1833 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Henry Mackenzie

Allan Cunningham, in "Biographical and Critical History of the Literature of the last Fifty Years" The Athenaeum (16 November 1833) 774-75.



The polished elegance and graceful pathos of HENRY MACKENZIE made his name widely known; he is a master in the neat, the pretty, and the beautiful; he knows how to prepare and arrange his materials so as to waste nothing; he sets all in a proper light; as he has just enough, and no more, to complete his undertaking, he cannot afford to be prodigal of his treasures, and is compelled to exhibit his sentiments and his incidents like flowers at a show. He has, perhaps, written some of the most touching little stories in the language; Louisa Venoni is one of those sweet and natural things which no one forgets, and could not if they would: all is simple, and eloquent, and sad. His Man of Feeling is the offspring of the Sentimental Journey and Werther schools; it is better regulated than the first, and less frantic than the second; the hero is possessed with a passion which he has too much modesty to utter, and dies of true love and decline when all wish him to live. The scene in the madhouse should be learned by heart. The accumulation of woes in Julia de Roubigne makes it too melancholy to read; it is more like a revelation made in confession than a fine work of fancy and feeling; it is not a difficult thing to heap woe on woe. The Man of the World proved that Mackenzie's genius had not strength for three volumes, but belonged to short romances and brief tales, where one action suffices, and one train of sentiment is sufficient. He was a person of fine taste, had some poetic feeling and fancy, and amused himself in his youth with penning ballads in the manner of the old minstrels; he was also a kind and generous man; he did more to make Burns known than any dozen of the high and the influential, and he took that position for him among men of genius which the general applause of the world has since most satisfactorily sanctioned.