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
D08414
Turner Bequest CXXIII 28 a

Catalogue entry

The whole page is taken up with the following lines of verse:
Ah, little troubled seems the humble cot
That marks the island and its inmate lot
The meshy net bespeak the owner power
Like to the spider web in evil hour
The roaming fly [?‘The joining webs’ inserted below] and joining playfull webs
Within its mazes struggles in vain for [‘but to die’ inserted below]
Westward the sandy tracks of Bagshot rise
And Windsor Further brave the circling skies
Alas the gloomy care dreams <on her> create
[?Conncomitant] ever of a princely state
Should hang so long to a clear [?sooth]
    [?The sayer] oft coy1
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). The first lines are on folio 18 verso (D08396), and the last on folio 207 verso (D08736; CXXIII 204a).
The previous passage, on folio 26 recto (D08410), alludes to King John’s consent to Magna Carta at Runnymede, by the River Thames in Berkshire in 1215, and the first few lines here continue the theme, with a tentative metaphor on oppression through the imagery of a spider’s web, which may have been evoked by the sight of a fishing net. The almost illegible phrase read by Wilton and Turner as ‘The joining webs’ is given by Thornbury as ‘The finny tribe’, which echoes Turner’s phrase ‘The finny race’ in a verse about fishing in the Perspective sketchbook (Tate D07378; Turner Bequest CVIII 13) of about 1809. As Thornbury does not quote any of Turner’s lines outside the present sketchbook, it is not possible to determine whether this is (most likely) a coincidence, or evidence of his wider knowledge of Turner’s poetry.
Bagshot, in Surrey, lies in heathland on Turner’s route to the West Country, between Egham (near Runnymede) and Blackwater, Hampshire; Egham and Blackwater are both listed in Turner’s accounts on folio 1 recto (D08362). There are views towards Windsor, site of one of the principal royal residences, on folios 11 verso and 12 verso (D08382, D08384); here it appears to provoke fatalistic thoughts on the destiny of both the high- and the low-born, which continue on folio 29 recto opposite (D08415).

Matthew Imms
June 2011

1
See Wilton and Turner 1990, p.170 (transcription, followed here with slight variations); previously transcribed with variations in Thornbury 1862, II, p.18 and 1897, p.206; Lindsay 1966, p.137, gives the first line only, quoted as if continuous from line seven on folio 35 verso (D08428).

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