Joseph Mallord William Turner

Inscription by Turner: Transcript of a Song, ‘Here’s a Health to Honest John Bull’


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite on paper
Support: 173 × 260 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856

Catalogue entry

Turner’s transcript of the song reads as follows:
Here’s a health to Honest John Bull
When he is gone where will ye find such another
So with Hearts as with Bumpers quite fill
Here’s a health to Old Engl[and] his mother
She gave him a good Education
[^] That from Honor and
Taught him that from Industry would spring
All the honor of a well thriving nation
[^] The pride of
And be true to his C[ountry] and King
[^] So
Now John is [a] good natured fellow
He is noble he [is] generous and brave
Tho in in conflict he is a redoubtable fellow
He will fight he will conquer he will save.
Some are born for the C[ountry] some the City
Others inhabit a Palace or [a] cot
But O what a dolorous ditty
If all were born equal in Lot
Right of Man makes a very fair sound
Equal R[iches] a plausible tale
Of those who would then till the ground
All would drink but who brew the Ale
[^] And [?Charley Chalon] would fail
    His mother
Then the loom and Plough would stand still
Een where Equality’s mantle would be small
[^] And [?Charley Chalon] would fall
[^] And
We then must fight for to fill
The Pulpit the [?...] the Hall
    His mother
The [?power] what we may [?Stand]
The corruption and Riot and blood
With Honor [?...] may depend
To be happy as long as he is good
    His mother
These verses are a variation of a song ‘Here’s a health to right Honest John Bull’ first published in the early 1790s. An early edition was credited to the pseudonymous Earl of Howard and a longer version, attributed to an anonymous ‘well-wisher to King and Country’,1 appeared with other ‘Select Modern Poetry’ in The Gentleman’s Magazine, February 1805 (p.158); it was to be sung to the tune ‘Why Moses, why Aaron’ and with a chorus, ‘Here’s health to right honest John Bull’ after each verse. This might in turn be associated with the 1803 play John Bull by George Colman the younger, or with lines sometimes attributed to the poet William Cowper but not acknowledged by him.
The version published in 1805 had thirteen verses as opposed to the seven written out here by Turner. This is not the first time that Turner had given the song his consideration. An earlier transcription of eleven verses, headed ‘John Bull Content’, in the 1808 Derbyshire sketchbook (Tate D07145–D07147; Turner Bequest CVI 11–12) may not be in Turner’s own handwriting but at least demonstrates his interest. Of the two versions in his sketchbooks, the present one goes further in changing the usual meaning of the song.

David Hill
May 2009

Revised by David Blayney Brown
April 2013

Known also from copies at the British Library, London, and elsewhere and also published in the London Chronicle in 1796.
For Fawkes generally, and his Whig politics in particular, see James Hamilton, ‘Fawkes, Walter Ramsden (1769–1825)’, in Evelyn Joll, Martin Butlin and Luke Herrmann (eds.), The Oxford Companion to J.M.W. Turner, Oxford 2001, pp.103–5.

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