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Alexander Mackay

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Published : 4 Articles
Pen Names : None
Date of Birth : N/A
Death : N/A
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Mackay, Alexander I Mr. Alex Mackay, Mr. Alexander Mackay, Mr. Alexr Mackay, Mr. Alex Mackie I, date of birth given as 1806, also as 1808; d. 1852; journalist. Born in Scotland. Began journalistic career as "conductor of a newspaper in Toronto, Canada" (D.N.B.). Went to London. Admitted at Middle Temple, 1843; called to the bar, 1847. Meanwhile, had obtained position on staff of Morning Chronicle; in 1846 sent by the Chronicle to the U.S. to report Congressional debates on Oregon boundary dispute and ascertain public opinion on the matter. Thereafter, in connection with Henry Mayhew's project to publish in the Chronicle a survey of the English poor and labouring classes, wrote articles on the poor in rural districts (Bourne, English Newspapers, II, 154–55). Also turned his attention to politics; delivered speeches on political reform. In 1851 sent to India on behalf of the Manchester and other chambers of commerce to investigate cultivation of cotton. Died at sea on return voyage. Author of The Western World; or, Travels in the United States in 1846–47, 1849, pronounced by Charles Mackay (Forty Years' Recollections, II, 153) as "equal in many respects" to Tocqueville's Democracy in America; The Crisis in Canada, 1849; Western India, published posthumously. Wrote also a book on electoral districts and one on the Australian Colonies' Government Bill.



      Mackay's "The Devil's Acre" [I, 297–301. June 22, 1850] deals with a dormitory and industrial schools established in a squalid London district and with the effectiveness of the institutions in reforming young criminals. Dickens's letter to Wills, July 12, 1850, and Wills's reply of the same date (in Lehmann, ed., Charles Dickens As Editor, pp. 30–31) concern a statement in the article that Dickens apparently wished to modify in a subsequent number of H.W. The prison chaplain John Clay, writing on July 26, 1850, called Mackay's article "the best account" of the industrial schools established in "The Devil's Acre" (W. L. Clay, The Prison Chaplain, p. 450). 
      ["An Emigrant Afloat", I, 534–39. Aug. 31, 1850] is assigned in the Office Book not to Mackay, but to "Mackie"; it is clearly Mackay's account of his passage to Canada as a young immigrant: The writer of the article is a Scotsman of some education who relates his voyage, steerage class, on the Seagull, sailing from Greenock to Quebec. Details are recorded much in the way in which Mackay, in The Western World, recorded details of his 1846 voyage on the Hibernia to Boston. Some of the phraseology, even, is similar. "An Emigrant Afloat," for instance, states: "It is difficult for an emigrant to reconcile himself to less than eight or nine knots an hour. ... We, one day, made but about twenty miles, and I apprehended a mutiny. On another we made two hundred, and nothing could exceed the hilarity and good-humour of those on board. At one time, the SeaguII was the merest tub. ... At another, she was one of the best vessels afloat. ... " In The Western World, Mackay writes: "No passenger can reconcile himself at sea to anything short of two hundred miles a day; and on our reckoning, one day, showing a run of only eighty miles, a state of feeling pervaded the saloon, which ... might have ripened into mutiny. ... Next day we had a splendid run – 250 miles – and what ship was ever in such favour as the Hibernia then?" 
      Concerning the article, Dickens wrote to Wills, Aug. 14, 1850, that he had shorn Mackay (name omitted in Nonesuch Letters; reads Mckay in MS Huntington Library) "of his humour in the emetical line, and also of his account of a calm – which is less correct than I hope his other facts are." 
      The H.W. article "Food for the Factory" referred to the plan of the Manchester Chamber of Commerce to send Mackay to investigate cotton cultivation in India; the article "India Pickle" recorded some of Mackay's comments from his Western India.
                                                                                                                     D.N.B.; Notable Middle Templars

Author: Anne Lohrli; © University of Toronto Press, 1971

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

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