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Mackenzie, Robert Shelton (1809-1880)

Journalist, Poet

Robert Shelton Mackenzie was born June 22, 1809 in Limerick, Ireland. Mackenzie began his newspaper career editing a county journal in Hanley, Staffordsville, England. After writing for various papers and contributing several biographies to the Georgian Era, Mackenzie was appointed the English correspondent for the New York Evening Star in 1834, possibly making Mackenzie the first European correspondent to any American paper (Baugh). While maintaining several connections to English newspapers, Mackenzie contributed articles to the Star on politics, literature, fashion, and "gossip of high life" until 1851. Mackenzie came to New York in 1852 as a result of financial difficulties and the early death of his first wife. While in New York, Mackenzie served as literary editor and political writer for an unidentified daily and as the music and dramatic critic for an unidentified Sunday paper. (Killis Campbell, in his 1917 book The Poems of Edgar Allan Poe, speculates that this paper was the New York Times.) After the establishment of the Philadelphia Press, Mackenzie moved to that city in July 1857, where he became that paper's literary and foreign editor and dramatic critic. Mackenzie held this position for twenty years. Near the end of his life, he worked as a literary editor at the Philadelphia Evening News. He also wrote several original published works over the course of his life. Mackenzie died November 21, 1881, despite the popular belief that he died November 30, 1880, and he is buried in Philadelphia (Baugh).

Mackenzie's relationship to Pfaff's and the Bohemians is uncertain. In "Our New York Letter," Mackenzie is mentioned as one of English's "associates" at the bar (English, "The Club" 202). A closer review of "Our New York Letter" associates Mackenzie with the Bohemian Club, a group of journalists that arose after the Pfaff's era ("Our New York Letter"). There are, however, a few clear connections between the Pfaffians and Mackenzie. When Fitz-James O'Brien arrived in New York in 1852, he carried with him a letter of introduction from Mackenzie that he presented to several prominent New York editors in the hope of securing employment (Winter, Old Friends, 75-76). Later, though, Mackenzie wrote an article critiquing O'Brien, especially his claim to being a baron (Gunn, vol. 10, 108, 137-9). This was an insult that O'Brien did not take lightly, according to Thomas Gunn, who wrote about an incident that erupted between O'Brien and the publisher of Mackenzie's article (Gunn, vol. 13, 206). Most notably, Mackenzie was embroiled in the controversy surrounding Gardette's "The Fire Fiend." When the poem was first published in the Philadelphia Press, Mackenzie quickly authenticated the work as Poe's, only to change his position and condemn Gardette for his hoax. Mackenzie's changing of positions on the work led to an exchange of letters between himself and Gardette and criticism of Mackenzie in the Saturday Press. A notable "Curiousities of Criticism" credited to Henry Clapp concludes with the "Query" "What is the opinion of Dr. Mackenzie worth? Yours, without much doubt on the subject, A.B." (Clapp, "Curiousities," 40).