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 and graphite on paper
Dimensions
Support: 75 x 117 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Reference
D08616
Turner Bequest CXXIII 130 a

Catalogue entry

The whole page is taken up with the following lines of verse:
In tinted of clouds of every shape and dye
Meantime an uper current rolls around the clouds
And bear against the blast the thunder loud
Breaking on the upmost hills then quick ascend
The scattered magazines and congealing tend
To the full charged elementary strife
To man even fears and oft [?relinquishd] Life
A corse tremedous awfull. Dark indeed
Died the smitten [‘wretch’ inserted above] not doomed to bleed
The current dead chard with the viens
Sulphur[...] and livid still the form retains
Most dreadful visitation <[?of the]> instantaneous death
Of supreme goodness sapient allows the fleeting breath
To fall apparently without a thought of pain1
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).
Having spent several pages of poetry up to folio 130 verso (D08610; CXXIII 127a) evoking life in the face of the landscape and elements, here a brewing storm breaks dramatically, and death by lightning is vividly described. Storms and lightning are common motifs in Turner’s pictorial work, and he even showed such a death, or its immediate aftermath, in a later West Country subject, his watercolour of Stonehenge of about 1827 (Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum),2 engraved as Stone Henge in 1829 for the Picturesque Views in England and Wales. For Stonehenge sketches in the present book see folios 214 verso, 215 recto and verso and 216 recto (D08749–D08752; CXXIII 211a, 212, 212a, 213). Another fatal strike is described later, on folio 157 verso (D08657; CXXIII 154a).
The next lines, on folio 135 verso (D08619; CXXIII 132a), return to the topographical theme, with a scene on St Michael’s Mount, in Cornwall.
1
See Wilton and Turner 1990, pp.173–4 (transcription, followed here with slight variations); previously transcribed with variations in Thornbury 1862, II, p.28 and 1897, pp.216–17.
2
Andrew Wilton, J.M.W. Turner: His Life and Work, Fribourg 1979, pp.394–5 no.811 illust.

Matthew Imms
June 2011

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