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
D08410
Turner Bequest CXXIII 26

Catalogue entry

The whole page is taken up with the following lines of verse:
[? ‘But’ or ‘Put’] arts and the love of war at mortal strife
Deprives the needy labourer of his life
Untill those days when leguerd Barons strong
Dared to tell their monarch acted wrong
And wrung a charter from [‘his’ inserted above] fallen pride
And to maintain it freedom all have diyd
The parched tracks of Memphis arid <[?waste]> sands
And planted laurells wreath in hostile lands
Thus native bravery Liberty decreed
Received the stimulus act from Runny mead
A little island still retains the name
laved by its [?parent silvery] Tame1
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 tour (see the introduction to the sketchbook). The first lines are on folio 18 verso (D08396), and the last on folio 207 verso (D08736; CXXIII 204a).
The previous passage, on folio 25 verso (D08409), charts Turner’s south-west route across Hounslow Heath. Now he recalls how King John sealed the famous constitutional charter Magna Carta at or near the Thames water-meadows at Runnymede, south of Windsor in Berkshire, in 1215,2 and considers ‘the origins of English liberty’.3 Jack Lindsay has suggested that the radical politics of Turner’s patron and friend Walter Fawkes influenced his attitude here;4 Turner still recalled ‘England’s Early Liberty’ in a letter addressed to his friend Mrs Geddes at ‘Runnymeade | Old Windsor’ in 1846.5 He made sketches in the locality at the outset of his West Country tour including those on folios 9 verso, 11 recto, 11 verso and 12 verso (D08379, D08381, D08382, D08384). ‘Memphis’ is presumably an obscure allusion to the Egyptian desert and the classical past. The Runnymede passage continues for a few lines on folio 28 verso (D08414) before the journey continues.

Matthew Imms
June 2011

1
See transcriptions (followed here with slight variations) in Lindsay 1966a, p.109, all but the last two lines, as ‘Arts and the Love of War’, section (c) of poem no.50, ‘On the Western Itinerary 1811’, and Wilton and Turner 1990, p.170; previously transcribed with variations in Thornbury 1862, II, p.18 and 1897, p.206, and in Lindsay 1966b, p.137 (lines six to ten); penultimate couplet also given in Bailey 1997, p.221.
2
See Hamilton 2003, p.100.
3
Gage 1987, p.44.
4
Lindsay 1966, p.138; see also Bailey 1997, pp.220–2.
5
John Gage, Collected Correspondence of J.M.W. Turner with an Early Diary and a Memoir by George Jones, Oxford 1980, p.212 letter no.294, as noted in Gage 1987, p.246 note 16.

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