Daily entries from the 17th century London diary
Links were torches of tow or pitch to light the way. D.W.
And the link boy was the person who, for a fee, would carry the torch.
The use of the link in unlit streets was to continue for another two hundred years. Some houses had, on the railings outside, an inverted metal cone in which the link-boy could douse his torch - I believe examples still exist.Dickens in 'A Christmas Carol' writes"Meanwhile the fog and darkness thickened so, that people ran about with flaring links, proffering their services to go before horses in carriages, and conduct them on their way."
Glyn has a pix of where one douses a link. Extinguiser for lamp boy http://www.flickr.com/photos/57351475@N00/5688364/Poor boys with a bit of luck, got a farthing for their troubles. Since Sam has a few pence in his pocket now and having his own carrier, it is no longer mentioned.
once more Samuell gets into the OED[LINK n.3] A boy employed to carry a link to light passengers along the streets. 1660 PEPYS Diary 4 Feb., Thence to Sir Harry Wright's, and after that with a link-boy homeWhy the word link ?, normally it means to join in someway, either by hooke or by common cause.from OED , I read it may have the connection to lampe black."A pigment consisting of almost pure carbon in a state of fine division; made by collecting the soot produced by burning oil or (now usually) gas. Also attrib., as in lamp-black-ink; lamp-black furnace, an apparatus for making lamp-black. "1598 R. HAYDOCKE tr. Lomazzo III. iv. 99 The shels of almondes burnt, ball blacke, Lampe-blacke. 1612 PEACHAM Gent. Exerc. I. 76 The making of ordinary lamp blacke. Take a torch or linke, and hold it vnder the bottome of a latten basen, and as it groweth to be furd and blacke within, strike it with a feather into some shell or other, and grind it with gumme water.
Also 6-7 linck(e, lynck(e, linke, lynk(e. [Of obscure origin. The conjecture that it is a corruption of lint- in lintstock, LINSTOCK (from LUNT) has little plausibility. Perhaps the likeliest hypothesis is that the word is identical with prec.; the material for torches may have been made in long strings, and divided into ‘links’ or segments. A not impossible source would be the monastic Latin linchinus (one instance in Du Cange, others in Diefenbach), an altered form (by a process common in med.L.) of lichinus, glossed ‘weke’ (wick) and ‘meche’ (match) in the 15th c. (see Wr.-Wülck.), a. Gr. light, lamp.] 1. A torch made of tow and pitch (? sometimes of wax or tallow), formerly much in use for lighting people along the streets. 1608 MIDDLETON Fam. Love III. iii, Give me my book, Club, put out thy link, and come behind us. 1609 HOLLAND Amm. Marcell. XVIII. vi. 114 To set upon an horse backe a burning lampe,..that the Persians weening it to be a tallow linke giving light before the captaine softly marching, might take their course that way especially. 1596 SHAKES. Tam. Shr. IV. i. 137 There was no Linke to Colour Peters hat. [c1600 ? GREENE Mihil Mumchance D2, This Cosenage is vsed like wise in selling olde Hats found vpon dunghils, in steede of new, blackt ouer with the smoake of an olde Linke.] 1712 tr. Pomet's Hist. Drugs I. VIII. §56. 212/1 They melt black Pitch, and afterwards dip a Wick of Flax, Hemp, or the like, in it, which we sell by the Name of Links [F. Bougie noire], and is us'd sometimes to black Shoes withal.
Wikipedia now has an article on Linkboy
Moon-Curser, a Link Boy---An Universal Etymological Dictionary. N. Bailey, 1759.
I Appeal to the plainest Understanding, whether he that follows a Linkboy does not Travel with as much Grandeur and Magnificence, as Moses and the Children of Israel...---Bibliotheca biblica. S. Parker, 1722.
And this, was in truth the case with Shakespeare. They say, too, that in the beginning he was a first-rate link-boy; and the tradition is affecting, though we fear it is not quite certain; but if a man had served as a link-boy, depend on it he would have a notion of what it was to have something going on. If a boy had been used to show the way through Fleet Street by night, and with a flaring torch, he would know what it was to live in the world. Anyhow you feel about Shakespeare that he could have been a link-boy.The Prospective Review, volume 9, 1853
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