“It was yesterday, in the morning twilight”—these are the words the Moon told me—”in the great city no chimney was yet smoking—and it was just at the chimneys that I was looking. Suddenly a little head emerged from one of them, and then half a body, the arms resting on the rim of the chimney-pot. ‘Ya-hip! ya-hip!’ cried a voice. It was the little chimney-sweeper, who had for the first time in his life crept through a chimney, and stuck out his head at the top. ‘Ya-hip! ya-hip!’ Yes, certainly that was a very different thing to creeping about in the dark narrow chimneys! the air blew so fresh, and he could look over the whole city towards the green wood. The sun was just rising. It shone round and great, just in his face, that beamed with triumph, though it was very prettily blacked with soot.
“‘The whole town can see me now,’ he exclaimed, ‘and the moon can see me now, and the sun too. Ya-hip! ya-hip!’ And he flourished his broom in triumph.”
That was the twenty-fifth evening.
Again, Hans proves he knows a thing or two with this story. You may think about the boy in this story and think him a teenager or thereabouts. It wouldn’t have been that way. This boy would have been as young as 4, usually around 6, but almost definitely younger than 10. Boys were basically bought to perform the act of chimney sweeping. This was before modern-day chimney sweeping tools. They would crawl up the chimney, sometimes in the nude, and sweep any deposits of soot from its walls. As grown men could not fit into the chimneys, this was the job of the boys. They were finished once they could stick their head out of the chimney pot on top of the chimney.
The reason this boy shouts, “Ya-hip,” is another part of the life of the climbing boys. The boys would often go through the streets of whatever city they were in shouting, “Weep,” or, “Soot, oh.” This is how they advertised their chimney sweeping services. I’m thinking “ya-hip” is something like this. Hans was from Denmark, so it’s probably a slang-ized version of some Danish word. It doesn’t mean sweep, which is “feje,” or chimney sweep, which is “skortensfejer.”
Legislation and invention changed the practice of using young boys as chimney sweeps.
This little boy was awfully proud of himself. He thought the whole world could see him. Through my research, I found out that this boy’s life wouldn’t have been a very happy one. He would have slept on sacks of soot. He would get a bath maybe once a week. His food might not be that great. He may suffer from various soot related illnesses. He was probably an orphan or something like it. His life would not have been that great, but in one moment, he can enjoy his life. Never before was he able to stick so much of his body outside of a chimney. That may sound mundane to us, but to this boy, it was a pleasurable experience.
It just goes to show you that even when your life sucks, you can still find happiness in small victories, like sticking the upper-half of your body out of a chimney.
My uncle says you can rattle a chain around your chimney to clean it out. It’s messy though.
Do you think the boys who were indentured as chimney sweeps fared better than they would have otherwise?
Do you think you would be happy if you were able to stick your upper body out of a chimney?