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
D08534
Turner Bequest CXXIII 87 a

Catalogue entry

The whole page is taken up with the following lines of verse:
Or on the blasted heath or far stretchd down
Exposing still the field by iron sown
Barrow after barrow tell with silent awe
The dreadfull cause prevading nature’s law
That the rude hands of warfare feudal strife
Denying peace and oft denying Life
Along the upmost ridge ..the. Maiden way
The work of Roman prowess brave the day
With triple ditch and barbican arise
Defying the hand of Time and stormy skies
Which from the wide distance <deepfull> [?driving] oer
Pour oer those bulwark cas[...] clouds or showers1
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 83 verso (D08520; CXXIII 80a), is the conclusion of a brief narrative on the sad fate of a West Country girl. Here Turner returns to the main topographical strand of the poem, ‘Maiden’ being Maiden Castle, the vast Iron Age hill fort south-west of Dorchester; Turner had drawn the town in the Corfe to Dartmouth sketchbook (Tate D08834; Turner Bequest CXXIV 23). The fort is just west of the main Dorchester-Weymouth road, and he presumably passed it, or perhaps even explored it, before sketching Weymouth and Portland from a point a couple of miles further south (Tate D08835; Turner Bequest CXXIV 24). However, he was incorrect in assuming any Roman involvement in the construction of the earthworks, which were abandoned by the end of the first century AD after the Romans’ defeat of the local tribes.2
Previous transcriptions have given the word in line eight as ‘Norman’ rather than ‘Roman’ but the first letter appears to be a wayward ‘R’ and the next lines, on folio 93 verso (D08540; CXXIII 90a), are a digression on Roman history, before Maiden Castle is again considered on folio 98 verso (D08550; CXXIII 95a).

Matthew Imms
June 2011

1
See transcriptions (followed here with slight variations) in Lindsay 1966, p.115, all but the last two lines as part of ‘The Lost Girl’, section (l) of poem no.50, ‘On the Western Itinerary 1811’, and Wilton and Turner 1990, p.172; previously transcribed with variations in Thornbury 1862, II, p.25 and 1897, p.213.
2
See [Katy Carter (ed.)], Heritage Unlocked: Guide to Free [English Heritage] Sites in Devon, Dorset and Somerset, London 2004, pp.52–5.

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