1793 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Thomas Pennant

Anonymous, "Account of Thomas Pennant, Esq." European Magazine 23 (May 1793) 323-25.



THOMAS PENNANT, Esq. was born at Downing, in Flintshire, as we are informed, on the 14th of June 1726, O.S. His mother was of the honourable family of Mytton, of Halstone in Shropshire. The family of Mr. Pennant have enjoyed their paternal acres in Flintshire upwards four hundred years. They are descended, in common with many families in North Wales, from Tudor Trevor earl of Hereford. It appears from a passage in his works that he was educated at Wrexham school. He was, however, afterwards removed to that of Fulham, in Middlesex, then kept by the Rev. Mr. Croft. From thence he went to Oxford, where he became a commoner at Queen's College, and after four years took the law gown. He afterwards removed to Oriel College, but we believe left the University without taking a degree. A present of the Ornithology of Francis Willughby, Esq. made to him at the age of twelve years gave him a taste for that study, and incidentally a love for that of Natural History in general, which he has ever since pursued with his constitutional ardour.

A tour which he made into Cornwall from Oxford in 1746 or 1747, gave him a strong passion for minerals and fossils, in which he was greatly encouraged by the Rev. Dr. William Borlase.

On Nov. 21, 1754, he was elected a Member of the Society of Antiquaries, an honour which he resigned in 1760. In 1757, he received what he considered the first and greatest of his literary honours, which was conferred on him at the instance of Linnaeus himself. This was being elected a Member of the Royal Society at Upsal. On Feb. 26, 1767, he was chosen a Fellow of the Royal Society of London.

In the year 1769, he had the hardiness, as he expresses it, to venture on a journey to the remotest part of North Britain, a country almost as little known to its southern brethren as Kamtschatka, and the same year became a Member of the Royal Academy of Sciences at Drontheim. In 1771, he was honoured by the University of Oxford with the degree of Doctor of Laws. In 1781, he was elected Honorary Member of the Society of Antiquaries at Edinburgh.

In the year 1783, he was elected into the Societas Physiographica at Lund, in Sweden; and in 1784, he exerted himself in favour of the present minister, whose character, he says, daily vindicated the political opinions of his adherents. The sentiments, however, of Mr. Pennant appear formerly to have been those of the Whigs, which occasioned Dr. Johnson once in a fit of spleen to exclaim, "The dog is a Whig." In answer to which, Mr. Pennant candidly replied in words and sentiments wherein he will be joined by very many at the present day: "I should have been a Whig at the Revolution. There have been periods since in which I should have been what I now am, a moderate Tory; a supporter, as far as my little influence extends, of a well-poised balance between the crown and people; but should the scale preponderate against the "salus populi," that moment may it be said, "The dog's a Whig." In this year he was elected a Member of the Royal Academy of Sciences at Stockholm.

The next year, 1785, he was elected Honorary Member of the Society at Edinburgh for promoting of Natural Knowledge, of the Society of Antiquaries at Perth, and of the Agriculture Society at Odiham in Hampshire. In 1791, he became a Member of the Philosophical Society at Philadelphia.

In 1790, Mr. Pennant determined to desist from his literary labours. In that year he produced his Account of London, and in an advertisement prefixed, says, "I feel within, myself a certain monitor that warns me to hang up my pen in time, before its powers are weakened and rendered visibly impaired. I wait not for the admonition friends. I have the archbishop of Granada in my eye; and fear the imbecility of human nature might produce, in long-worn age, the same treatment of my kind advisers as poor Gil Blas had from his most reverend patron. My literary bequests to future times, more serious concerns, must occupy the remnant of my days. This closes my public labours."

Since this period, however, Mr. Pennant's life has not been an inactive one. In the present year, he has presented the public with his Literary Life, in which we are told, that since the termination of his authorial existence he had glided through the globe a harmless sprite; had pervaded the continents of Europe, Asia, and Africa, and described them with the same authenticity as Gemelli, Careri, or many other travellers, ideal or real, who are to this day read with avidity, and quoted with faith. "My great change," he continues, "is not perceived by mortal eyes. I still haunt the bench of justices. I am now active in hastening levies of our generous Britons into the field. However unequal, I still retain the same zeal in the service of my country, and twice since my departure have experienced human passions, and have grown indignant at injuries offered to my native land; or have incited a vigorous defence against the luntatic designs of enthusiastic tyranny, or the presumptuous plans of fanatical atheists to spread their reign, and force their tenets on the contented moral part of their fellow-creatures. May I remain possessed with the same passions till the great Exorcist lays me for ever." To this we beg to add, may that period be at a great distance!

Of the works of Mr. Pennant we shall subjoin a catalogue. "I am often astonished," he observes, at the multiplicity of my publications, especially when I reflect on the various duties it has fallen to my lot to discharge; as father of a family, landlord of a small but very numerous tenantry, and a not inactive magistrate. I had a great share of health during the literary part of my days; much of this was owing to the riding exercise of my extensive tours, to my manner of living, and to my temperance. I go to rest at ten; and rise winter and summer at seven, and shave regular at the same hour, being a true "misopogn." I avoid the meal of excess, a supper, and my soul rises with vigour to its employs, and (I trust) does not disappoint the end of its Creator.

Quin corpus onustum
Hesternis vitiis, animum quoque praegravat una,
Atque affigit humo, divinae particulam aura.
Alter, ubi dicto citius curata sopori
Membra dedit, vegetus praescripta ad munia surgit.

Behold how pale the seated guests arise,
From suppers puzzled with varieties!
The body too, with yesterday's excess
Burthen'd and tir'd, shall the pure foul depress,
Weigh down this portion of celestial birth,
This breath of God, and fix it to the earth.

He married for his first wife, Elizabeth, daughter of James Falconer, Esq. of the house of the Barons of Halkerton in Scotland, by whom he has had David Pennant, Esq. who, by a singular instance, has the honour of being a Member of the Royal Society at the same time with his father. Mr. Pennant married for his second wife, Anne, daughter of Sir Roger Moystyn, Bart. of Moystyn, in Flintshire; by whom he has two children.

The following is a list of Mr. Pennant's works:

1. British Zoology. fo. 1761.
2. British Zoology. 2 vols. 8vo. 1768.
3. British Zoology. vol. 3d. 8vo. 1769. On Reptiles, &c.
4. Indian Zoology. 1769.
5. Additional Plates to British Zoology. 1770.
6. Synopsis of Quadrupeds. 8vo. 1771.
7. Tour in Scotland. 8vo. 1771.
8. Genera of Birds. 8vo. 1773.
9. Voyage to the Hebrides. 4to. 1774.
10. Tour in Scotland, 1772. 4to. 1775.
11. British Zoology. vol. 4th. 8vo. 1777.
12. Tour in Wales. vol. 1st 4to. 1778.
13. Journey to Snowdon. 4to. 1781.
14. Synopsis of Quadrupeds. 2 vols. 4to. New edit. 1781.
15. Free Thoughts on the Militia Laws. 8vo. 1781.
16. Natural History of the Turkey, Philosophical Transactions. 1781.
17. Account of Earthquakes felt in Flintshire. Ibid.
18. Journey from Chester to London. 4to. 1782.
19. Letter from a Welsh Freeholder. 1784.
20. Arctic Zoology, 2 vols. 4to. 1785.
21. Supplement to the Arctic Zoology. 4to. 1787.
22. Miscellanies. Thirty copies only from the press of George Allan, Esq. at Darlington.
23. Account of London. 4to. 1790.
24. Letter on Mail Coaches. 1792.
25. The Literary Life of the late T. Pennant, Esq. 4to. 1793.