The Man of Feeling, a sentimental novel


The Man of Feeling is a novel in which the hero, Harley, is put in the way of various concepts and situations which provoke discussion on the nature of the interpretation of experience. It was written by Henry Mackenzie, later the first major reviewer of Robert Burns’s poems.

Though there is a general chronological linearity, the narrative is fragmented rather than continuous, to highlight the idea that sensibility, the awareness of feeling, is derived from a succession of momentary experiences rather than a single grand narrative. In fact at one point the narrative breaks away entirely from Harley, and relocates to the experiences of two entirely distinct people in Italy.

What does the term ‘sentiment’ mean in this kind of work? 

In this sequence, the charitable gift of a shilling to a beggar is the impetus for a brief discussion on the significance of money and what it can achieve. The encounter follows the model of an object of pathos or sympathy being viewed by someone from a more advantaged position, a standard trope of the sentimental.

Through the third quarter of the 18th century this model developed as a way of making mock-heroic observations starting from objects low status, which Burns used in ‘To a mouse’ and ‘To a louse’. 

Burns wrote to his former schoolmaster that The Man of Feeling was ‘a book I prize next to the Bible’, calling it one of the ‘glorious models after which I endeavour to form my conduct’.

Full title:
The Man of Feeling
1771, London
Henry Mackenzie
Usage terms
Public Domain
Held by
British Library

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