The Chimney-Sweeper's Friend, and Climbing-Boy's Album


In 1824 James Montgomery published an anthology of poems which was part of a campaign to abolish the use of children in the cleaning of chimneys. The writer Charles Lamb was asked to contribute, but felt he could not work up a suitable text, and that the volume would achieve little, however well meant:

The society, with the affected name [The Society for Ameliorating the Condition of Infant Chimney-Sweepers] have been labouring at it for these 20 Years & made few Converts. I think it was injudicious to mix stories avowedly colour’d by fiction with the sad true statements from the parliamentary records …

However, he did draw the editor’s attention to William Blake’s poem from Songs of Innocence; Blake at this time was a little-known artist, his poetry having very little circulation. The book thus served to bring Blake’s poetry to a much wider audience than the few people who saw Blake’s own printed editions of his songs.

There are a few alterations to Blake’s text in Montgomery’s book – notably the sweep is called Tom Toddy rather than Tom Dacre. It is possible that the book would have been intended to garner support from wealthy readers, and that the use of the name Dacre, recognisable from Lady Dacre’s Almshouses, an ancient aristocratic charitable institution in Westminster, might have caused offence.

Full title:
The Chimney-Sweeper's Friend, and Climbing-Boy's Album
1824, London
James Montgomery
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Public Domain
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British Library

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