Though often regarded as England's most English painter in the eighteenth century--a painter who rebelled against standards of taste based on Continental and classical models and who developed a distinctly English style that treated uniquely English topics--little attention has been paid to Hogarth as a painter of the nation. What idea of English or British nationhood did Hogarth articulate? One can begin to answer this question by looking at Hogarth's collaboration in a travel book--a significant, though under-appreciated work in his oeuvre that is generally referred to as Hogarth's Peregrination. It is in this comic narrative, which parodies travel accounts of antiquaries, that Hogarth outlines how England should be understood as a nation as well as how England should not be represented.
Hogarth's entry into the genre of travel writing is a matter of some import because travel writing--especially in the form of chorography (writing about the land), a genre devoted to topographical and historical research that blossomed in the seventeenth century--constituted an important mode of representing the nation. Up to that time no other form of writing had described England in such detail and with such accuracy. Moreover, its focus on the land suggested a new way of conceptualizing England as a nation that competed with traditional ideas of nationhood. While older ways of representing the nation centered on the monarch, chorography's emphasis on geography tended to marginalize the monarch and to make allegiance to the land, rather than to the king, paramount. It also implicitly promoted whiggish and republican ideologies: the nation increasingly came to be seen as a body of property holders, bound by their loyalty to the land and to each other. Given such political implications, it is no wonder that chorography and other work by antiquaries emerged as a species of civic action and that landscape painting would become in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries a potent form of representing the nation.
As this paper will show, Hogarth's Peregrination does more than mock the practices of antiquaries. It also attacks the implicit ideology of their genre of travel writing and dismantles it as form of national representation that places wealthy landowners and their institutions at the center of English nationhood. Within this attack, one may also find the outlines of a more radical mode of national representation that embodies a broader vision of national community, expands the membership of that community beyond the land-owning classes, and reconfigures the relationship of its citizens to each other. Putting Peregrination at the forefront of a study of Hogarth also highlights hitherto little noticed features of his other work and allows one to see Hogarth not simply as a distinctly English painter, but as a painter who wished to create a specific idea of England.