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Bleak House

21. The Smallweed Family
In a rather ill-favoured and ill-savoured neighbourhood, though one of its rising grounds
bears the name of Mount Pleasant, the Elfin Smallweed, christened Bartholomew and
known on the domestic hearth as Bart, passes that limited portion of his time on which
the office and its contingencies have no claim. He dwells in a little narrow street, always
solitary, shady, and sad, closely bricked in on all sides like a tomb, but where there yet
lingers the stump of an old forest tree whose flavour is about as fresh and natural as the
Smallweed smack of youth.
There has been only one child in the Smallweed family for several generations. Little old
men and women there have been, but no child, until Mr. Smallweed's grandmother, now
living, became weak in her intellect and fell (for the first time) into a childish state. With
such infantine graces as a total want of observation, memory, understanding, and
interest, and an eternal disposition to fall asleep over the fire and into it, Mr.
Smallweed's grandmother has undoubtedly brightened the family.
Mr. Smallweed's grandfather is likewise of the party. He is in a helpless condition as to
his lower, and nearly so as to his upper, limbs, but his mind is unimpaired. It holds, as
well as it ever held, the first four rules of arithmetic and a certain small collection of the
hardest facts. In respect of ideality, reverence, wonder, and other such phrenological
attributes, it is no worse off than it used to be. Everything that Mr. Smallweed's
grandfather ever put away in his mind was a grub at first, and is a grub at last. In all his
life he has never bred a single butterfly.
The father of this pleasant grandfather, of the neighbourhood of Mount Pleasant, was a
horny-skinned, two-legged, money-getting species of spider who spun webs to catch
unwary flies and retired into holes until they were entrapped. The name of this old
pagan's god was Compound Interest. He lived for it, married it, died of it. Meeting with a
heavy loss in an honest little enterprise in which all the loss was intended to have been
on the other side, he broke something--something necessary to his existence, therefore
it couldn't have been his heart--and made an end of his career. As his character was not
good, and he had been bred at a charity school in a complete course, according to
question and answer, of those ancient people the Amorites and Hittites, he was
frequently quoted as an example of the failure of education.
His spirit shone through his son, to whom he had always preached of "going out" early
in life and whom he made a clerk in a sharp scrivener's office at twelve years old. There
the young gentleman improved his mind, which was of a lean and anxious character,
and developing the family gifts, gradually elevated himself into the discounting
profession. Going out early in life and marrying late, as his father had done before him,
he too begat a lean and anxious- minded son, who in his turn, going out early in life and
marrying late, became the father of Bartholomew and Judith Smallweed, twins. During
the whole time consumed in the slow growth of this family tree, the house of Smallweed,
 
 
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