Front Page Titles (by Subject) 2.: Bodin - The Ready and Easy Way to Establish a Free Commonwealth
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2.: Bodin - 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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We have now arrived at the authority of whom Milton seems to have made most use during the composition of The Ready and Easy Way—Jean Bodin (1530-96), the illustrious author of the De la République. Like Machiavelli, Bodin was filled with the Renaissance enthusiasm for the wisdom of ancient Greece and Rome. He made eager explorations into various fields of learning, and distinguished himself by contributing to political, educational, and economic theory, and by practically originating the modern historical method of investigation. Moreover, he rendered valuable service as statesman and diplomat under Henry III. With admirable spirit he stood for liberty of conscience, mutual concessions, and peace, in the midst of the raging wars of religion. It is not surprising that his tolerance and poise brought upon him the zealots’ charges, at different times, of being a ‘Catholic, a Calvinist, a Jew, a Mohammedan, and an atheist.’ Milton himself declares that ‘Bodin, the famous French writer, though a Papist, yet affirms that the commonwealth which maintains this discipline [Presbyterianism] will certainly flourish in virtue and piety.’1
But it was in the field of political philosophy that Bodin made his most admirable contribution to knowledge and progress. The De la République appeared in 1576, and at once linked its author’s name with that of Aristotle. The treatise was written in French, but was translated into Latin by the author in 1586. It was known and read all over Europe, and was promptly made a textbook in the English universities. It passed through numerous editions, the thick, almost cubical, Latin octavo of 1641 being the ‘Editio Septima.’
Milton probably became thoroughly familiar with Bodin’s Republica during his university days, and later, during the period of strenuous controversy, he did not forget this veritable mine of political wisdom. Page 112 of the Commonplace Book has the following note in Milton’s own hand: ‘Pro divortio vide Bodin. repub. l. 1, c. 3.’ This note-book also contains a large number of direct quotations from Bodin, but as they are in Lord Preston’s hand instead of Milton’s, no use will be made of them as sources. Fortunately, the Republica itself is sufficiently convincing as to Milton’s direct obligation. The most remarkable case of borrowing may be set forth here in some detail, as it possesses both historical and biographical significance.
On page 24 of this edition, Milton covertly refers to Bodin as ‘they who write of policie,’ and further distinguishes him above all other authorities by quoting a considerable passage in support of a perpetual senate. This conclusion, that Milton is here disingenuously helping himself to Bodin, is based primarily upon the evidence of the following parallels:
It is apparent that the second and third of these parallel passages are largely equivalent in thought, and very similar in sequence and phraseology; and one might reasonably conclude that the English version was Milton’s source. But a careful comparison of the parallels in English and Latin, and especially of the italicized passages, proves that such was not the case. It is sufficient here to state the conclusions to which one must come after such an examination: (1) Bodin was ‘they who write of policie’; (2) Milton drew from the Latin, rather than from the English, version of the Republica; (3) indeed, Milton’s quotation is his own faithful and adequate, though not slavish, rendering of the Latin original; furthermore, (4) Milton’s translation is far more coherent, dignified, and faithful than the English version of 1606.
Two interesting queries are suggested by Milton’s use of Bodin. First, why did Milton, the staunchest of the republicans, appeal at all to Bodin, a royalist, a Frenchman, and a ‘Papist’? Questions of the intrinsic merit of the author aside, the answer seems to be found in the historical situation in England at the time, and in Bodin’s peculiar adaptability to Milton’s political proposals. At the time Milton was writing, the Rump Parliament was again sitting in authority, and the great question of settlement was uppermost in all minds. It was Milton’s central idea that a commonwealth should be established by perpetuating the existing Parliament as a grand council of the nation. He was sorely put to it to fortify with authority this generally odious principle of perpetuity in office. Plato was, upon the whole, for rotation; Aristotle had decided that life-tenure would never do among equals; Cicero had declared for succession; there was certainly nothing to hope for from Machiavelli. Fortunately, Bodin had spoken out loudly and unmistakably for a perpetual council, or senate. Here, then, was the prop for Milton’s doctrine; and not only a prop, but a tower of strength. It must have been with no little joy that Milton bethought him of this formidable ally in his time of need. One can almost hear him asking amanuensis or friend to read to him the well-remembered chapters, or at least choice extracts stored away in his note-books. Most certain it is that he swallowed for once his disinclination toward Frenchmen, royalists, and Papists, and set Bodin in the place of honor in his treatise.
The other question is: why did Milton withhold the name of his chief authority? Probably for two reasons: the educated among his readers would instantly recognize the familiar passage without such assistance; and, on the other hand, it would be awkward to have the ignorant multitude discover that John Milton, of all men, was citing a Frenchman, a Papist, and a royalist as an authority.
[1 ]Reason of Ch. Gov. (Bohn 2. 490).