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B.: Contemporary Criticism - 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 Ready and Easy Way fell from the press into a multitude of eager hands. Royalists and Commonwealth-men alike were anxious to hear what Milton, still nominally Latin secretary, had to say about the question of settlement. Naturally, his unretracted championship of the dethroned Rump, his advocacy of a perpetual council, his decided stand against the Royalists, and particularly his terrific denunciation of the Stuarts, brought down instantly upon the author a tremendous storm of criticism, ridicule, and abuse. Royalist pamphlets appearing in March and April are full of allusions to Milton and The Ready and Easy Way.
1.A Seasonable Word, written by L’Estrange immediately before the dissolution of Parliament (March 16), contains, besides many indirect references to Milton, the following:
‘I could only wish his Excellency 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. To this admirable discovery, he subjoynes a sutable Proposition in favour of the late sitting Members, and This is it, having premised the Abilities and Honesty, desirable in Ministers of State, he recommends the Rumpers to us as so Qualified; advises us to quit that fond Opinion of successive Parliament; and suffer the Persons then in Power, to perpetuate themselves under the name of a Grand or GenerallCounsell, and to rule us, and our Heirs for ever. It were great pitty these Gentlemen should lose their longings.’1
2. The following passage from The Character of the Rump (March 17) is especially vitriolic: ‘An ingenious person hath observed that Scott is the Rump’s man Thomas; and they might have said to him, when he was so busy with the General,
But John Milton is their goose-quill champion; who had need of a help-meet to establish anything, for he has a ram’s head and is good only at batteries,—an old heretic both in religion and manners, that by his will would shake off his governors as he doth his wives, four in a fortnight. The sunbeams of his scandalous papers against the late King’s Book is [sic] the parent that begot his late New Commonwealth; and, because he, like a parasite as he is, by flattering the then tyrannical power, hath run himself into the briars, the man will be angry if the rest of the nation will not bear him company, and suffer themselves to be decoyed into the same condition. He is so much an enemy to usual practices that I believe, when he is condemned to travel to Tyburn in a cart, he will petition for the favour to be the first man that ever was driven thither in a wheelbarrow. And now, John, you must stand close and draw in your elbows, that Needham, the Commonwealth didapper may have room to stand beside you. . . . He [Needham] was one of the spokes of Harrington’s Rota, till he was turned out for cracking. As for Harrington, he’s but a demi-semi in the Rump’s music, and should be good at the cymbal; for he is all for wheeling instruments, and, having a good invention, may in time find out the way to make a concert of grindstones.’2
3. A clever Royalist satire which came from the press on March 28 has the following title-page:
‘The Censure of the Rota upon Mr. Milton’s Book, intitled, “The ready and easy Way to establish a free Commonwealth,” &c.
‘Die Lunæ, 26 Martii, 1660.
‘Ordered by the Rota, that Mr. Harrington be desired to draw up a Narrative of this Day’s Proceeding upon Mr. Milton’s Book, called, “The ready and easy Way,” &c. And to cause the same to be forthwith printed and published, and a Copy thereof to be sent to Mr. Milton.’
‘Trundle Wheeler, Clerk to the Rota.’
‘Printed at London by Paul Giddy, Printer to the Rota, at the Sign of the Windmill in Turn-again Lane, 1660.’
The pamphlet purports to be the record of proceedings at a session of the famous Rota Club, upon which occasion The Ready and Easy Way was the subject of debate. The design of spitting, as it were, both great commonwealth-champions at one thrust is a rather happy one; the wit is often far from bad; and the literary quality in general gives the Censure preëminence over other contemporary scurrilities. As we have already seen, Milton winced under its ridicule. It is, upon the whole, the most interesting and important criticism that appeared upon The Ready and Easy Way. And as it exercised so large an influence upon the second edition, it has seemed worth while to present in the following excerpts all that bears direct relation to Milton’s book:
‘I am commanded, by this ingenious convention of the Rota, to give you an account of some reflections that they have lately made upon a treatise of yours; . . . I must first bespeak your pardon for being forced to say something, not only against my own sense, but the interest, which both you and I carry on. . . .
‘It is our usual custom to dispute every thing, how plain or obscure soever, by knocking argument against argument, and tilting at one another with our heads, as rams fight, until we are out of breath, and then refer it to our wooden oracle, the box; and seldom anything, how slight soever, hath appeared, without some patron or other to defend it. I must confess, I never saw bowling-stones run so unluckily against any boy, when his hand has been out, as the ballots did against you, when anything was put to the question, from the beginning of your book to the end; for it was no sooner read over, but a gentleman of your acquaintance [Cyriack Skinner, or Needham?] said, he wished, for your own sake, as well as the cause you contend for, that you had given your book no name, like an Anabaptist’s child, until it had come to years of discretion, or else you had got some friend to be gossip, that has a luckier hand at giving titles to books than you have: for it is observed, you have always been very unfortunate that way, as if it were fatal to you, to prefix bulls and nonsense to the very fronts of your learned works. . . . But in this book, he said, you were more insufferable; for you . . . style your declamation, “The ready and easy Way,” as if it were the best or only way, to the disparagement of this most ingenious assembly, who are confident, they have proposed others much more considerable. . . .
‘To this another added, he wondered you did not give over writing, since you have always done it to little or no purpose. . . .
‘After this, a grave gentleman of the long robe said, . . . you had plaid false in the very first word of your treatise: for the parliament of England, as you call the Rump, never consisted of a packed party of one house, that, by fraud and covin, had disseised the major part of their fellows, and forfeited their own right. . . . But this, he said, you stole from patriot Whitlock, who began his declaration for a free state with the same words; and he wondered you would filch and pilfer nonsense and fallacies, that have such plentiful store of your own growth. Yet this was as true as that which follows, That a great number of the faithfullest of the people assisted them in throwing off kingship; for they were a very slight number, in respect of the whole, and none of the faithfullest. . . . This, being put to the ballot, was immediately carried on in the affirmative, without a dissenting pellet. . . .
‘Presently a gentleman, that hath been some years beyond-seas, said, he wondered you would say anything so false and ridiculous, as that this commonwealth was the terror and admiration of France itself; for, if that were true, the cardinal and council were very imprudent to become the chief promoters of it, and strive, by all means to uphold that, which they judged to be dangerous to themselves; . . . for, if this free state be so terrible to them, they have been very unwise in assisting it to keep out the King all this while. . . . As for our actions abroad, which you brag of, he said, he never heard of any where he was, until Oliver Cromwell reduced us to an absolute monarchy, under the name of a free state; and then we beat the potent and flourishing republick of the United Provinces. But, for our actions at home, he had heard abroad, that they savoured much of Goth and Vandal barbarism, if pulling down of churches and demolishing the noblest monuments in the land . . . amount to so much. . . .
‘After a little pause, a learned gentleman of this society stood up, and said, he could not but take notice of one absurdity in your discourse, and that is, where you speak of liberty gloriously fought for, and kingly thraldom abjured by the people, &c. . . . He wondered you could be so weak, or impudent, to play foul in matters of fact. . . . But he was of opinion, that you did not believe yourself, not those reasons you give, in defence of a commonwealth; but that you are swayed by something else, as either by a stork-like fate (as a modern Protector-poet calls it, because that fowl is observed to live nowhere but in commonwealths), or, because you have inadvisedly scribbled yourself obnoxious, or else you fear, such admirable eloquence, as yours, would be thrown away under a monarchy, as it would be, though of admirable use in a popular government, where orators carry all the rabble before them: for who knows to how cheap a rate this goodly eloquence of yours, if well managed, might bring the price of sprats; as no wiser orators than yourself have done heretofore, in the petty factions, Greek republicks, whom you chiefly imitate; for all your politicks are derived from the works of declaimers. . . .
‘You have done your feeble endeavours to rob the church, of the little which the rapine of the most sacrilegious persons hath left, in your learned work against Tithes; you have slandered the dead, worse than envy itself, and thrown your dirty outrage, on the memory of a murdered prince, as if the hangman were but your usher. These have been the attempts of your stiff, formal eloquence, which you arm accordingly, with anything that lies in your way, right or wrong, not only begging, but stealing questions, and taking every thing for granted, that will serve your turn; for you are not ashamed to rob Oliver Cromwell himself, and make use of his canting, with signal assistances from heaven, and answering condescensions. . . .
‘If you did not look very like a cunning man, nobody would believe you, nor trust your predictions of the future, that give so ill an account of things past. But he held you very unwise to blab any such thing; for that party you call we, have gained so abundantly much more than they have spent, that they desire nothing more, than to fight over the same fight again, at the same rate . . .: for how vile soever you make the blood of faithful Englishmen, they have made such good markets of it, that they would be glad at any time to broach the whole nation at the same price, and afford the treasure of miraculous deliverances, as you call it, into the bargain.
‘This he added was easier to be understood than your brand of Gentilism, upon Kingship, for which you wrest Scripture most unmercifully, to prove, that though Christ said, ‘His kingdom was not of this world’; yet his commonwealth is. For if the text which you quote, “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship . . .” &c. be to be understood of civil government, (and to infer commonwealth, as you will have it right or wrong), and not to be meant of his spiritual reign, of which he was then speaking, and expressly calls so; you must prove that he erected a republick of his Apostles, and that, notwithstanding the Scripture everywhere calls his government, The Kingdom of Heaven, it ought to be corrected, and rendered, The Commonwealth of Heaven, or rather, The Commonwealth of this world; and yet the text does as well prove benefactors heathenish as kings; for if our Saviour had meant to brand Kingship with any evil character, he would never have styled himself ‘King of the Jews, King of Heaven, King of Righteousness,’ &c. as he frequently does; but no where a Stateholder or Keeper of the Liberties.
‘To this a young gentleman made answer, That your writings are best interpreted by themselves; and that he remembered in that book, wherein you fight with the King’s picture, you call Sir Philip Sidney’s princess Pamela (who was born and bred out of Christian parents in England) a Heathen woman; and, therefore, he thought that by Heathenish, you meant English; and that in calling kingship Heathenish, you inferred, it was the only proper and natural government of the English nation, as it hath been proved in all ages.
‘To which another objected, that such a sense was quite contrary to your purpose: to which he immediately replied, That it was no new thing with you to write that, which is as well against as for your purpose. After much debate they agreed to put it to the ballot, and the young gentleman carried it without any contradiction.
‘That done, a gentleman of good credit here, . . . said, you . . . had made as politic provision for spiritual, as civil liberty, in those pious and orthodox (though seemingly absurd and contradictory) grounds you have laid down . . .: That the church of Christ ought to have no head upon earth, but the monster of many heads, the multitude . . .: that all Christian laws and ordinances have a coercive power, to see themselves put in execution, and yet they ought to be subject to every man’s will and humour (which you call his best light), and no man to them but in his own sense. That the Scripture only ought to interpret itself (just as it can read itself) . . .: that every man may do what he pleases in matters of religion. . . . That no man can serve God, nor save his own soul, but in a commonwealth, in this certainty, you go after your own invention, for no man ever heard it before. . . . That any man may turn away his wife, and take another as often as he pleases, as you have most learnedly proved upon the fiddle, and practiced in your life and conversation, for which you have achieved the honour to be styled “The Founder of a Sect.” . . .
‘Certainly, the most ready and easy way to root out religion, is to render it contemptible and ridiculous; which cannot be sooner done, than by giving licence and encouragement to all manner of frenzies, that pretend to new discoveries in matters of faith. . . . And this is the way you go, which will never fail you, as long as there are fools and mad-men to carry on the work. . . . The Fifth-Monarchy men . . . would have been admirable for your purpose, if they had but dreamed of a fifth free state.
‘By this time, they began to grow weary of your perpetual falsehoods and mistakes, and a worthy knight of this assembly stood up and said, that if we meant to examine all the particular fallacies and flaws in your writing, we should never have done; he would therefore, with leave, deliver his judgment upon the whole, which, in brief, was thus: That it is all windy foppery, from the beginning to the end, written to the elevation of that rabble, and meant to cheat the ignorant. That you fight always with the flat of your hand, like a rhetorician, and never contract the logical fist. That you trade altogether in universals, the region of deceits and fallacy, but never come so near particulars, as to let us know which, among divers things of the same kind, you would be at. For you admire commonwealths in general, and cry down kingship as much at large, without any regard to the particular constitutions, which only make either the one or the other good or bad, vainly supposing all slavery to be in the government of a single person, and nothing but liberty in that of many. . . .
‘Besides this, as all your politicks reach but the outside and circumstances of things, and never touch at realities, so you are very solicitous about words, as if they were charms, or had more in them than what they signify. For no conjurer’s devil is more concerned in a spell, than you are in a mere word, but never regard the things which it serves to express. For you believe liberty is safer under an arbitrary unlimited power, by virtue of the name Commonwealth, than under any other government, how just or restrained soever, if it be but called Kingship.
‘And therefore, you would have the name Parliament abolished. . . . But in this you are too severe a Draco, to punish one word, for holding correspondence with another, when all the liberty, you talk so much of, consists in nothing else but mere words. For though you brag much of the people’s managing their own affairs, you allow them no more share of that in your Utopia, as you have ordered it, than only to set up their throats and bawl, instead of every three years, which they might have done before, once in an age, or oftener, as an old member drops away, and a new is to succeed, not for his merit or knowledge in state-affairs, but because he is able to bring the greatest and most deep-mouthed pack of the rabble into the field. . . .
‘After this said, he moved the assembly that I might be desired to deliver my judgment upon the book, as he and others had done, which being immediately passed, I knew not, though unwilling, how to avoid it; and therefore I told them as briefly as I could, that that which I disliked most in your treatise was, that there is not one word of the balance of propriety, nor the Agrarian, nor Rotation in it, from the beginning to the end; without which together with a Lord Archon, I thought I had sufficiently demonstrated, not only in my writings but public exercises in that coffee-house, that there is no possible foundation of a free commonwealth. To the first and second of these, that is, the Balance and the Agrarian, you made no objection, and therefore, I should not need to make any answer. But for the third, I mean Rotation, which you implicitly reject in your design to perpetuate the present members, I shall only add this to what I have already said and written on this subject, That a commonwealth is like a great top, that must be kept up by being whipped round, and held in perpetual circulation, for if you discontinue the Rotation, and suffer the senate to settle, and stand still, down it falls immediately. And if you had studied the point as carefully as I have done, you could not but know, there is no such way under heaven of disposing the vicissitudes of command and obedience, and of distributing equal right and liberty among all men, as this of wheeling.
‘But I wondered most of all, at what politic crack in any man’s skull, the imagination could enter of securing liberty under an oligarchy, seised of the government for term of life, which was never yet seen in the world. . . .
‘But I could not but laugh, as they all had done, at the pleasantness of your fancy, who suppose our noble patriots, when they are invested for term of life, will serve their country at their own charge: this, I said, was very improbable, unless you meant as they do, that all we have is their own, and that to prey and devour is to serve. . . . For though many may laugh at me for accounting 300,000 pounds in wooden ware, toward the erecting of a free-state, in my Oceana, but a trifle to the whole nation; because I am most certain that these little pills the ballots are the only physick that can keep the body-politick soluble, and not suffer the humour to settle, I will undertake, that if the present members had but a lease of the government during life, notwithstanding whatsoever impeachment of waste, they would raise more out of it to themselves in one year, than that amounts to; beside the charge we must be at in maintaining of guards to keep the boys off them. . . .
‘To conclude; I told them, you had made good your title in a contrary sense; for you have really proposed the most ready and easy way to establish downright slavery upon the nation that can possibly be contrived, which will clearly appear to any man that does but understand this plain truth, that wheresoever the power of proposing and debating, together with the power of ratifying and enacting laws, is entrusted in the hands of any one person, or any one council, as you would have it, that government is inevitably arbitrary and tyrannical, because they may make whatsoever they please lawful or unlawful. And that tyranny hath the advantage of all others that hath law and liberty among the instruments of servitude.
4. For the reference contained in Brief Notes upon a late Sermon, see note on 9. 9c.
5.No Blinde Guides appeared on April 20. It was from the pen of Milton’s relentless and now brutally exultant foe, L’Estrange. Although written in reply to the Brief Notes, it contains several references to The Ready and Easy Way. L’Estrange, now confident of Royalist victory, is in mocking mood:
‘What do you think of “Grand, Arbitrary, & Perpetual Counsel; and no more Parliaments?” (according to your Gratious Proposition, [Page 8] of your Free and easie way, &c.) And, in regard that in a free Commonwealth, “they who are greatest are Perpetual Servants. . . . [Page 4] What do you think of the Rump-Parliaments “Perpetuating itself” under the name of that grand Counsl? [Page 10.] the Government being in so many “Faithful” and “Experienced” hands, next under God, so Able; especially Filling up their number, as they intend, and abundantly sufficient so happily to govern us: [P. 11, &c.] . . .
‘Alas . . . for your ready, and easie way to Establish a Free Commonwealth, what will . . . become then of Your Standing Council?’
6.The Dignity of Kingship Asserted: in answer to Mr. Milton’s ‘Ready and Easie Way to establish a Free Commonwealth.’ . . . By G.S., a Lover of Loyalty, is the title of the most serious and voluminous reply provoked by Milton’s book. It appeared sometime in April or May. Its author, George Searle (?), acknowledges ‘the ability of Mr. Milton,’ and also the ‘fluent elegant style’ of the Defense. He affirms that Milton ‘then did, and doth now, want nothing on his side but truth.’ As for the Greek republics, they were so ancient that nothing could be certainly known about them. The Hollanders were a herd of swine. And, highest argument of all, Christ himself was born under an emperor.1
[1 ]Tracts, p. 86.
[2 ]Masson, Life of Milton 5. 569.
[1 ]Stern, Milton und seine Zeit 2. 247.