Joseph Mallord William Turner

Inscription by Turner: Draft of Poetry


Not on display

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Pen and ink on paper
Support: 75 × 117 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CXXIII 56 a

Catalogue entry

The whole page is taken up with the following lines of verse:
Where massy fragments seem disjoined to play
With sportive sea nymphs in the face of day
While the bold headlands of the seagirt shore
Receive ingulpht old ocean deepest store
Embayd the unhappy Halswell toild
And all their efforts Neptune [?herewith] foild
The deep rent ledges caught the trembling keel
But memory draws the viel where pity soft does kneel
And ask St Alban why he choose to rest
Where blades of grass seem [?’even’ inserted above] to feel distrest
Twixt parching sun and raging wind
And often but a temporary footing find1
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 is on folio 55 verso (D08468; CXXIII 54a), where the last couplet introduces Studland Bay, on the east side of the Isle of Purbeck in Dorset; ‘St Alban’, or St Aldhelm, is the dedication of a headland on the south side of Purbeck. Here and on folio 60 verso (D08478; CXXIII 57a), Turner describes the dangers of the rocky coastline, focusing on the notorious sinking of the East Indiaman Halsewell near St Aldhelm’s Head in 1786. Eric Shanes has identified the wreck2 as the subject of Turner’s watercolour The Loss of an East Indiaman of about 1818 (Cecil Higgins Art Gallery, Bedford)3 and a related ‘colour beginning’ (Tate D17178; Turner Bequest CXCVI N).

Matthew Imms
June 2011

See transcriptions (followed here with slight variations) in Lindsay 1966, pp.112–13, all but the last line as ‘Corfe Castle and Scudland [sic] Bay (where the Halswell captained by Wordsworth’s brother was wrecked’, section (i) of poem no.50, ‘On the Western Itinerary 1811’, and Wilton and Turner 1990, p.171; previously transcribed with variations in Thornbury 1862, II, p.21 and 1897, pp.209–10.
Shanes 1997, p.34, including an account of the disaster; see also J.R. Piggott, ‘Salerooms Report’, Turner Society News, no.79, September 1998, p.5.
Andrew Wilton, J.M.W. Turner: His Life and Work, Fribourg 1979, p.357 no.500.

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