Joseph Mallord William Turner

Notes for a Letter or Speech (Inscriptions by Turner)


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite on paper
Support: 115 × 190 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856

Catalogue entry

Turner’s inscription reads:
Perhaps you have seen the following from the Examiner: of to-day | promising us a literal cudgeling unheard. I could wish the Constant | Reader to be one of your Party to-day. Your turtle and venison [which deleted] | might improve his taste, which | appears at present a little spleenic. |
So we may expect a thrashing unheard next Sunday. It is hard you | cannot have a few friends to-day and if you please give them | turtle soup and venison without giving umbrage to a constant reader | who, by the following address to the Examiner of to-day to tickle up the | Professors, seems to be spleenic in affairs of taste | The constant reader must be a sly rogue to know that you give | turtle soup and venison to-day. Would he were one of the party to | improve his taste
Turner’s notes are rehearsals of a reply to a letter in the radical journal, The Examiner, 8 January 1809:
SIR.– It was with a great deal of pleasure (some time ago) that I read a paragraph in your Paper, declaring your intention to lecture Mr. Soane, if he did not condescend to lecture at the Royal Academy:– I now think you ought to take up your literary cudgel, and thrash all the Professors – for during the whole of last season, not a single lecture was delivered;– and turtle soup, and haunch of venison, promise fair to consume the present. If you have the goodness to lay about these sons of indolence lustily, you will much oblige,–
       Your humble servant,
       Margaret Street, Jan.3
The correspondent refers to the Royal Academy’s Professor of Architecture, Turner’s friend John Soane, and his colleagues including Turner himself, the Professor of Perspective, none of whom had delivered any lectures during 1808. Soane’s predecessor, his old teacher George Dance, had never given a single one. Fees were unpaid, leaving the Constant Reader to infer that this left the Academy more to spend on good living. The nom de plume was presumably inspired by Charles Churchill’s poem The Ghost which Turner had sent to Soane at the time of his friend’s appointment in 1806, following the resignation of Dance:

David Blayney Brown
March 2009

Turner to Soane, [29] March 1805 [1806], in John Gage ed., Collected Correspondence of J.M.W. Turner, Oxford 1980, p.30.
For the note and the outcome of Soane’s lecture see Helen Dorey, John Soane and J.M.W. Turner: Illuminating a Friendship, exhibition catalogue, Sir John Soane’s Museum, London 2007, pp.11–12; also David Watkin, Visions of World Architecture: John Soane’s Royal Academy Lecture Illustrations, exhibition guide, Sir John Soane’s Museum, London 2007, p.5.

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