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A Handbook to the Works of Browning (6th ed.)

Contains the lesson which determined Ferishtah


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."

Lyric. "Let me love, as man may, content with such perfection as may fill a human heart; not looking beyond it for that which only an angel's sense can apprehend."

5. "THE SUN" justifies the tendency to think of God as in human form. Life moves us to many feelings of love and praise. These embrace in an ascending scale all its beneficent agencies, unconscious and conscious, and cannot stop short of the first and greatest of all. This First Cause must be thought of as competent to appreciate our praise and love, and as moved by a beneficent purpose to the acts which have inspired them. The sun is a symbol of this creative power--by many even imagined to be its reality. But that mighty orb is unconscious of the feelings it may inspire; and the Divine Omnipotence, which it symbolizes, must be no less incompetent to earn them. For purpose is the negation of power, implying something which power has not attained; and would imply deficiency in an existence which presents itself to our intelligence as complete. Reason therefore tells us that God can have no resemblance with man; but it tells us, as plainly, that, without a fiction of resemblance, the proper relation between Creator and creature, between God and man, is unattainable.[121] If one exists, for whom the fiction or fancy has been converted into fact--for whom the Unknowable has proved itself to contain the Knowable: the ball of fire to hold within it an earthly substance unconsumed; he deserves credit for the magnitude, not scorn for the extravagance, of his conception.

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