Mackenzie's hugely popular novel of 1771 is the foremost work of the sentimental movement, in which sentiment and sensibility were allied with true virtue, and sensitivity is the mark of the man of feeling. The hero, Harley, is followed in a series of episodes demonstrating his benevolence in an uncaring world: he assists the down-trodden, loses his love, and fails to achieve worldly success. The novel asks a series of vital questions: what morality is possible in a complex commercial world? Does trying to maintain it make you a saint or a fool? Is sentiment merely a luxury for the leisured classes?
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About the Author
Henry Mackenzie ( 1745-1831) was a Scottish lawyer, novelist and miscellaneous writer. He was also known by the sobriquet "Addison of the North." Mackenzie had attempted to interest publishers in what would become his first and most famous work, The Man of Feeling, for several years, but they would not even accept it as a gift. Finally, Mackenzie published it anonymously in 1771, and it became instantly successful. The "Man of Feeling" is a weak creature, dominated by a futile benevolence, who goes up to London and falls into the hands of people who exploit his innocence. The sentimental key in which the book is written shows the author's acquaintance with Sterne and Richardson, but he had neither the humour of Sterne nor the subtle insight into character of Richardson. A clergyman from Bath named Eccles claimed authorship of the book, bringing in support of his pretensions a manuscript full of changes and erasures. Mackenzie's name was then officially announced, but Eccles appears to have induced some people to believe in him. In 1773 Mackenzie published a second novel, The Man of the World, the hero of which was as consistently bad as the "Man of Feeling" had been "constantly obedient to his moral sense," as Sir Walter Scott says. Julia de Roubigné (1777) is an epistolary novel.