1859 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Henry Mackenzie

William Anderson, in Scottish Nation (1859-66) 3:23-25.



HENRY MACKENZIE, author of The Man of Feeling, son of Dr. Joshua Mackenzie, an eminent physician in Edinburgh, by his wife Margaret, eldest daughter of Mr. Rose of Kilravock, in Nairnshire, was born in that city, in August 1745. He was educated at the High School and university of Edinburgh, and was afterwards articled to Mr. Inglis of Redhall, in order to acquire a knowledge of the business of the Exchequer. In 1765 he went to London, to study the modes of English Exchequer practice, which, as well as the constitution of the courts, are similar in both countries. While residing there, he was advised by a friend to qualify himself for the English bar; but he preferred returning to Edinburgh, where he became, first the partner, and afterwards the successor, of Mr. Inglis, in the office of attorney for the crown.

He very early displayed a strong attachment to literary pursuits, and during his stay in London, he sketched part of his first work, The Man of Feeling, which was published in 1771, without his name, and at once became a favourite with the public. A few years afterwards the great popularity of the work induced a Mr. Eccles of Bath to claim the authorship. He was at pains to transcribe the whole in his own hand, with a plentiful introduction of blottings, interlineations, and corrections, and he maintained his pretensions with so much plausibility and pertinacity, that Messrs. Cadell and Strahan, the publishers, at last found it necessary to undeceive the public by a formal contradiction. In 1773 Mr. Mackenzie published his Man of the World, which displayed the same tone of exquisite moral delicacy and elegance of style as his former work. In 1777 he produced Julia de Roubigne, a beautiful and tragic tale, in a series of letters, exhibiting the refined sensibility and the delicate perception of human character and manners which distinguished all his writings.

Mr. Mackenzie was one of the principal members of the "Mirror Club," and edited the well-known periodical of that name. Most of the other gentlemen connected with it were afterwards judges in the Court of Session — namely, Lord Cullen, Lord Abercromby, Lord Craig, and Lord Bannatyne. 'The Mirror' was commenced January 23, 1779, and ended May 27, 1780, having latterly been issued twice a week. Of the 110 papers to which it extended, forty-two were contributed by Mr. Mackenzie, including La Roche. The sale never at any time exceeded four hundred copies, but when afterwards republished in duodecimo volumes, with the names of the authors, a considerable sum was obtained for the copyright, out of which the proprietors presented 100 to the Orphan Hospital, and purchased a hogshead of claret for the use of the club. The Lounger, a publication of a similar character, also conducted by Mr. Mackenzie, was commenced by the same parties, February 6, 1785, and was continued weekly till January 6, 1787. Of the 101 papers which it includes, fifty-seven were written by Mr. Mackenzie, who, in one of the latter numbers, reviewed for the first time the Poems of Burns, which were just then published.

On the institution of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, Mr. Mackenzie became one of its members; and among the papers with which he enriched its Transactions are an elegant tribute to the memory of his friend Lord Abercromby, and a Memoir on German Tragedy, in the latter of which he bestows high praise on the Emelia Gallotti of Lessing and The Robbers of Schiller. He took lessons in German from a Dr. Okely, at that time studying medicine in Edinburgh; and in 1791 he published a small volume containing translations of The Set of Horses, by Lessing, and of two or three other German dramatic pieces. He was also an original member of the Highland Society, and by him were published the volumes of their Transactions, to which he prefixed an account of the institution, and the principal proceedings of the Society. In these Transactions is also to be found his view of the controversy respecting Ossian's Poems, containing an interesting account of Gaelic poetry.

At the time of the French revolution be published various political pamphlets, with the view of counteracting the progress of democratic principles in this country. One of these, entitled An Account of the Proceedings of the Parliament of 1784, introduced him to the notice of Mr. Pitt; and in 1804, on the recommendation of Lord Melville and Mr. George Rose, he was appointed to the lucrative office of comptroller of taxes for Scotland, which he held till his death.

In 1793 he wrote the Life of Dr. Blacklock, prefixed to a quarto edition of the blind poet's works, published for the benefit of his widow. In 1808 he brought out a complete edition of his own works, in eight volumes 8vo. In 1812 he read to the Royal Society his Life of John Home; and as a sort of supplement to it, he then added some Critical Essays, chiefly on dramatic poetry, which have not been published, but the Life itself appeared in 1822. Mr. Mackenzie himself attempted dramatic writing, but without success. A tragedy, composed in his early youth, entitled The Spanish Father, was rejected by Garrick, and never represented. In 1773 another tragedy of his, styled The Prince of Tunis, was performed with applause for six nights at the Edinburgh theatre. A third tragedy, founded on Lilly's Fatal Curiosity, called The Shipwreck, and two comedies, The Force of Fashion, and The White Hypocrite, were produced at Covent Garden successively, but they proved complete failures. His portrait, from a painting by Sir Henry Raeburn, will be found on next page.

Mr. Mackenzie was the last of those eminent men who shed such a lustre upon the literature of their country in the latter part of the eighteenth century. In his youth he enjoyed the intimacy of Robertson and Hume, and Fergusson and Adam Smith, all of whom he long survived. He died January 14, 1831, after having been confined to his room for a considerable period by the general decay attending old age. In 1776 he married Penuel, daughter of Sir Ludovick Grant of Grant, baronet, and Lady Margaret Ogilvy, by whom he had eleven children.

His eldest son, Joshua Henry Mackenzie, an eminent judge under the title of Lord Mackenzie, was born in 1777; admitted advocate in 1799; appointed sheriff of Linlithgowshire in 1811, and a lord of session in 1822. In 1824 he was constituted a judge in the high court of justiciary, and in 1825 a commissioner of the jury court. He married in 1821, the fifth daughter of the first Lord Seaforth, a title now extinct, and died 17th November 1851, aged 74 years. He was interred in the Greyfriars burying-ground, Edinburgh, where a monument is erected to his memory.

The youngest son of The Man of Feeling, the Right Hon. Holt Mackenzie, fellow of the Asiatic Society, was for twenty-four years in the civil service of the East India Company. He left India in 1831, and retired on the annuity fund in October 1833. In 1832 he became one of the commissioners of the board of control, on his appointment to which office he was sworn a privy councillor.