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 x 117 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Reference
D08591
Turner Bequest CXXIII 117 a

Catalogue entry

The whole page is taken up with the following lines of verse:
Oer the Dorsetian downs that far expand
Their scathed ridges into Devons land
The mounting Sun bedeckd with purple dyes
As o’er ther heathy summits beaming flies
The gilding radiance on the upmost [?ride]
That looking Eastwards on rocky rampart stood
A Guardian once like others thro the Land
Where native valour dare to make a stand
Against [?des...] and Rome, [blank] fought
The prize of valour gaind though Dearly bought
Thus wrought their nature by [?pror... degrees]
As morning fogs that rising tempt the breeze1
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, inspired by Bridport in west Dorset, is on folio 113 verso (D08578; CXXIII 110a). Here the setting is less precise, as Turner looks, literally or imaginatively, from Dorset towards Devon, thinking back, in the context of the Napoleonic Wars, to earlier patriotic defenders of the land. James Hamilton notes these lines as showing a ‘passion for liberty and the sanctity of nationhood’.2 Turner had earlier praised aspects of the Roman character, on folio 93 verso (D08540; CXXIII 90a).
The last word of the fifth line clearly ought to rhyme with ‘stood’, but Wilton and Turner’s ‘ride’, or Thornbury’s ‘ridge’ are plausible readings. Following Thornbury, Wilton and Turner suggest ‘despotism’ in the ninth line, but the word is very unclear. They give ‘progressive degrees’ in the penultimate line, but the phrase is again unclear – though the reading seems more likely than Thornbury’s ‘through habit (?) by prorogued (?) disease’. Turner appears to have started the same passage on folio 121 opposite (D08592; CXXIII 118), getting no further than ‘Oer the’, presumably then realising he meant to begin on the present page, following his usual practice of writing on the blank versos of the printed Itinerary pages.

Matthew Imms
June 2011

1
See Wilton and Turner 1990, p.173 (transcription, followed here with slight variations); previously transcribed with variations in Thornbury 1862, II, p.27 and 1897, p.215; lines six to twelve also given in Hamilton 2003, p.168.
2
Hamilton 2003, p.168.

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