1831 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Henry Mackenzie

Anonymous, Obituary in Gentleman's Magazine 101 (February 1831) 182-83.



Jan. 14. At Edinburgh, aged 85, Henry Mackensie, Esq. author of The Man of Feeling.

He was the son of Dr. Joshua Mackensie; and after receiving a liberal education, devoted himself to the law, and in 1766 became an attorney in the Court of Exchequer at Edinburgh. Ultimately his practice in that court produced him about 800 a year, he became comptroller-general of taxes for Scotland, with a salary of 600 a year, and altogether his annual income was upwards of 2000. He married in 1767 Miss Pennel Grant, daughter of Sir James Grant, of Grant, by whom he had a family of eleven children.

When very young, Mr. Mackensie was the author of numerous little pieces in verse; and, though of a kind and gentle temper, the credit which be enjoyed for wit induced him occasionally to attempt the satiric strain. It was, however, in tenderness and simplicity in the plaintive tone of the elegy — in that charming freshness of imagery which belongs to the pastoral, that he was seen to most advantage. He next aspired to the sentimental and pathetic novel; and, in 1768 or 1769, in his hours of relaxation from professional employment, he wrote, what has generally been considered his masterpiece, The Man of Feeling. At first the booksellers declined its publication, even as a gratuitous offering; but difficulties were at length surmounted — the book appeared anonymously — and the warmest enthusiasm was excited in its favour. The ladies of Edinburgh, like those of Paris on the appearance of La Nouvelle Heloise, all fancied themselves with the author. But the writer was unknown; and a Mr. Eccles, a young Irish clergyman, was desirous of appropriating the fame to himself. He accordingly was at the pains of transcribing the entire work, and of marking the manuscript with erasures and interlineations, to give it the air of that copy in which the author had wrought the last polish on his piece before sending it to the press. Of course this gross attempt at deception was not long successful. The Man of Feeling was published in 1771; and the eclat with which its real author was received, when known, induced him, in the same, or following year, to adventure the publication of a poem entitled The Pursuit of Happiness.

Mr. Mackensie's next production was The Man of the World; a sort of second part of The Man of Feeling, but, like most second parts, inferior to its predecessor. Dr. Johnson, despising and abhorring the fashionable whine of sensibility, treated the work with more asperity than it deserved.

Julia de Roubigne, a novel, in the epistolary form, was the last work of this class from the pen of Mr. Mackensie. It is extremely elegant, tender, and affecting; but its pathos has a cast of sickliness, and the mournful nature of the catastrophe produces a sensation more painful than pleasing on the mind of the reader.

In 1773 Mr. Mackensie produced a tragedy under the title of The Prince of Tunis, which, with Mrs. Yates as its heroine, was performed with applause for six nights at the Edinburgh Theatre. Of three other dramatic pieces by Mr. Mackensie, the next was The Shipwreck, or Fatal Curiosity. This was an alteration and amplification of Lillo's tragedy of Fatal Curiosity, suggested by a perusal of Mr. Harris's Philological Essays, then recently published. Some new characters were introduced with the view of exciting more sympathy with the calamities of the Wilmot family. Rather unfortunately, Mr. Coleman had about the same time taken a fancy to alter Lillo's play. His production was brought out at the Haymarket, in 1782; and Mr. Mackenzie's at Covent-Garden, in 1783 or 1784. The Force of Fashion, a comedy, by Mr. Mackenzie, was acted one night at Covent-Garden Theatre, in 1789; but, from its failure, it was never printed. The White Hypocrite, another unsuccessful comedy by Mr. Mackensie, was produced at Covent Garden in the season of 1788-9.

Some years afterwards he and a few of his friends, mostly lawyers, who used to meet occasionally at a tavern kept by M. Bayll, a Frenchman, projected the publication of a series of papers on morals, manners, taste, and literature, similar to those of the Spectator. The society, originally designated the Tabernacle, but afterwards the Mirror Club, consisted of Mr. Mackensie, Mr. Craig, Mr. Cullen, Mr. Bannatyne, Mr. Macleod, Mr. Abercrombie, Mr. Solicitor-General Blair, Mr. George Home, and Mr. George Ogilvie; several of whom afterwards became judges in the supreme Courts of Scotland. Of these, Mr., now Sir William Bannatyne, a venerable and accomplished gentleman of the old school, is the only survivor. Their scheme was speedily carried into effect; and the papers, under the title of the Mirror, of which Mr. Mackenzie was the editor, were published in weekly numbers, at the price of three pence per folio sheet. The sale never reached beyond three or four hundred in single papers; but the succession of the numbers were no sooner closed, than the whole, with the names of the respective authors, were republished in three duodecimo volumes. The writers sold the copy-right; out of the produce of which they presented a donation of 100 to the Orphan Hospital, and purchased a hogshead of claret for the use of the Club.

To the Mirror succeeded the Lounger, a periodical of a similar character, and equally successful. Mr. Mackensie was the chief and most valuable contributor to each of these works.

On the institution of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, Mr. Mackensie became one of its members; and, amongst the papers with which he enriched the volumes of its Transactions, are, an elegant tribute to the memory of his friend Judge Abercromby, and a Memoir on German Tragedy. For this memoir he had procured the materials through the medium of a French work; but desiring afterwards to enjoy the native beauties of German poetry, he took lessons in German from Dr. Okely, who was at that, time studying. medicine in Edinburgh. The fruits of his attention to German literature appeared further in the year 1791, in a small volume of translations of two or three dramatic pieces. In 1793, Mr. Mackenzie edited a quarto volume of Poems by the late Rev. Dr. Thomas Blacklock, together with an Essay on the Education of the Blind, &c. In political literature he was the author of a Review of the Proceedings of the Parliament which met first in the year 1784, and of a series of Letters under the signature of Brutus. In all those exertions which, during the war of the French revolution, were found necessary to support the government and preserve the peace of the country, no person was more honourably or more usefully zealous.

Mr. Mackenzie was remarkably fond of rural diversions of fowling, hunting, and fishing. In private life his conversation was ever the charm and the pride of society.