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HENRY MAC KENZIE.
BY W. R. JOHNSON.
“ There is no idea, perhaps, more pleasing to an ingenuous mind, than that the sentences which it dictates in silence and obscurity, may give pleasure and entertainment to those by whom the writer has never been seen, to whom even his name is unknown. There is something peculiar. ly interesting in the hope of this intercourse of sentiment, this invisible sort of friendship, with the virtuous and the good; and the visionary warmth of an author may be allowed to extend it to distant places and to future times.”—Mac Kenzie.
AMONG the multitude of honoured names with which the great northern capital of the British isles is decorated, few, perhaps, deserve a brighter scutcheon than that which is affixed to the above sentiment. It is not, therefore, so much with a view to respond to the general truth, as to furnish in regard to the author himself, a suitable illustration of the last clause in the quotation, that I have selected it for the motto of this paper.
When speaking of Henry Mac Kenzie, it is to be understood that I refer solely to his literary character. The recent announcement of his death, at a very advanced age, has recalled to my mind the delight often experienced, in the perusal of his charming sketches and more elaborate productions, written half a century ago; and has excited a desire to know something of his personal history. But at this distance it is nearly impossible to collect, at once, any thing which would be satisfactory; and after all, his mind, not his person-his sen
timents, not his manners—his style and not his outward personal adornments, are what we of this country are most concerned to know.
His own countrymen will, no doubt, in due time do justice to his biography, and on their province I would by no means intrude. But intellect is of no peculiar country; it asks no passports when it leaves the land where its corporeal dwelling is situated, and it heeds neither the flattery of obsequious friends, nor the malice of local enemies—however these may, at home, affect the temporary prosperity, and may elevate or depress the spirits, of the possessor. Neither do the literary and scientific productions, to which that intellect gives birth, depend for their acceptance on the whims and caprices of the veering goddess fashion. While therefore, we leave the personal history of an individual to his own friends and countrymen, we may without arrogance, venture to invite the attention of those who admire intellectual worth, to a renewal of their acquaintance with such personages as the “Lounger," “the Man of Feeling” and “ Julia de Roubigné." I would hold up the untarnished “ Mirror," both to vice and to virtue, as reflecting with equal fidelity the hideousness of the former, and the gracefulness of the latter.
The first trait of mind to which I would advert as characteristic of Mac Kenzie, is that of ardent and delicate feeling;--not the rapture which evaporates in verbosity and which grows turgid where it would seem impassioned, but the glowing and sympathetic elevation of soul which springs from, and flows to, the “godlike of earth;" which with natural sensibility for its basis, has been fostered by dwelling on the glorious and the lovely whether of the physical or of the moral world. The sentiments conveyed by his more serious reflections and
ethical trains of thought, are accordingly imbued with the colours of those objects in life which had excited his sympathies, and led to the construction of his sketches, anecdotes, and tales.
The next circumstance, worthy of notice in his productions, is the purity of his literary taste.
form of the essay, and in every variety of description, the same characteristic trait marks the course of his pen. The broadest humour in which he indulges never goes so far as to overleap the bounds of refinement in diction. While his keen perception of the ridiculous, as well as of the beautiful, must have induced him to paint both in the most glowing colours, we find his satire always as chaste as it is pungent, and his irony as playful as it is discriminating
Another mark of his literary character is versatility. Some appear to imagine, that this consists in an ability · to compose with equal success novels, poems, histories, sermons and reviews, but, in truth, in these numerous forms of composition there may be no greater versatility displayed than in the various parts of the same production. The world has seen several works bearing the title of poems, which were in fact nothing more than novels in verse;
and the writer who excels in historical romance, may, even when intending to write of sober realities, actually give us only a romance of history. The different strains in which periodical essays alone are composed, exhibit in the hands of MacKenzie, as great and as varied talents as any of the nominal varieties of composition above mentioned.
But evidence that talents of a high order belong to any author, is to be sought as well in the succession, as in the nature or the variety of his productions. The contrary opinion has, I am aware, many practical advocates, who
conceive that one or two felicitous efforts may stamp a character which will endure the ravages of time. But the genius that glitters for a day, will seldom be found to attract admiration for an age. Even military glory, the most deceitful, and of the most uncertain foundation, must, in general, have more than one signal victory to give it enduring eclat. How much more that which rests on the imperishable monuments of mind? It is the persevering effort, or rather it is the power to make such effort, that can entitle an author to claim our full confidence; to challenge our unqualified respect. That the chief contributor to the Mirror and the Lounger, had that command of powers which enabled him to concentrate at will the energies of his mind on whatever subject he chose to handle, appears from the fact that of the hundred and ten papers in the former, no less than forty nine, and of the hundred and one of the latter, fifty five bear the name of Mac Kenzie. Both these papers appeared weekly and though some time elapsed between the discontinuance of the former, in 1780, and the commencement of the latter in 1785, yet there is no evidence that the interval was occupied in the preparation of the subsequent series. I do not advert to the frequency of his efforts as unparalleled or superior to that of others who had preceded him in the same walks of authorship, but as placing him among the front ranks, “ 'ove a pope axolot" with those gigantic heroes of the pen, among whom to be second is, indeed, vastly more honourable than to be first among the ordinary herd of authors.
The command of one's powers, may, however, according to the dispositions of the individual, be turned either to good or to evil; to the erection of artificial rules of life, and the fostering of literary selfishness, or to the wide and general diffusion of intellectual pleasures. The ties
of humanity may possibly escape the regards of an author, while he fosters the conceit of the cold and the unfeeling. General happiness may vanish from before the sight of him who fixes his eagle gaze only on the dazzling splendours of literary fame. Not such was the course of him whom I have attempted to present to the reader. His bent of mind was towards the generous and heartfelt charities of life. He reproved and satirized the follies of the great, because they weaken the natural ties of brotherhood, that bind our race together; and he discouraged and ridiculed the attempt on the part of persons in moderate circumstances, to render those follies more generally prevalent. The reader will readily recollect as examples of this raillery, the amusing letters* of John Homespun and his daughter, and those of the ingenious Miss Marjory Mushroom.
A deep sense of the value of that practical morality which is founded on just sentiments of piety, is every where apparent in the writings of Mac Kenzie; but we have no prosing lectures on the efficacy of dogmas, or on the value of this or that abstract speculation. He appears to have entertained the rather obsolete notion, that goodness consists in being good. The story of La Roche exemplifies the nature of those principles and feelings, which, according to the views of our author, can give the most certain consolations in adversity and cast into comparative obscurity all the “pleasures of philosophical discovery, and all the pride of literary fame.”
The humane and generous spirit of this author will be duly appreciated, when it is considered, that he was among the first to invoke the smiles of public favour
*See “ Mirror” Nos. 12 and 25; also “ Lounger” Nos. 17, 98, 53, 36, 56 and 62.