Joseph Mallord William Turner

Inscription by Turner: Draft of Poetry

1811

Not on display

Artist
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Medium
Pen and ink on paper
Dimensions
Support: 75 × 117 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Reference
D08400
Turner Bequest CXXIII 20 a

Catalogue entry

The whole page is taken up with the following lines of verse:
A steady current nor with headlong force
Leaving fair natures bosom in [‘its’ inserted above] course
But like the Thames majestic <deep> broad and deep
Meandring greatness behold the yon
    on each circling sweep
Ah could my [...]
Through varigated Chelseas [?growing] meads
To Twickm [i.e. ‘Twickenham’] bowers that love Alexis read
In humble guise should [?eas’d my pled] assume
My self reard willow or the grotto gloom
T’would be my pride [?‘its’ or ‘, to’] hold from further scorn,
A remnant of his love which once the bank adorn
What once was his, can’t injure but [?in]1
Interspersed with drawings and the printed pages of Coltman’s British Itinerary, sixty-nine pages of this sketchbook are given over wholly or partly to these verses which Turner intended as a commentary for publication with the Picturesque Views on the Southern Coast of England which he sketched on the 1811 West Country tour (see the introduction to the sketchbook). This is the second passage; the first lines are on folio 18 verso (D08396), and the last on folio 207 verso (D08736; CXXIII 204a).
The lines on folio 18 verso were thoughts on creativity compared with the flow of a stream, broadening here in a vision of the actual River Thames west of London. Its poetic connections had been a source of inspiration to Turner while living for extended periods at Isleworth, north of Twickenham, and Hammersmith, west of Chelsea.2 ‘Alexis’, the willow and the grotto are references to the poet Alexander Pope (1688–1744) and his home, notoriously demolished in 1807, as commemorated in Turner’s painting Pope’s Villa at Twickenham, exhibited at his gallery the following year (private collection).3 Similar passages in Turner’s poetry also include references to James Thomson (1700–1748), another poet associated with the Thames around Richmond.4 The theme is continued in the next passage, on folio 21 recto opposite (D08401).

Matthew Imms
June 2011

1
See Wilton and Turner 1990, p.170 (transcription, followed here with slight variations), and Hamilton 2003, p.100 (first four lines only); previously transcribed with variations in Thornbury 1862, II, p.17 and 1897, p.205.
2
See Wilton and Turner 1990, and David Hill, Turner on the Thames: River Journeys in the Year 1805, New Haven and London 1993.
3
Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984, pp.55–6 no.72 pl.82 (colour).
4
See Wilton and Turner 1990, pp.129–30 undre no.35.

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