Joseph Mallord William Turner

Inscription by Turner: Draft of Poetry


Not on display

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Pen and ink and graphite on paper
Support: 75 × 117 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CXXIII 166 a

Catalogue entry

The whole page is taken up with the following lines of verse:
deceitfull smoothing that the [?wrekers] sloop boat
made up sticks and to where sails float proof [?afloat]
Require the little native wading in the stream
Guides his first Essays ’’ thro the glorious theme
Spreads thro the village shool [i.e. ‘school’] and all the throng
Bare the triumphant Argo quick anon
A little navey rears thus begin
the stream of glory oft to accident akin
So oft has small beginning given birth
To the great [?‘Demagous’, i.e. ‘Demagogues’] that tyranize on Earth
Lifted the warrior [‘solider’, i.e. ‘soldier’ inserted below] from the ranks to hold
And wield an iron sceptre uncontrould
War reard the [?humble] <and devoted the way> [‘[...] of a cot’ inserted above]
To scenes that fancy neer could form his lot1
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 lines, on folio 167 verso (D08675; CXXIII 164a), present an idyllic coastal scene, possibly off Devon. The first, rather tentative, couplet here seems to complete that passage with a note of danger, if the fifth word of the first line is intended as ‘wrecker’s’, although Lindsay reads it as ‘western’.
Turner had pictured a village school and its pupils earlier in the poem (D08434; CXXIII 38a). The name ‘Argo’, recalling the mythical ship of Jason the Argonauts, occurs repeatedly in a passage of Turner’s poetry in the Perspective sketchbook of about 1809, expressing optimism in the construction of a vessel and pessimism concerning its fate (Tate D07388, D07390, D07391, D07393, D07394; Turner Bequest CVIII 20, 22, 23, 25, 26). Wilton and Turner tentatively give the third line from the end as ‘And sh[i]eld on [solider (=soldier) [inserted above]] from sceptic men would [?]’ but Lindsay’s rather different reading, followed in the transcription above, seems coherent in the context, leading to his suggestion that ‘Turner is probably thinking of Napoleon’;2 conversely, Wilton and Turner’s reading of the fourth word in the penultimate line as ‘humble’ seems more fitting to the sense than Lindsay’s ‘terrible’. The phrases ‘the little native’, ‘the glorious theme’ and ‘streams of glory’ may indicate that Turner is thinking concurrently of Napoleon’s Nemesis, Admiral Lord Nelson, who is the main focus of the verses from folio 177 verso (D08693; CXXIII 174a) onwards.
See transcriptions (followed here with slight variations) in Lindsay 1966a, p.70 from the end of line five onwards, and Wilton and Turner 1990, p.175; selectively quoted in Lindsay 1966b, pp.18, 220 note 19; see also Lindsay, Turner: The Man and His Art, London 1985, p.11.
Lindsay 1966a, p.70.

Matthew Imms
June 2011

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