Front Page Titles (by Subject) I.: The First Edition - The Ready and Easy Way to Establish a Free Commonwealth
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I.: The First Edition - 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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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.
[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.