1819 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. Thomas Penrose

Thomas Campbell, in Specimens of the British Poets (1819; 1845) 561.



The history of Penrose displays a dash of warlike adventure, which has seldom enlivened the biography of our poets. He was not led to arms, like Gascoigne, by his poverty, or like Quarles, Davenant, and Waller, by political circumstances; but in a mere fit of juvenile ardour, gave up his studies at Oxford, where he was preparing to become a clergyman, and left the banners of the church for those of the battle. This was in the summer of 1762, when the unfortunate expedition against Buenos Ayres sailed under the command of Captain Macnamara. It consisted of three ships: the Lord Clive, of 64 guns; the Ambuscade of 40, on board of which Penrose acted as lieutenant of marines; the Gloria, of 38, and some inferior vessels. Preparatory to an attack on Buenos Ayres, it was deemed necessary to begin with the capture of Nova Colonia, and the ships approached closely to the fortress of that settlement. The men were in high spirits; military music sounded on board; while the new uniforms and polished arms of the marines gave a splendid appearance to the scene. Penrose, the night before, had written and dispatched to his mistress in England a poetical address, which evinced at once the affection and serenity of his heart, on the eve of danger. The gay preparative was followed by a heavy fire of several hours, at the end of which, when the Spanish batteries were almost silenced, and our countrymen in immediate expectation of seeing the enemy strike his colours, the Lord Clive was found to be on fire; and the same moment which discovered the flames showed the impossibility of extinguishing them. A dreadful spectacle was then exhibited. Men, who had, the instant before, assured themselves of wealth and conquest, were seen crowding to the sides of the ship, with the dreadful alternative of perishing by fire or water. The enemy's fire was redoubled at the sight of their calamity. Out of Macnamara's crew of 340 men, only 78 were saved. Penrose escaped with his life on board the Ambuscade, but received a wound in the action; and the subsequent hardships which he underwent, in a prize-sloop, in which he was stationed, ruined the strength of his constitution. He returned to England; resumed his studies at Oxford; and having taken orders, accepted of the curacy of Newbury, in Berkshire, of which his father was the rector. He resided there for nine years, having married the lady already alluded to, whose name was Mary Slocock. A friend at last rescued him from this obscure situation, by presenting him with the rectory of Beckington and Standerwick, in Somersetshire, worth about 500 a year. But he came to his preferment too late to enjoy it. His health having never recovered from the shock of his American service, obliged him, as a last remedy, to try the hot wells at Bristol, at which place he expired, in his thirty-sixth year.