(Edwin Clayhanger stood on the steep-sloping, red-bricked ...)
Edwin Clayhanger stood on the steep-sloping, red-bricked canal bridge, in the valley between Bursley and its suburb Hillport. In that neighbourhood the Knype and Mersey canal formed the western boundary of the industrialism of the Five Towns. To the east rose pitheads, chimneys, and kilns, tier above tier, dim in their own mists. To the west, Hillport Fields, grimed but possessing authentic hedgerows and winding paths, mounted broadly up to the sharp ridge on which stood Hillport Church, a landmark. Beyond the ridge, and partly protected by it from the driving smoke of the Five Towns, lay the fine and ancient Tory borough of Oldcastle, from whose historic Middle School Edwin Clayhanger was now walking home. The fine and ancient Tory borough provided education for the whole of the Five Towns, but the relentless ignorance of its prejudices had blighted the district. A hundred years earlier the canal had only been obtained after a vicious Parliamentary fight between industry and the fine and ancient borough, which saw in canals a menace to its importance as a centre of traffic. Fifty years earlier the fine and ancient borough had succeeded in forcing the greatest railway line in England to run through unpopulated country five miles off instead of through the Five Towns, because it loathed the mere conception of a railway. And now, people are inquiring why the Five Towns, with a railway system special to itself, is characterised by a perhaps excessive provincialism. These interesting details have everything to do with the history of Edwin Clayhanger, as they have everything to do with the history of each of the two hundred thousand souls in the Five Towns. Oldcastle guessed not the vast influences of its sublime stupidity. It was a breezy Friday in July 1872. The canal, which ran north and south, reflected a blue and white sky. Towards the bridge, from the north came a long narrow canal-boat roofed with tarpaulins; and towards the bridge, from the south came a similar craft, sluggishly creeping. The towing-path was a morass of sticky brown mud, for, in the way of rain, that year was breaking the records of a century and a half. Thirty yards in front of each boat an unhappy skeleton of a horse floundered its best in the quagmire. The honest endeavour of one of the animals received a frequent tonic from a bare-legged girl of seven who heartily curled a whip about its crooked large-jointed legs. The ragged and filthy child danced in the rich mud round the horse’s flanks with the simple joy of one who had been rewarded for good behaviour by the unrestricted use of a whip for the first time. Two Edwin, with his elbows on the stone parapet of the bridge, stared uninterested at the spectacle of the child, the whip, and the skeleton. He was not insensible to the piquancy of the pageant of life, but his mind was preoccupied with grave and heavy matters. He had left school that day, and what his eyes saw as he leaned on the bridge was not a willing beast and a gladdened infant, but the puzzling world and the advance guard of its problems bearing down on him. Slim, gawky, untidy, fair, with his worn black-braided clothes, and slung over his shoulders in a bursting satchel the last load of his schoolbooks, and on his bright, rough hair a shapeless cap whose lining protruded behind, he had the extraordinary wistful look of innocence and simplicity which marks most boys of sixteen. It seemed rather a shame, it seemed even tragic, that this naïve, simple creature, with his straightforward and friendly eyes so eager to believe appearances, this creature immaculate of worldly experience, must soon be transformed into a man, wary, incredulous, detracting. Older eyes might have wept at the simplicity of those eyes. This picture of Edwin as a wistful innocent would have made Edwin laugh. He had been seven years at school, and considered himself a hardened sort of brute, free of illusions.
(Arthur Charles Prohack came downstairs at eight thirty, a...)
Arthur Charles Prohack came downstairs at eight thirty, as usual, and found breakfast ready in the empty dining-room. This pleased him, because there was nothing in life he hated more than to be hurried. For him, hell was a place of which the inhabitants always had an eye on the clock and the clock was always further advanced than they had hoped. The dining-room, simply furnished with reproductions of chaste Chippendale, and chilled to the uncomfortable low temperature that hardy Britons pretend to enjoy, formed part of an unassailably correct house of mid-Victorian style and antiquity; and the house formed part of an unassailably correct square just behind Hyde Park Gardens. (Taxi-drivers, when told the name of the square, had to reflect for a fifth of a second before they could recall its exact situation.) Mr. Prohack was a fairly tall man, with a big head, big features, and a beard. His characteristic expression denoted benevolence based on an ironic realisation of the humanity of human nature. He was forty-six years of age and looked it. He had been for more than twenty years at the Treasury, in which organism he had now attained a certain importance. He was a Companion of the Bath. He exulted in the fact that the Order of the Bath took precedence of those bumptious Orders, Star of India, St. Michael and St. George, Indian Empire, Royal Victorian and British Empire; but he laughed at his wife for so exulting. If the matter happened to be mentioned he would point out that in the table of precedence Companions of the Bath ranked immediately below Masters in Lunacy. He was proud of the Treasury's war record. Other departments of State had swollen to amazing dimensions during the war. The Treasury, while its work had been multiplied a hundredfold, had increased its personnel by only a negligible percentage. It was the cheapest of all the departments, the most efficient, and the most powerful. The War Office, the Admiralty, and perhaps one other department presided over by a personality whom the Prime Minister feared, did certainly defy and even ignore the Treasury. But the remaining departments (and especially the "mushroom ministries") might scheme as much as they liked,—they could do nothing until the Treasury had approved their enterprises. Modest Mr. Prohack was among the chief arbiters of destiny for them. He had daily sat in a chair by himself and approved or disapproved according to his conscience and the rules of the Exchequer; and his fiats, in practice, had gone forth as the fiats of the Treasury. Moreover he could not be bullied, for he was full of the sense that the whole constitution and moral force of the British Empire stood waiting to back him. Scarcely known beyond the Treasury, within the Treasury he had acquired a reputation as "the terror of the departments." Several times irritated Ministers or their high subordinates had protested that the Treasury's (Mr. Prohack's) passion for rules, its demands for scientific evidence, and its sceptical disposition were losing the war. Mr. Prohack had, in effect retorted: "Departmentally considered, losing the war is a detail." He had retorted: "Wild cats will not win the war." And he had retorted: "I know nothing but my duty." In the end the war was not lost, and Mr. Prohack reckoned that he personally, by the exercise of courage in the face of grave danger, had saved to the country five hundred and forty-six millions of the country's money. At any rate he had exercised a real influence over the conduct of the war. On one occasion, a chief being absent, he had had to answer a summons to the Inner Cabinet. Of this occasion he had remarked to his excited wife: "They were far more nervous than I was." Despite all this, the great public had never heard of him. His portrait had never appeared in the illustrated papers.
He attended Burslem Endowed School and also he attended art school.
He worked as a clerk in his father’s law office from 1885 till 1888, then in the office of a London solicitor he was an assistant editor in 1893-1896. He worked as a contributor of articles to the journal Academy and director of the New Statesman in 1915. Weekly he wrote a column for New Age under pen name Jacob Tonson. He was a co-manager of the Lyric Theathre in Hammersmith, London with Sir Nigel Playfair and Alistair Tayler during the 1920s. He worked as a correspondent during the World War I.
He had the companion of Dorothy Cheston, beginning in 1922 (Cheston took the name Bennett by deed poll). And they had daughter Virginia.