Joseph Mallord William Turner

Verses (Inscriptions by Turner)


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite on paper
Support: 110 × 88 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CXI 95

Catalogue entry

Turner’s inscription is mainly in pencil but with the first line overwritten ink. Rosalind Mallord Turner’s reading of Turner’s inscription for the 1990 Tate exhibition is largely followed here:
Oh Fancy did’st thou not lure
The tender Otway from a parents side
By Arun Sedgy stream to feel the power
Of fortune adverse tho rich in thy strength
And full in thy realms of gay conceits
Did dare to cast his eye that scorn to shed
The tears of weak complaints but snatchd
The precious morsel from a passing friend
In death like easiness to be his last
Then on the world cast that reproving eye
That tells severely thou hast done thy worst
This passage begins the long poem contrasting fancy and imagination which, running back through the sketchbook, ends on folio 93 verso (D07741). Turner invokes the playwright Thomas Otway (1652–1685), who was actually born at Milland, Sussex, some way from the River Arun. He may be confused because Otway became curate at Woolbeding on the Rother, which runs into the Arun.
Turner also cites ‘sedgy Arun’ in verse in the Petworth sketchbook (Tate D40276; Turner Bequest CIX 3 [verso]), this time associating the river with ‘Colin’, presumably the Chichester poet William Collins, author of the Ode on the Death of Mr Thomson, as pointed out by Andrew Wilton.1
Wilton and Mallord Turner 1990, p.138.

David Blayney Brown
May 2011

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