Book Gleanings and Comments A Singer on a Tram Car

Westralian Worker Friday 10 October 1919 p. 2.
"Marat": Time was when I was one of the best customers the privately owned public utility tramway system of Melbourne ever had. First thing in the morning I jumped on the back of the "dummy''; last thing at night I clung to the back platform; two or three times a day I jumped on, paid a fare, and jumped off. Often one stood idly watching the traffic, now and again he would pull a paper out and have a glance at it; sometimes, when luck favored, the man in charge of the "grip" would be L. J. Villiers and, despite hostile regulations, we would talk. And this man was worth talking to; but, far better, was he worth listening to.

He knew the life of the city swirl as few knew it. It moved around him day and night, and he drove his car through it so continuously that it became part of him, and he became part of it. And Villiers could write. He was among the most valued in that apostleship of Labor which wrote and spoke for the New Day, simply and solely because it was the New Day. "Write for the Press !" says the advertisement; ah, yes! But do not write for wages, for if you do it is ordained that your writing will not be an emanation of your self ; or, if it is, the wages will lie so small that you will starve. Villiers wrote for the Press ! He turned out prose by the yard, and poetry by the half-yard. And it was great stuff. There was magic, and bite, and pur- pose in it. Villiers was the kind of man who had to write because of the fecundity of his ideas and the fixity of his faith. Socialist that he was, his wages were won for him on the tramcar so that for society as a whole he might have life to write what was in him.

Now he is dead!

And the pity of it is that he died (he was 44 at the end) when the world was beginning to sit up and realise that the tramway gripman was an intellectual force that it could no longer afford to ignore. Somehow that seems to be the way with the world. It generally wakes up too late. Either that, or death comes too soon. My own view is the latter! There are those who say death is a great democrat ! They are wrong. Death is the great ally of the reaction- aries and the sticks-in-the-mud. It cuts off the young iconoclast by saturating him with tubercular or some other of its roads to oblivion, and it leaves the old, hopeless fossil to un- duly count in the scheme of life. Young men march to the wars and die. Old men, soured and bigoted, holding to ancient shibboleths, sit in the closets and draft again the means inevitably leading to the time when more young men will march forth to new wars, there to die in their turn. That seems to have little to do with L. J. Vllllers, but he would probably have agreed with it.

That is if the series of articles and verse penned by him, and now collect- ed and edited by Nettie Palmer and Christian Jollie Smith, under the title of "The War on the Workers," may serve—as they do—to an index of his viewpoint. For this man was many sided. His two editresses say that the cause he represented was Labor, "but he was not prepared to take Labor in its narrower sense." Villiers stood for the immediate things, it is true, but he was journeying to the Fair Country which is the dream of all whose faith has a spiritual touch to grace their rugged purpose. Writing in the Melbourne "Socialist" (and glory be, the "Socialist" booms and glows with the healthy blood of both realism and idealism), Mr. R. H. Long says that life was more to L. J. Villiers than a mere economic problem.

He had more than his mouth to feed and his body to clothe. Like Whitman, he was not all-contained be tween his hat and his boots, and, as with Edward Carpenter, Industrial Freedom was but a portal opening upon "Beauty in everyday life." Even when denouncing the high price of cherries in a season of plenty and rue fully contemplating and comparing the smallness of his street purchase with the great expectations of the family waiting at home, it is the Economist, the Poet, and the Expert that handles the theme ; for Villiers in his time played many parts, including tram-driving, shearing, and even cherry-picking. At his highest Villiers is inspiring ; at all times he is full of vitality and—likeable. As a Labor militant his philosophy is reared on fundamentals: "It is too late in the day to think that there can be unity between Tory Governments and toil's legions"—and he has a healthy vein of I.W.W.-ism running through the matrix of his political belief : "Parliaments are not altars; they are havens of rest."

In the main the volume now before the public (Percy Trainer, of the Trades Hall will supply copies, posted at 2/) is chiefly the work of man of affairs. Most of the matter was written as journalism, and not as essays. All of it sings the song of hope; all of it preaches the great truths; all of it educates, and illumi- nates, and lifts up and bespeaks moral harmony that can come proudly when industrial order is extant. There are men whispering in holes that Labor is selfish ; that its propaganda is for the class and not for the mass, that its writers and speakers are narrow and ignorant. Let them read this book. They will meet my tramway pal of days and nights that now are dead, and they will find him spiritual kin to William Morris and John Ruskin, and Ernest Jones, and all that great host of cultured Laborers whose hands did the day's work gladly, and whose souls glimpsed the vision splendid in all they did.

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