Henry Mackenzie

Lawyer & Novelist | Number 6

Henry Mackenzie (1745-1831) was born in Edinburgh. He attended its High School and University, where he studied law. After further law studies in London, he specialised in exchequer business, for which he was soon appointed Crown Attorney. As a keen Tory and opponent of French revolutionary ideas, he found favour with Scotland's most powerful politician Henry Dundas. This led to his appointment in 1804 as Controller of Taxes for Scotland, an important and well paid post (just as well as he had eleven children to support).

His other life was in the literary world and was also very distinguished. In 1771 his ‘sentimental’ novel 'The Man of Feeling' – based on the society and manners he saw during his London years – was published. It became an instant success and ran to nine editions over the next fifty years. It was translated into French, German, Polish and Swedish, and published in America. Other novels followed, including ‘The Man of the World’ and ‘Julia de Roubigne’. His plays included ‘The Prince of Tunis’ and ‘Shipwreck’. He edited - and largely wrote - two short-lived literary magazines.

Sir Walter Scott, who published many of his own works anonymously, claimed that "Harry Mackenzie never put his name in a title page till the last edition of his works". Mackenzie encouraged Scott's early literary work, and Scott dedicated 'Waverley' - one of his most famous and successful novels -to him. Robert Burns and later Lord Byron had also benefited from Mackenzie’s regard. His favourable review of Burns' Kilmarnock poems in Mackenzie's magazine 'The Lounger' was a turning point in Burns' career.

Respect for his judgement and literary knowledge led to the chairmanship of an inquiry into the authenticity of the ancient poems of Ossian, supposedly translated by James McPherson.

His town home at No 6 Heriot Row was built in his lifetime on fields where as a young man he had gone shooting.

At his death he owned substantial estates on Speyside. His eldest son became a wealthy lawyer and two of his other sons - like many young Scots of their generation – served in the East India Company. He left a metal box filled with unpublished work which Walter Scott had undertaken to read and 'give his opinion on the propriety or expediency of publication'.

His gravestone in Greyfriars Kirkyard remembers him as 'an author who for no short time and in no small part supported the literary reputation of his country'.

His favourable review of Burns' Kilmarnock poems in Mackenzie's magazine 'The Lounger' was a turning point in Burns' career