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Henry Mackenzie lived from August 1745 to 14 January 1831. He was a novelist and leading member of the Edinburgh literary scene in the decades either side of 1800. The wider picture in Scotland at the time is set out in our Historical Timeline.
Henry Mackenzie was born in Edinburgh. His father was Joshua Mackenzie, an eminent doctor, and his mother was Margaret Rose. He was educated at the Royal High School of Edinburgh before studying law at the University of Edinburgh. He then trained as a lawyer, being made an attorney for the crown in 1765, specialising in taxation matters and spending a considerable amount of time in London.
His first published work was a poem that appeared in the Scots Magazine in 1763. Other poetry followed before the publication in 1771 of his best known novel, The Man of Feeling. It became an instant success and it is said that Robert Burns read it so often he wore out two copies, describing it as the book he "prized most next to the Bible". Mackenzie also wrote plays and was the editor of two journals, The Mirror and The Lounger. By the end of the 1700s he was one of the leading figures on the thriving literary scene in Edinburgh. The 9 December 1786 issue of The Lounger included a review of an edition of Robert Burns' poetry that did much to ensure Burns' success.
Mackenzie helped establish the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 1783, and the Highland Society of Scotland the following year. He was also appointed chair of a committee charged with deciding whether the Ossian poems of James Macpherson were, as Macpherson claimed, translations from original manuscripts, or whether they had been written by Macpherson himself as many suspected. After his death in Edinburgh in 1831 he was buried in Greyfriars Kirkyard.