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The Burns Encyclopedia
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Mackenzie, Henry (1745-1831)

The son of an Edinburgh physician, he was best known as a novelist and writer in his own day. Educated at the High School in Edinburgh, he studied law at Edinburgh University and in London, and in 1768 was practising law in the Scottish Court Of Exchequer. He was also a Freemason. In 1771, The Man of Feeling was published by him anonymously and achieved wide popularity. In 1773, the year he met Dr Johnson, Mackenzie published, under his own name, The Man of the World and in 1777, Julia de Roubigne. He became the editor of, first, The Mirror, and then the short-lived Lounger. In the copy of the Lounger for 9th December 1786, he wrote an article commending the Kilmamock Edition of Burns's Poems, which helped considerably to make Burns's name known among the Edinburgh literati.

'Though I am far from meaning to compare our rustic bard to Shakespeare', Mackenzie wrote, 'yet whoever will read his lighter and more humourous poems... will perceive with what uncommon penetration and sagacity this Heaven-taught ploughman, from his humble and unlettered station, has looked upon men and manners. '

This review established the myth of Burns as the unlettered ploughman. He was not, of course, a ploughman, but a farmer, and much more highly 'lettered' than the kindly though patronising Mackenzie.

Even before the appearance of this review, Burns held an extraordinarily high opinion of Mackenzie. Writing to Murdoch on 15th January 1783, Burns told his old teacher that The Man of Feeling was 'a book I prize next to the Bible'.

On 17th April 1787, Mackenzie's professional advice to Burns resulted in the memorandum drawn up between the poet and his Edinburgh publisher, William Creech.

'By advice of friends, Mr Burns having resolved to dispose of the property of his Poems, and, having consulted with Mr Henry M'Kenzie upon the subject, Mr Creech met with Mr Burns at Mr M'Kenzie's house upon Tuesday, the 17th April 1787, in the evening, and they three having retired and convened upon the subject, Mr Burns and Mr Creech referred the sum, to be named by Mr M'Kenzie, as being well acquainted with matters of this kind, when Mr M'Kenzie said he thought Mr Burns should have a hundred guineas for the property of his Poems...'

Mackenzie has sometimes been criticised for advising Burns to accept what, by modem standards, seems a small sum for so great a work. But by the standards of his day, and having regard to the still limited nature of Burns's fame at the time, it was surely a reasonable settlement.

Mackenzie's friendship with Burns, though it probably never got past the formal stage, resulted in an introduction to Mackenzie's brother-in-law, Sir James Grant of Castle Grant, whom the poet visited during his Highland tour of 1787.

Mackenzie helped found the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 1783, and the Highland and Agricultural Society in 1784. He became Controller of Taxes for Scotland in 1799, and held the office till his death. He was the dedicatee of Sir Waiter Scott's Waverley.

In 1776, he married Penuel, daughter of Sir Ludovic Grant of Grant, by whom he had fourteen children.

Mackenzie is the author of some lines, 'Verses on the Destruction of the Woods near Drumlanrig' once credited to Burns.

Buy the Burns Encyclopedia online
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Complete Burns Songs

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Burns Chess Sets

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