Page:A biographical dictionary of eminent Scotsmen, vol 6.djvu/147

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page needs to be proofread.


SIR JAMES MACKINTOSH. 517

Bible to overlook that Mr Mackenzie's works are net of a kind to retain the highest degree of popularity beyond the age in which they were written, and that they have been surpassed by many later writers, who, from the greater competition which they had to contend with, have not attained nearly so high an eminence. Mr Mackenzie lived in an age, when to attain certain proprieties in language, was looked upon as almost the summum bonum of authorship of any kind: men had not yet become sufficiently at ease about the vehicle of their thoughts, to direct their attention solely, or even chiefly, as they do now, to the sense which is conveyed. Hence, we find, in his works, a faultless sweetness and delicacy of diction, which, however, is only a mannerism, though not exactly that of an individual while the whole scenery, incidents, and characters, instead of being taken directly from nature, are little more than a vivification of what have been the stock of fictitious writers from the commencement of the art The real life with which Mr Mackenzie was acquainted, must have been, in a great measure, the same from which Sir Walter Scott afterwards fashioned his immor- tal narratives ; but this, to Mackenzie, fashion had forbidden, and he had not the force to break through the rules of that tawdry deity. He was content to take all his materials at second-hand, to grapple only with that literary human nature, which, like certain dresses on the stage, runs through all books from perhaps some successful model of antiquity, without ever gathering a spark of the genu- ine article of the living world in its course. Dexterously, we allow, is t!ie mosaic composed, and beautiful is the crust of sentiment in which it was present- ed. As works of art, the novels and minor stories of Mackenzie are exquisite ; but, nevertheless, they could never have attained so great a celebrity, if they had not appeared at a time when mere art was chiefly regarded by the public, and when, as yet, men esteemed nature as something not exactly fitted for draw- ing-room intercourse.

While we thus, with great deference, express an unfavourable opinion of his merits as a writer of fiction, we allow to Mr Mackenzie the highest credit as a moralist, and also as a composer of language, which is to be esteemed as no mean accomplishment, and depends more upon native gifts than is generally supposed. The moral sense of Mackenzie was in the highest degree pure, tender, and graceful ; and has imbued his writings with a character for which they can hardly ever fail to be esteemed. " The principal object of all his novels," says Sir Walter Scott, " has been to reach and sustain a tone of moral pathos, by representing the effect of incidents, whether important or trifling, upon the human mind, and especially on those which were not only just, hon- ourable, and intelligent, but so framed as to be responsive to those finer feelings to which ordinary hearts are callous." The sweet collocation of the words in which all these efforts are made, combines to render the effect, to an extraor- dinary degree, soothing, refining, and agreeable.

MACKINTOSH, (8m) JAMES, a distinguished historian and statesman, was born on the 24th of October, 1765, at Alldowrie, the residence of his grand- mother, situated on the banks of Loch Ness, about seven miles from Inverness. He was in his own person, being the eldest of three children, the representative of the Killochy branch of the family of Mackintosh, (a property which they ac- quired in the fifteenth century,) and was the eleventh in descent from Allan, third son of Malcolm, the tenth chief of the clan, who was one of the leaders in the celebrated battle of Harlaw, fought in 1411. The lairds of Killochy, as the eldest branch of the Mackintoshes extant, were always captains of the watch (a feudal military appointment) to the chief of the clan, and acted in this capa- city in all the hostilities in which he happened to be engaged.

John Mackintosh of Killochy, father to the subject of this memoir, held a