War on the Workers: Preface


If by the way, when with a prize in grasp, 
A leader's stricken from the workers' war, 
The chill upon the hand we parting clasp 
Stays not our hearts but stirs them to the core. 

So wrote Leon Joseph Villiers, a few years before his own death at the age of 44, in April, 1918. The lines were from a poem to the memory of two Labor leaders, Arthur and ]olley, and in a note the poet says, "In each case death was mainly attributable to strenuous fighting for the cause he represented." It is only with the same words that we can describe the life of L. J. Villiers and its close.

The cause he represented was Labor, but he was not content to take Labor in its narrower sense. He was concerned not only with the immediate world of Labor, but with the Fair Country that is the dream of all who work for the emancipation of Labor. He did his day's work, as other men did. He was in the tramways, and stayed there for 18 years. In addition to that he was a leader, an organiser, a writer who expressed the workers' point of view, week-in, week-out. StilI more, he was a poet, and his thoughts: when they were set free rose to other planes of experience. He was a man who lived the lives of three men, and none of the lives was wasted.

In this volume he appears chiefly as the man of affairs; for it is something worth while, the record of a man's ceaseless activity in analysing the vicissitudes of the workers' war around him. When we remember that the articles printed here were written not in leisure but at great speed, after a day's work, followed, perhaps, by propaganda meetings, and that they were written as journalism and not as essays, it is amazing to find what a number of important Labor conceptions they outline. They are the work of a man whose mind moved habitually and easily amid the first principles of his philosophy. Nothing that he jotted down, whether sober detail or whimsical satire, or human-kindly description, was really at variance with the thought underlying his most transcendental utterance in serious verse.

As for his verse, the most finished and what one may call the most normal of his productions have already been published by some of his friends in book form. That volume, "The Changing Year," containing sonnets and lyrics, is only a few months old. In the present book, the verse is for the most part fragmentary. It seems that in verse he had not yet been able to decide on his own inevitable method of expression. He was still feeling about for a method, but he had his matter ready, he had titles inspiring in themselves, he had lyrical hints and broken melodies. One of his most arresting titles is that of an uncompleted work, "A Song Ship in the Ranges." His subject matter was, as he named one poem, "Songs of Labor and of Love." From that theme he never really departed. He wrote of it sometimes openly, in casual rhymes that he could not wait to make into the brief compact lyrics which he obviously intended. Again he wrote of. his theme obscurely, in long poems elaborate as some ritual dance, but with words like these throbbing through the rubric:

Unwrought as sea-foam
Is her scintillant wonder.

It is a poem to celebrate Australia, Pacis Regina, the Wattle Queen, who personifies freedom and the healing of nations. These two lines in their beauty might have been written by some aesthetic poet who shunned propaganda as he shunned sin, yet they are in tune with all Villiers' ideals of moral harmony. Here, then, is a book about Villiers and his ideals, written almost entirely by himself. In one sense it is a casual autobiography, a book of the reflections and recollections of no ordinary man. In another sense it is a Labor manifesto. In either case it is a book for the Democracy of Australia.


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