The son of a physician, Henry Mackenzie was born in Edinburgh and studied at Edinburgh University. He was articled to an attorney before traveling to London to study law in 1765. Returning to Edinburgh, he began a career as a writer, achieving great renown with <i>The Man of Feeling</i> (1771) and success with two periodicals he edited, <i>The Mirror</i> (1779-80) and <i>The Lounger</i> (1785-87).
In 1765, went to London to study the modes of English Exchequer practice, which, as well as the constitution of the courts, 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 there he became, first partner, and after- wards successor to Mr. Inglis, in the office of Attorney for the Crown.
In 1776, Mr. Mackenzie was married to Miss Penuel Grant, daughter of Sir Ludovick Grant, of Grant, Bart., arid Lady Margaret Ogilvy ; by whom he had a family of eleven children ; the eldest of whom is Lord Mackenzie, an eminent Judge in the Courts of Session and Justiciary.
Mackenzie was Comptroller of Taxes for Scotland (1804-31), a member of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, and chairman of the Highland Society committee that investigated the poems of Ossian.
Mackenzie’s early works include imitations of traditional Scottish ballads, but, on moving to London to study law after 1765, he began to imitate English literary styles in which “sentiment” was then becoming a powerful literary influence.
His first and most famous novel, <i>The Man of Feeling</i> (1771), is a series of loosely joined episodes describing the adventures of a highly sentimental and good-natured man. His other novels are <i>The Man of the World</i> (1773) and <i>Julia de Roubigne</i> (1777). Of his four plays the only one to achieve any success was <i>The Prince of Tunis</i> (1773).
"Mankind in the gross is a gaping monster, that loves to be deceived and has seldom been disappointed."
"One of the earliest members of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, Mackenzie became enthralled with German drama, although he could not read German. Sir Walter Scott praised Mackenzie's exposure of German literature to the public. He also produced anti-revolution tracts and in 1793 published <i>The Life of Dr. Blacklock</i> about a popular poet and essayist."
"One of the most consistent features of recent studies of British, and especially Scottish, writers of the mid-eighteenth century is the grounding assumption that these authors were engaged in a shared project of constructing community, and that their texts are important insofar as they succeed in reducing workable models of such community."
"There is some rust about every man at the beginning; though in some nations (among the French, for instance) the ideas of the inhabitants from climate, or what other cause you will, are so vivacious, so eternally on the wing, that they must, even in small societies, have a frequent collision; the rust therefore will wear off sooner: but in Britain, it often goes with a man to his grave; nay, he dares not even pen a <i>hic jacet</i> to speak out for him after his death."