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breeding better than Dr Johnson, or could act more exactly in conformity with them, when the high rank of those with whom he was in company for the time required that he should do so. But during the greater part of his life, he had been in a great measure a stranger to the higher society, in which such restraint became necessary; and it may be fairly presumed, that the indulgence of a variety of little selfish peculiarities, which it is the object of good breeding to suppress, became thus familiar to him. The consciousness of his own mental superiority in most companies which he frequented, contributed to his dogmatism ; and when he had attained his eminence as a dictator in literature, like other potentates, he was not averse to a display of his authority: resembling in this particular Swift, and one or two other men of genius, who have had the bad taste to imagine that their talents elevated them above observance of the common rules of society. It must be also remarked, that in Johnson's time, the literary society of London was much more confined than at present, and that he sat the Jupiter of a little circle, prompt, on the slightest contradiction, to launch the thunders of rebuke and sarcasm. He was, in a word, despotic, and despotism will occasionally lead the best dispositions into unbecoming abuse of power. It is not likely that any one will again enjoy, or have an opportunity of abusing, the singular de gree of submission which was rendered to Johnson by all around him. The unreserved communications of friends, rather than the spleen of enemies, have occasioned his character being exposed in all its shadows, as well as its lights. But those, when summed and counted, amount only to a few narrow-minded prejudices concerning country and party, from which few ardent tempers remain entirely free, and some violences and solecisms in manners, which left his talents, morals, and benevolence, alike unimpeachable.
Of Rasselas, translated into so many languages, and so widely circulated through the literary world, the merits have been long justly appreciated. It was composed in solitude and sorrow; and the melancholy cast of feeling which it exhibits, sufficiently evinces the temper of the author's mind. The resemblance, in some respects, betwixt the tenor of the moral and that of Candide, is so striking, that Johnson himself admitted, that if the authors could possibly have seen each other's manuscript, they could not have escaped the charge of plagiarism. But they resemble each other like a wholesome and a poisonous fruit. The object of the witty Frenchman is to lead to a distrust of the wisdom of the great Governor of the Universe, by presuming to arraign him of incapacity before the creatures of his will. Johnson uses arguments drawn from the same premises, with the benevolent view of encouraging men to look to another and a better world, for the satisfaction of wishes, which in this seem only to be awakened in order to be disappointed. The one is a fiend—a merry devil, we grant—who scoffs at, and derides human miseries; the other, a friendly though grave philosopher, who shews us the nothingness of earthly hopes, to teach us that our affections ought to be placed elsewhere.
The work can scarce be termed a narrative, being in a great measure void of incident; it is rather a set of moral dialogues on the various vicissitudes of human life, its follies, its fears, its hopes, and its wishes, and the disappointment in which all terminate. The style is in Johnson's best manner; enriched and rendered sonorous by the triads and quaternions which he so much loved, and balanced with an art which perhaps he derived from the learned Sir Thomas Brown. The reader may sometimes complain, with Boswell, that the unalleviated picture of human helplessness and misery, leaves sadness upon the mind after perusal. But the moral is to be found in the conclusion of the Vanity of Human Wishes, a poem which treats of the same melancholy subject, and closes with this sublime strain of morality :
Pour forth thy fervours for a healthful mind,
For the biographical part of the following memoir, we are chiefly indebted to a short sketch of the life of our distinguished contemporary, compiled from the most authentic sources, and prefixed to a beautiful duodecimo edition of The Man of Feeling, printed at Paris a few years since. We have had the farther advantage of correcting and enlarging the statements which it contains, from undoubted authority.
HENRY MACKENZIE, Esq. was born at Edinburgh, in August 1745, on the same day on which Prince Charles Stuart landed in Scotland. His father was Dr Joshua Mackenzie, of that city ; and his mother, Margaret, the eldest daughter of Mr Rose of Kilravock, of a very ancient family in Nairnshire. After being educated at the High-school and University of Edinburgh, Mr Mackenzie, by the advice of some friends of his father, was articled to Mr Inglis of Redhall, in order to acquire a knowledge of the business of the Exchequer, a law-department, in which he was likely to have fewer competitors than in any other in Scotland.
To this, although not perfectly compatible with that literary taste which he very early displayed, he applied with due diligence; and, in 1765, went to London, to study the modes of English Exchequer practice, which, as well as the constitution of the court, are similar in both countries. While there, his talents induced a friend to solicit his remaining in London, and qualifying himself for the English bar. But the anxious wishes of his family that he should reside with them, and the moderation of an unambitious mind, decided his return to Edinburgh : and here he became, first, partner, and afterwards successor, to Mr Inglis, in the office of Attorney for the Crown.
His professional labour, however, did not prevent his attachment to literary pursuits. When in London, he sketched some part of his first, and very popular work, The Man of Feeling, which was published in 1771, without his name ; and was so much a favourite with the public, as to become, a few years after, the occasion of a remarkable fraud. A Mr Eccles, of Bath, observing that this work was accompanied by no author's name, laid claim to it, transcribed the whole in his own hand, with blottings, interlineations, and corrections; and maintained his right with such plausible pertinacity, that Messrs Cadell and Strachan, (Mr Mackenzie's publishers,) found it necessary to undeceive the public by a formal contradiction.
In a few years after this, he published his Man of the World, which seems to be intended as a second part to The Man of Feeling. It breathes the same tone of exquisite moral delicacy, and of refined sensibility. In his former fiction, he imagined a hero constantly obedient to every emotion of his moral sense. In The Man of the World, he exhibited, on the contrary, a person rushing headlong into misery and ruin, and spreading misery all around him, by pursuing a happiness which he expected to obtain in defiance of the moral sense. His next production was Julia de Roubigné, a novel in a series of letters. The fable is very interesting, and the letters are written with great elegance and propriety of style.
In 1776, Mr Mackenzie was married to Miss Penuel Grant, daughter of Sir Ludovick Grant of Grant, Bart. and Lady Margaret Ogilvy, by whom he has a numerous family; the eldest of whom, Mr Henry Joshua Mackenzie, has, while these sheets are passing the press, been called to the situation of a Judge of the Supreme Court of Session, with the unanimous approbation of his country.
In 1777 or 1778, a society of gentlemen, of Edinburgh, were accustomed at their meetings to read short essays of their composition, in the manner of the Spectator, and Mr Mackenzie being admitted a member, after hearing several of them read, suggested the advantage of giving greater variety to their compositions by admitting some of a lighter kind, descriptive of common life and manners; and he exhibited some specimens of the kind in his own writing. From this arose the Mirror, * a well-known periodical publication, to which Mr Mackenzie performed the office of editor, and was also the principal contributor. The success of the Mirror naturally led Mr Mackenzie and his friends to undertake the Lounger, t upon the same plan, which was not less read and admired.
When the Royal Society of Edinburgh was instituted, Mr Mackenzie became one of its most active members, and he has occasionally enriched the volumes of its Transactions by his valuable communications ; particularly by an elegant tribute to the memory of his friend, Judge Abercromby, and a memoir on German Tragedy. He is one of the original members of the Highland Society; and by him have been published the volumes of their Transactions, to which he has prefixed an account of the Institution and principal proceedings of the Society, and an interesting account of Gaelic poetry.
In the year 1792 he was one of those literary men who contributed some little occasional tracts to disabuse the lower orders of the people, led astray at that time by the prevailing frenzy of the French Revolution. In 1793 he wrote the Life of Dr Blacklock, at the request of his widow, prefixed to a quarto edition of that blind poet's works. His intimacy with Blacklock gave him an opportunity of knowing the habits of his life, the bent of his mind, and the feelings peculiar to the privation of sight, under which Blacklock laboured.
The literary society of Edinburgh, in the latter part of last century, whose intimacy he enjoyed, is described in his Life of John Home,
* Begun the 23 January, 1779 ; ended 27th May, 1780.