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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
The Five Towns
By Arnold Bennett (1867–1931)
 
From ‘Whom God Hath Joined’

WHEN I was young the road leading out of the heart of the Five Towns up to Toft End was nothing to me save a steep path toward fresh air and far horizons; but now that I have lived a little it seems the very avenue to a loving comprehension of human nature, and I climb it with a strange, overpowering, mystical sense of the wonder of existence.  1
  Bleakridge, a suburb of Bursley, oldest of the Five Towns, lies conspicuously on a hill between Bursley and Hanbridge; but Toft End, which may be called a suburb of Bleakridge, overtops Bleakridge itself by hundreds of feet. Immediately you have crossed the railway, the street, with its narrow brick pavement and cottage-rows on one side, and smoke-discolored meadows on the other, begins to rise abruptly, and you feel that you are leaving things behind, quitting the world below, and gaining a truer perspective. You feel, too, that you are entering a mountain village, where primitive manners have survived. There are small potbanks in Toft End into which machinery has never penetrated; the shafts of the coal mines look as simple as wells; and there even remain, in a condition of habitable decay, a few of those Georgian mansions which earthenware manufacturers built for themselves a century ago and which in other parts of the Five Towns have either disappeared or been transformed into offices and warehouses. The women at the doors of the serried narrow cottages, each one of which is a little higher than its neighbor, stare at you for a stranger and ask why you walk so slowly and why you gaze so long at the glimpses of Bursley on the north and Hanbridge on the south—those cities of the murky plain mapping themselves out beneath. And suddenly you come plump into a new board school, planned with magnificent modern disregard of space, and all red with terra cotta and roof tiles; plants bloom in its windows, for the powers down at Bursley have decreed that the eyes of the children shall rest on beauty; you reflect that once the children were whipped from their beds at three in the morning to work till eight at night, and you would become sentimental over those flowers did you not remember that all states of progress are equally worthy, and that a terra cotta board school is not a final expression of the eternal purpose, though at a distance it may resemble one. Close by is a cramped and tiny building of aged brown brick, with no asphalt yard and no system of ventilation and no wide windows and no blossoms: a deplorable erection, surely! Carved over this modest stone portal, in old-fashioned lettering, is the legend “Sunday School 1806.” Oh wistful, unhealthy little temple of a shaken creed, fruit of heaven knows what tremendous effort up there in that village, the terra cotta board school is not greater than thou, and it shall not be more honored!  2
  And so you pass onward, higher and higher, by cottages new and old, by an odd piece of a farmstead with authentic ducks on its pond, by the ancient highway from Hanbridge to Moorthorne, by a new terrace of small villas with a sticky grocer’s shop for the sale of soap and perhaps stamps, by Nonconformist chapels but not by a church, until you arrive at the Foaming Quart Inn, which is the highest licensed house in the Five Towns. A couple of hundred yards more, and you are at the summit, in the centre of a triangular country which on geological maps is colored black to indicate coal. Turn then and look. To the east is the wild gray-green moorland dotted with mining villages whose steeples are wreathed in smoke and fire. West and north and south are the Five Towns—Bursley and Turnhill to the north—Hanbridge, Knype, and distant Longshaw to the south—Hanbridge and Bursley uniting their arms in the west. Here they have breathed for a thousand years; and here to-day they pant in the fever of a quickened evolution, with all their vast apparatus of mayors and aldermen and chains of office, their gas and their electricity, their swift transport, their daily paper, their religions, their fierce pleasures, their vices, their passionate sports, and their secret ideals! Bursley Town Hall is lighting its clock—the gold angel over it is no longer visible—and the clock of Hanbridge Old Church answers; far off the blue arc lamps of Knype shunting-yard flicker into being; all round the horizon, and in the deepest valley at Cauldon, the yellow fires of furnaces grow brighter in the first oncoming of the dusk. The immense congeries of streets and squares, of little houses and great halls and manufactories, of church spires and proud smoking chimneys and chapel towers, mingle together into one wondrous organism that stretches and rolls unevenly away for miles in the grimy mists of its own endless panting. Railway stations, institutes, temples, colleges, graveyards, parks, baths, workshops, theatres, concerts, cafés, pawn-shops, emporiums, private bars, unmentioned haunts, courts of justice, banks, clubs, libraries, thrift societies, auction-rooms, telephone exchanges, post-offices, marriage registries, municipal buildings—what are they, as they undulate below you in their complex unity, but the natural, beautiful, inevitable manifestation of the indestructible Force that is within you? If this prospect is not beautiful under the high and darkened sky, then flowers are not beautiful, nor the ways of animals! If anything that happens in this arena of activity seems to you to need apologizing for, or slurring over, or concealment, then you have climbed to the top of Toft End in vain!  3
 
 
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