1815 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Henry Mackenzie

T. Lyman, in "Letters from Edinburgh" North American Review [Boston] 1 (September 1815) 346-47.



Alas! that the author of The Man of Feeling, he that has bathed in tears half the bright eyes in his majesty's dominions, should be a tax-gatherer, going about to distrain the chattels of widows and orphans, and creating, in the honest discharge of his duty, a great deal of real misery, which Regina Maria Roche, with real spirit, calls vulgar stuff — that every evening we should see this man, who has touched so gently the most delicate and pathetick feelings of our nature, locking up his iron cased door, and putting the heavy key into his greasy pocket. Now if he were locking up a cruel father, or a horrid black monk covered with cowls or scowls, how much better would he figure on the page of my history. Mr. McKenzie, however, is a gentleman, and a man of real feeling; he holds an office in the revenue department, and, I have no manner of doubt, the scenes which his duty sometimes obliges him to witness, have given his heart more real pangs, than the most touching of his writings have done to one half his fair readers. I believe there is nothing very particular in his private history. He has now passed on to his seventieth year, is a thin man of the middle stature, with a ruddy Scotch complexion, wears a little flaxen coloured wig, and has a pretty large family. For any thing that I know to the contrary, his pilgrimage has never been much ruffled or gladdened beyond the dull "see song" of us common mortals — no horrid slough of despondence — nor lions with red hot teeth — his greatest changes have probably been the change of his summer and winter wig — and his greatest migrations, as the honest Vicar of Wakefield says, "have been from the brown bed to the blue" — And, after all, this must be the happiest sort of life, to pitch our little tent, no matter under what sun, and there always to abide, whether the wind blows from this side or that. Diogenes had his tub, and Madame du Deffand had her tub ("lonneau,") and that is the great secret — As for your citizen of the world, he is, I am inclined to believe, a pretty uncomfortable sort of gentleman, and really does a good deal more of the gaping and yawning of mankind than we are aware of. — The real fact is, we must belong to what Mr. Burke calls a "platoon" of society — to some party or other, either of politicians or whist players — we must have something to defend, and there must be in the newspaper a death, or a marriage, or an advertisement, or something that concerns our side, otherwise its is as Mr. Smith says—

Sated with home, of wife and children tired,
The restless soul is driven abroad to roam;
Sated abroad, all seen, yet nought admired,
The restless soul is driven to ramble home;
Sated with both, beneath new Drury's dome,
The fiend Ennui awhile consents to pine,
There growls, and curses, like a deadly gnome,
Scorning to view fantastick Columbine,
Viewing with scorn and hate the nonsense of the Nine.

However, as for the rest, Mr. McKenzie is a very amiable, excellent man, very much beloved in Edinburgh, uncommonly cheerful, and fond of society, and skips home with great alacrity from his dull office every day, to enjoy the conversation of his family and friends.