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

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

Joseph Mallord William Turner Verses (Inscription by Turner) c.1808

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Folio 33 Recto:
Verses (Inscription by Turner) circa 1808
Turner Bequest CII 33
Inscribed by Turner in ink (see main catalogue entry) on white wove paper, 115 x 76 mm
Inscribed by John Ruskin in red ink ‘33’ top right, running vertically
Stamped in black ‘CII 33’ top right, running vertically
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
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

How to cite

David Blayney Brown, ‘Verses (Inscription by Turner) c.1808 by Joseph Mallord William Turner’, catalogue entry, March 2007, 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-inscription-by-turner-r1130877, accessed 25 October 2021.