Nonfiction > Henry Craik, ed. > English Prose > Vol. IV. Eighteenth Century
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Henry Craik, ed.  English Prose.  1916.
Vol. IV. Eighteenth Century
 
Critical Introduction by George Saintsbury
Henry Mackenzie (1745–1831)
 
[The “Man of Feeling” is said to have been born at Edinburgh in August 1745, on the very day on which Charles Edward landed at Loch-na-Nuagh (which, however, is usually given as the 25th of July). His father’s name was Joshua, and his mother was Margaret Rose, of the old Nairnshire family of Kilravock. He was articled to a lawyer in the special department of Exchequer business, which he studied both in Scotland and in London, the Exchequer being the one court in which Scotch and English practice and law were the same. He had thoughts of being called to the English bar, but returned to Scotland and became Crown Attorney there. He is said to have written The Man of Feeling early; it was published (at first anonymously) in 1771, and then he followed it up with his other two novels The Man of the World and Julia de Roubigné. He married one of the Grants of Grant in 1776, and it was shortly after this that the plan was formed which resulted in two periodicals on the model of the Spectator, called The Mirror (1779–80) and The Lounger (1785–87) which still hold their place in the “British Essayists,” and are perhaps better worth reading than most of the later constituents of that voluminous and neglected but far from uninteresting collection. Mackenzie was a prominent member of Edinburgh literary society, then in its palmiest days; wrote lives of Blacklock and of John Home, and in 1808 published a portly edition of complete works, including some tragedies and a comedy. He was appointed by Lord Melville, Comptroller of Taxes for Scotland in 1804, and survived far into a generation younger than his own, dying in 1831 at the age of eighty-six. Scott, in whose Life by Lockhart many agreeable notices of Mackenzie’s green old age will be found, included the Man of Feeling and its companions, with an enthusiastic introduction, in the Ballantyne collection during their author’s lifetime.]  1
 
MACKENZIE is one of those writers who, though by no means uninteresting intrinsically, require the historic estimate to bring out their full interest and value. On first opening The Man of Feeling or Julia de Roubigné, the imitation of Sterne in the first case, of Sterne and Rousseau in the second, is so marked that the modern reader may be half inclined to put the books aside as mere schoolwork if not mere parody. It is certain that Mackenzie’s vein was rather more imitative than original, and he has inserted in his different works studies from other writers (notably one from Johnson in The Man of Feeling) which, while they betray a singular knack at an art often cultivated with success in youth, do not rise beyond the easy possibilities of youthful cleverness. In his periodical work he is also prone to wander in the same direction, and the once famous story of La Roche, over which the “sensibility” of a hundred years ago palpitated and wept, together with the moving tale of Sir Edward and Louisa, their errors and their repentance, might be not quite unfairly dismissed to-day as Sterne-and-water. His third work of some size, The Man of the World, displays attention to the same models, and is on the whole the least successful of the three. For here Sterne, Rousseau, Richardson, Fielding, and Smollett all by turns receive Mackenzie’s imitative homage. On the other hand, the Mirror and the Lounger owe a constant royalty to Addison and the other earlier essayists. Thus it may seem that we have in Mackenzie something which may, with little if any loss, be neglected—a mere reflection and moonshine from a great many stronger and earlier lights.  2
  This, however, would be an unfair decision, even if the case were restricted within the limits indicated. Mackenzie, even as an imitator, is no ordinary copyist. He frequently produces work indistinguishable from all but the very best work of his originals; and he is not an imitator only. In the first place we may see in him what may be called the criticism of “sensibility” existing side by side with the practice of it; he foreshadows the reaction at the same time that he illustrates the disease. In the second place he showed, even during his novel-writing period, but much more during the maturity of his talent, when he contributed to the Mirror and Lounger, a very considerable faculty of direct observation of manners and of life, freed from literary convention of the sentimental kind which elsewhere rules in him. It must always be counted to him for righteousness that at the very outset of the career of Burns he saw and acknowledged the poet’s talent with a minimum of patronage, and with a very fair quantum of insight. Through the stock characters of the old Spectator type, with which his periodicals are cumbered, there break constant anticipations of that directer study of the actual which was to create the great school of the British novel from Scott to Thackeray.  3
  To conclude, he writes remarkably well; and in point of this writing the intrinsic and the historic estimate may agree in according to him a very considerable value. In No. 83 of the Mirror there is an exceedingly acute discussion (written not by Mackenzie but by his colleague Craig, afterwards a judge) as to the absence of humorous writers and writers of the lighter kind generally in Scotland. The northern kingdom had more than made good its place with Hume and Robertson in serious English literature, but for more than a century—indeed since Drummond and the other poets of the earlier Stuart period in the joint kingdom Anglicised themselves—it had had no one—or only Allan Ramsay—to boast of in the lighter walks. Craig gives some very just excuses for this without denying the fact, and expresses hopes that things would change and were changing. His hopes were justified, and his friend and co-partner in the Mirror was both active and effectual in justifying them. Mackenzie’s direct influence on Scott was far from small, and he exemplifies in its earliest stage the movement which in Scott reached its highest development. Indeed, though to mention The Man of Feeling in the same day with the author of Waverley in point of original, creative, and various genius would be absurd, there were other points in which Mackenzie was even Scott’s superior, and the chief of these points was correctness without pedantry of prose writing. There is hardly a better example of the later eighteenth-century English in its lighter forms and applications than Mackenzie’s, and if his wit and his pathos, his sense and his observation, had been all much smaller than they actually are he would still remain a capital example of this period of English style, deriving an additional interest, but not in the least requiring allowance or support from the fact that, as the paper above referred to says, he was himself of a generation of Scotsmen who still “wrote in trammels,” who habitually spoke in one language, and had to write in another.  4
 
 
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