The Man of Feeling

by Henry Mackenzie

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Last Updated on September 5, 2023, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 416

The Man of Feeling, written by Scottish author Henry Mackenzie, is about a poor aristocrat named Harley, who journeys from his home to London and back again in an effort to improve his financial situation. During his travels, Harley comes up against an "uncaring world," and seeks out those "kindred spirits" he believes still exist. Harley portrays "the man of feeling," who fails financially and loses at love, while at the same time, lives a kind and moral life.

Mackenzie was showing the "hardship of disappointment" in life through Harley. In his introduction, he explains,

When we have been hurrying on, impelled by some warm wish or other, looking neither to the right hand nor to the left—we find [all] of a sudden that all our gay hopes are flown; and the only slender consolation that some friend can give us, is to point where they were once to be found.

The novel was considered an important contribution of "sentimental" literature prominent in the eighteenth century. It is composed of "scattered" chapters that follow Harley on different adventures that attempt to portray the importance of being kind and generous to others.

One important scene comes in chapter 25, when Harley enters a park and witnesses a gentleman talking to a beggar, who was "recounting the hardships he had undergone, and explaining the wretchedness of his present condition." The gentleman shows the beggar compassion, but doesn't have money to help him. Harley decides to step forward and offers his help by giving the beggar a shilling. He says to the gentleman, "Your intentions, sir, are so good, that I cannot help lending you my assistance to carry them into execution.”

MacKenzie uses the scene to put forward his idea that “there is no use of money equal to that of beneficence." He is asking the reader to consider that charity, which is sometimes thought to be "misplaced," helps the less fortunate.

The novel's editor explains that Man of Feeling was not a "dry book" and includes an "index of tears" for "persons of a calculating disposition." The index supports the theme of sentimentality by providing a list of places characters weep or show emotion. For example, on page 44, "I have wept many a time . . . " or page 187, "Tears flowing without control . . . "

MacKenzie's Man of Feeling goes on to influence the next generation of writers, including Charles Dickens, who will continue to write on the theme of charity to help the less fortunate in his novel A Christmas Carol.

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