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B.: Dates of Composition and Publication - John Milton, The Ready and Easy Way to Establish a Free Commonwealth 
The Ready and Easy Way to Establish a Free Commonwealth, edited with Introduction, Notes, and Glossary by Evert Mordecai Clark (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1915).
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Dates of Composition and Publication
The First Edition
The first line of The Ready and Easy Way makes it clear that the preface was added at some time subsequent to the writing of the main body of the treatise. In this interval ‘the members at first chosen’ had been ‘readmitted from exclusion, to sit again in Parlament.’ This readmission of the secluded members took place Feb. 21, 1660. It is certain, therefore, that the preface was written as late as Feb. 21. Moreover, ‘writs for new elections have bin recall’d.’ In the morning session of Feb. 21 the Rump passed the resolution ‘that all Votes of this House, touching new elections of Members to sit and serve in this Parliament, be, and are hereby, vacated.’1 But the specific annulment, or recall, to which Milton undoubtedly refers passed the House the next day, and was as follows: ‘Ordered, That a Committee be appointed to bring in an Act for repealing the Act appointing the Form of a Writ for Members to sit and serve in Parliament.’1 It is probable, therefore, that Milton added his preface on or after Feb. 22. This conclusion is strengthened by the further fact that Milton professes to be rejoicing over ‘the resolutions of all those who are now in power, jointly tending to the establishment of a free Commonwealth.’ Those ‘now in power’ were, of course, Monk, made commander-in-chief Feb. 21, and the restored Parliament. As for Monk, he had privately assured the secluded members, on the morning of Feb. 21, that he had nothing before his eyes ‘but God’s glory and the settlement of these nations upon commonwealth foundations’2 (see p. xxxiii). But we learn that his public declaration (see p. xxvi) was drafted, signed, and sent forth ‘that night’3 ; so the reassuring news undoubtedly did not reach Milton until Feb. 22. As for expressions from the Parliament, we find that ‘the secluded Members declared, as to Government they intended no Alteration in it, or to act further than in Preparation for a Parliament to succeed them’4 ; and that, on Feb. 22, they voted ‘that a new Parliament be summoned to appear upon the 25th Day of April 1660.’5 As these joint assurances of good affection toward the commonwealth-cause upon the part of Monk and the Parliament got abroad in London on Feb. 22, it is fairly certain that the preface was not written earlier than that date.
The Thomason copy of the pamphlet is dated March 3; but there is evidence that the treatise was in circulation before the end of February. Wood (Fasti 1. 485) records: ‘(21) Ready and easy Way to establish a free Commonwealth and the Excellencies thereof compared with, &c. Lond. 1659 in two sheets and an half in qu. This being published in Feb. the same year.’
The preface was therefore written in the interval Feb. 21 (probably Feb. 22)-Feb. 29.
From the evidence just considered, it is clear that the whole treatise was completed and published not later than March 3; and, if Wood’s information be correct, not later than Feb. 29. But it is apparent from the preface, and from the whole tenor of the treatise, that it was composed before the readmission of the secluded members on Feb. 21. There is no mention of any rupture between Monk and the Rump. Besides, the central argument of the pamphlet is one in support of the perpetuation of the Rump as a grand council—a project which of course became impossible the instant the Presbyterian majority, pledged to speedy dissolution, returned in overwhelming numbers on Feb. 21. But there is also interesting external proof that the main body of the treatise was written before Feb. 21. Roger L’Estrange, writing immediately after March 16, mocks at Milton’s predicament as follows: ‘I could only wish his Excellency [Monk] had been a little civiller to Mr. Milton; for, just as he had finished his Modell of a Common-wealth, directing in these very Terms the Choyce; . . . “men not addicted to a Single Person, or House of Lords, and the Work is done.” In come the Secluded members and spoyle his Project.’1
Furthermore, internal evidence makes it extremely probable that the body of the work was completed before the middle of February. The people are ‘mad,’ ‘misguided,’ ‘strangely infatuated.’ The sentiment in favor of kingship has suddenly become ‘a torrent,’ ‘an epidemic madness,’ a ‘general defection.’ And—most significant of all—Milton himself is in imminent peril. These were precisely the conditions in London on and immediately after Feb. 11; for when, on that day, General Monk suddenly turned upon his masters and sent a peremptory command for the Rump to ‘fill up,’ the rabble instantly went mad with joy, and amused itself not only with bonfires, bell-ringing, and the roasting of rumps, but also by assaulting Rumpers and stoning their houses. Praise-God Barebone had his windows broken, and Speaker Lenthall himself was affronted on his way home that night. Milton complains that the small number in Parliament ‘is of late’ ‘made a by-word of reproach to them.’ And although the term ‘Rump’ had been used occasionally ever since 1648 (see note on 20. 25), it took on an immense accession of popularity upon this occasion, the odious assembly being ‘given this night the lasting Name of Rump Parliament,’ and this ‘Saturday Night February 11, . . . called the roasting of the Rump.’2 These facts all seem to indicate that Milton is writing during this very reign of terror among republicans. Indeed, at the very close of the pamphlet, he declares that he is venturing ‘with all hazard’ to speak out. There can be little doubt, therefore, that the period of composition did not extend beyond Feb. 15.
As to the other limit, it is certain that the treatise was begun after Feb. 4. ‘The Parlament have voted to fill up their number.’ We know from the Commons Journals that, after promising and dallying about the matter during January, the Rump finally, on Feb. 4, voted ‘that this Parliament . . . be filled up to the Number of Four Hundred, for England and Wales.’ That it was begun about this date is rendered probable by the fact that General Monk entered London on Feb. 3, and aroused unparalleled interest in the great question of settlement. Would he declare for the king or for a commonwealth; for restoring the secluded members, for a free Parliament, or for perpetuating the Rump? Upon all hands it was agreed that the new-comer should not lack advice; and every one set to work upon his model. Undoubtedly, Milton at this time began The Ready and Easy Way—and very probably about Feb. 6; for on that day Monk delivered a brief speech (see p. xxiii) which, although ambiguous, republicans generally interpreted as favorable to a commonwealth. We may conclude, therefore, that the body of the work was certainly written during the interval Feb. 4 to Feb. 21, and probably in the ten days between Feb. 4 and Feb. 15.
The Second Edition
‘It was but a little before the king’s Restoration,’ says Milton’s nephew, ‘that he wrote and published his book In Defense of a Commonwealth; so undaunted he was in declaring his true sentiments to the world.’1 And a study of the additions, omissions, and other alterations made in the process of revision shows that the treatise must indeed have been almost the last pre-Restoration protest of the republicans.
There are many references to contemporary events. The restored Rump has already become the ‘last Parliament.’ This dissolution occurred on March 16. Those who are bent upon recalling the king are now engaged in ‘cheapning’ the ‘price’ of subjection. Monk held his first interview with the royal agent, Sir John Greenville, on March 17, and dispatched him to Brussels with proposals on March 20. It is not likely that Milton knew of this business immediately. Yet he seems to be writing with full knowledge of Monk’s and of the Presbyterians’ negotiations with the king. The Censure of the Rota appeared on March 30. It is evident that Milton is writing after that date, for the gibes and criticisms contained in the pamphlet are freshly and poignantly in mind (see Appendix A. 2). Furthermore, Milton thinks that what he has written ‘may now be of much more use and concernment to be freely publishd, in the midst of our Elections to a free Parlament, or their sitting to consider freely of the Government.’ The writs for this election had been agreed upon by Parliament on March 16, and Whitelock reports several members elected as early as March 26.1 But Milton’s sentence indicates that he is writing, not at the beginning, but in the full swing of the elections—very probably well along in April. As these elections proceeded, it became apparent that the Parliament about to meet would be almost solidly Royalist. The return of Charles was therefore a certainty. Milton concedes the fact, and drops, as no longer applicable, the allusion to Coniah in his terrific peroration. He laments the ‘absolute determination . . . to enthrall,’ and admits the hopelessness of staying the deluge. There is no longer a possibility of convincing opponents, but only of confirming those who yield not—probably Lambert and the Fanatics, then making a last appeal to arms. Lambert escaped from the Tower on April 9, and was captured on April 22. In view of the internal evidence just considered, we may be reasonably certain that to this interval, April 9-22, belongs the composition of the second edition.
We do not know the exact date of its publication; but there is evidence that the book appeared after April 20. Milton himself mentions the possibility of its coming out during the ‘sitting’ of the new Parliament—that is, after April 25. Roger L’Estrange, Milton’s tireless pamphleteering opponent and critic, writing on April 20 in reply1 to the Notes on Dr. Griffith’s Sermon, quotes several passages from The Ready and Easy Way, and invariably from the first edition. It seems incredible that L’Estrange, who pounced with such zest and fury upon every utterance of his renowned antagonist, should have been ignorant of the more daring edition, or have failed to quote from it, had it been at that time in print.
It would seem, at first thought, that the book must have appeared before April 24, when Lambert was brought captive to London, and all signs of armed resistance disappeared. But Phillips’ statement indicates that the pamphleteers were the last in the field: ‘The Defeat of Lambert did not make the Fanaticks leave the Pursuit of their Mischiefs, several seditious Pamphlets being published in Print, to deprave the Minds of the People.’2 It is not unlikely that The Ready and Easy Way was one of them.
The conclusion, then, is that the second edition was written certainly between March 16 and April 25, and very likely during the interval April 9-22; and that it was published upon the eve of the Restoration, almost certainly after April 20, and probably in the last six days before the setting up of kingship on the 1st of May.
[1 ]Commons Journals.
[1 ]Commons Journals.
[2 ]Cobbett, Parliamentary History 3. 1580.
[3 ]Baker, Chronicle (cont. by Edward Phillips), p. 601
[4 ]Ibid., p. 600.
[5 ]Commons Journals.
[1 ]Seasonable Word (Tracts, p. 86).
[2 ]Skinner, Life of General Monk, pp. 251—2.
[1 ]Godwin, Lives of Edw. and John Phillips, p. 377.
[1 ]Memorials 4. 405.
[1 ]No Blinds Guides (Tracts, p. 1).
[2 ]Baker, Chron., p. 608.