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Source: Clark's introduction to Milton's 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).
Milton dictated two editions of The Ready and Easy Way, and original copies of both have been preserved. The first edition is entitled the Readie & Easie Way to establish a Free Commonwealth, and The excellence therof Compar’d with The inconveniences and dangers of readmitting kingship in this nation. It is a small quarto of eighteen pages. Masson seems to be in error in stating that it was published by Livewell Chapman. The title-page shows that the book was printed by ‘T. N.,’ who doubtless was Milton’s old publisher, Thomas Newcome (see first note). However, the pamphlet was put on sale, about the end of February, 1660, at Chapman’s book-store in Pope’s-Head Alley.
The second edition is a duodecimo volume of 108 pages. It retains the original title, but its title-page shows quite a different make-up in other respects. No hint as to printer or stationer is given. It is simply: ‘The second edition revis’d and augmented,’ and ‘Printed for the Author’ at London in 1660. The book appeared toward the end of April. Chapman was then a fugitive (see second note), and doubtless by this time no printer was willing to risk even his initials on a title-page with Milton’s. Certainly Newcome was already trimming his sails to the breeze from Flanders. ‘I should have liked very much to know,’ says Masson, ‘whether Livewell Chapman was nominally publisher of the second edition, . . . or whether Milton was obliged to put forth the second edition without any publisher’s name.’ The title-page, as we have seen, furnishes answers to both these questions. It contains also the important addition of the following motto (see third note):
- __________ et nos
- consilium dedimus Syllæ, demus populo nunc.
This is an adaptation from Juvenal 1. 15-7:
- et nos ergo manum ferulæ subduximus, et nos
- consilium dedimus Sullæ, privatus ut altum
The treatise is the result of a thorough revision of the first edition. Many passages have been omitted; some have been altered; and much new matter has been incorporated, the additions swelling the volume to nearly twice its original size.
No record of the publication of the revised edition is to be found in the Stationers’ Registers, or in the Thomason Collection of pamphlets. It was long a matter of speculation whether the second edition actually got into print in 1660. Masson was never able to locate a copy. ‘In my perplexity,’ he says, ‘I began to ask myself whether this was to be explained by supposing that Milton, after he had prepared the second edition for the press, did not succeed in getting it published, and so that it was not until 1698 that it saw the light, and then by the accident that his enlarged press-copy had survived, and come (through Toland or otherwise) into the hands of the printers of the Amsterdam edition of the Prose Works. But, though several pieces in that edition are expressly noted as “never before published,” . . . there is no such editorial note respecting The Ready and Easy Way, but every appearance of mere reprinting from a previously published copy of 1660. On the whole, therefore, I conclude that Milton did publish his second and enlarged edition some time in April 1660; and I account for the rarity of original copies of this second edition by supposing that either the impression was seized before many copies had got about, or the Restoration itself came so rapidly after the publication as to make it all but abortive.’
Masson was reasoning well. A copy of this ‘all but abortive’ edition was once owned by the late Dr. Joseph F. Payne, of New Barnet, England, and is now to be found in the library of Mr. W. A. White, of New York City. Through the kindness of Mr. White, the writer has been privileged to examine this rare volume, and to make use of it in the present edition.
Masson was not quite correct, however, in the implied assumption that The Ready and Easy Way did not again see the light until 1698, as both first and second editions were reprinted before that date. The first edition appears in the folio ‘Prose Works’ of 1697. The second edition was reprinted (if we may trust the title-page of ‘Five Tracts’) for the first time in 1694. The sections entitled ‘Four Tracts,’ ‘Five Tracts,’ and ‘Four Miscellaneous Tracts’ all bear the date 1694, and are bound into a single volume, which is stamped with the same date. It is probably true, however, that these 1694 sections did not get into circulation before 1698; for we find them incorporated as an integral part of of Toland’s edition of 1698. The title-page of this so-called Amsterdam (really London) edition is, in part, as follows: ‘A Complete Collection of the Historical, Political, and Miscellaneous Works of John Milton, Both English and Latin. With som Papers never before Publish’d. In three Volumes. . . . Amsterdam. Finished in the year M.D.C.XC.VIII.’ This last statement may mean that the publication had been begun at a considerably earlier date, possibly as early as 1694.
The Ready and Easy Way has been frequently reprinted—in the editions of Milton’s prose published in 1697, 1698, 1738, 1753, 1806, 1833, 1853, and in numerous publications of selections. It is interesting to note that the treatise was revived during the revolutionary days of 1791, and neatly published in separate form as a refutation of the arguments of Edmund Burke.
It is the enlarged edition that has been used almost invariably. From 1697 to the present time the original edition has never been republished in any of the collected works; nor, so far as is known, in any of the volumes of selections.
Dates of Composition and Publication
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.’ 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.’ 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’ (see p. xxxiii). But we learn that his public declaration (see p. xxvi) was drafted, signed, and sent forth ‘that night’ ; 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’ ; and that, on Feb. 22, they voted ‘that a new Parliament be summoned to appear upon the 25th Day of April 1660.’ 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.’
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.’ 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.
The Second Edition
‘It was but a little before the king’s Restoration,’ says Milton’s nephew, ‘that he wrote and published his book In Defense of a Commonwealth; so undaunted he was in declaring his true sentiments to the world.’ And a study of the additions, omissions, and other alterations made in the process of revision shows that the treatise must indeed have been almost the last pre-Restoration protest of the republicans.
There are many references to contemporary events. The restored Rump has already become the ‘last Parliament.’ This dissolution occurred on March 16. Those who are bent upon recalling the king are now engaged in ‘cheapning’ the ‘price’ of subjection. Monk held his first interview with the royal agent, Sir John Greenville, on March 17, and dispatched him to Brussels with proposals on March 20. It is not likely that Milton knew of this business immediately. Yet he seems to be writing with full knowledge of Monk’s and of the Presbyterians’ negotiations with the king. The Censure of the Rota appeared on March 30. It is evident that Milton is writing after that date, for the gibes and criticisms contained in the pamphlet are freshly and poignantly in mind (see Appendix A. 2). Furthermore, Milton thinks that what he has written ‘may now be of much more use and concernment to be freely publishd, in the midst of our Elections to a free Parlament, or their sitting to consider freely of the Government.’ The writs for this election had been agreed upon by Parliament on March 16, and Whitelock reports several members elected as early as March 26. But Milton’s sentence indicates that he is writing, not at the beginning, but in the full swing of the elections—very probably well along in April. As these elections proceeded, it became apparent that the Parliament about to meet would be almost solidly Royalist. The return of Charles was therefore a certainty. Milton concedes the fact, and drops, as no longer applicable, the allusion to Coniah in his terrific peroration. He laments the ‘absolute determination . . . to enthrall,’ and admits the hopelessness of staying the deluge. There is no longer a possibility of convincing opponents, but only of confirming those who yield not—probably Lambert and the Fanatics, then making a last appeal to arms. Lambert escaped from the Tower on April 9, and was captured on April 22. In view of the internal evidence just considered, we may be reasonably certain that to this interval, April 9-22, belongs the composition of the second edition.
We do not know the exact date of its publication; but there is evidence that the book appeared after April 20. Milton himself mentions the possibility of its coming out during the ‘sitting’ of the new Parliament—that is, after April 25. Roger L’Estrange, Milton’s tireless pamphleteering opponent and critic, writing on April 20 in reply to the Notes on Dr. Griffith’s Sermon, quotes several passages from The Ready and Easy Way, and invariably from the first edition. It seems incredible that L’Estrange, who pounced with such zest and fury upon every utterance of his renowned antagonist, should have been ignorant of the more daring edition, or have failed to quote from it, had it been at that time in print.
It would seem, at first thought, that the book must have appeared before April 24, when Lambert was brought captive to London, and all signs of armed resistance disappeared. But Phillips’ statement indicates that the pamphleteers were the last in the field: ‘The Defeat of Lambert did not make the Fanaticks leave the Pursuit of their Mischiefs, several seditious Pamphlets being published in Print, to deprave the Minds of the People.’ It is not unlikely that The Ready and Easy Way was one of them.
The conclusion, then, is that the second edition was written certainly between March 16 and April 25, and very likely during the interval April 9-22; and that it was published upon the eve of the Restoration, almost certainly after April 20, and probably in the last six days before the setting up of kingship on the 1st of May.
‘Anarchy and Confusion’
A study of the historical situation with which The Ready and Easy Way attempts to deal may well begin with a résumé of the more important events of 1659. Early in that year the Cromwellian protectorate had gone to pieces; and in May the army, by resurrecting the Rump Parliament, restored the republic as it had existed from 1649 to 1653. Eager to exert its authority, and especially to subordinate the military to the civil power, the Rump’s first business was the reorganization of the army. Week after week a steady procession of the ‘well affected’ filed in before that august assembly, received new commissions from the venerable speaker’s hands, and filed out again better ‘affected’ than ever. At last the weary process was completed—and just in time. A general rising of Royalists had been planned to occur on August 1; but only Sir George Booth, in Cheshire, made any considerable demonstration, and he was easily suppressed (Aug. 17-9) by the new-modeled army. From this achievement General Lambert returned with high notions of his own and of the army’s importance. In September the Parliament was suddenly dumbfounded by demands, couched in no uncertain terms, from Lambert and his clique of ambitious officers. Among other things demanded, Fleetwood was to be made commander-in-chief, and Lambert himself was to be placed next under him. The wary and insecure Rump instantly scented a conspiracy. It was convinced that Lambert ‘aspired to succeed Cromwell,’ and that ‘when he should have so gotten the Sword, he would not long want the Scepter.’ It refused these and other demands, reproved the petitioners, and being secretly assured of support from Scotland, finally cashiered Lambert and eight of his associates. The next morning (Oct. 13) Lambert threw his troops around Westminster, and put an end to the sitting. ‘Illegal and scandalous, I fear me barbarous,’ protested Milton, ‘that a paid army should, for no other cause, thus subdue the supreme power that set them up.’
But the army-officers boldly assumed control, set up a committee of safety, and fell to work upon a constitution. The sword was law. Citizens were ‘knock’d on the head,’ or killed outright. The soldiers, in turn, were hissed, jeered, and pelted until they grew ashamed and afraid to march. L’Estrange was inflaming Royalists with his pamphlets. ‘No quiet was enjoyed by any party,’ and on Dec. 20 poor Whitelock was wishing himself ‘out of these daily hazards.’ Meanwhile the army in Scotland was preparing to march against Lambert. Suddenly Ireland and the fleet declared for the Parliament. The army-régime collapsed. Fleetwood now admitted that ‘the Lord had blasted their Counsels, and spit in their Faces.’ On Dec. 24 even ‘the Soldiers declared to live and die with the Parliament’; and they ‘stood in Ranks, and made Acclamations,’ as the triumphant little Rump marched back to Westminster on Dec. 26.
The most potent factor in the overthrow of the Lambert tyranny had been the silent pressure of Cromwell’s old lieutenant-general, George Monk, military governor of Scotland, who now emerged as the dominant individual force in England. Monk was by no means the loftiest character on that remarkable stage; but he possessed a unique combination of qualities that fitted him to glide into the midst of turbulent factions, preserve order, and guide the overwhelming sentiment of the nation to its logical expression in restored kingship. He was a blunt, rough soldier, having had his ‘education in a commonwealth whose soldiers received and observed commands but gave none’ ; a man of decision and vigor, of much shrewdness and common sense. He stuck not at dissimulation, and knew how to think much and say little. Phillips calls him ‘the most reserved man then living.’ He was generally known in his army as ‘silent Old George.’ It was precisely this cunning and this incomparable impenetrability that fitted him so uniquely for the rôle he now proposed to assume.
The turn of the year found Monk crossing the Border. The movement was begun immediately upon his hearing of the downfall of the army-régime. This is all the more curious, as his announced intention had been merely to restore the Rump. The apparent aimlessness of the movement argued some deep design, which none could positively fathom, but which every faction chose to interpret as tending to promote its own cause. The very name ‘Old George’ had a pleasurable thrill of mystery about it, and during the month of January all eyes were riveted upon the column of veterans moving steadily southward across snow-covered England. Everywhere they were greeted with acclamations and the ringing of bells. Monk was welcomed as the deliverer, and was petitioned for a free Parliament, termination of the Rump, and readmission of the secluded members. The sphinx heard all and said nothing, except to reaffirm his championship of the existing Parliament.
Meanwhile, all factions in London were stimulated to fresh hopes and enormous diligence by the near approach of this tremendous and mysterious new force. There should be no dearth of good counsel if Milton and the host of pamphleteering politicians could help it; there should be no stone left unturned to enlist ‘the General’ in the ‘cause’ of this, that, or the other faction.
The political alignment at the beginning of February, 1660, should be understood. The two grand divisions were, of course, Royalists and Commonwealth-men; but each of these had several distinct subdivisions. Of the former there were, first, the Old Royalists, including cavaliers, clergymen of the Church of England, and a large part of the gentry and country-folk generally, whose loyalty to kingship had remained unshaken. These were for unconditional restoration. The second sub-group were the New Royalists, including the entire body of Presbyterians—‘new royalized Presbyterians,’ as Milton calls them; that part of the Cromwellians who, upon the downfall of Richard, had gone over to Sir George Booth and his Royalist forces; the City, or Municipal, party; and that vast mass of the common people and ‘rabble’ who, either from sheer fickleness and desire for change, or from motives of personal safety, were now indulging in extravagant demonstrations of loyalty. The Presbyterian element was for a constitutional monarchy, and restoration upon rigid Presbyterian conditions. But the whole group was unanimous in demanding an end of the Rump, admission of the secluded members, and the calling of a free Parliament.
Both Old and New Royalists rejoiced at Monk’s coming; for, in spite of his emphatic declarations to the contrary, they persistently believed that he was, at bottom, for the king, and would yet bring him in. That there was good foundation for this faith cannot be doubted. Overtures from the king had reached Monk the previous summer through the medium of his brother Nicholas, and he had made ready to coöperate with Booth in the Royalist rebellion. That he ‘demurred two days,’ until a fortunate arrival of mail warned him of Booth’s defeat, was all that saved him from committing himself at that time. ‘By the grace of God I will do it if ever I can find it in my power,’ he declared to his chaplain, Mr. Price, just before beginning his march. His own army would not be convinced but that he would restore the king. From these and other similar indications, it seems perfectly certain that such was his real intention; and all that he might say could not rob the Royalists of joy and hope in his coming.
The second political grand division—the Commonwealth-men—was still more heterogeneous. It included (1) that small remnant of Cromwellians who had not turned Royalist, but who favored a protectorate, or single-person government (not kingship), and still cherished a design to reinstate Richard. The movers of similar conspiracies among the superior officers may be classed with this faction. In this division were (2) those Cromwellians who returned with enthusiasm to the commonwealth of 1649-53 as a model settlement. To this group belonged Milton. Here, of course, were (3) the uncompromising republicans—those who had stood for the old republic, had not accepted the protectorate, and were now advocating a commonwealth ‘without single person or house of lords.’ Such were the Rumpers—or a sufficient number of them to characterize the body. To this group belonged also the rank and file of the army, and the Independent clergy. Finally, this division included (4) miscellaneous anti-Royalists—Anabaptists, Fifth-Monarchy-men, etc.
These various branches of Commonwealth-men looked upon Monk’s coming with some degree of misgiving. The Independent ministers had solemnly endeavored to dissuade him from marching against Lambert, inasmuch as the ‘Canaanites and Perizzites were in the land.’ The Rumpers, who knew how it felt to be pulled out by the ears, would have preferred the influence of this masterful man at a safe distance rather than his actual presence with a grim army of veterans at his back. But whatever they felt, they could hardly do less than extend a seemingly hearty welcome to their approaching savior and professed champion. So they made him Ranger of St. James’ Park, voted him £1000 a year for life, and sent Masters Scott and Robinson to escort him to London—and to ferret out all they could of his designs. If Monk would only fall in with their filling-up scheme of perpetuating themselves, and take the abjuration-oath, his coming might turn out to be a good thing after all! The Cromwellians saw a possibility of making Monk protector; while Milton, and Commonwealth-men in general, decided, upon the whole, to accept with good grace Monk’s vehement declaration in favor of a commonwealth.
Into the midst of this welter of faction and boundless curiosity, on February 3, came marching ‘Old George’ the mysterious, with 5800 weather-beaten troops. No less sumptuous an abode was tendered him than the Prince’s Lodgings at Whitehall. On Monday, Feb. 6, he was escorted to Westminster, and compelled to endure a panegyric from the speaker. When the ordeal was over, Monk delivered a brief reply, in which he recommended to the astonished Rumpers their early dissolution; ‘a free and full Parliament; . . . a Gospel Ministry; encouragement of Learning and Universities; and . . . admittance of the Members secluded before 1648, without previous oath or engagement.’ Sir Roger Gifford, writing on Feb. 8, expresses the general feeling of mystification: ‘Monck was at the House on Munday last who expresst himself so obscurely that most men know not what construction for to make of it.’
What did Monk mean? What would he do next? The curiosity of the anxious members was to be satisfied before the end of the week. But meanwhile Milton and the other pamphleteers labored amain to supply the blunt, apparently nonplussed general with abundance of ‘light.’
On Feb. 8 the City voted to pay no more taxes to the odious Rump, in which it had not a single representative. The Parliament decided to test Monk’s sincerity, and, as Burnet thought, to render him harmless by making him as unpopular as themselves. On Feb. 8 the citizens of London were astounded to find him and his soldiers at work demolishing their gates, posts, chains, portcullises, and other defenses. Parliament had commanded; Monk had obeyed. On the next day he finished the job, and retired from the scene with every shred of popularity gone—the most thoroughly hated man in London. The Rump had scored. ‘Now George, we have thee for ever,’ cried Haslerig, ‘body and soul!’ But Monk marched back again on the 11th, no longer the servant of the Rump, but its dictator! ‘By Friday next,’ ran his ultimatum, ‘they should issue out Writs to fill up their House; and when filled, should rise at their appointed time, to give Place to a full and free Parliament.’
The demonstrations of joy that greeted this sudden and complete change of front were unparalleled. Pepys’ vivid account is as follows: ‘I saw many people give the soldiers drink and money, and all along in the streets cried, “God bless them!” . . . In Cheapside there was a great many bonfires, and Bow bells and all the bells in all the churches as we went home were a-ringing, . . . it being about ten at night. But the common joy that was everywhere to be seen! . . . I could at one view tell thirty-one fires. In King-street seven or eight; and all along burning, and roasting, and drinking for rumps. There being rumps tied upon sticks and carried up and down. The butchers at the May Pole in the Strand rang a peal with their knives when they were going to sacrifice their rump. On Ludgate Hill there was one turning of the spit that had a rump tied upon it, and another basting of it. Indeed it was past imagination, both the greatness and the suddenness of it. At one end of the street you would think there was a whole lane of fire, and so hot that we were fain to keep on the further side.’
‘This blow was it,’ says Clement Walker, ‘made Independency stagger, for so highly were both City and Country pleased with this Declaration, that they did hardly know in what manner to express their joy, ringing their bells, making bonfires, the air resounding nothing but the name and prayses of Monck, and the Streets filled with gratefull hearts, who on bended knees prayed for blessings on the head of the hoped restorer, both of the Church and Commonwealth.’
But if the Royalists exulted in the assurance of a free Parliament, and, through this, of an early restoration, the Commonwealth-men were in despair. Milton especially must have felt the blow, as it shattered in an instant his favorite scheme of perpetuating the Rump, and paved the way for a return to kingship. Indeed, we find that his pamphlet, which was apparently nearing completion at the time of these mad tumults, was thrown aside, and, for the time being, left unpublished.
Encouraged by Monk’s stand, the secluded members pressed him more closely than ever to espouse their cause. As they were out-and-out Royalists, Monk feigned unwillingness; but he consented to hear them debate the matter with certain of the Rumpers—really only delaying until the army was in ‘temper’ for the move. And finally, pledging them to (1) army-settlement, (2) maintenance and arrears for army and navy, (3) a new Parliament, and (4) their own legal dissolution at an early date, he restored to their seats in Parliament, on Feb. 21, those members who had been excluded by Pride’s Purge in 1648. ‘This began to infuse a new spirit of life into the Kingdom,’ says Walker, ‘in whom at this springing season of the year, began a new to bud and peep out the bloomes of a too long frost-nipped loyalty, so that one now might have seen what twenty years before could never shew, countenances, that lately were dejected through the cruell tyranny of their Ægyptian task masters, now gather cheerfull looks, and like fresh blown roses yield a fragrant savour.’
But Monk as yet dared by no means to renounce his republican pretensions. A few days before the readmission of the secluded members, he declared to Ludlow that they ‘must live and die together for a Commonwealth,’ and to Haslerig, ‘I do protest I will oppose to the utmost the setting up of Charles Stuart, a Single Person or House of Peers’ ; and on the night of Feb. 21 he dispatched with all haste letters to the different regiments in England, Scotland, and Ireland to satisfy them ‘that nothing was intended for Alteration of Government, but that it should continue as a free State and Commonwealth.’ It was such assurances as these, together with the fact that the restored Parliament, although strongly Royalist, resolved to terminate soon, and leave the whole question of settlement to a free Parliament, that led Milton to take up again his neglected pamphlet, which he now prefaced with a brief reference to the altered situation, and published at the end of February.
After setting up a council of state, and making provisions for general elections, the famous Long Parliament dissolved on March 16; but only ‘after many sad pangs & groanes,’ for there was a growing inclination among its members to sit on, and bring in the king themselves, and on their own terms. Monk now began to play more boldly his game of negotiation. On the ‘next Evening after the Dissolution of Parliament’ he consented to a private audience with his cousin, Sir John Greenville, who put into his hands a message from Charles. Three days later, Sir John was posting back to the Continent with Monk’s advice to the royal exile (see note on 16. 31). Among other things, he recommended a proclamation of general pardon, confirmation of titles to real estate, and toleration as to matters of religion.
In the last days of March, amidst the greatest enthusiasm and keenest rivalry ever known, began the general elections. Every one was eager for a place in the ‘free’ Parliament, whereas no one but the excluded members had cared to sit with the Rump. As early as Feb. 23 Lady Anne Rochester writes: ‘Good Mr. Yates, next to my sonne Lee, let not Sr. Raphe Verney faile of being chosen.’ These two seats, she thinks, will be ‘as many’ as they ‘can compas.’ The elections continued through the greater part of April. From the first the Royalists, of course, carried all before them. Very soon it became obvious to every one that the king’s return was only a matter of weeks. On the 9th of April, Monk felt so confident of this that he sent Charles an absolute assurance of unconditional restoration.
Even Milton admitted as much. He had been revising his Ready and Easy Way with the design of influencing elections, or at least the Parliament. But as the returns began coming in, it became apparent that his efforts were to be as futile in the one case as in the other. Nevertheless, he was not quite alone. There was Lambert, just escaped from the Tower, and gathering together the desperate remnant of Fanatics, who were determined to oppose kingship to their last drop of blood. Milton owned them as kindred spirits, and resolved to make his forlorn fight at their side. Apparently in the very last days before the capture of Lambert on April 22 and the assembling of Parliament on the 25th, and probably after April 20, he finished, and soon after sent forth, the enlarged—and embittered—edition; ‘not so much to convince these,’ which he little hoped, ‘as to confirm them who yield not.’
The one question upon which there was universal agreement during the months immediately preceding the Restoration was the urgent necessity of settling the government upon permanent foundations. ‘This care of timely settling a new government,’ declared Milton, ‘too much neglected, hath been our mischief.’ The republic of 1649-53 had been merely tentative; the protectorate, in spite of its noble achievements, had utterly collapsed within a year after the death of the great ‘Single Person’; the resurrected Rump delayed the attempt until turned out by the army; the army-régime evolved elaborate proposals, only to fall to pieces again in favor of the Rump; and, finally, the Remnant, after its second restoration, seemed utterly incompetent, or strangely unwilling, to go about the great business. In a word, proposal, experiment, and failure had been the history of the past eleven years, and the half-year preceding the Restoration is well called the reign of ‘anarchy and confusion.’ ‘Like a drowning man,’ declared one of Monk’s gratuitous advisers, ‘this nation hath laid hold of every thing that came in its way; but all things have proved but straws and helpless twigs, that will not bear it above water.’ Monk himself told the Parliament on Feb. 6 that, as he marched from Scotland, he ‘observed the people in most counties in great and earnest expectations of Settlement.’
But if there was unanimity as to the need, there was the greatest possible diversity of opinions as to ways and means. Every faction had its ‘only cure’ or ‘easy prescription.’ And, as The Ready and Easy Way was one of these contributions of advice, it will be best understood in relation to the more important, at least, of these numerous proposals.
Of no statesman of his day had Milton a higher opinion than of Sir Henry Vane, whom Clarendon describes as a man ‘unlimited and unrestrained by any rules or bounds prescribed to other men, by reason of his perfection, . . . a perfect enthusiast’ who ‘did believe himself inspired.’ In the well-known sonnet, Milton addresses him as
- Vane, young in years, but in sage counsel old,
- Than whom a better senator ne’er held
- The helm of Rome.
Vane and Milton were both republicans, both champions of the Rump, and both believers in freedom of conscience, and separation of church and state. It is not surprising, therefore, that their solutions of the problem of settlement show a considerable similarity, particularly in the advocacy of a perpetual council. In A Healing Question propounded and resolved, . . . with a Desire to apply Balsome to the Wound before it become incurable, Vane inquired whether a ‘standing council of state setled for life in reference to the safety of the commonwealth, and for the maintaining intercourse and commerce with foreign states, under the inspection and oversight of the supream judicature, but of the same fundamental constitution with themselves, would . . . be disliked.’ By such recommendations, urged by such worthy members as Henry Vane, Milton was undoubtedly persuaded into championing the perpetuation of the Rump as a grand council. Vane’s council was to have been even more absolute than Milton’s: vacancies, ‘by death or otherwise, might be supplied by the vote of the major part of themselves.’ This idea may have suggested to Milton his modified form of rotation (see p. 23). Vane is clearly in advance of Milton in his recommendation of distinct legislative, executive, and judicial branches of the government. ‘Would there be any just exception to be taken,’ he asks, ‘if (besides both these) it should be agreed (as another part of the fundamental constitution of the government) to place that branch of soveraignty which chiefly respects the execution of laws in a distinct office from that of the legislative power, (and yet subordinate to them and to the laws) capable to be intrusted into the hands of one single person, if need require, or in a greater number, as the legislative power should think fit?’ Like Milton, Vane concludes his model with a rhapsodic expression of faith in its efficacy, exclaiming: ‘How suddenly might harmony, righteousness, love, peace, and safety unto the whole body follow hereupon, as the happy fruit of such a settlement, if the Lord have any delight to be amongst us!’
Vane’s influence did not cease with the downfall of the Rump in October, 1659, but is apparent in the constitution drafted by the general council of army-officers, the main provisions of which were as follows: that there be (1) no kingship, (2) no single person as chief magistrate, (3) no house of peers, (4) no imposition upon conscience; (5) that an army be continued; (6) that the legislative and executive powers be in distinct hands; and (7) that Parliaments be elected by the people. In this constitution, Vane’s idealism is tempered and restrained by the conservatism and legal acumen of Bulstrode Whitelock.
On the last day of October, 1659, William Prynne, the most voluminous of the pamphleteers, came forward with A short, legal, medicinal, useful, safe, easy Prescription, to recover our Kingdom, Church, Nation, from their present dangerous, distractive, destructive Confusion, in which he recommended, as ‘the only just, legal, probable means now left,’ the following: (1) ‘for all the antient nobility of the kingdom . . . to assemble themselves by common consent at Westminster’ and issue writs for a Parliament; (2) ‘for all freeholders in every county’ . . . to elect ‘the ablest, honestest, wisest, stoutest gentlemen for their sheriffs,’ and ‘the wisest, ablest, stoutest, discreetest persons . . . knights, citizens, and burgesses’; (3) for all to resolve not to obey ‘new, illegal, tyrannical, upstart powers, officers, conventicles, committees, or councils,’ and to punish all resisting these measures as traitors.
Denouncing Prynne as a ‘crop-eared pettifogger, a reviler of the saints, a constant opposer of powers, an unwearied scribbler, a demoniack possessed with a legion of hellish fiends, the spirit of contradiction,’ the author of Democritus turned Statesman wished to know ‘whether it be not the purest and safest kind of free state, to have a free parliament elected annually, or twice a year, as it was before the Conquest, and after many years, without restraint on the wills of the free people of the nation; which parliament may constitute and elect a senate, that shall act according, and subject to the law of the land in the interval of parliament, and so to be elected from year to year by each parliament.’ This was the notion of ‘successive Parlaments’ with which Milton regrets to find men’s minds ‘prepossessd.’
A most remarkable anticipation of the presidency and house of representatives, as constituted in modern republics, is found in Twenty-five Queries: modestly and humbly, and yet sadly and seriously propounded : ‘If it shall be thought fit to have a single person to govern these nations with the advice of his council in the intervals of parliament: first, Then will it not be the safest way for the people to have this single person and council invested only with power to execute the laws, and the whole legislative power to be settled in the people’s representatives? And again, considering the temper and constitution of the nation, will it not be most equal and just to have this single person elective, to continue for one or two years, and he and his council to be accountable to the parliament for mal-administration? . . . Will not this way be far less chargeable and burthensome to the nation than hereditary kingship?’
Among these numerous advisers there were few who agreed with Milton upon perpetuation, but the sentiment in favor of a commonwealth in some form was predominant in publications up to the decisive turn of affairs on Feb. 11. A typical plea for an ‘equal commonwealth’ is found in A Letter of Advice to his Excellency Lord-General Monk : ‘Thus hath this poor nation, within these few years, tried all sorts of government, but an equal commonwealth. We have experienced monarchy in the old line, and in the two protectors, a select senate, an oligarchy, the government of an army; what not? And have not as yet met with the ends of a good government. . . . And now, sir, can anything else save us, but an equal commonwealth? Which in truth is no more than a free and full parliament; but a free and full parliament more truly elected and better formed.’
Monk himself pretended to be strong for a commonwealth, as is evident from The Speech and Declaration of Feb. 21: ‘. . . I thought good to assure you, and that in the presence of God, that I have nothing before my eyes but God’s glory, and the settlement of these nations upon commonwealth foundations. . . . Only give me leave to mind you, that the old foundations are by God’s providence so broken, that, in the eye of reason, they cannot be restored but upon the ruins of the people of these nations; . . . for if the people find that, after so long and bloody a war against the king for breaking in upon their liberties, yet at last he must be taken in again, it will be out of question, as is most manifest, he may for the future govern by his will, dispose of parliaments and parliament men as he pleaseth, and yet the people will never more rise for their assistance.’
Harrington’s important proposals are considered in the section entitled The Rota Club.
On October 20, in A Letter to a Friend, Concerning the Ruptures of the Commonwealth, Milton himself sketched in outline a proposal which four months later he elaborated in The Ready and Easy Way. It ran: ‘Being now in anarchy, without a counselling and governing power; and the army, I suppose, finding themselves insufficient to discharge at once both military and civil affairs, the first thing to be found out with all speed, without which no commonwealth can subsist, must be a senate, or general council of state, in whom must be the power, first to preserve the public peace; next, the commerce with foreign nations; and lastly, to raise monies for the management of these affairs: this must be either the parliament readmitted to sit, or a council of state allowed of by the army, since they only now have the power. The terms to be stood on are, liberty of conscience to all professing Scripture to be the rule of their faith and worship; and the abjuration of a single person’—the former implying also ‘the removal of a forced maintenance from ministers. . . . That which I conceive only able to cement, and unite for ever the army, either to the parliament recalled, or this chosen council, must be a mutual league and oath, private or public, not to desert one another till death: that is to say, that the army be kept up, and all these officers in their places during life, and so likewise the parliament or counsellors of state. . . . And whether the civil government be an annual democracy or a perpetual aristocracy, is not to me a consideration for the extremities wherein we are, and the hazard of our safety from our common enemy, gaping at present to devour us.’ Finally, ‘well-order’d committees of their faithfulest adherents in every county may give this government the resemblance and effect of a perfect democracy.’
We may now turn from this embryonic constitution to its full development in The Ready and Easy Way.
Milton’s Ideal Republic
The ground upon which Milton was to erect his commonwealth was first cleared of all traditional rubbish. There was to be no king or duke or protector—no single person of any kind. There were to be no bishops, no House of Lords; nor was there to be any ‘distinction of lords and commoners’ that might ‘any way divide or sever the public interest.’
In the way of positive proposal he began, as he did in the Letter to a Friend, with an aristocratic council. Supreme power should be vested in a ‘full and free Councel of ablest men,’ elected by the people from such as were ‘not addicted to a single person or house of lords.’ This council should have control of the naval and military forces, manage the public revenue, make laws, and attend to all affairs with other nations. The tenure of office in this body should be for life, or during good behavior; but if this would not be accepted, then the expedients of rotation, or of submitting to the people the question whether the several members should retire or remain in office, might be adopted.
To facilitate the handling of matters requiring much ‘secrecie and expedition,’ and to act as a kind of executive head, the grand council must choose from its own members a smaller council of state. ‘No single person, but reason only,’ was to rule in all its deliberations.
Every county in England was to be constituted a ‘little commonwealth,’ of which the chief town should be the capital. Here the chief gentry were to reside in befitting palaces, and participate in the local legislative, executive, and judicial organizations, which should be subordinate only in matters affecting the national government. But even the legislative enactments of the grand council were to be submitted, by a species of referendum, to ratification or rejection at the hands of the majority of these subordinate commonwealths. Thus there were to be, not ‘many sovranties united in one Commonwealth, but many Commonwealths under one united and entrusted sovrantie’—not a loose confederation, but the largest amount of local sovereignty consistent with a supreme and efficient national authority.
Offices were to be filled by popular election; but suffrage must be well hedged about with qualifications. By no means should all be left to ‘the noise and shouting of a rude multitude.’ These qualifications were designed to restrict suffrage and magistracy to those who were ‘well affected’ toward government without single person or House of Lords. Those ‘rightly qualifi’d’ might nominate as many as they would; from these nominees, ‘others of a better breeding’ were to ‘chuse a less number more judiciously, till after a third or fourth sifting and refining of exactest choice,’ those were left who were the ‘due number,’ and ‘by most voices’ thought ‘worthiest.’ Thus ‘worth and merit,’ rather than rank or wealth, were to govern in the choice of public servants. Moreover, these worthies were to be unsalaried; for magistracy should be undertaken, not from motives of personal ambition, but solely as an opportunity for unselfish service.
The good and the wise, however few, were to rule. But ‘due libertie’—not license—and equality proportioned to merit should be guaranteed to all. In every town there should be free schools and academies. Church and state should be absolutely distinct and independent; and liberty of conscience must be assured. Finally, there were to be the fewest possible laws, in order that there might be the largest possible degree of individual freedom; one universal, divine law should prevail—the law of nature, ‘the only law of laws truly and properly to all mankinde fundamental.’
When the government was once settled on this foundation, virtue would flourish and happiness abound. The people would soon be ‘satisfi’d and delighted with the decent order, ease, and benefit’ of such a government. And the republic itself should never know decay, but should ‘so continue . . . even to the coming of our true and right full and only to be expected King, . . . the Messiah, the Christ.’
Milton vigorously resented any suggestion that his model was ideal and impracticable. Again and again he insisted that his ‘way’ was ‘plain,’ ‘open,’ ‘easy,’ ‘without intricacies . . . or any considerable objection . . . that it is not practicable.’ He professed to follow Aristotle rather than Plato, whose ‘fancied republic . . . in this world could have no place.’ He desired ‘to ordain wisely, as in this world of evil’—not ‘to sequester out of the world into Atlantic and Utopian politics, which never can be drawn into use.’
In Milton’s claim there was some degree of force. His plan was extremely simple. It meant merely perpetuating a body of men already in power, and further elaborating systems of local sovereignty and popular education already in existence. Many of its recommendations have long since become a part of the actual workings of modern republics. Such are its combination of local and national authority, the referendum in legislation, and the merit-system of civil service. Besides, he announced no socialistic principles of absolute equality, equal division of lands, or community of goods. He attempted, at least, to lay the foundations of his commonwealth, not upon some undiscovered Oceana. Utopia, or New Atlantis, but in the England of February, 1660.
But while Milton, in modeling his republic, endeavored to play the rôle of a practical statesman, he nevertheless remained the great idealist and poet. Hence we find that, in spite of its air of practicality, his republic has much in common with those of Plato and other political idealists. With Augustine and the mystical mediævalists, Milton loves to think of the race as a great brotherhood, and of God’s ‘governing from heaven’ as the ‘universal Lord of all mankind.’ With Plato, he conceives of office-holding as public service. The right of the wise to rule, and the obligation of the ignorant to follow; aristocracy of merit; the exaltation of spiritual interests over every other in the state—these are all a part of Plato’s republic. Like Plato, Milton saw no reason why a state, so constituted, should not endure for ever.
The impracticability and real Utopian character of Milton’s republic, however, are to be found in its most fundamental proposal—government by a supreme and perpetual council of ablest men. To Milton, who looked upon magistracy as unselfish service, and believed that ‘nothing is more agreeable to the order of nature, or more for the interest of mankind, than that the less should yield to the greater, not in numbers, but in wisdom and in virtue,’ it seemed so easy, so desirable, so safe, to constitute the Parliament then sitting a perpetual council. As their literary champion, Milton had come to believe that these men were absolutely worthy and incorruptible—‘faithfull worthies, who at first freed us from tyrannie, and have continu’d ever since through all changes constant to thir trust.’ But by February, 1660, Milton stood practically alone in this belief. The Rump had become a national byword. No Utopian model ever dreamed could have been less acceptable to England at that time than was Milton’s proposal to perpetuate this obnoxious assembly. The Ready and Easy Way was greeted with a roar of derision. Instantly and mercilessly were its fundamental weaknesses laid bare. The Censure of the Rota is typical: ‘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 one is to succeed,’ etc. (see Appendix B. 3).
So far as the adaptability of Milton’s model to then existing conditions was concerned, there can be no doubt that the critics were right. Had there been infallible means of finding out who were the best and wisest; had all men looked upon magistracy as unselfish service; had officers, once chosen for life, been absolutely incorruptible, then, and then only, could Milton’s scheme have been successful. But notwithstanding twenty years of participation in public affairs, Milton seems to have been unable to perceive the utter impracticability of his proposal, or to realize, as did Sir Thomas More, that ‘except all men were good, everything cannot be right.’
Two Formative Influences
Mediæval Republican Thought
Milton entertained no very high opinion of scholasticism, and the present work shows no appeal whatever to mediæval authorities. Nevertheless, he belonged to a school of political thought that had had its origin in the heart of the Middle Ages; indeed, the radical doctrine of The Ready and Easy Way is in large measure an unacknowledged inheritance from the republicanism of the mediæval church. One should remember, of course, that Milton was debtor also to the Greeks, and to all the learning and political experience of antiquity—as were in some degree the mediævalists themselves. However, in this pamphlet not only did he base his opinions concerning covenant, resistance, and tyrannicide upon sixteenth-century revolutionary thought, which itself was derived from the Middle Ages; but his three fundamental conceptions—sovereignty of the people, government by supreme representative council, and federation—have, in the form in which they came down to Milton, distinctly mediæval beginnings.
The doctrine of popular sovereignty was a political expression of the belief in the intrinsic importance of the individual—a belief peculiar to Hebrew and Christian philosophy. Man had been created in the image of God, and endowed with immortality and the possibility of direct communion with his Creator. A tradition prevailed that in the far-off beginning, before the advent of sin, men had lived together in a state of nature, as free and equal sons of God, and under His direct guidance. This body of thought was augmented by the revelations of Christ, who clearly taught the fatherhood of God, and the immortality and infinite worth of even the humblest soul. From such teaching arose the Christian conceptions of universal brotherhood and equality; and from the practice of the apostolic church descended even a tradition of the community of goods. St. Augustine, in the De Civitate Dei, which, of all books, next after the Bible, most profoundly influenced mediæval thought, cordially embraced the new philosophy, and declared that God ‘did not intend that His rational creature should have dominion over anything but the irrational creation—not man over man, but man over the beasts,’ and that those who are in authority should really ‘serve those whom they seem to command; for they rule not from a love of power, but from a sense of duty they owe to others.’ And Milton further notes that ‘ad subditos suos scribens, Constantinus Magnus non alio nomine quam fratres appellat.’
It is not surprising, therefore, to find that the sovereignty of the aggregate of individuals, each of infinite worth, was recognized in the great world-empire which arose under the inspiration of the Christian philosophy. The earliest form of this doctrine, however, was very different from its radical development as found in Milton and the extremists of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The mediæval conception of popular sovereignty was by no means incompatible with loyalty to kings and popes. These were upheld by the people as necessary heads of the temporal and spiritual orders of life in the great quasi-mystical empire over which God himself reigned supreme. But they were nevertheless regarded as servants. John of Salisbury (1120-80), that most interesting and modern of twelfth-century Englishmen, pupil of Abelard, and friend of Thomas à Becket, in his famous book, the Policraticus (4. 1-3, 5), speaks of a king as ‘minister populi,’ and ‘publicæ utilitatis minister.’ A century later, Thomas Aquinas (d. 1274) is still more explicit: ‘Principes terrarum sunt a Deo instituti, non quidem ut propria lucra quærent, sed ut communem utilitatem procurent’ (De Regimine Judæorum 6). The pope himself, although nominally supreme, was also a chosen servant, and subject to the council of the church.
While there was pretty general agreement as to the fact of popular sovereignty, there were two opinions as to its transference to rulers. Some held that the transfer of supreme authority to king or pope, made voluntarily by the people or their representative, was irrevocable. But the more dominant idea was that the investiture of rulers was a delegation of sovereignty, to be valid only as long as the terms of the contract were observed. This mediæval doctrine of contract, which flows down the centuries in a strong and unbroken stream, carrying with it tremendous significance as a justification of popular revolts against tyrants, kings, and popes, found formal expression in the writings of the Abbot of Admont, Engelbert of Volkersdorf (1250-1311). In the De Ortu, Progressu, et Fine Romani Imperii Liber (c. 2) he shows the origin of all regna et principatus to have been in a pactum subjectionis. These idea of delegated sovereignty and contract are very prominent in Milton’s treatise. ‘Sovrantie,’ he affirms, must not be ‘transferrd, but delegated only.’
As kings and popes were public servants, instituted by the sovereign people for its own welfare, it followed that they were also subject to the will of the people. The law of God and the law of nature alone were absolute; and when regal or papal decrees ran counter to these higher mandates, they might, and must, be disobeyed. Even Thomas Aquinas, a powerful supporter of the papal power, clearly recognizes the supremacy of the higher law. God is to be obeyed before the pope (Summa Theologiæ 2. 1. 96. 4). William of Ockham expresses the same idea with reference to the emperor, who is only to be obeyed ‘in licitis’ (Dialog. 3. 2. 2. 20). The statement is made general by Philippus Decius (1454-1536) in the Consilia (72. 2): ‘Superiori non est obediendum quando egreditur fines sui officii.’
But popular sovereignty implied more than the possibility of passive disobedience. As early as the eleventh century the doctrines of active resistance and tyrannicide were being taught by Manegold. In the following century John of Salisbury boldly wrote On The End of Tyrants, and in the Policraticus he justifies every means of tyrannicide except poison. In the hands of the pope, during the papal supremacy, this became an effective instrument for reducing arrogant emperors to a proper subordination. In the sixteenth century we shall find the church, through the Jesuit writings, attempting to wield once more this ancient weapon against her imperial foes; while in the seventeenth century the whole Puritan revolution may be expressed in terms of these mediæval principles of popular sovereignty, resistance, and tyrannicide.
The mediæval idea of popular sovereignty did not extend so far as to grant participation to the people individually in the administration of the empire or church. In fact, they were pretty generally excluded. It was understood to mean the supremacy of the people collectively; hence it found its expression in a supreme representative council, popularly chosen, and, theoretically, exactly equivalent to the whole sovereign people for which it stood. Nothing exactly like this—a supreme assembly perfectly representative of the entire people—had ever been known, and its developments were destined to be of the utmost consequence. In the direct line of descent are the modern representative parliament, and Milton’s supreme ‘general Councel of ablest men, chosen by the people.’ The authority of this mediæval council was limited by nothing except the law of God and the law of nature. To it the senate of cardinals and the pope himself were subject.
But to realize the completeness of this mediæval conception, one must turn to the writings of Marsilius of Padua (d. after 1342), the famous rector of the University of Paris. In the Defensor Pacis (c. 1324), which has been called ‘the most original political treatise of the middle ages,’ he clearly sets forth the principle of a representative council. Chapters 20-1, pp. 256-63, are thus summarized by Poole: ‘The supreme power in the church is the church itself, that is, a general council, formed of the clergy and laity alike, and convoked not by any pretended spiritual authority but by the source of all legislation and jurisdiction, the civil state. Thus constituted a general council may not only decide ecclesiastical questions but even proceed to excommunicate the temporal ruler and place his land under an interdict, just because it represents the authority of the universal church and speaks the voice of the entire community, in both its spiritual and its temporal capacities. That it has power over the pope follows necessarily from the principles already laid down.’
But while there was recognition of the worth and rights of the individual, and of the sovereignty of the people as a whole; and although this found its highest expression in a representative council under the nominal leadership of the papal and regal authority, the most remarkable and unique achievement of mediæval policy was the building of these manifold elements of government into a unified whole. The genius of the mediæval mind, in fact, was chiefly its unparalleled capacity to achieve unity out of multiplicity. One God, one authority, one world-wide empire, one human brotherhood, one goal of life—such were the ideals that wrought themselves into unworldly monasticism, into the Holy Roman Empire; into cathedral and Divina Commedia; and into a system of federated government which articulated and fused into a whole the successive units of sovereignty from the individual to the papal throne. In order of magnitude, these units were the individual, the family, the village, the city, the province, the nation, the empire. Each part was an individual organism having its end in itself, reflecting in miniature the constitution of the whole, and yet at the same time forming a subordinate element in the successive higher unities. Dante well expresses this conception of world-wide and race-wide unity in discussing ‘what is the end of human society as a whole’: ‘In order to discern the point in question more clearly, observe that as Nature fashions the thumb for one purpose, the whole hand for another, then the arm for a purpose differing from both, and the entire man for one differing from all, so she creates for one end the individual, for another the family, for another the village, for still another end the city, for another the kingdom, and finally for an ultimate end by means of His art which is nature, the Eternal God brings into being the human race in its totality.’
Although this vast system of graduated sovereignties, united in one grand empire under the rulership of God, was soon to disintegrate, still the principle of federation—of preserving the identity and independence of the separate groups, yet binding all together into a unity—was to persist, and to exert a profound influence in modern times. The disintegration of the mediæval scheme of federated groups was largely due to the spread of Greek political ideas. Especially powerful was the influence of the Greek conception of a sovereign, nonuniversal state; indeed, this idea completely shattered the vast mediæval empire, and laid the foundations of modern European states. The state at one end of the mediæval chain, and the individual at the other, became the two antagonistic supremacies, and the intermediate links—village, city, and province—practically disappeared politically.
More and more the state came to mean the king; and, striving against regal absolutism, individualism developed into the rebellions and revolutions of the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries. Throughout this long struggle for political rights, the church, true to mediæval traditions, consistently championed the sovereignty of the people, and wielded the doctrine as a weapon against the pretensions of the temporal power. On the other hand, the supporters of the Reformation movement (itself an expression of individualism on its spiritual side) generally asserted the divine right of kings, in return for royal protection against the power of the pope. This was the alignment during the sixteenth century. Luther and Calvin—although the latter betrays some signs of a democratic, or at least aristocratic, preference—were outspokenly royalist. But the doctrines of disobedience, resistance, and tyrannicide were accepted by the later Calvinists, and were boldly proclaimed by the writers of the Huguenot and Jesuit schools. The sovereignty of the people and government by a representative council were reasserted, and justified historically, by Francis Hotman in the Franco-Gallia (1574). A still more powerful Huguenot presentation of liberal mediæval ideas is to be found in the Vindiciæ contra Tyrannos (1578). In the Politica Methodice Digesta of Althusius, the German jurist who wrote in praise of the United Provinces, we find a most remarkable return to the mediæval idea of federated groups—families uniting to form communities (villages, parishes, towns, etc.), and these combining into provinces, which in turn unite to form the state.
But the most complete revival of mediæval political ideas is to be found in the writings of the Jesuits, a society which originated just before the middle of the sixteenth century. The Catholic principles of unity, of subordination of the temporal to the spiritual power, of popular sovereignty, and of government by a representative council are reaffirmed with admirable clearness and force. The Spanish Jesuits, Molina and Suarez, even revived the theocratic conception of a perfect state, over which should reign the law of God and the law of nature. The dominating tyranny of kings, while it made impossible the realization of this ideal, all the more stirred the zeal of the Jesuits in its behalf. Not only did they justify disobedience, resistance, and tyrannicide; but when the horror of St. Bartholomew’s came to be laid at the door of Henry III, they were ready to assert and justify the right of private individuals to assassinate tyrants and heretic kings. The De Rege et Regis Institutione of Mariana, another Spanish Jesuit, is perhaps the boldest and ablest exposition of the radical antimonarchical doctrine ever written. The book produced a tremendous impression, and passed through many editions. Not only did it bear immediate fruit in the assassination of Henry III, but it became the authority and chief support of regicides for two centuries. Jesuit emissaries and Jesuit books crossed over into England in the latter part of the sixteenth century, and exercised no small influence in preparing the way for the extreme measures taken against the Stuarts.
Milton’s writings give evidence of his intimate acquaintance with the Franco-Gallia, Vindiciæ, De Rege, and other revolutionary utterances of the preceding century. In a very true sense their championship of popular, as against monarchical, ideas—derived, as we have seen, from the Middle Ages and the heart of the Roman church—they handed across the Channel to Milton, the apologist of the Puritan revolution and republic. Especially is this apparent in the present treatise in regard to its fundamental ideas of popular sovereignty, government by a representative council, and unified confederacy. Milton, in his political ideas, had vastly more in common with Catholic republicans than with Reformation royalists. In fact, as we shall see in the study of sources, Milton surreptitiously incorporates as authority in The Ready and Easy Way a generous portion of the De Republica of Jean Bodin, whom he elsewhere expressly styles a ‘Papist.’
The Rota Club
Among the various contemporary schools of commonwealth-proposers there was none so interesting, so brilliant, and so important in relation to Milton as the little group of enthusiasts who met regularly during the winter evenings of 1659-60 to discuss ‘aierie modells’ under the hospitable shelter of Miles’ Coffee-House, ‘at the Turk’s head, in the New Pallace-yard.’ The founder and animating spirit of this famous debating society was James Harrington, the author of Oceana, and, upon the whole, the ablest political philosopher of his time. Toland styles him the ‘greatest Commonwealthman in the World,’ and his Oceana ‘the most perfect Form of Popular Government that ever was.’ However that may be, it is certain that no contemporary republican possessed an equally intimate acquaintance with all previous political theory, together with constructive imagination and genius for detail, and unfailing enthusiasm in promoting his ideas. The Oceana appeared in 1656. It was instantly pounced upon by Cromwell’s courtiers, and carried to Whitehall; but, through Harrington’s intercession with Lady Claypole, the ‘child of his brain’ was rescued from Cromwell. Toland tells us that the treatise was ‘greedily bought up, and become the subject of all mens discourse.’ It proposed a most elaborate model of a commonwealth, based upon rotation in office, equal distribution of land, and the fundamental principle ‘that empire follows the balance of property, whether lodg’d in one, in a few, or in many hands’—a principle which, Toland affirms, Harrington ‘was the first that ever made out.’ Aubrey records that this ‘ingeniose tractat, together with his and H. Nevill’s smart discourses and inculcations, dayly at coffee-houses, made many proselytes.’ It provoked spirited controversy, and became the political creed and unifying principle of the Rota Club.
As the militant republicanism of the Harringtonians exercised so large an influence upon both editions of The Ready and Easy Way, it may be worth while to become acquainted with the Rota-men and their famous Coffee-Club. The Club began its sessions in September, 1659, at the time when the restored Rump was taking up the great question of settlement. The purpose of the Club, according to Burnet, was ‘to consider of a form of government that should secure liberty, and yet preserve the nation.’ It continued its animated discussions through the constitution-making army-régime and until the downfall of the Rump in February, or almost up to the appearance of The Ready and Easy Way. Perhaps the best contemporary mention is the following quaint account by Aubrey, a frequent visitor: ‘In so much [did Harrington ‘make proselytes’] that, anno 1659, the beginning of Michaelmasterme, he had every night a meeting at the (then) Turke’s head, in the New Pallace-yard, where they take water, the house next to the staires, at one Miles’, where was made purposely a large ovall-table, with a passage in the middle for Miles to deliver his Coffee. About it sate his disciples, and the virtuosi. The discourses were in this kind the most ingeniose, and smart, that ever I heard, or expect to heare, and band[i]ed with great eagernesse: the arguments in the Parliament howse were but flatt to it. . . . Here we had (very formally) a ballotting-box, and balloted how things should be caried, by way of tentamens. The room was every evening full as it could be cramm’d. I cannot now recount the whole number:—Mr. Cyriack Skinner, an ingeniose young gentleman, scholar to John Milton, was chaireman. . . . We many times adjourned to the Rhenish wine howse. One time Mr. Stafford and his gang came in, in drink, from the taverne, and affronted the Junto (Mr. Stafford tore their orders and minutes). The soldiers offerd to kick them downe stayres, but Mr. Harrington’s moderation and persuasion hindered it. The doctrine was very taking, and the more because, as to human foresight, there was no possibility of the king’s returne. But the greatest part of the Parliament-men perfectly hated this designe of rotation by ballotting; for they were cursed tyrants and in love with their power, and ’t was death to them, except 8 or 10, to admitt of this way. . . . Now this modell upon rotation was:—that the third part of the Senate should rote out by ballot every yeare, so that every ninth yeare the House would be wholly alterd; no magistrate to continue above 3 yeares, and all to be chosen by ballot, then which manner of choice, nothing can be invented more faire and impartiall. Well: this meeting continued Novemb., Dec., Jan., till Febr. 20 or 21; and then, upon the unexpected turne upon generall Monke’s comeing-in, all these aierie modells vanishd.’
Wood’s account follows Aubrey’s, but adds that the ballot-box with which the ‘gang’ amused themselves was an absolute novelty, ‘not being us’d or known in England before’; and that ‘on this account the room was every evening very full.’ This ballot-box, with its queer little pellets of divers colors, is one of the exotics at which Milton grumbles; but it was a source of infinite mirth among the Royalist wits. For a specimen of their satire see The Censure of the Rota (Appendix B. 3). Other amusing references to the Club may be found in the Harleian Miscellany (6. 192, 465; 7. 197).
A frequent and very much interested visitor at the Rota-Club debates was Samuel Pepys, who furnishes us comments under the dates of Jan. 10, Jan. 14, Jan. 17, and Feb. 20, the last of which is as follows: ‘In the evening Simons and I to the Coffee Club, where nothing to do only I heard Mr. Harrington, and my Lord of Dorset and another Lord, talking of getting another place as the Cockpit, and they did believe it would come to something. After a small debate upon the question whether learned or unlearned subjects are the best the Clubb broke up very poorly, and I do not think they will meet any more.’
They did not; at least, this is the last account we have of them.
We do not know that Milton ever visited the Rota Club, but it is certain that he was in constant and intimate touch with its proceedings. Cyriack Skinner, its occasional chairman, was one of Milton’s closest friends. Besides, this vigorous championship of a commonwealth must have been of very great interest to Milton, who differed from Harrington only as to the best means to this same general end. In the preface to Hirelings, he seems to show a keen interest in the Harrington petition recently laid before Parliament (see note on 23. 19). It is probable that his Rota-friend read to him from time to time Harrington’s various tracts in support of a commonwealth, such as The Art of Lawgiving, Political Aphorisms, 7 Models of a Commonwealth, and The Rota. And it would be singular indeed if there were no trace of them to be found in Milton’s contemporary model.
We find that the characteristic ideas of the Rota-men did exert an influence upon both editions of The Ready and Easy Way. The idea of rotation, so far from Milton’s doctrine of perpetuity in office, was still less radical and dangerous than the ‘conceit’ of successive Parliaments. It is therefore mentioned by Milton in the first edition, by way of compromise with the Harrington school, as the ‘best expedient, and with least danger’—but only to be tolerated as a last resort to satisfy such as were ‘ambitious to share in the government.’ It would seem, however, that Milton’s information as to Harrington’s proposal was somewhat inexact, or, as is more probable, that he was not willing to follow that design too closely. The rotation-scheme as stated in the first edition is Harrington’s, but with a difference; and the difference is characteristically Miltonic. Instead of one third of the senate’s rotating annually by suffrage of the people, ‘a hundred or some such number may go out by lot or suffrage of the rest’—a much less popular form of rotation than Harrington’s, and one less likely to impair the dignity and power of the senate. If possible, the managing of this business should be in the control of the council itself. It is in the second edition, however, that the subject receives earnest attention. Milton finds it expedient ‘to enlarge especially that part which argues for a perpetual Senat.’ Accordingly, we find that the brief mention of rotation in the first edition has been expanded into whole paragraphs and pages in the second.
But the Rota Club, notwithstanding the fact that Milton grudgingly and tentatively accepts one of its proposals, is not to be thought of as a source of The Ready and Easy Way, but rather as a formative influence without the pressure of which large sections of Milton’s treatise would not have been written. The ideas of the Rota-men are almost invariably mentioned to be criticized and combated. Such criticism must have seemed all the more imperative, as The Rota: Or a Modell of a Free State or equal Commonwealth, Harrington’s contribution of advice corresponding to Milton’s, was almost exactly contemporary with The Ready and Easy Way. Wood naturally associates the two rival models: ‘The Rota . . . published in the beginning of Feb. 1659. About which time John Milton published a pamphlet called, The ready and easy Way to establish a free commonwealth.’ That Milton considered Harrington a formidable competitor, we may infer from the dimensions of the counter-argument in this treatise, and from Harrington’s reputation as a political philosopher. Toland says by way of comparison: ‘In this book [Milton’s] he delivers the model of a commonwealth, well suted perhaps to the circumstances of that time, but inferior, in all respects, to Harrington’s Oceana, which for the practicableness, equality, and completeness of it, is the most perfect form of such a government that ever was delineated by any antient or modern pen.’
Finally, the principal proposals of Harrington that come in for criticism in the pamphlet, and Milton’s opinions of them, may be briefly stated. (1) Agrarian laws (see note on 28. 30) Milton believes to be dangerous; his own model involves ‘no perilous, no injurious alteration or circumscription of mens lands and proprieties.’ (2) There were to be a ‘Senate of three hundred Knights, and the popular assembly of one thousand and fifty Deputies, each being upon a triennial Rotation, or annual Change in one third part.’ But this ‘annual rotation of a Senat to consist of three hundred, as is lately propounded,’ replies Milton, and ‘another popular assembly upward of a thousand, with an answerable rotation, . . . cannot but be troublesom and chargeable, unweildie with thir own bulk, unable to mature thir consultation as they ought.’ He ‘could wish this wheel or partial wheel in State, if it be possible, might be avoided, as having too much affinitie with the wheel of fortune.’ He does not, however, reject it utterly. If not the ‘best,’ it is still the ‘known expedient,’ and much to be preferred to kingship. He will not ‘forejudge . . . any probable expedient.’ The tone of the argument reveals no sign of animosity toward Harrington himself. (3) The secret ballot receives no support from Milton; he speaks slightingly of this Venetian innovation, and of ‘exotic models’ in general. (4) Harrington’s whole elaborate scheme of division and subdivision of territory into shires or tribes, hundreds, and parishes, and of the freemen into youths and elders, horse and foot; their assembling at stated times at the summons of trumpet or drum, or the ringing of bells; the compulsory marching and countermarching, the prescribed robes of divers colors, the intricate process of voting—all seemed to Milton ‘new injunctions to manacle the native libertie of mankinde; turning all vertue into prescription, servitude, and necessitie, to the great impairing and frustrating of Christian libertie.’ His way, so different from Harrington’s, was ‘plain, easie and open; . . . without intricacies, without the introducement of . . . obsolete forms, or terms, or exotic models.’
Scriptural Authority and Illustration
The Ready and Easy Way is not distinctively learned, argumentative, or defensive, but was written rather hastily, as a practical suggestion in an emergency. The Biblical element, therefore, is much less prominent here than it is in such treatises as the Defensio and the Tenure. However, we find that not fewer than twelve direct appeals to the Bible are made in the present work—for illustration and proof; for vindication and ridicule; for warning and denunciation. Milton’s employment of Scripture is extremely bold and effective. Old-Testament blood-guiltiness is the warning held up before backsliders from the ‘good old cause’; moreover, those who clamor for kingship may be warned of God’s anger from the case of Samuel’s sons; and let the Stuarts themselves tremble at the terrible denunciation of Jeremiah against Coniah. Unfortunately, it was not without some grounds that the critics accused Milton of wresting the Scripture to his purpose (see notes on 15. 34 and 15. 35, and p. 177).
In his proposed curriculum, as also in his own extensive reading, Milton had given a prominent place to ‘those extolled remains of Grecian lawgivers, Lycurgus and Solon.’ And while we are not to imagine him now, in his anxious haste and infirmity of blindness, as painfully groping among Athenian and Spartan constitutions, it is nevertheless true that he incorporates in his model much of their spirit, and many of their practical expedients. Milton seems to have read of the curb, or ‘bridle’-device, of the Ephori, in the charming pages of Plutarch’s Life of Lycurgus. There is also an allusion to the peculiar Spartan form of election in his unwillingness to commit all ‘to the noise and shouting of a rude multitude.’ Throughout the treatise there runs an implied commendation of Spartan frugality, simplicity, discipline, and patriotic fervor.
But it was for the Athenian commonwealth, as founded by Solon and further democratized by his successors, that Milton reserved his profoundest admiration. Like Milton, Solon was a poet turned statesman, an unselfish reformer, and an unsuccessful opposer of tyrants. But, unlike Milton’s, his political ideas had the good fortune to become the basis of the constitution of the republic. Milton found these reflected in Plutarch’s Life of Solon—itself largely derived from Aristotle’s recently recovered Constitution of Athens. Here are set forth the ideas of a supreme and perpetual council of the Areopagus; proportionate eligibility to office; the right of appeal to living judges. Solon himself, as here described, furnishes a splendid example of unselfish public service, and of supreme contempt for royal ostentation. And Milton’s proposed combination of local and national authority—legislative, executive, and judicial—he finds ‘to have been practised in the old Athenian commonwealth.’ We may now turn to the strictly political writings of the Greeks to which our book is indebted. We have seen that Milton professed to hold in some derision the idealistic proposals of Plato—‘a man of high authority indeed, but least of all for his commonwealth.’ Nevertheless, almost a score of Plato’s social and political ideas reappear in The Ready and Easy Way. The nature of the state, the origin of law, the purpose of government, the relation of tyranny to moral progress, magistracy as service, due liberty—these are some of the subjects upon which Milton’s thought accords with Plato’s. Most of these ideas, it is true, Milton met again far down the stream and in other forms, for we are here at the fountainhead of modern commonwealth-theory; but it is also true that he received the initial impression of these conceptions from the pages of the Republic and the Laws. Finally, Aristotle, a much more practical philosopher, is acknowledged as ‘chief instructer,’ and especially cited as authority (31. 5).
The Roman Republic and Its Expounders
Hardly less profoundly was Milton influenced by the history of the illustrious republic of Rome. The influence, however, was largely one of national character and political institutions, for in the province of original political philosophy the Roman contribution had been small. It was the history of that liberty-loving people, who, deposing their kings, flourished for five hundred years as a republic; the matchless spirit of the Romans, who were ‘in a manner all fit to be kings’; their august, perpetual senate, their check-device of the tribunes: it was these elements of Roman greatness that appealed most strongly to Milton at this time, as exemplifying the feasibility and superiority of an aristocratic republic.
But the Roman republic, although it imported its politics from Greece, was not quite without expounders. There were Cicero, with his Republic and Laws, and Polybius, and Justinian; from each of whom Milton seems to have gleaned ideas that were to reappear later in modified form in his own republic. Like Milton, Cicero had striven ‘at all hazard’ to uphold the tottering and already doomed structure of a republic, having voluntarily resigned the ‘diversified sweetness’ of his studies to oppose himself ‘almost alone to the tempests and torrents of sedition, for the sake of preserving the state’ —an utterance that seems to have colored Milton’s own declaration of motives. Like Milton again, Cicero professed to be a practical statesman; but he openly modeled his treatises upon Plato’s Republic and Laws. Naturally, therefore, most of his ideas are of no importance as sources. Yet there is a certain remainder, peculiarly his own, which did exercise a direct influence upon the shaping of The Ready and Easy Way. For example, Milton expressly acknowledges the power of Cicero’s beautiful and eloquent statement of the law of nature (see note on 10. 40).
It is probable that Milton’s idea of ‘balance’ was derived from, or confirmed by, the exposition of the Roman system of checks and balances, as found in Polybius. The Commonplace Book shows that he took notes from Justinian on natural and civil law. We know that Milton derived from Augustine the opinion that magistrates are really servants. The De Civitate Dei left other traces upon The Ready and Easy Way. It is certain that this was one source of the idea that kings should not presume to rule over men (see note on 19. 14).
Modern Political Theorists
It has been the purpose of a preceding section to show that the mediæval contribution to The Ready and Easy Way, while very large indeed, descended by way of sixteenth-century democratic thought, and was not recognized as mediæval at all. We may therefore pass from the fifth to the fifteenth century, and next inquire as to the modern sources of Milton’s treatise. It is not a little surprising to find the first of these in the writings of Machiavelli (1469-1527), the celebrated Florentine statesman, the first, and one of the greatest, of modern politicians. There are many reasons why Machiavelli particularly interested and influenced Milton. As an embodiment of the Renaissance spirit, he stood for intellectual and religious emancipation; he eagerly welcomed the experience and wisdom of Greece and Rome; he too acknowledged Aristotle as his chief instructor, and professed himself to be—what he really was—a practical statesman and impartial inquirer after truth; his favorite model of government was the republic of Rome; his volumes were rich in information about the minor republics of Italy, such as Venice and Florence; he started from the assumption that the state, of whatever form, is to be preserved and promoted at whatever cost, and discussed with inimitable clearness and penetration the policies best adapted to that end. The fact that his attitude is unmoral and indifferentist, or nearly so, did not deter Milton—as it had innumerable narrow minds that execrated the very name of Machiavelli—from diligently reading and excerpting the Discorsi and the Arte della Guerra, as the Commonplace Book and The Ready and Easy Way prove. In spite of their usual impersonal tone, Machiavelli’s volumes contained certain bold declarations and eulogies upon freedom which, to Commonwealth-men of the calibre of Milton and Harrington, seemed to betray a republican fervor in the author. Accordingly, Harrington holds him in high repute as the ‘learn’d Disciple’ of ‘the Antients,’ and ‘the only Politician of later Ages.’
A large part of Machiavelli’s work is, of course, a restatement of Aristotelian philosophy, and must be disregarded so far as sources are concerned, except where its connection with Milton’s thought is indisputable. Such is the case, as proved by Milton’s own citations, in those passages which amplify the thought that hereditary kings are seldom virtuous, and that good men are scarce in monarchies, but abound in commonwealths. Machiavelli also suggested to Milton, or at least confirmed him in the opinion, that God preferred to make commonwealths when given His own way about it (see note on 32. 5).
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.’
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:
|Bodin, DeRepublica 3.1., ed. Francofurti, 1641.
||Milton, Commonwealth, 1 ed., 1660.
||Bodin, Commonweale, London, 1606, p. 277.
|‘. . . mea tamen sententia commodius est, senatores perpetuos esse, . . . quin tanta varietate mutabiles efficiunt, . . . non modo senatus splendorem obscurant, ac Reip. dignitatem labefactant, verumetiam Remp. in apertum discrimen coniiciunt, dum arcana promulgantur ac novis Senatoribus rerum praeteritarum ignaris summa Reip. gubernacula committuntur.’
||‘They who write of policie, give these reasons; “That to make the whole Senate successive, not only impairs the dignitie and lustre of the Senate, but weakens the whole Commonwealth, and brings it into manifest danger; while by this means the secrets of State are frequently divulgd, and matters of greatest consequence committed to inexpert and novice counselors, utterly to seek in the full and intimate knowledg of affairs past.” ’
||‘Howbeit I am not of opinion so to have the councellours of estate changed and rechanged; but rather to have them perpetuall. . . . For the yearely chaunging . . . doth not onely greatly obscure the glorie of the Senat, which ought to shine as the sunne, but also draweth after it the inevitable daunger of disclosing and publishing or the secrets of the estate: joining hereunto also, That the Senat, all new, cannot bee enformed of affaires passed, neither yet well continue the entertainment of the affaires present.’
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.
Several minor obligations remain to be mentioned briefly. We know from Milton’s own citations that he was familiar with Hotman’s Franco-Gallia (1574), and certain of its bold assertions seem to have left their mark upon The Ready and Easy Way (see note on 17. 23). Another and still more famous Huguenot book that Milton read, and made use of here, is the Vindiciæ contra Tyrannos (1580), which develops the theory of contract, or covenant, between people and king. Buchanan, whose remarkably bold and able treatise, De Jure Regni apud Scotos (1579), contributed so largely to Milton’s Tenure, exerted a general influence by declaring in vigorous language the sovereignty of the people and the justice of tyrannicide, and possibly suggested to Milton one or two specific ideas (see notes on 15. 6 and 16. 37). To Luther and Calvin are to be referred certain expressions of the treatise concerning liberty of conscience. There is a direct reference to Camden’s History of Elizabeth. The Commonplace Book shows that Milton made use of the following historians also: Holinshed, Stow, and Speed; De Thou, Girard, and Gilles; Sleidan; Costanzo. Many of the ideas here set forth may be found in the author’s earlier pamphlets, or in the Commonplace Book. There is some obligation to contemporary usage, particularly in the matter of Cromwellian and Puritan phraseology, or cant (see note on 14. 27). And, finally, even Milton’s bitter pamphleteering opponents contributed a slight element to The Ready and Easy Way.
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.’ 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.
As a practical solution of the problem of settlement, we have seen that The Ready and Easy Way possesses little significance. There is no record of its ever having received the slightest serious consideration from those in authority, or of its ever having enlisted a single private voice in its support. While it contains much sound political wisdom, it reveals Milton’s astounding ignorance of existing conditions in the proposal to perpetuate the very institution from which the whole nation was then crying aloud to be delivered.
Its interest as a literary achievement is much more considerable. Milton has not only made a constitution readable and interesting,—a feat sufficiently remarkable,—but he has so suffused its practical proposals with ideality and passionate humanity as to make this pamphlet one of the noblest that he ever wrote. Discarding ornate and elaborate style, in homely, telling words Milton here pours forth his most earnest thought and feeling upon the lofty theme of human freedom. He asserts the native worth and inherent capacity of the individual and of the nation. He glows with indignation at the presumption of kings. With eloquent appeal he seeks to recall the infatuated people from their servility. With the almost unerring insight of a prophet, he warns of penalties to come. And with all the terrific power at his command, he hurls defiance and anathema at the approaching king. Although the treatise is tinged with a sad consciousness of defeat, it by no means belongs to the literature of despair. Its gloom is pierced by a ray of hope—the eternal hope of the Christian idealist. God, to whom the writer appeals in his sublime peroration, is able to raise up ‘children of reviving libertie’ from the very stones.
The Ready and Easy Way may be considered from the dramatic point of view. It is, indeed, a tragedy; for, although designedly a political pamphlet, it vividly portrays the heroic struggle of an individual against forces which prove irresistible. One has only to look beneath its hurried, fervent lines, to see the forward sweep of the mob, the vain attempt of a few brave men to stay its fury. It is the tragedy, not only of an individual and of a group, but of the cause of freedom.
The treatise possesses peculiar interest as a prophecy. Although sightless eyes were unable to inform him of conditions and needs as they existed immediately around him, Milton seems to have beheld, with all the prevision of a seer, the consequences which were to ensue upon the return of the Stuarts. The dissolute court, the widespread moral degeneracy; dire revenges, oppressive taxes, and confiscation of estates; the standing army, the corruption of the judiciary, the repentance of the people, the appeal to arms—all this followed swiftly upon the Restoration, even as Milton had foretold.
The chief significance of The Ready and Easy Way, however, does not consist in its political, literary, or prophetic nature, but in its biographical revelations. After all, the personality of Milton is more interesting, and more important, than his doctrines; and here, in this slender pamphlet, we have a faithful record of the mind and heart and conduct of the greatest of the Puritans, at the supreme crisis of his political career.
It is pleasing to note that amidst almost universal defection Milton shows no sign of compromise, no abandonment of high ideals. He is still the advocate of Puritan simplicity, industry, frugality, stern morality, and true religion. He believes in the need and possibility of righteous public servants. He glows with indignation at the profligacy and insolence of courtiers and cavaliers. He still asserts the native liberty of men, and holds kings in less esteem than at any previous period of his life. He is even no longer a believer in protectors, as is shown by the motto prefixed to the second edition.
For twenty years Milton had given himself unreservedly to the service of the state. He had spread the fame of the ‘glorious rising Commonwealth’ all over Europe. With grief he now beheld the nation turning again, of its own accord, to servitude. Never did Milton’s patriotism burn more brightly than in his earnest endeavor even yet to save the people from their folly, his eloquent warnings and appeals, his eagerness to point out the way of escape. Never did he give a more superb exhibition of courage. He had freely sacrificed his sight in ‘liberty’s defense’; he now offered life itself, for he could not have doubted that death was likely to be the penalty attached to his Ready and Easy Way.