Mackenzie. - PA Criticism Archive

TEI-encoded version

Anna Letitia Barbauld

MACKENZIE. [1] 

WITH the readers of sentimental novels, those of Mr. Mackenzie have been great favourites. They exhibit real powers of pathos, though the judicious reader will probably be of opinion that at the time they were published they were somewhat overrated. They imitate the manner of Sterne, who was then much in fashion, and whose light and delicate touches of nature had made so strong an impression that it raised a kind of school of writers in that walk.

The very title of The Man of Feeling sufficiently indicates that the writer means to take strong aim at the heart of the reader. It is difficult, however, to form a clear and consistent idea of the character of the hero of the piece. The author has given him extreme sensibility, but of that timid and melancholy cast which nearly incapacitates a man for the duties of life and the energies of action. The general impression upon the reader is that of a man "sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought," [2]  languid and delicate; yet he is also supposed to be animated by that ardent and impetuous enthusiasm which acts by sudden and irresistible impulses,
vol. xxix. b


ii

and disregards every maxim of prudence: in short, a temperament like that of Mr. Cumberland's West-Indian.

When Harley is about to relieve the prostitute, to whom, by the way, he had given half-a-guinea the night before, and who could not therefore be in any immediate danger of perishing, he was in such a hurry that, "though two vibrations of a pendulum would have served him to lock his bureau, they could not be spared." Yet with these lively and ungovernable feelings, this man of sensibility, being deeply in love with a young lady, who seems all along to have had a very tender partiality for him, allows himself to languish and pine away without declaring his passion; and at length dies, whether of love or of a consumption is not very clear, without having made any effort to obtain her hand. We are not more active in serving others than in serving ourselves: such a one might be "a man of feeling," but his benevolence would be confined to mere sensations. Yet the last chapter, entitled, The Man of Feeling made happy, the reader will find, at least if he happen to be in a tender mood, pathetic. Harley, in the last stage of weakness, has an interview with his mistress, in which he receives an avowal of her regard for him, and then dies contented.

But by far the most interesting part of this novel is the story of Edwards, particularly the scene where he is taken by the press-gang. It would be a good subject for the painter. It deserves the pencil of Mr. Wilkie. The whole harmless family are represented in high glee,


iii

playing at blind-man's buff; young Edwards, with his eyes covered, is trying to guess which of them he has caught, when the ruffian's voice bursts upon him like thunder, and overwhelms them all with despair. Yet, in endeavouring to draw as many tears as he can from his readers, an author of this class is apt to represent the virtuous and industrious in low life as continually exposed to oppression and injustice, and it is hardly to be wished that even our virtuous feelings should be awakened at the expense of truth. There is no connected story in this work, except that of Edwards. The thread of the history is supposed to be broken by the imperfection of the manuscript. A convenient supposition.

Julia de Roubign√© is in the same cast of tender sorrow, but has the advantage of a connected story, which, though simple, has much effect. The scenes of domestic life, and the affections which belong to them, are in many places beautifully touched; but an uniform hue of sadness pervades the whole. The sentiments are all pure, and the style exhibits fewer marks of imitation than the former work. It is in general elegant, though here and there a negligent expression occurs, as, "he was abed," for "he was in bed," "he used to joke me." Upon the whole, though these two novels have obtained great celebrity, at least their day, they still fall short of the exquisitely beautiful story of La Roche, by the same author, published in The Mirror. [3] 

Notes

[1] The British Novelists; with an Essay; and Prefaces, Biographical and Critical, by Mrs. Barbauld, 50 Vols. (London: Printed for F.C. and J. Rivington; W. Otridge and Son; A. Strahan; T. Payne; G. Robinson; W. Lowndes; Wilkie and Robinson; Scatcherd and Letterman; J. Walker; Vernor, Hood, and Sharpe; R. Lea; J. Nunn; Lackington and Co.; Clarke and Son; C. Law; Longman, Hurst, Rees, and Orme; Cadell and Davies; E. Jeffery; J.K. Newman; Crosby and Co.; J. Carpenter; S. Bagster; T. Booth; J. Murray; J. and J. Richardson; Black, Parry, and Kingsbury; J. Harding; R. Phillips; J. Mawman; J. Booker; J. Asperne; R. Baldwin; Mathews and Leigh; J. Faulder; Johnson and Co.; W. Creech, Edinburgh; and Wilson and Son, York, 1810), 29: i-iii. Jackie Moore, Victoria Wynn, and Mary A. Waters co-edited this essay for The Criticism Archive. BACK

[2] Shakespeare, Hamlet III.i.82. BACK

[3] Mackenzie was editor and major contributor for the periodical The Mirror where "Importance of Religion to Minds of Sensibility; Story of La Roche" appeared from No. 42, Saturday, June 19, 1779; through No. 43, Tuesday, June 22, 1779 and No. 44, Saturday, June 26, 1779, pp. 286-307. BACK


POETESS ARCHIVE / The Criticism Archive / Essay