Joseph Mallord William Turner

Inscription by Turner: Song Lyrics

1798–9

View this artwork by appointment, at Tate Britain's Prints and Drawings Rooms

Artist
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Medium
Graphite on paper
Dimensions
Support: 174 x 125 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Reference
D01805
Turner Bequest XLII 130

Catalogue entry

Inverted relative to the sketchbook’s foliation, lines of verse inscribed in pen and ink fill the page:
I     Twas post meridian, half past four
       By Signal I from Nancy parted
       At six we linger’d on the shore
       With uplift hands and brocken [sic] hearted
II   At seven while taughtning the fore stay
       I saw her faint or else was fancy
       At eight we all got under way weigh
       And bade a long adieu to Nancy
III  Night came, and now 8 Bells had rung
       While careless sailors ever cheery
       On the mid watch so jovial sung
       With tempers toil can never weary
IIII  I little to their mirth inclined
       While tender thoughts rush’d o’er my fancy
       And my warm sighs increase’d the wind
       Look’d on the Moon and thought on Nancy
5     And now arriv’d that jovial night
       When every true bred tar carouses
       When o’er the grog all hands delight
       To toast their sweethearts and their spouses
6     Round went the can the jest the glee
       While tender thoughts [sic] rusht o’er each fancy
       And when in turn it came to me
       I heav’d a sigh and toasted Nancy
7     Next morn a squall came on at 4
       At 6 the elements in motion
       Plung’d me and three poor sailors more
       Headlong within the foaming Ocean
8     Poor wretches! they soon found their graves
       For me tho it may be only fancy
       But love seem’d to forbid the waves
       To snatch me from the arms of Nancy
These lines are from The Sailor’s Journal, one of many popular songs composed in the cause of inspiriting sailors in the Royal Navy during the maritime wars of the late eighteenth century. The composer of The Sailor’s Journal was Charles Dibdin (1745–1814), perhaps the most famous of maritime ballad-writers; he is remembered today for The Lass that Loves a Sailor and, pre-eminently, Tom Bowling. Turner has copied out the whole text, though his transcript differs from Dibdin’s original in some respects: verse 1 line 3 has ‘she linger’d on the shore’; verse 6 line 2 has ‘while tender wishes fill’d each fancy’; and so on. The final four verses are on the verso of this leaf (D01804; Turner Bequest XLII 129).

Andrew Wilton
March 2013

Read full Catalogue entry

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