The Man of Feeling was Mackenzie's first and most famous novel, which was begun in London in 1767. It was published in April 1771, sold out by the beginning of June, and reached its sixth edition by 1791.
Mackenzie wrote The Man of Feeling in the latter half of the eighteenth century, by the end of which the concept of sentimentalism had steadily become merely laughable and entertaining. An 'Index to Tears', which was first included in the 1886 edition of The Man of Feeling edited by Professor Henry Morley, indicates how the "repertory of sentimental effects...has become a repertory of mirthful effects, perhaps to be read aloud in the Victorian parlour to an audience only needing to hear these categories of tears in order to trigger a rather different physical response."
Whilst in the reaction to sentimentalism authors and readers alike satirised or humiliated characters with an excess of emotion, there remained those who supported elements of the genre. According to theorist Hugh Blair, the man of feeling “lives in a different sort of world from what the selfish man inhabits. He possesses a new sense, which enables him to behold objects which the selfish man cannot see.”
Mackenzie experienced difficulty in getting The Man of Feeling published, until he finally managed to have it published anonymously. A priest by the name of Eccles made an attempt to claim authorship, supported by "a manuscript full of changes and erasures" in his possession.