detail from Night by William Hogarth Line drawing of boy carrying a torch


A link-boy is a boy for hire who carried a torch of flaming pitch to guide pedestrians at night before towns had street lights. Link is an old word for the cotton tow that formed the wick of the light. In Johnson's time a link-boy's services cost a farthing. In the etching at left the link boy crouches near a wall blowing his torch into a more vigorous flame. Sir Joshua Reynolds painted Cupid as a Link Boy clearly showing the dress and tourch of such a boy.

Glym Jack is cant for a link boy who carries a glym, cant for light. A moon-curser pretended to guide people to their destinations but actually led them into the hands of robbers. Moonlight was no good to such rogues, for then the link-boy wasn't needed to help people find their way about.

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