bad sweep was once left in a stack with his brush, to indicate which way the wind blew. It was an awful spectacle certainly; not much unlike the old stage direction in Macbeth, where the “Apparition of a child crowned with a tree in his hand rises.”
Reader, if thou meetest one of these small gentry in thy early rambles, it is good to give him a penny. It is better to give him two-pence. If it be starving weather, and to the proper troubles of his hard occupation, a pair of kibed heels (no unusual accompaniment) be superadded, the demand on thy humanity will surely rise to a tester.
There is a composition, the ground-work of which I have understood to be the sweet wood ‘yclept sassafras. This wood boiled down to a kind of tea, and tempered with an infusion of milk and sugar, hath to some tastes a delicacy beyond the China luxury. I know not how thy palate may relish it; for myself, with every deference to the judicious Mr. Read, who hath time out of mind kept open a shop (the only one he avers in London) for the vending of this “wholesome and pleasant beverage, on the south side of Fleet-street, as thou approachest Bridge-street–the only Salopian house,”–I have never yet adventured to dip my own particular lip in a basin of his commended ingredients–a cautious premonition to the olfactories constantly whispering to me, that my stomach must infallibly, with all due courtesy, decline it. Yet I have seen palates, otherwise not uninstructed in dietetical elegances, sup it up with avidity.
I know not by what particular conformation of the organ it happens, but I have always found that this composition is surprisingly gratifying to the palate of a young chimney-sweeper–whether the oily particles (sassafras is slightly oleaginous) do attenuate and soften the fuliginous concretions, which are sometimes found (in dissections) to adhere to the roof of the mouth in these unfledged practitioners; or whether Nature, sensible that she had mingled too much of bitter wood in the lot of these raw victims, caused to grow out of the earth her sassafras for a sweet lenitive–but so it is, that no possible taste or odour to the senses of a young chimney-sweeper can convey a delicate excitement comparable to this mixture. Being penniless, they will yet hang their black heads over the ascending steam, to gratify one sense if possible, seemingly no less pleased than those domestic animals–cats–when they purr over a new-found sprig of valerian. There is something more in these sympathies than philosophy can inculcate.