Saturday, 7 February 2009

Meet the Smallweeds

It being the anniversary of the birth, in 1812, of England´s greatest novelist - the Potter woman notwithstanding - I have patched together a little tribute in the form of an extract from Bleak House - one of his finest. Featured are two lesser-known creations, the Smallweed twins. If you have not heard of them, do not berate yourselves - they are really nothing to do with any of the book´s several plot lines in any meaningful way. Bart and Judy are simply there to amuse us, it seems.
Following, are four short extracts.
The bold headings are mine.

The Smallweed family
During the whole time consumed in the slow growth of this family tree, the house of Smallweed, always early to go out and late to marry, has strengthened itself in its practical character, has discarded all amusements, discountenanced all story–books, fairy–tales, fictions, and fables, and banished all levities whatsoever. Hence the gratifying fact that it has had no child born to it and that the complete little men and women whom it has produced have been observed to bear a likeness to old monkeys with something depressing on their minds.

Introducing Bart
Whether Young Smallweed (metaphorically called Small and eke Chick Weed, as it were jocularly to express a fledgling) was ever a boy is much doubted in Lincoln’s Inn. He is now something under fifteen and an old limb of the law. He is facetiously understood to entertain a passion for a lady at a cigar–shop in the neighbourhood of Chancery Lane and for her sake to have broken off a contract with another lady, to whom he had been engaged some years. He is a town–made article, of small stature and weazen features, but may be perceived from a considerable distance by means of his very tall hat.

Bart and two co-workers go to lunch

Accordingly they betake themselves to a neighbouring dining–house, of the class known among its frequenters by the denomination slap–bang, where the waitress, a bouncing young female of forty, is supposed to have made some impression on the susceptible Smallweed, of whom it may be remarked that he is a weird changeling to whom years are nothing. He stands precociously possessed of centuries of owlish wisdom. If he ever lay in a cradle, it seems as if he must have lain there in a tail–coat. He has an old, old eye, has Smallweed; and he drinks and smokes in a monkeyish way; and his neck is stiff in his collar; and he is never to be taken in; and he knows all about it, whatever it is.

After the meal, Bart reckons up
“Then I’ll pay,” says Mr. Guppy, “Small, what will it be?”
Mr. Smallweed, compelling the attendance of the waitress with one hitch of his eyelash, instantly replies as follows: “Four veals and hams is three, and four potatoes is three and four, and one summer cabbage is three and six, and three marrows is four and six, and six breads is five, and three Cheshires is five and three, and four half–pints of half–and–half is six and three, and four small rums is eight and three, and three Pollys is eight and six. Eight and six in half a sovereign, Polly, and eighteenpence out!”
Not at all excited by these stupendous calculations, Smallweed dismisses his friends with a cool nod and remains behind to take a little admiring notice of Polly, as opportunity may serve, and to read the daily papers, which are so very large in proportion to himself, shorn of his hat, that when he holds up the Times to run his eye over the columns, he seems to have retired for the night and to have disappeared under the bedclothes.

Judy Smallweed
Judy the twin is worthy company for these associates. She is so indubitably sister to Mr. Smallweed the younger that the two kneaded into one would hardly make a young person of average proportions, while she so happily exemplifies the before–mentioned family likeness to the monkey tribe that attired in a spangled robe and cap she might walk about the table–land on the top of a barrel–organ without exciting much remark as an unusual specimen.

Written before Darwin´s bombshell, there are already instances of simianism in Bleak House. Interesting, but probably means nothing. Mankind has been aware of a certain uncomfortable kinship since, no doubt, before The Flood.

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