Joseph Mallord William Turner

Inscription by Turner: Draft of Poetry; with a Sketch of Bideford

1811

Not on display
Artist
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Medium
Graphite and pen and ink on paper
Dimensions
Support: 117 x 75 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Reference
D08396
Turner Bequest CXXIII 18 a

Catalogue entry

The upper part of the page is taken up with the following lines of verse:
To that kind Providence that guides our step
Fain would I offer all that my powrs hold
And hope to be successfull in my weak attempt
To please. The difficulty great but when nou [‘ght’ inserted below]
Attempted nothing can be wrought
Trials thankfull for the mental [‘power givn’ running on below]
Whether innate or the gift of Heaven
Perception reasons actions close ally
Thoughts that in the mind [?embeded] lie
[?Kindly] expand thy [?monumental] store
and as the [?babling brook] continues [?pour]1
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). These are the first lines, as Turner invokes his Muse in return for promising his best efforts; the last are on folio 207 verso (D08736; CXXIII 204a). The next passage, with the first mention of specific places along the River Thames west of London, is on folio 20 verso (D08400).
James Hamilton has suggested that Turner wrote the present lines while, ‘let us say, he was still planning his route’,2 but the chronology of the verses is open to interpretation (see the introduction). Wilton and Turner give the last line as ‘and as the [?working world] continues power’ but Lindsay’s reading, followed above, seems more likely, as the next passage begins ‘A steady current’, comparing creativity to the flow of the Thames.
The slight drawing below, apparently made on the west of the Torridge Estuary downstream from Bideford’s bridge (seen in the contemporary Cornwall and Devon sketchbook: Tate D41313; Turner Bequest CXXV a 36), was presumably added rather later, as Turner fitted it into one of the few gaps in the sketchbook on the return leg of his journey, via the north coast of Devon; the sketch continues onto folio 19 recto opposite (D08397). There is a view of Bideford Bar, at the entrance to the estuary, on folio 17 verso (D08394).

Matthew Imms
June 2011

1
See transcriptions (followed here with slight variations) in Lindsay 1966, p.108, as ‘Fain Would I Offer All’, section (a) of poem no.50, ‘On the Western Itinerary 1811’, and Wilton and Turner 1990, p.170; also given in Hamilton 1997, p.145, except the last four lines, and Hamilton 2003, p.100; previously transcribed with variations in Thornbury 1862, II, p.17 and 1897, p.205.
2
Hamilton 1997, p.145.

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