Samuel Palmer, The Lonely Tower, watercolour

© 2005 Huntington Library, Art Collections andBotanical Gardens, San Marion, California

The Lonely TowerThe Lonely Tower

The Lonely Tower - reworked several times - became the most potent image of Palmer's last period. It was the last in the Milton cycle, and related to the following verse in Milton's poem 'Il Penseroso':

'Or let me lamp at midnight hour,
Be seen in some high lonely tower,
Where I may oft outwatch the Bear,
With thrice great Hermes.'

The tower depicted is that of Leith Hill, near Dorking. This had particular significance for Palmer as it was adjacent to High Ashes Farm, where Palmer had been staying when his son Thomas More Palmer died in 1861. After this tragedy Palmer fled the farmhouse never to return, although in the following year the family moved to a house in Mead Vale near Redhill, from which Leith Hill was also visible.

The composition of the watercolour is simple and more focused than earlier versions of the same subject. The shepherd and his love concentrate on the tower, which is brought out in high dark relief against the sky. The tower is shown with a projecting turret, known to have been added in the 1860s. This watercolour was probably one of the last, if not the very last, that Palmer executed. His son A.H. Palmer later described how, when Palmer was ill in bed in the last months of his life, 'he continued his work, for a time, more effectively than I should have thought possible'.