THE RED CROSS AND THE HEAVENLY MAID
"For in other places, although the beginning of his Allegory or mysticall sense, may be obscure, yet in the processe of it, he doth himself declare his own conceptions in such sort as they are obvious to any ordinary capacitie: But in this, he seems onely to glance at the profoundest notions that any Science can deliver us, and then on a sudden (as it were) recalling himself out of an Enthusiasme, he returns to the gentle Relation of the Allegoricall History he had begun, leaving his Readers to wander up and down in much obscuritie, & to come within much danger of erring at his Intention. . . ."--SIR KENELM DIGBY, 1643-1644.
None will ever pluck out the heart of the Faerie Queene's mystery. There are too many unknowns which no amount of scientific scholarship, of intellectual ingenuity, of critical acumen will ever discover. We can only hope to approximate the truth more closely.
Spenser wrote and revised the first three books of the poem over a decade, during which he was frequently interrupted by pressure of personal, civil, political, military affairs. Milton sacrificed his poetic career for many years to a greater extent and to political demands of greater moment, but, instead of attempting under pressure to write his epic, he spent whatever time he had carefully choosing his subject, slowly maturing it in his mind; consequently, when he was finally free to write, Milton had the advantage of a long-considered scheme, as well as leisure and a fortunate kindling of creative energy. If he had begun Paradise Lost in 1640, we should have in history of composition a rough analogy to Spenser's experience.*____________________
In comparisons like this, differences in age should be remembered. Spenser began his Faerie Queene at 28, finished the first three books at