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
D40904
Turner Bequest CXXIII 149 a

Catalogue entry

The whole page is taken up with the following lines of verse:
Of Horizontal strata, deep with fissure gored
And far beneath the wartery billows [?g]ored
In [written over ‘And’] <...> caverns ever wet with foam and spray
Impervious to the blissfull light of day
Blocked up by fragments or by falling give
a rocky Isle in which the sea mews live
Bear their rough forms and brave the utmost rage
of storms that stain our Britain parish page
With plunder, Shipwrecks, deathfull woe
And even life itself has been for plunder far to low
To feel the [?miseries] of anothers woe1
[?Look on yon ...]
[...]
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 the recto of the present leaf (D08648), where Land’s End and Cape Cornwall are mentioned, following a sequence surveying the rocky Cornish coast. James Hamilton notes Turner’s general interest in geology,2 and sees the first line as proof of the ‘keenness of [Turner’s] eye for the structure of the earth and, significantly, his knowledge of technical terms’, stemming from reading, lectures or conversations with geologists3 – see also folios 61 recto, 143 verso and 204 verso (D08479, D08633, D08731; CXXIII 58, 140a, 201a).
The penultimate word of line six is given by Wilton and Turner as ‘ma[i]ds’, perhaps in the sense of mermaids, but appears to be ‘mews’, a word for gulls which Turner uses elsewhere in the sketchbook, on folios 60 verso, 83 verso and 155 recto (D08478, D08520, D08652; CXXIII 57a, 80a, 152). In the later lines Turner seems to refer to the criminal and even murderous activities of wreckers preying on ships and their crew. The next verses, on folio 154 verso (D08651; CXXIII 151a), continue the imagery of waves and rocks.
1
See Wilton and Turner 1990, p.174 (transcription, followed here with slight variations); first eight lines also given in Hamilton 1997, p.145, and first line in Hamilton 1998, p.118.
2
Hamilton 1997, p.145; see also his ‘Science as Subject Matter’ in Evelyn Joll, Martin Butlin and Luke Herrmann (eds.), The Oxford Companion to J.M.W. Turner, Oxford 2001, p.281, and Sarah Taft, ‘Geology’ in ibid., p.120.
3
Hamilton 1998, p.118.

Matthew Imms
June 2011

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