French Chimney Sweeps

French Chimney Sweep, Courtesy of Bibliothèque nationale de France

French chimney sweeps, known as le ramoneur, were usually young boys between the age of eight and ten years old. They carried their licenses in their soot bag and lived a hard life. One nineteenth-century person called them “wretched little beings,” and another gave a description of the chimney sweep’s life in the following way:

“The poor child must resign himself to become, during an hour or two, dumb, blind, and half-choked and deafened by soot; he must entomb himself alive, in a kind of sepulchre; he must climb scratch and cling, and hoist himself up, until his comrade on the roof, perceives the tip of his little soot-begrimed nose over the ridge of the chimney pot.”

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Running Footmen

running footmen
A Footman in His Livery, Author’s Collection

Running footmen were used by some people in the 1700s, while other people claimed they were not particularly useful. For those that thought running footmen useful, they claimed they were a necessary part of traveling equipage and a dignified way to show a passenger’s importance. For those who thought otherwise, they said running footmen were selected based on their physical attributes alone. However, running footmen did sometimes help: They occasionally lifted a vehicle out of rut, assisted the coach or carriage as it crossed a river, or ensured the vehicle did not overturn because of ditches, tree roots, or other obstacles.

Up until the end of the eighteenth century roads were bad, and coach travel was usually slow (seldom above five miles an hour), which was one reason running footmen could keep up. Nevertheless, the running footman needed to be a healthy, agile man. Moreover, the footman needed to also wear appropriate clothing to perform his duties. His dress usually involved “a light black cap, a jockey coat, white linen trousers, or a mere linen shirt coming to the knees, with a pole of six or seven feet long.” On top of the pole was a hollow ball. The hollow was the spot where the footman kept a small refreshment, such as a hard-boiled egg or some sips of wine. Apparently, the pole originated from a long silver-headed cane and was still used in the 1800s by footmen who rode at the back of carriages of the nobility. Continue reading

Parisian Fortune-Tellers in the Eighteenth Century

Parisian Fortune-Tellers, Courtesy of Bibliothèque nationale de France
Fortune-Tellers, Courtesy of Bibliothèque nationale de France

Parisian fortune-tellers were plentiful in eighteenth century France, and many fortune seekers visited them during the French Revolution hoping to learn if they would keep their head or not. One man wrote that when he visited the Pont Neuf, fortune-tellers regular used a deck of cards to predict a person’s future. However, a deck of card was not the only way a person discovered his or her future. Some fortune-tellers used a long pipe and placed one end in the ear of the fortune seeker and the other end near the fortune-teller’s mouth. The fortune-teller then explained in a quiet voice the fortune seeker’s “futurity … [and promised] lavish wealth and prosperity at the moderate price of deux sous.” Fortunes could also be obtained by the fortune-teller reading the dregs of a person’s coffee cup.

Yet, perhaps, what was more interesting than fortune-tellers using cards, pipes, or coffee dregs to predict the future, was how the fortune-tellers were able to accomplish it. Their abilities and success caused more than one curious person to investigate the field of fortune-telling closely. It also resulted in three stories about Parisian fortune-tellers in the eighteenth century. Continue reading