Front Page Titles (by Subject) A.: The Process of Revision - The Ready and Easy Way to Establish a Free Commonwealth
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A.: The Process of Revision - 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 Process of Revision
There were other important reasons for Milton’s radical revision besides his expressed one that, ‘in the former edition through haste, many faults escap’d, and many books were suddenly dispersd, ere the note to mend them could be sent.’ The course of events during the two months since the writing of the first edition had rendered whole sections of the treatise null and void; these needed to be eliminated. There had been innumerable criticisms of the book; these were to be met and answered. Along with criticisms of the book, there had been the most bitter and scurrilous attacks upon the author; and these must be repelled in his characteristic manner. There had doubtless been some unfavorable comparisons and frivolous remarks by the Harrington-men—certainly a fresh pamphlet, The Rota, after Milton’s treatise was practically completed. All this called for further friendly but earnest argument against rotation, and in favor of a perpetual council. And, finally, as it was now apparent to every one that the Restoration was at hand, there should be at least an undaunted reassertion of republican principles, though there were none to cry to but ‘trees and stones.’ That these, rather than the correcting of minor errors, were the real motives of the reviser, will be apparent from the consideration of the changes in detail.
1.The Influence of Current Events. The first edition had been full of glowing tributes to the members of the Rump, and had urged that this body be perpetuated as a grand council. But the readmission of the secluded members, followed by the dissolution of the Long Parliament on the 16th of March, had put an end to all such ideas. Accordingly, large sections devoted to the ‘worthy Patriots’ and ‘first Assertours,’ and all allusions to their providential calling, present sitting, being made a byword of reproach, and pet design of ‘filling up,’ are omitted. General Monk is now virtually dictator; so ‘all those who are now in power,’ etc., is no longer applicable. The largest single omission is a passage of nearly three hundred words urging liberty of conscience, and no meddling of state in church-affairs. This, of course, is no surrender of principle, but is due to the fact that the Presbyterian Parliament, heedless of Milton’s advice, had revived the Covenant, and were zealously endeavoring to reëstablish national Presbyterianism. It was useless and impolitic to antagonize further the Presbyterians—especially to brand them as ‘unchristian, . . . irreligious, . . . inhuman, . . . and barbarous.’ The allusion to Lambert and his ‘hypocritical pretences . . . and . . . tyrannical designs’ is significantly omitted, as Lambert had since proved to be one of the few uncompromising republicans, having just escaped from the Tower, and rallied about him the last armed guard of the ‘good old cause.’ Milton even ceases to urge his scheme as ‘the most easie, most present, and only cure’ of public ‘distempers.’
The preface is expanded by the addition of references to the elections then in progress and the Parliament soon to assemble, and by an appeal to the people to be wise in their selection. The impending Restoration calls forth many new protests against the yoke and chains of the old bondage. The ‘hard measure’ likely to be dealt to liberty of conscience causes a fresh warning to present ‘governors’ to beware of ‘shipwrack.’ The real purpose of Monk, to bring in the king, was by this time apparent, and Milton’s phrase, ‘and thir leaders especially,’ was added in direct allusion to Monk’s apostasy. There are many new passages which acknowledge and deplore the mad enthusiasm for the king, which had now become a ‘torrent,’ a ‘deluge.’ Finally, the hopelessness of any human endeavor, in the face of their ‘absolute determination to enthral,’ and the universal eagerness for such thraldom, call forth from Milton the appeal to heaven with which the pamphlet closes.
2.The Influence of Royalist Criticism. The appearance of Milton’s model was the signal for a general outburst of Royalist criticism and vituperation. Among these anonymous pamphleteers none was more persistent and abusive than Roger L’Estrange. In his Seasonable Word,1 written when all were ‘in dayly expectation of Writs for another Session,’ that is, about the middle of March,—two weeks after the first appearance of The Ready and Easy Way,—there are direct mention of Milton’s pamphlet, and an assertion that the author is attempting to dictate. The old Rumpers, whom Milton defends, are denounced as ‘those Sons of Belial, the perjur’d remnant.’ They had regarded ‘Oaths and Covenants’ as ‘Jugglers knots.’ They had thrown out seven eighths of the Parliament. They had ‘murthered him [the king] that they might Rule themselves.’ The question of being ‘under a force’ is gone into at length. So Milton, at the very beginning of the revised edition, adds a long defense of the Independents’ attitude and actions in 1648-9.
L’Estrange loses no opportunity to abuse and revile his great antagonist. He refers to him as the ‘Little Agitatour,’ ‘Half-Tutor,’ ‘Regicidall Babler,’ etc. In his opinion, Needham and Milton are ‘a Couple of Currs of the same Pack.’ He suspects Plain English, ‘a Bold, Sharp Pamphlet’ that appeared April 4, ‘by the Design, the Subject, Malice, and the Stile, . . . for a Blot of the same Pen that wrote Iconoclastes.’ There are numerous glances at Milton’s ‘remedies,’ and much play upon such expressions as ‘and the work is done.’ Milton had affirmed that his scheme was ‘practicable.’ L’Estrange, in his Sober Answer of March 27, says: ‘How practicable, or how prudent, such a proposal may appear to others, I cannot say: To me it wears the Face of a Design, promoted by a Factious, guilty Party, to sacrifice the Nation, to their private interests.’2 Again, he does not ‘presume to direct, as our Imperious Commonwealths-man does.’ The pamphleteer goes still further: he indulges in menaces, and actual recommendations of violence. As early as February 18 he urges people to ‘knock Foxes and Wolves on the head as they can be found.’ But by this time (April 4) there are ‘Ropes twisting’; ‘those that have designed Us for Slavery,’ says he, ‘it is but reason to mark them out for Justice’; and, ‘How does this scandall both of Providence, and Society, scape Thunder, or a Dagger!’
A similar sheet, The Character of the Rump, exults in the prospect of seeing ‘John Milton, . . . their goose-quill champion,’ hauled to Tyburn gallows in a cart: ‘Now John, you must stand close [upon the scaffold] and draw in your elbows, that Needham, the Commonwealth didapper, may have room to stand beside you.’1
It was not in Milton to let such scurrilous attacks pass unnoticed or unresented. Whole paragraphs of bitter, stinging, coarse invective are added for the benefit of these ‘tigers of Bacchus,’ who, in ‘thir infernal pamphlets, . . . not daring to name themselves, . . . traduce others by name.’
Another and still more important influence of this nature was the Censure of the Rota upon Mr. Milton’s Book2 (see p. 173), an anonymous Royalist satire that appeared at the end of March, and probably helped to set Milton to work immediately upon his revised edition. It attempted to ridicule his arguments and proposals, and indulged in the customary abuse and accusation. But it was, upon the whole, rather happier in its design and execution than the common run of Royalist wit. There is evidence in the revision that some of its thrusts went home. Milton seems to have winced under its ridiculing him for a ‘cunning’ man himself—‘cunning deceivers’ appears in the second edition as ‘deceivers.’ He had boasted that the deeds of the English republic had amazed and startled the royalists in France. The Censure seizes upon the inconsistency of this statement with the later intimacy between Mazarin and the commonwealth. Milton gladly drops most of the passage. It relishes Milton’s reference to Fifth-Monarchy men, ‘who would have been admirable’ for Milton’s purpose, ‘if they had but dreamed of a fifth free state.’ The unfortunate Fifth Monarchy is quietly abolished. It makes merry with Milton’s ‘Patriots’ and ‘Assertours,’ and these worthies practically vanish in the revision. It twits Milton with being ‘styled “The Founder of a Sect,” ’ and this is resented in the new edition. Milton replies at length to the pamphlet’s attack on the Rump Parliament—its slight number, and the argument that it was no Parliament, but a tool of the army. The accusations of greed and sacrilege are made by the Censure, and answered in the revision. Perhaps the charge, ‘our actions at home . . . savoured much of Goth and Vandal barbarism, . . . pulling down of churches and demolishing the noblest monuments in the land,’ may have suggested to Milton his new assertion that these actions had not been ‘uncelebrated in a written monument, likely to outlive detraction.’
Other evidences of the influence of hostile contemporary criticism are mentioned in the Notes. The general significance of it all is that it had much to do in spurring Milton to the task of thorough revision, and in determining certain eliminations and additions.
3.The Desire ‘Somwhat to Enlarge.’ Apart from changes made imperative by the drift of events and the pressure of criticism, there was an intense desire to make a final appeal that should be bolder and more emphatic than the former, and somewhat analogous, in its way, to Lambert’s final, desperate appeal to arms. Indeed, the desire ‘to enlarge’ seems to have been the most powerful single motive back of the revision. The addition is so large that it can hardly be more than indicated in general. New arguments are brought forward against the Restoration; as, for example, the loss of all Scotland, the certainty of a Papist queen and queen-mother, and the inevitable retinues of dissolute courtiers. The projects of a perpetual council, local sovereignty, and general education are amplified, and buttressed with new arguments and the authority of Aristotle. A local judiciary and a higher general court of appeals are advocated, and defended by the aid of ancient precedent. The referendum in legislation, and the inspection or censorship of public service and accounts, are recommended as safeguards against corruption. The nation is solemnly bidden, upon the authority of 1 Sam. 8. 18, to beware of God’s displeasure at kingship. Powerful appeals are made to the sense of national pride—what will the world say of ‘the whole English name’!—and to the instinct of fear. The common people may look to be ground into the earth, and kept too ‘low’ ever to rise again. Let the country be terrified at the coming of Rupert and the fierce cavaliers. An attempt is made to reclaim the backsliding Presbyterians, who may look to be called to account for the past. Even the army may well fear, for they are sure to be disbanded, and without arrears—perhaps even punished for rebellion. And, finally, Milton ‘exhorts’ the mad ‘torrent’ of the people ‘not to be so impetuous, but to keep their due channel.’
The influence of the Harrington-ideas upon both the original edition and the revision is discussed in the section entitled The Rota Club.
4.Improvements in Expression. The minor alterations introduced prove that Milton gave considerable painstaking attention to improvement in matters of expression. Changes in diction make for greater precision and force:
Certain redundancies are eliminated; as:
Brevity is aimed at in such changes as:
A few possible ambiguities as to meaning are removed, and other vague expressions made definite:
Greater force is secured by slight omissions or additions; as:
Grammatical construction, or rather the lack of it, is remedied at a few points; as in the omission of the dangling phrase, ‘to become of no effect,’ etc. (14. 33). At some points the discourse is made less stiff and formal; as in the omission of such expressions as ‘I answer, that’ (20. 15), and in the turning of ‘I shall make mention of another way’ (23. 38) into the simpler, smoother introductory, ‘Another way will be’ (26. 20). Finally, a few partial inaccuracies are corrected; as:
Thus the revised edition, while it preserves the main outlines of the former treatise, is nevertheless to a remarkable extent the product of contemporary events, of hostile criticism; of the ‘courage never to submit or yield,’ but rather to reassert more defiantly than ever the principles of a lost cause, even at the hazard of life itself; and, finally, of the dexterous craftsmanship of a literary artist. The changes introduced radically affect every page and paragraph. The omissions vary in length from a single letter to about three hundred words; the interpolations, from a single word to several pages. Yet all is done, not only without prejudice to the sequence of thought, but with the effect of strengthening the production, both in detail and as a whole. The work is enlarged to nearly twice its original volume, and is, indeed, practically a new composition. To realize how remarkable was this achievement, we have only to recall that Milton was at this time totally blind.
[1 ]Tracts, p. 79.
[2 ]Ibid., p. 110.
[1 ]Masson, Life of Milton 5. 659.
[2 ]Harl. Misc. 4. 188.