Joseph Mallord William Turner

Verses (Inscriptions by Turner)

1809

In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Artist
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Medium
Graphite on paper
Dimensions
Support: 114 × 83 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Reference
D07896
Turner Bequest CXIII 28 a

Catalogue entry

These verses were first transcribed by Rosalind Mallord Turner, whose reading is followed here. First, in ink, Turner writes:
But ...more their faults stand failing shame
Admired their works immortal to their name
Be it resolved that this be sacred ground
That bustling critics be to silence bound
Be it resolved that when occasion calls
Unlucky boys do not pollute these walls
Persius Sat 1
Below, in pencil, is another version of the last line: ‘Youths do not pollute the walls’.
The extract is from the first Satire of the Roman poet Persius (Aulius Persius Flaccus), which takes the form of a dialogue between the poet and his patron.1 It is interesting that the passage copied by Turner follows immediately after an exchange in which the poet is warned of offending ‘some Patrician poet’ and replies
...be all their doggerel read;
Let courts applaud, and prices nod the head;
The same dead colour runs through all they write,
A trackless waste of snow, where all is white
It is perhaps worth noting that about this time Turner was being attacked as a ‘white painter’ by the patrician patron, amateur artist and arbiter of taste Sir George Beaumont and his friends.
See folio 24 verso of the sketchbook (D07891) for more verses, perhaps inspired by Thomas Chatterton, on similar themes of criticism and reputation.

David Blayney Brown
July 2009

1
William Drummond ed., The Satires of Persius Translated: with Notes, London 1799, pp.19–20.

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