The Man of Feeling
|The Man of Feeling|
Title page from the first edition
The Man of Feeling is a sentimental novel published in 1771, written by Scottish author Henry Mackenzie. The novel presents a series of moral vignettes which the naïve protagonist Harley either observes, is told about, or participates in. This novel is often seen to contain elements of the Romantic novel, which became prolific in the years following its publishing.
The Man of Feeling was Mackenzie's first and most famous novel, which was begun in London in 1767. It was published in April 1771, sold out by the beginning of June, and reached its sixth edition by 1791.
Along with other prominent sentimental writers, Mackenzie wrote The Man of Feeling in the latter half of the eighteenth century, by the end of which the concept of sentimentalism had steadily become laughable and entertaining as a form of amusement. The third appendix to the novel, 'Index to Tears', which was first included in the 1886 edition of The Man of Feeling edited by Professor Henry Morley, indicates how the "repertory of sentimental effects...has become a repertory of mirthful effects, perhaps to be read aloud in the Victorian parlour to an audience only needing to hear these categories of tears in order to trigger a rather different physical response."
There was resistance to this changing perspective of the genre, and whilst authors and readers alike satirised or humiliated characters with an excess of emotion, there remained staunch proponents of sentimentalism who supported the views of literary figures of decades past. According to theorist Hugh Blair, the man of feeling “lives in a different sort of world from what the selfish man inhabits. He possesses a new sense, which enables him to behold objects which the selfish man cannot see.”
As result of both this changing view of the Sentimental novel and because manuscripts were almost as worthless to a publisher as wallpaper, Mackenzie experienced difficulty in getting The Man of Feeling published, until he finally managed to have it published anonymously. A priest by the name of Eccles made an attempt to claim authorship, supported by "a manuscript full of changes and erasures" in his possession.
The Man of Feeling details the fragmentary episodes of the life of Harley which exist within the remains of a manuscript traded to the initial narrator of the novel by a priest. The novel itself begins with these two latter figures hunting, whereas the manuscript is missing the first ten chapters and approximately thirty others at various locations throughout the manuscript's entirety.
As a young boy, Harley loses his parents and is assigned several guardians who constantly disagree with each other. They do however agree that he should make an effort to acquire more wealth, and so they urge him to make an old distant relative amiable towards him to claim some inheritance. Harley fails in this endeavour, as he doesn't cooperate with the relative's attempts to warm to him.
Harley is then advised to acquire a patron; to sell his vote at an election for a lease of land. His neighbour Mr. Walton gives him a letter of introduction, and he soon leaves home (and Miss Walton) for London. He meets a beggar and his dog on the way, and after donating to them both, hears the fortune-telling beggar's story.
In the next few missing chapters, Harley presumably formally visits the baronet Mr. Walton recommended him to, because when the narrative continues, Harley calls upon him for the second time. The baronet however is away from London, and Harley meets another gentleman named Tom. They go for a stroll and then dine together, discussing pensions and resources with two older men.
Harley proceeds to visit Bedlam, and weeps for an inmate there, before dining with a scorned, cynical man and together they discuss honour and vanity. He then demonstrates his skill (or, as many argue, his lack of skill) in physiognomy by being charitable on behalf of an old gentleman, with whom Harley later plays cards. It is after his financial loss in these card games that Harley is informed the gentleman and his acquaintance are con men.
Approached by a prostitute, Harley takes her to a tavern, gives her bread, claret and money, despite having to hand the waiter his pocket watch as collateral for paying the bill, and then meets again with her the next morning to hear her story. At its conclusion her father arrives, and after a misunderstanding is reconciled with his daughter.
Upon discovering that his claim for the land lease has failed, Harley takes a stage-coach back home, discussing poetry and vice with a fellow passenger until they part ways and the coach reaches the end of its route. Harley continues on foot, and along the way reunites with Mr. Edwards, an old farmer from his village who has fallen on hard times and is returning from his conscription in the army. Together they approach the village, to find the school house destroyed by a squire, and two orphans who are actually the grandchildren of Harley's companion. Harley takes the three of them home, and provides some land for them.
After discussing corrupt military commanders with Edwards, Harley is informed that Miss Walton is going to be married to Sir Harry Benson, and can't bring himself to be anything but happy for Miss Walton, although he does love her.
The Man of Feeling then jumps almost randomly to a tale of a man named Mountford, who journeys to Milan with another man named Sedley to meet with a count. They visit a debtors' prison to find a man and his family living there at the behest of the count's son, a man who had been so charming to the two gentlemen. Sedley pays the family's debt, and then Mountford and Sedley leave Milan in disgust.
The narrative returns to the story of Harley, and for some unexplained reason Miss Walton does not marry Benson. She visits an unwell Harley (who has contracted a fever nursing Edwards and his grandchildren), who confesses his love to her. They hold hands and die, although Miss Walton is revived.
Typical of sentimental fiction, The Man of Feeling is fragmented; chapters and passages are missing, although this is contrived, as the narrative is still comprehensible. Mackenzie highlights these absences, by implying the contents of the non-existent chapters, most commonly through the introduction of characters: "Peter stood at the door. We have mentioned this faithful fellow formerly". The fragmentary nature of the text occurs because it narrates "the sensibility that is inevitably expressed in moments." It allowed for elisions and hiatuses, meaning content that wouldn't evoke the sentimental could be excluded from the text entirely.
This can also be seen to comment on the damaging and loss of partial if not entire manuscripts throughout the printing industry, and this is further alluded to in the Introduction; the manuscript depicting Harley's life is being used as wadding for the curate's gun. Harley's aunt also employs a book to help fold her linen.
The Man of Feeling has been viewed as a Picaresque novel, but this is inaccurate as Harley himself is not “a roguish hero of low social class who lives by his wits in a corrupt society”, although he does meet figures within the novel that could qualify as Picaresque characters.
- The Man of Feeling can be viewed as an instructional text, preaching to its readers through the moral vignettes it presents, and this was Mackenzie's intention.
- Harley's aunt touches upon the rising of the Bourgeoisie as opposed to the aristocracy by stating "now-a-days, it is money, not birth, that makes people respected".
- The Man of Feeling contains instances supporting animal rights, as indicated in Harley's reason for walking: "it saved the trouble of provision for any animal but himself".
- The old man who talks with Harley in the stage-coach refers to "an alarming crisis in the corruption of a state; when not only is virtue declined, and vice prevailing, but when the praises of virtue are forgotten, and the infamy of vice unfelt." Clearly an anti-government message can be identified.
- Mackenzie, Henry. The Man of Feeling, edited by Brian Vickers (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009)
- Mullan, John. ‘Sentimental Novels’, in The Cambridge Companion to the Eighteenth Century Novel, edited by John Richetti (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002)
- Van Sant, Ann Jessie. Eighteenth-Century Sensibility and the Novel: The Senses in Social Context (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004)
- Henry Mackenzie
- Janet Todd, Sensibility: An Introduction (London: Methuen, 1986))
- Picaresque novel
- G. J. Barker-Benfield, The Culture of Sensibility: Sex and Society in Eighteenth-Century Britain (University of Chicago Press, 1996).
- William J. Burling, 'A "Sickly Sort of Refinement": The Problem of Sentimentalism in Mackenzie's The Man of Feeling, in Studies in Scottish Literature, 23 (1988), pp. 136–149.
- Markman Ellis, The Politics of Sensibility: Race, Gender and Commerce in the Sentimental Novel (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004).
- Maureen Harkin, 'Mackenzie's Man of Feeling: Embalming Sensibility', ELH 61:2 (Summer 1994), 317–40.