Unsanctioned Wanderings: Capturing the Vagrant in Romantic Prints

The gentlemanly or artistic wanderer is integral to the Romantic imagination, yet the ideal of the peripatetic existed against a backdrop of less desirable forms of vagrancy and nomadism. Through changing Poor Laws and Vagrancy Acts, as well as the enclosure of lands, these forms of unsanctioned wandering became increasingly criminalized and unsustainable, even as the endorsed amblings of the inquisitive artist-gentlemen were celebrated. This essay looks at depictions of unauthorized wandering in early-nineteenth-century British prints in order to explore Romantic constructions of vagrancy in relationship to the artist’s construction of self. More specifically, this project examines visual strategies that contradict or resist the implicit project of containment, arrest, and classification, and which complicate the supposed stasis of the print, the stability of language, and the book as commodity.