THOMAS PENROSE was born in 1743 at Newbury in Berkshire, of which town his father was rector. Being early intended for the church, after a due course of school learning, he was entered of Christ Church, Oxford, where he pursued his studies for some time with remarkable assiduity and success. His inconsiderate attachment, however, to the military profession, drew him from his interest and his duty; and embarking in the projected expedition against Buenos Ayres, in 1762, he sailed as a lieutenant of Marines, under Captain Macnamara, an officer of spirit and experience.
It being judged expedient to recover Nova Colonia, a Portuguese settlement in South America, in the possession of the Spaniards, before they proceeded to the main object of the expedition, a dreadful conflict took place; and while the English were anticipating an immediate victory, the principal ship took fire, and of three hundred and forty souls, only seventy-eight escaped. Macnamara was drowned, and the ship in which Penrose sailed, with difficulty reached Rio de Janeiro.
In this action he was wounded; but both before and after it, he had courted the muse, though in very different strains; and the tender remembrance of a Miss Mary Slocock, whom he afterwards married, seems to have been uppermost in his mind.
Amidst this nobly awful scene,
Ere yet fell slaughter's rage begin,
Ere death his conquests swell,
Let me to love this tribute pay,
For Polly frame this parting lay,
Perhaps my last farewell.
Our poet returning to England with high testimonials of his courage and good conduct, but with a broken constitution, felt the propriety of relinquishing the military line, and of resuming his academical studies. Accordingly, he took orders, and became curate of Newbury, where he married the object of his dearest affections.
After he had continued a curate for nine years, he was presented to the valuable rectory of Beckington, near Standerwick in Somersetshire; but this piece of good fortune came too late. His health was in such a state, that the waters of Bristol were prescribed, and there he died in 1779, in the 36th year of his age, leaving a son, named Thomas, now a fellow of New college, Oxford, and who possesses no small share of kindred genius.
Penrose was much admired for his pulpit eloquence, and beloved and esteemed for his social qualities. All his poetical compositions, and especially his Flights of Fancy, display an enthusiasm, harmony, and force of expression, that may entitle him to rank with Gray and Collins. The poem on Madness, is superior to any thing in the English language, if we except Dryden's Ode to Music, and bears the strongest impression of flowing from a mind ardent, excursive, and observant of nature in her every hue; the general imagery is well conceived, the sentiments are happily suited to the subject, and the expression is often highly poetical. The disposition is artful and appropriate. The mind of the reader, after the horror excited by the view of the fettered maniac, is relieved by a tender and pathetic melancholy on beholding the poor distracted fair. And again, that melancholy passes into a different, though a kindred pity, occasioned by the circumstances of the mimic monarch, whose disturbing the reveries of the love-lorn maid, produces the finest poetical and dramatic effect. This evinces the poet's taste; for if the disposition had been different, the effect would have been less happy. He is not less fortunate in his description; the maniac appearing first in all the terrible circumstances of his character, and every suggestion of tenderness, and all the sensations of pity called up to qualify the attendant horrors. Nothing can be more finely pictured than the subject of the love-madness. The whole description maintains the truest propriety, and is executed with the happiest care. His fragments and smaller pieces may be read with pleasure, though they have not a sufficient degree of merit to entitle them to a place among the favored productions of poesy.