Front Page Titles (by Subject) G.: Style - The Ready and Easy Way to Establish a Free Commonwealth
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G.: Style - 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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It was the fashion with many pre-Restoration prose-writers of the seventeenth century to affect an impressive, ornate style; to lard their pages with Biblical and classical citations, and antiquarian lore; to make large use of Latin idiom and diction; to string together an interminable array of coördinate units—adjectives, substantives, phrases, or clauses; to elaborate enormous periods; and to suffuse their whole discourse with a tone of melancholy. In all these respects except the last, Milton’s prose style in general shows unmistakable kinship with the old-fashioned school. Moreover, his left-handed product lacks the quaintness and kindly humor of Walton and Fuller, the rhythmical melody and exquisite finish of Taylor and Sir Thomas Browne. But if Milton as a prose-writer shared in the defects, and fell short of the graces, of the contemporary school, he nevertheless excelled all the writers of his age in the more fundamental matters of dignity of thought, sincerity, and force.
Nothing that Milton ever wrote is more pronounced in these positive characteristics than The Ready and Easy Way. Its theme is the cause of human freedom—‘a subject . . . never surpassed in any age, in dignity, or in interest.’1 It is an assertion of the ‘native libertie’ and essential worth of the individual, a denunciation of tyrants, and a heroic attempt to rescue the nation from imminent slavery. Disregarding its practical—or unpractical—proposals, we yet find that the treatise in its essential content possesses the dignity which belongs to an expression of almost the highest and most universal of human ideals—something fundamentally different from dilettante speculations about ‘what song the Syrens sang, or what name Achilles assumed when he hid himself among women.’
In consequence of this loftiness of thought, and the supreme importance of the cause here advocated, not only to the writer but to ‘all ages,’ the style of the treatise is characterized by deep sincerity. Whether the writer is warmly defending actions of the past, riddling the pretensions of monarchs, pointing out the ‘way’ to a republic, exhorting the people, or repelling the assaults of his enemies, one feels the presence of a compelling moral earnestness throughout the pamphlet.
The thoughts and emotions of such a dynamic personality as Milton, occasioned by an imperiled cause of such vital importance to himself and to the world, could not fail to be uttered with tremendous force. Standing alone against a torrent, firm in the consciousness of the eternal rightness of his cause, Milton poured forth his bold denunciations, solemn warnings, and passionate appeals, with something of the authority of a prophet. Even his bitterest enemies felt the power of his earnest words, and conceded him a ‘formal eloquence,’ explaining that ‘this man Sollicites for his Head.’
But the forcefulness of The Ready and Easy Way is not entirely a matter of striking content—of noble thought and powerful feeling; it derives in no small measure from a more than ordinary simplicity and directness of expression. The occasion is urgent—the very lives of republicans and the life of the republic itself are at stake. It is no time for learned, gorgeous, or elaborate style. In the strongest, simplest native words Milton points out a way of escape, and appeals to the deepest instincts of the people. Three fourths of the treatise is pure Anglo-Saxon; more than half of its words are monosyllabic, and more than four fifths do not exceed two syllables in length. The line, ‘what was otherwise well done was by them who so thought,’ is solidly Anglo-Saxon, and practically monosyllabic. There is little that is fantastic or intricate between us and the author. In no other one of the prose works do we come into more intimate touch with the fervent, liberty-loving soul of Milton.
Another element of strength, in so far as strength depends upon effectiveness of expression, is to be found in the rather extensive use of short, clear sentences. This is especially manifest in those parts of the treatise which delineate or explain the model of government, where the author’s intellectual rather than his emotional faculties are at work. There we find such comparatively simple and modern sentences as these:
‘The whole freedom of man consists either in spiritual or civil libertie.’
‘The day of councel cannot be set as the day of a festival; but must be ready alwaies to prevent or answer all occasions.’
But the short sentence by no means predominates. Milton here still shows a preference for ‘well-sized periods’ instead of ‘thumb-ring posies.’ In fact, one sentence offends in this respect to the extent of containing three hundred and twenty-six words. The favorite length, however, is about ten lines. This would not be particularly objectionable if the structure were always faultless, and the meaning clear. But some of the sentences are rambling and obscure, and even defective in grammatical construction. The trouble arises from Milton’s impatient or careless omission of connectives, vague use of the relative, or habit of following the glow of poetic feeling from one suggestion to another, without much regard to sentence-structure or coherence (see 10. 35; 16. 29).
We have here abundant proof that Milton was a master of grim satire and bludgeon-like invective. His friendly rivals, the Rota-men, come in for a few mild strokes; the backsliding Presbyterians receive severer treatment; kings and courts and sycophants are characterized in varied, caustic phrase; but the satire, when turned against reviling foes, descends to the level of coarse invective and vituperation. Here Milton’s style, and Milton himself, suffer most, because of the utter absence of control.
Although Milton’s poetic genius is compelled to trudge along the dusty, noisy way of political controversy, yet we do not, even here, lose consciousness of the fact that it has wings ‘to soar above the Aonian Mount.’ This is evident in the wealth of apt and vigorous words at the writer’s easy command; in the tendency to invest word and phrase with a significance that lies below the superficial meaning; in the facility (here much restrained) of characterization dy striking metaphor—as, for example, the figures of the tower of Babel, Egyptian bondage, contagion, deluge. But most of all is the poet manifest in the idealizing tendency, in the loftiness of thought, and in the fiery glow of generous passion, which is never long concealed, and again and again bursts through all restraints.
The style of The Ready and Easy Way is didactic, argumentative, declamatory, satirical, denunciatory, hortative, etc., according to the varied exigencies of the discourse. And we have found that it is characterized throughout by nobility, sincerity, and power. It is everywhere, and above all else, strikingly individual: it effectively reveals the mind and heart of Milton.
[1 ]Bohn 1. 219.