J.M.W. Turner: Sketchbooks, Drawings and Watercolours

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

Joseph Mallord William Turner Inscription by Turner: Draft of Poetry 1811

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Folio 30 Verso:
Inscription by Turner: Draft of Poetry 1811
Turner Bequest CXXIII 30a
Inscribed by Turner in ink (see main catalogue entry) on white wove printing paper, 75 x 117 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
The whole page is taken up with the following lines of verse:
Hill after hill incessant cheats the eye
While each the intermediate space deny
The upmost one long call to attain
When still a higher calls on toil again
Then the famed Icknield Street appears a line
Roman the work and Roman the design
Opposing hill or streams alike to them
The [i.e. ‘They’] seemed to scorn impediments for when
A little circuit would have given the same
But conquering difficulties cherishd Roman fame1
Interspersed with drawings and the printed pages of Coltman’s British Itinerary, sixty-nine pages of this sketchbook are given over wholly or partly to these verses which Turner intended as a commentary for publication with the Picturesque Views on the Southern Coast of England which he sketched on the 1811 West Country tour (see the introduction to the sketchbook). The first lines are on folio 18 verso (D08396), and the last on folio 207 verso (D08736; CXXIII 204a).
As a means of adding historical perspective to his own journey, Turner names ‘Icknield Street’ and refers to the Romans, apparently in relation to one of the Roman roads converging from the east on Old Sarum, near Salisbury. It has been observed that ‘several widely separated Roman roads have been called Icknield Street, which has led to some confusion with the Icknield Way’,2 generally understood as a pre-Roman track from East Anglia towards the West Country, the exact route of which remains open to interpretation. James Hamilton sees the first two lines as showing, among his ‘different characteristics’, Turner ‘the knowing topographer’,3 while the passage in general ‘evokes movement, history and manufacture of civilisation’.4
The previous passage – the first concerning the Salisbury area – is on folio 29 recto (D08415), and the next (after an abortive variation of the first line here on folio 31 recto opposite; D08419) is on folio 33 verso (D08424), again with Salisbury as the theme.

Matthew Imms
June 2011

See transcriptions (followed here with slight variations) in Lindsay 1966, pp.109–10, as part of ‘Barrows and Roman Road’, section (d) of poem no.50, ‘On the Western Itinerary 1811’, and Wilton and Turner 1990, p.170, as also given in Hamilton 1997, p.143; first two lines only given in Hamilton 2003, p.100; previously transcribed with variations in Thornbury 1862, II, pp.18–19 and 1897, p.207.
H.W. Timperley and Edith Brill, Ancient Trackways of Wessex, London 1965, p.53.
Hamilton 2003, p.100.
Hamilton 1997, p.143.

How to cite

Matthew Imms, ‘Inscription by Turner: Draft of Poetry 1811 by Joseph Mallord William Turner’, catalogue entry, June 2011, in David Blayney Brown (ed.), J.M.W. Turner: Sketchbooks, Drawings and Watercolours, Tate Research Publication, December 2012, https://www.tate.org.uk/art/research-publications/jmw-turner/joseph-mallord-william-turner-inscription-by-turner-draft-of-poetry-r1136895, accessed 19 January 2022.