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

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

Joseph Mallord William Turner Verses: 'A Reckoning with Time', after George Colman (Inscription by Turner) 1807

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Inside Front Cover:
Verses: ‘A Reckoning with Time’, after George Colman (Inscription by Turner) 1807
Inscribed by Turner in ink (see main catalogue entry) on off-white wove paper, 187 x 118 mm
Stamped in black ‘C’ top right
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
This poem is continued on folio 1 (D41429). For convenience the whole text is given here, below, based with minor changes on the reading made by Rosalind Mallord Turner at the time of the 1990 Tate exhibition and first published in its catalogue; this superseded Finberg’s less accurate transcription which, in any case, only covered the first five stanzas.
Come Oh Time nay that is stuff
Gaffer, thou comest on fast enough
Wing’d foe to feathered cupid
But tell me Sandman ere thy train
Have multiplied upon my brains
So thick to make me stupid
Tell me Death’s Journeyman: but no
Hear [me deleted] thou my speech spoil not grow
Incumbant while I try it
For though I mock my flight tis said
Thy forelocks fill me with such dread
I never take thee by it
List then old is was and then to be
I’ll state accounts twixt me and thee
Thou gave me 1st the measles
With teething would have taken me off
Then mad’st me with the Hooping cough
Thinner than 50 weasles
Thou gav’st smallpox the dragon now
That Jenner combats in a cow
& then some seeds of knowledge
grains of grammar, which the trails
of pedants thrash upon our tails
To fit us for a college
& when at Christ Church twas thy sport
To rack my brains with sloe juice port
& Lectures out of number
There fresh men Folly, quaffs & sings
While graduate Dullness clogs thy wings
With Mathematic lumber
[continued on folio 1, D41429]
Thy pinions next which while they [gave deleted] wave
Fan all our birth days to the grave
I think ere it was prudent
Ballooned me from the schools for town
Where I was parachuted down
A Dapper Temple Student
Then much in Dramas did I look
Much slighted thee and great Lord Coke
Congreve beat Blackstone hollow
Shakespeare made all the statues stale
And in my crown no pleas had Haled
To supersede Apollo.
So Time, those raging heats I find
Were the mere dog star of my mind
Howe cool is retro[s]pection
Youth gaudy [Summer inserted] Solstice –oer
Experience yields a mellow store
an autumn of reflection
Why did I let me [lure deleted] God of Song
Lure me from Law to join this throng
galed by some slight applauses
What arises to a when B
or what, John Bull a Comedy
To pleading ditto Causes
But thought my childhood fill dreams
Though my lank purse unswollen by fees
Some ragged music has netted
Still honest chronos tis most true
To thee in faith & others too
I am very much indebted
[continued along side of the leaf]
For thou hast made me gaily tough
Inured me to each day that’s rough
In hopes of calm tomorrow
When Old Mower of us all
Beneath thy sweeping sythe I fall
Some few dear friends will sorrow
Then though my idle prose or rhime
Should half an hour outlive me time
Pray bid the Stone ingravers
Where’er my bones find church-yard rooms
Simply to chisel on my tomb
Thank Time for all his Jewels
Dr Piggott was the first to identify this poem, A Reckoning with Time by the dramatist George Colman (1762–1836), manager of London’s Haymarket Theatre which Turner knew well. When republished in Colman’s Poetic Vagaries (1812), it was said to have first appeared ‘three or four years ago’ in an unnamed monthly publication. Colman had intended it to serve as an address to Time in his comic tale of the theatre, ‘Low Ambition, or the Life and Death of Mr. Daw’. It mentions, in the ninth stanza, Colman’s greatest hit, his comedy John Bull (1805).
Wilton had previously noted an autobiographical tone in these lines, but tales of spells as an undergraduate at Christ Church, Oxford, a law student at the Temple and on the stage rule out Turner himself as the author. Wilton thought the references to Coke and Blackstone ‘surely too specific and “private” to have been invented by an outsider’.1 However, Sir Edward Coke (1552/3–1634), Chief Justice, and Sir William Blackstone (1723–80), judge and academic, are cited merely to indicate the legal studies from which the poet has defected to the stage, as represented by the dramatist William Congreve (1670–1729), and no personal contacts can be inferred with or between men who lived in different centuries. The most recent reference outside Colman’s own work is to Edward Jenner (1749–1823) whose discovery of smallpox vaccination was published in 1798. Also worth noting in the poem is the early use of the verb ‘parachuted’; the Oxford English Dictionary locates the first use of the word in an article about the exploits of a Mr Blanchard, presumably a hot-air balloonist, in The European Magazine, 1785.2
Piggott published the true text of Colman’s poem, from which Turner’s transcription diverges as do Finberg’s and Rosalind Mallord Turner’s which also differ from each other; in the fifth stanza, Finberg read the last word as ‘wonder’ and Rosalind Mallord Turner, correctly, as ‘lumber’. The latter’s reading of the final word of the poem as ‘Jewels’, repeated by Bailey, is true to Turner himself but not to Colman’s original ‘favours’.

David Blayney Brown
May 2006

Wilton and Mallord Turner 1990, p.127.
The author is grateful to Steve Hare for his comments on this point.

How to cite

David Blayney Brown, ‘Verses: ‘A Reckoning with Time’, after George Colman (Inscription by Turner) 1807 by Joseph Mallord William Turner’, catalogue entry, May 2006, 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-verses-a-reckoning-with-time-after-george-colman-inscription-r1139035, accessed 13 June 2024.