Joseph Mallord William Turner

Inscription by Turner: Draft of Poetry; with Sketch of Lynmouth and Lynton


Not on display
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Pen and ink and graphite on paper
Support: 75 x 117 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CXXIII 164 a

Catalogue entry

A hilly pencil skyline runs above the gutter, completing the view of Lynton and Lynmouth on folio 168 recto opposite (Tate D08676; Turner Bequest CXXIII 165). The rest of the page is taken up with the following lines of verse:
[?Cast] the gay occident of Saffron hue
In tendrest medium of distance blue
While the deep ocean denies a smooth entrance
calm foamless [blank] far distance
the beauties [‘and’ inserted above] <of the> wonder of the deep
While the blanchd spots of canvass creep
Like natures landmarks [‘upon the dark medium and as’ inserted above] village spires
Point as in [‘on who thro’ inserted above] [‘form’ or ‘foam’] where hope aspires
The blanchd sand within the reach of tide
Glimers in lucid interval the washing pride
[?One] little murmurs [‘tracks’ or ‘breaks’] along the shore
In treacherous smoothness scarcely blanched [‘white’ inserted above] o’r
With foam frail power undulating1
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, on folio 164 verso (D08670; CXXIII 161a), mentions several locations in south-east Devon, and the setting for the idyllic scene described here may be the same area, as depicted for example in the sunny Southern Coast watercolour Torbay from Brixham, of about 1816–17 (Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge).2 Jonathan Raban has noted how the poem ‘reveals a sea composed entirely of paint ... which itself turns into the canvas of sails on a real sea’,3 and Sam Smiles quotes the first two lines in picturing Turner taking ‘full measure of [the] atmospheric envelope’4 of Devon and Cornwall.
After a first couplet which seems to conclude the present passage, the next lines, on folio 169 verso (D08679; CXXIII 166a), introduce an image of toy boats and childhood play leading to greatness, and develops towards the main theme of the last few pages of the poem, Admiral Lord Nelson.

Matthew Imms
June 2011

See transcriptions (followed here with slight variations) in Lindsay 1966, p.116, as ‘Foam’s Frail Power’, section (n) of poem no.50, ‘On the Western Itinerary 1811’, and Wilton and Turner 1990, p.175.
Andrew Wilton, J.M.W. Turner: His Life and Work, Fribourg 1979, p.353 no.468, reproduced.
Jonathan Raban (ed.), The Oxford Book of the Sea, Oxford 1992, pp.15–16, quoted in [Cecilia Powell], ‘Turner at Sea Again’, Turner Society News, no.67, August 1994, p.5.
Smiles 2006, p.51 note 1.

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