Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 235
Mackenzie’s The Man of Feeling was a Romantic novel written at the end of the sentimental era, although it was still extremely popular. Mackenzie, a literary lawyer in the 1700s, had difficulty getting his manuscript published and it remained unpublished for several years before he submitted it anonymously. The novel centers around Harley, a sensitive, kind man who puts others before himself and does his best to live a true and generous life. Although his parents died and Harley was raised by several people, he had some money to live on and he was comfortable, yet not wealthy. When his guardians suggested he undertake an attempt to get more money, he was reluctant but eventually gave in, in no small part because he was in love with Miss Walton and he felt that he would be able to offer her worthy life if he had more money.
Harley travels in an attempt to gain money and land, and he is met with obstacle after obstacle. In each of these situations, Harley chooses kindness and virtue, putting others’ needs before himself. However he was (especially by today’s standards), somewhat weak; although this weakness could also be viewed as an asset because of his generosity.
Mackenzie himself was not at all like Harley; he was an outgoing man who sought fortune in various ways. The Man of Feeling was his first and most famous novel.
Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 664
Harley’s home. Village in which Harley’s home is situated; it lies some way beyond a stagecoach terminus, though not as far north of London as the border of author Henry Mackenzie’s native Scotland. The only detail confided to the reader is that Harley’s aunt lives with him and looks after him. Harley is not the local squire but has an estate that includes a few tenant farms, one of which he eventually lets to Edwards.
*London. Capital of Great Britain, to which Harley journeys in the hope of obtaining the lease of Bancroft Manor. The “great man” whom he goes to see for help lives in Grosvenor Square in Mayfair, London’s richest district. While awaiting his reception, Harley spends a good deal of time in and around Hyde Park, on Mayfair’s western boundary. While there he attempts to exercise his supposed skill in the science of physiognomy (reading character in the facial features), but a typical misjudgment leads him to a taproom where he loses a considerable sum of money playing piquet; it is his fellow victim of that deception who informs him, after a chance meeting, that the lease has been dishonestly awarded, after which he resolves to go home.
Among the excursions Harley takes during his fruitless wait is one to Bedlam, a notorious hospital for the insane then located in Moorfields. Although Harley disapproves of making a spectacle out of suffering, he goes with a party to witness the anguish of the enchained patients deemed incurably mad and the silly projects of patients not deemed dangerous; he hears tales of woe in the female quarters. He also visits the house of a “Misanthropist” in order that he may contrast the madness of Bedlam with a cynical and distinctively modern species of wisdom. A more significant encounter takes place in the Strand, when he is accosted near Somerset House by one of many prostitutes loitering there. Taking pity on her, he takes her to a room in a nearby tavern, where she faints from hunger, and then visits her lodgings, where he hears her dismal tale of elopement, betrayal, abandonment, miscarriage, and ruination before her father arrives to save her.
On the road
On the road. Harley has several moving encounters while traveling to and from London; on his outward journey he meets an itinerant beggar, while his homeward journey—most of which he travels by stagecoach—offers him further scope for the exercise of his supposed skill in physiognomy upon his fellow passengers. These include Ben Silton of Silton Hall, one of the few places outside London named in the story. After leaving the inn at the end of the stagecoach’s route, on foot again, he meets an old soldier returned from India, who turns out to be Edwards, the one-time tenant of South Hill—a farm near Harley’s home—whose loss to a landlord’s greed precipitates yet another catalog of disasters. Harley’s distress on hearing Edwards’s tale is exacerbated when he discovers that his old schoolhouse has also been pulled down by order of Squire Walton, and Edwards’s grandchildren are delivered as orphans into the care of the schoolmaster’s widow.
*Milan. Italian city that is the setting of yet another tale of man’s inhumanity to man, told in an interpolated fragment in which two Englishmen come to the aid of a family victimized by Count Respino.
Harley’s grave. Burial-place near the grave of Harley’s mother, in the only part of the churchyard shaded by a tree. Every time the narrator visits it he is moved to feelings of pity for the contemporary human condition by the “air of gentleness” around it, having evidently been converted by Harley’s noble example to the then-fashionable “cult of sensibility”—inspired by the philosophy of Jean-Jacques Rousseau—which deemed emotion more trustworthy, as a source of moral integrity, than reason.
Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 195
Baker, Ernest A. The History of the English Novel. Vol. 5 in The Novel of Sentiment and the Gothic Romance. London: H. F. & G. Witherby, 1934. Baker’s ten-volume history of the novel is now dated in some of its opinions, but it remains unsurpassed in its scope and is still very helpful on Mackenzie.
Crane, R. S. “Suggestions Toward a Genealogy of The Man of Feeling.” English Literary History 1, no. 3 (1934): 205-230. This famous essay, often reprinted, explains the intellectual origins of the eighteenth century’s belief in the “moral sense.”
Foster, James R. History of the Pre-Romantic Novel in England. New York: Modern Language Association of America, 1949. An important study that relates “sensibility” to deism, discusses examples from both French and English literature, and comments usefully on all three of Mackenzie’s novels.
Thompson, Harold W., ed. The Anecdotes and Egotisms of Henry Mackenzie, 1745-1831. London: Oxford University Press, 1927. A very useful collection of autobiographical scraps.
Thompson, Harold W. A Scottish Man of Feeling. London: Oxford University Press, 1931. The standard biography of Mackenzie. Presents reliable information about his life, but must be supplemented by Mackenzie’s more recently published Letters to Elizabeth Ross of Kilravock (1967).