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The Burns Encyclopedia
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Mackenzie, Dr John (d. 1837)

Mackenzie, a native of Ayrshire, studied medicine at Edinburgh University, and, on the invitation of Sir John Whitefoord, set up in practice in Mauchline, where he married Helen Miller, one of the 'Mauchline belles'.

He first met Burns when he attended the poet's father, William Burnes, at Lochlea in the early spring of 1783. Dr Mackenzie later recorded that at first: 'The Poet seemed distant, suspicious, and without any wish to interest or please. He kept himself very silent in a dark corner of the room; and before he took any part in the conversation, I frequently detected him scrutinising me during my conversation with his father and brother. But afterwards, when the conversation, which was on a medical subject, had taken the turn he wished, he began to engage in it, displaying a dexterity of reasoning, an ingenuity of reflection, and a familiarity with topics apparently beyond his reach, by which his visitor was no less gratified than astonished.'

Mackenzie became a warm friend to Burns, particularly after Burns went to Mossgiel. Depute Master of St James Lodge, Tarbolton, Mackenzie received in 1786 from Burns a rhymed summons to attend: 'a procession celebrating the Festival of the Nativity of the Baptist, Friday first's the day appointed'. In 'The Holy Fair', Dr Mackenzie is personified as 'Commonsense', who left the assembly to keep a dinner appointment with Sir John Whitefoord at the home of the Earl of Dumfries as soon as 'Peebles, frae the water-fit' began to preach.

Mackenzie received from Burns a two-line note, dated 3rd September 1786, enclosing a first draft of 'The Calf'. It was thanks to Mackenzie that Burns was introduced to Professor Dugald Stewart.

When Burns set out for Edinburgh, Mackenzie had already sent off letters of recommendation to Sir John Whitefoord and to the Honourable Andrew Erskine. Whitefoord received Burns with special kindness, as Burns reported to Mackenzie in a letter dated 11th January 1787. On the poet's return from Edinburgh in February 1788, he rented a room in Mackenzie's house for Jean and himself, where Jean's second twins were born. The house is now a museum.

Dr Mackenzie later moved to Irvine, on the invitation of Lord Eglinton, whose family physician he became. He retired in 1827.

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Robert Burns Store

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Complete Burns Songs

linn recordings of burns Linn Records have completed their landmark recording of all 368 Burns songs, available as individual CDs or a 12 volume presentation box set. We have full details. Click here...


Burns Music & Recordings
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Burns Chess Sets

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