Joseph Mallord William Turner

Inscriptions by Turner: A Poem or Folk Song and Other Notes

c.1808–18

Not on display

Artist
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Medium
Graphite on paper
Dimensions
Support: 89 × 112 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Reference
D40851

Catalogue entry

This page is not listed specifically in Finberg’s Inventory of the Turner Bequest, although he does transcribe the Bequest executors’ endorsement with the book’s original schedule number,1 by Charles Lock Eastlake, whose initials are followed by those of John Prescott Knight, in pencil along the top edge: ‘405. Book containing | 36 leaves of pencil sketches | C.L.E. JPK’.
Turner had made separate inscriptions with the page turned vertically both ways, in pen from the outer edge and in pencil working from the gutter. The pen inscription comprises four lines, with a further word completing the stanza below the end of the last line:
A Lion an ape and an Ass
Shows Man as it were in a Glass
Bold as a Lion to 3 score and ten
We then become monkeys and are no more | men
The verse is a truncated version of an anonymous poem which has been published in various forms, and may be a traditional ‘Ages of Man’ folk song. The following text is from a Victorian anthology, which furnishes it with a title and subheadings:
The Sexes.
Man.
An ape, a lion, a fox, and an ass
Resemble man’s life, as it were in a glass.
Apish they are until twenty-and-one;
Bold as a lion till forty is gone;
Cunning as foxes till threescore-and-ten;
They then become asses, and no more are men.
Woman.
A Dove, a sparrow, a parrot, a hen,
Resemble the life of a woman.
Gentle as doves until fourteen is o’er;
Loving as sparrows till thirty or more;
Prating as parrots till threescore-and-ten;–
They then become hens, and are no more women.2
A close variant of the above appeared in an 1824 anthology, published a few years after Turner’s datable use of this sketchbook, which omits ‘a hen’ and the whole of the last line.3 There is a version ‘learned from a jolly mason, many years ago, to troll out to a fine Bacchanalian melody’ in Notes and Queries from 1868, with significant differences in its coarser, more misogynist second verse:
A dove, a hen, a magpie, a crow,
Resemble the face of a woman also;
Harmless as doves till twenty-and-one,
Hatching like hens till forty be gone,
Chattering like magpies till three score and ten,
A crow’s an ill oman [sic] – and so is a wo-man.4

Matthew Imms
September 2013

1
See A.J. Finberg, A Complete Inventory of the Drawings of the Turner Bequest, London 1909, vol.I, p.438.
2
Isaac J. Reeve ed., The Wild Garland, vol.II, London 1866, p.173.
3
The Spirit of the Public Journals, for the Year M.DCCC.XXIII, London 1824, p.71.
4
Notes and Queries, third series, vol.12, 14 December 1867, p.479.

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