Seventeen irregular stanzas, a gallery of demented passions. Thomas Penrose apparently alludes to Spenser's Cave of Despair in the "knife and poisoned bowl"; his design owes much to Collins's Ode on the Passions. "Madness" became Penrose's most frequently-reprinted poem — indeed, one of the more frequently reprinted minor poems of the century.
Westminster Magazine: "Pretty and poetical! The last flight is an irregular Ode on Madness; in which if the Poet does not quite reach the celebrated Author of the Ode on the Passions, he comes very near him" 3 (June 1775) 328.
John Langhorne: "There is the greatest merit in this ode, particularly in the three leading circumstances of Disposition, Description, and Expression. The Disposition is artful and happy. The mind of the Reader, after the horror excited by the view of the 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 merry monarch, whose disturbing the reveries of the love-lorn lady, produces the finest poetical and dramatic effect. This evinces the Author's taste; for we are satisfied that, had the disposition been different, the effect would have been less happy. Mr. Penrose 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 immediately called up to qualify the attendant horror" Monthly Review 53 (August 1775) 142.
Pennsylvania Magazine: "There is the greatest merit in this Ode, particularly in the three leading circumstances of Disposition, Description, and Expression" 1 (November 1775) 524.
Gentleman's Magazine: "Madness, the subject of the 3d, our author paints in the raving, the love-lorn, the frolicsome, and the devotee; but the better it is described, the more it shocks us, like the anatomical wax figures mentioned by Lord Corke at Florence, or Sir Joshua Reynold's picture of Count Hugolino" 46 (January 1776) 31.
Robert Anderson: "Penrose has written but little; but his Flights of Fancy, if he had written nothing else, are sufficient to entitle him to a classical distinction among the poets of our country" British Poets (1795) 11:609.
Robert Southey: "From this writer's Poem [Madness], that which has been most praised is selected. The author mistook inclination for power, and has luckily found Criticks, who have accepted the will for the deed" Specimens of the Later English Poets (1807) 3:182.
Samuel Jackson Pratt: "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 elegant. 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" Cabinet of Poetry (1808) 5:ccccixvi.
In April 1812 "Madness" was reprinted in Boston's Polyanthos with a particularly lurid engraving.
Swell the clarion, sweep the string,
Blow into rage the Muse's fires!
All thy answers, Eccho, bring,
Let wood and dale, let rock and valley ring,
'Tis Madness self inspires.
Hail, awful Madness, hail!
Thy realm extends, thy powers prevail,
Far as the Voyager spreads his ventrous sail.
Nor best nor wisest are exempt from thee;
Folly — Folly's only free.
Hark! — To the astonished ear
The gale conveys a strange tumultuous sound.
They now approach, they now appear,—
Phrenzy leads her Chorus near,
And Daemons dance around,—
Pride — Ambition idly vain,
Revenge, and Malice swell her train,—
Devotion warped — Affection crost—
Hope in Disappointment lost—
And injured Merit with a downcast eye,
(Hurt by neglect) slow stalking by.
Loud the shouts of Madness rise,
Various voices, various cries,—
Mirth unmeaning — causeless moans,
Bursts of laughter, — heart-felt groans—
All seem to pierce the skies.—
Rough as the wintry wave, that roars
On Thule's desart shores,
Wild raving to the unfeeling air,
The fetter'd Maniac foams along,
(Rage the burthen of his jarring song)
In rage he grinds his teeth, and rends his streaming hair.
No pleasing memory left — forgotten quite
All former scenes of dear delight,
Connubial love — parental joy—
No sympathies like these his soul employ,
—But all is dark within, all furious black Despair.
Not so the love-lorn maid,
By too much tenderness betrayed;
Her gentle breast no angry passion fires,
But slighted vows possess, and fainting, soft desires.
She yet retains her wonted flame,
All — but in reason, still the same.—
Dim haggard looks, and clouded o'er with care,
Point out to Pity's tears, the poor distracted fair.
Dead to the world — her fondest wishes crost,
She mourns herself thus early lost.—
Now, sadly gay, of sorrows past she sings,
Now, pensive, ruminates unutterable things.
She starts — she flies — who dares so rude
On her sequestered steps intrude?—
'Tis he — the Momus of the flighty train—
Merry mischief fills his brain.
Blanket-robed, and antick crown'd,
The mimick monarch skips around;
Big with conceit of dignity he smiles,
And plots his frolicks quaint, and unsuspected wiles.—
Laughter was there — but mark that groan,
Drawn from the inmost soul!
"Give the knife, Demons, or the poisoned bowl,
To finish miseries equal to your own."—
Who's this wretch, with horror wild?—
—'Tis Devotion's ruin'd child.—
Sunk in the emphasis of grief,
Nor can he feel, nor dares he ask relief.—
Thou, fair Religion, wast design'd,
Duteous daughter of the skies,
To warm and chear the human mind,
To make men happy, good, and wise.
To point, where sits in love arrayed,
Attentive to each suppliant call,
The God of universal aid,
The God, the Father of us all.
First shewn by thee, thus glow'd the gracious scene,
'Till Superstition, fiend of woe,
Bad doubts to rise, and Tears to flow,
And spread deep shades our view and heaven between.
Drawn by her pencil the Creator stands,
(His beams of mercy thrown aside)
With thunder arming his uplifted hands,
And hurling vengeance wide.
Hope, at the frown aghast, yet ling'ring, flies,
And dash'd on Terror's rocks, Faith's best dependence lies.
But ah! — too thick they croud, — too close they throng,
Objects of pity and affright!—
Spare farther the descriptive song—
Nature shudders at the sight.—
Protect not, curious ears, the mournful tale,
But o'er the hapless groupe low drop Compassion's veil.