This article explains the ambiguities in Henry Mackenzie’s quasi-ironic sentimental novel, The Man of Feeling, by examining its debt to an earlier, formative literary tradition: the seventeenth-century character collection that features the caricatured antiquarian virtuoso. Character collections, exemplified by Samuel Butler’s Characters (mainly written between 1667 and 1669), constitute catalogues of ridiculed social and psychological types, prominent among whom are collector-characters derogated for antisocial self-absorption, arrogance, scopophilia, impotence, and credulity. As a sentimental novel, written in an era that highly valued sociability, The Man of Feeling reveals how this satiric inheritance complicates the praise of feeling. It reworks the structure and types of the character tradition and the figure of the antiquarian virtuoso by means of narrative frames that distance readers from the sentimental incidents; an episodic form that fractures sequential narrative; and rhetoric, themes, and characters that play on the opposition between materiality, idea, and feeling that informs the caricature of the antiquarian virtuoso. These features help to explain the ambiguity of the “man of feeling”: the sentimental virtuoso who both objectifies and personalizes a world of collectible experiences.
Copyright 2016 by Eighteenth-Century Fiction, McMaster University