1832 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Henry Mackenzie

William Clarke and Robert Shelton Mackenzie, in The Georgian Era: Memoirs of the most eminent Persons who have flourished in Great Britain (1832-34) 3:562-63.



HENRY MACKENZIE, the son of a physician at Edinburgh, was born there in August, 1745. He was educated for the profession of the law; and, after having studied, both in London and Edinburgh, became an attorney in the court of Exchequer, in the latter city, in 1766; three years before which, his tragedy of The Prince of Tunis had been successfully represented on the stage. In 1771, appeared, anonymously, the work for which he is chiefly celebrated, entitled The Man of Feeling; the merited popularity of which induced a Mr. Eccles, of Bath, to lay claim to the authorship, which he endeavoured to maintain, by producing a copy transcribed with his own hand, with blottings, erasures, and interlineations. This gave rise to a public contradiction of the fraud on the part of the real author, whose reputation was, in consequence, so fully established, that he was induced, some years afterwards, to publish The Man of the World; an inferior continuation of his former novel, but still an impressive and powerful performance. His next production was entitled Julia de Roubigne, an epistolary novel, which, Sir Walter Scott has observed, gives the reader too much actual pain to be so generally popular as The Man of Feeling. He, however, adds, that the very acute feeling which the work usually excites among the readers, he is disposed to ascribe to the extreme accuracy and truth of the sentiments, as well as to the beautiful manner in which they are expressed. In 1778, having become member of a new literary society, he suggested the institution of a periodical paper, called The Mirror, of which he was editor, as also, subsequently, of The Lounger; where appeared his review of the poems of Burns, who was thus brought into immediate public notice, and prevented from quitting his country for the West Indies. In 1783, Mr. Mackenzie produced The Shipwreck, or Fatal Curiosity, an adaptation of Lillo's tragedy, at Covent Garden, and at the same theatre, his two unsuccessful comedies of The Force of Fashion, and The White Hypocrite, were subsequently acted. He is also the author of another tragedy, called The Spanish Father; and, besides editing the poems of Blacklock, contributed several papers to the Transactions of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, and of the Highland Society. He also published, in 1791, a small volume of translations from the German Drama; and has distinguished himself in political literature, by a series of letters under the signature of Brutus. During the greater part of his life, Mr. Mackenzie, who is much esteemed in private life, has enjoyed the office of comptroller of the taxes for Scotland, a situation worth about 800 a-year. He married, in 1767, a daughter of Sir James Grant, and has a family by her, of eleven children. His celebrity is derived principally from his Essays and his Man of Feeling, which are distinguished by sweetness and beauty of style, deep pathos, and tenderness and delicacy of imagination, that will always render them popular. Sir Walter Scott held in great estimation the talents of Mr. Mackenzie; and, in dedicating to him the novel of Waverley, styled him the Scotch Addison. In summing up his merit as a novelist and essayist, the same high authority observes, "the historian of the Homespun Family may place his narrative, without fear of shame, by the side of The Vicar of Wakefield. Colonel Caustic and Umphraville, are masterly conceptions of the 'laudator temporis acti'; and many passages in those papers, which Mr. Mackenzie contributed to The Mirror and Lounger, attest with what truth, spirit, and ease, he could describe, assume, and sustain, a variety of characters."