Joseph Mallord William Turner

Verses (Inscription by Turner)


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Ink and graphite on paper
Support: 115 × 76 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CII 33

Catalogue entry

For the longer draft poems to which Turner’s verses belong, see Introduction to the sketchbook. Finberg did not transcribe the verses on this leaf, and the reading given here was first made by Rosalind Mallord Turner for the 1990 Tate exhibition:
Vacuity but only yesterday
oer these fair leave maintain
Oer these fair leaves but yesterday
Vacuity maintain her sway
Untill the sun did immolate
Yet innocence did consecrate
Its stain it proved a mark of fame
When writ in dear Eliza name
More than perhaps he did [had inserted] desired
But Paul speake but when inspired
Obliquely, Turner refers to Alexander Pope’s Dunciad, Book II, in which the actress and author Eliza Haywood appears among the dunces, fêted by booksellers despite having nothing original to say. Notorious for scandalous romances, some of which contained thinly disguised portraits of public figures, Haywood is offered as first prize in a urinating competition (the second is a chamber pot). Turner adopts Pope’s description of her as ‘vacuous’. In a further note Pope had called her a ‘shameless scribbler’.
There is another, shorter version of these lines, without the mention of Haywood, on folio 41 (D06800) and a third inside the back cover of the Frittlewell sketchbook (Tate D07756; Turner Bequest CXII), where they are said to be ‘Written at Purley on the Thame[s] | Rainy morning – no fishing’.
Also on this leaf is a sketch in pencil, currently unidentified but perhaps related to the lamprey-fishing subject on folio 32 verso (D06783).

David Blayney Brown
March 2007

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