The idea of “FERISHTAH’S FANCIES” grew out of a fable by Pilpay, which Mr. Browning read when a boy. He lately put this into verse; and it then occurred to him to make the poem the beginning of a series, in which the Dervish, who is first introduced as a learner, should reappear in the character of a teacher. Ferishtah’s “fancies” are the familiar illustrations, by which his teachings are enforced. Each fancy or fable, with its accompanying dialogue, is followed by a Lyric, in which the same or cognate ideas are expressed in an emotional form; and the effect produced by this combination of moods is itself illustrated in a Prologue by the blended flavours of a favourite Italian dish, which is fully described there. An introductory passage from “King Lear” seems to tell us what we soon find out for ourselves, that Ferishtah’s opinions are in the main Mr. Browning’s own.
Fancy 1. “THE EAGLE,” contains the lesson which determined Ferishtah, not yet a Dervish, to become one. He has learned from the experience which it describes, that it is man’s mission to feed those hungry ones who are unable to feed themselves. “The soul often starves as well as the body. He will minister to the hunger of the soul. And to this end he will leave the solitude of the woods in which the lesson came to him, and seek the haunts of men.”
The Lyric deprecates the solitude which united souls may enjoy, by a selfish or fastidious seclusion from the haunts of men.
2. “THE MELON-SELLER,” records an incident referred to in a letter from the “Times’” correspondent, written many years ago. It illustrates the text—given by Mr. Browning in Hebrew—“Shall we receive good at the hands of God, and shall we not receive evil?” and marks the second stage in Ferishtah’s progress towards Dervish-hood.
The Lyric bids the loved one be unjust for once if she will. “The lover’s heart preserves so many looks and words, in which she gave him more than justice.”
3. “SHAH ABBAS” shows Ferishtah, now full Dervish, expounding the relative character of belief. “We wrongly give the name of belief to the easy acquiescence in those reported facts, to the truth of which we are indifferent; or the name of unbelief to that doubting attitude towards reported facts, which is born of our anxious desire that they may be true. It is the assent of the heart, not that of the head, which is valued by the Creator.”
Lyric. Love will guide us smoothly through the recesses of another’s heart. Without it, as in a darkened room, we stumble at every step, wrongly fancying the objects misplaced, against which we are stumbling.
4. “THE FAMILY” again defends the heart against the head. It defends the impulse to pray for the health and safety of those we love, though such prayer may imply rebellion to the will of God. “He, in whom anxiety for those he loves cannot for the moment sweep all before it, will sometimes be more than man, but will much more often be less.”