Infants of the Brush is historical fiction based on Armory v. Delamirie, a 1700s court case before the King’s Bench against Paul de Lamerie, a silversmith. In the vein of Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist, Infants of the Brush is set in a time when London society ignored the ills of child labor. Unlike the gleeful chimney sweeps portrayed in Mary Poppins, climbing boys were forced up burning flues to dislodge harmful soot and coal ash.
Egan Whitcombe is just six years old when he is sold to Master Armory for a few coins that his family desperately needs. As one of Master Armory’s eight broomers, Egan quickly learns that his life depends on absolute obedience and the coins he earns.
Pitt, the leader of Master Armory’s broomers, teaches Egan to sweep chimneys and negotiate for scraps of bread. Broken and starving, the boys discover friendship as they struggle to save five guineas, the cost of a broomer’s independence.
Book Buy Link: https://geni.us/infantsofthebrush
A. M. Watson is a teacher, attorney, and author whose soul awakens when visiting libraries, museums, and historic sites. She will always consider Victor, Colorado home.
Infants of the Brush: A Chimney Sweep’s Story is A.M. Watson’s debut novel.
The streets had taught Reeves four absolute truths: respect King George or lose your head, be wary of Stuart conspirators, obey God and the church, and, most importantly, flee from the Devil.
“Infants of the Brush” by A. M. Watson is an honest-to-goodness atmospheric depiction of life on the London streets for the young chimney sweep boys during the 1700s, and just as the blurb describes, the stories resonates tones of Dicken's story of “Oliver Twist”. This homage is true to form in the style of the narrative, usage of dialect, and setting, as well as the development of the characters and world-building. Comparison to Dickens, while not to some people's taste as Dickens is an acquired taste for many, the similarities puts this story right up there with his classic tales of poverty and strife on the mean streets of Georgian London.
We are introduced to the life of a sweep through Egan, sold at six-year-old by his destitute mother to a Master Broomer, Daniel Armory, who uses the boys in his care to clean the chimneys of the city while lining his pockets with coin. Often referred to as “apprentices”, they were actually “indentured slaves” without a means to escape the life unless purchased out with five guineas or by reaching an age and height too big to climb the flues. Egan finds himself 'chained' to this life after his father dies at sea and his sister is suffering from a life-threatening fever which forces his mother to give him away since she cannot afford to take care of him any longer. Yet, you get a sense of Egan's hopefulness when he first peers out across the rooftops of London.
“Now sweep the chimney out, you sot!” Pitt yelled and disappeared into the chimney stack.
“I did it!” Egan whispered to himself as he surveyed his field of victory. London's rooftops spread out before him, bathed in the full light of morning. Egan dangled at the top of the world among the birds that glided upon the wind. Specks of people trod upon the streets below. They could not reach him. They could not look down on him. For a moment, he exceeded their station.
In the gang of sweepers, he meets Pitt, who takes him under his wing, teaches him the ropes of climbing, of cleaning, along with his own learned life lessons along the way. The author is quite skilled in describing and immersing the reader into the scenes, oftentimes you can truly get a sense of the smells and thickness of the soot on their grimy little faces.
The poem by William Blake “The Chimney Sweepers” truly comes to life in this story:
“When my mother died I was very young, And my father sold me while yet my tongue, Could scarcely cry weep weep weep weep. So your chimneys I sweep and in soot I sleep”
“That's yer problem, Pitt. You can't see beyond the walls of this cellar, but we're almost out of here whether we have five guineas or not. Master Armory don't keep broomers much past fourteen, and I'm almost too big for flues anyway. We need a plan. What if he sells us to the Americas?” Will argued. “I have me own plans.” “Well, I knew life before sweeping and sure as spit I'll see life afterward.”
The court case which develops in this story line, that of 'Armory vs Delamirie' (a real case) is melded into the storyline flawlessly, and is a court case which brings to light the issues of child labor. The facts of the case, which lay the foundation of this story, are that a chimney sweeper's boy, Egan, finds a jewel and carries it to the defendant, Paul de Lamerie, an actual renowned silversmith in the 18th century, to find out what the jewel was and upon delivery, the apprentice of Lamerie, the fictional Charles Greville, removes the stones and insists on paying the sweep a mere pittance of what it was actually worth. Egan refuses and asks for the jewel back, thus resulting in the court case between his master, Daniel Armory, and the shop owner, Paul de Lamiere, as well as the further implications of the 'finders keepers' law which is still being used today.
The remarks of “precious child” and “such a dearie” fell flat on his ears. Women like these never noticed broomers on the streets. They only cared for him because of his clean skin and fine clothes. No one helped him when Pitt died. No one cared for Pitt or called him a “dear child.” Egan could not hide his disgust when Missus Armory pinched his cheeks and called him her “sweet fire imp.”
Court case aside, the overall theme of the book, that of friendship, hope, and survival resonates throughout the narrative, and shines a light on the horrible conditions children suffered during that time... and brings to the forefront that many such ones still suffer in our modern world. History does indeed repeat itself when no one learns from the past. Egan, from the time he climbs the very first chimney to the time he peers across the wide expanse of ocean on a sailing ship, looks to the hopeful horizon, and his inspiring story soaks deep into the reader's heart. You cannot help but feel incredible empathy for the characters, as well as amazement at the author's literary skill in this not-to-be-missed debut novel.
Egan lifted his eyes. Surrounded by a vast expanse of water, the ship rocked along the endless line of waves that crested and crashed into the sea below. Egan was a wee seed pearl compared to the ocean that stretched out before him, but he was a part of it. He was a part of it, and his heart could hear its call. It was just as his Da had said. Egan was at home among the water.
“Infants of the Brush” by A. M. Watson receives five stars from The Historical Fiction Company and the “Highly Recommended” award of excellence