William Hogarth's Topographies


As legend has it, on Friday, May 27, 1732, William Hogarth and a group of friends reveled at the Bedford Arms, their local tavern in Covent Garden, London. Several drinks into the night, the party decided to break camp and embark on an impromptu trip. After a quick stop at their respective lodgings to pack up some rudimentary effects, they found their way to Billingsgate, from where they sailed up the River Thames. During the five days of this journey, the travelers reached the Isle of Sheppey and the Isle of Grain, located at the mouth of the Medway, passed through Gravesend and Chatham, stopped at Finsbury, Hoo, and Queenborough, with visits to Rochester, Upnor Castle, and the church of Minster. The trip ended in the tavern where it had all started.

In this abbreviated imitation of a long-distance exploration, every participant assumed a different role: Hogarth mainly drew monuments and figures while the landscape painter Samuel Scott (1701/2–1772) served as prospect painter (and occasional punchbag); John Thornhill (d. 1757), son of the history painter Sir James Thornhill (1675–1734) and Hogarth’s brother-in-law, acted as cartographer; William Tothall (1698–1770), a woolen draper and brandy-and-rum merchant, was in charge of keeping the books; and the attorney Ebenezer Forrest (1700–1793), in the role of historian and antiquarian, chronicled this expedition that evokes John Bunyan’s (1628–1688) Pilgrim’s Progress as much as Geoffrey Chaucer’s (ca.1340–1400) Canterbury Tales.

Definition of progress from Samuel Johnson's Dictionary (1755)

    Described by the participants as a purely whimsical endeavor, the modest tour through England’s countryside offers a tongue-in-cheek response to the itinerary of the Grand Tourists who explored the landscapes and monuments of Continental Europe. But the main target of this intricate satire was the British antiquarians who, since at least the sixteenth century, had minutely inventoried the county’s history and antiquities as a means of reclaiming a glorious past. Throughout their merry way, the five participants collaborated on an illustrated account in which they recorded the most mundane and insignificant details of their journey with a minuteness usually reserved for historical facts and artefacts. Intended initially for a private audience, the report was published posthumously in several editions, including a versification by the Canterbury antiquarian William Gostling (1696–1777). Each of these iterations testifies to a lasting and wide-ranging interest in the Five Days Peregrination among antiquarians, artists, and historians.


Definition of peregrination from Samuel Johnson's Dictionary (1755)

          In 1732, Kent was far from an unmapped territory. The region was in fact closely associated with the early practice of antiquarianism and topographical history in England, particularly since the publication in 1576 of the Perambulation of Kent written by William Lambarde (1536–1601). Local history inspired unprecedented activity during the second half of the sixteenth century and culminated with the monumental Britannia published in 1586 by William Camden (1551–1623). County history was still in full swing during the first decades of the eighteenth century. The History of Kent by John Harris (ca. 1666–1719) was published in 1719, and Lambarde’s Dictionarium Angliae Topographicum et Historicum appeared posthumously for the first time in 1730. More than strictly “local,” early antiquarians’ work of this period falls mainly into the category of what the Martinican writer and philosopher Édouard Glissant (1928–2011) would later criticize as “localism,” in other words a narrow, self-referential exploration of one’s surrounding unconcerned with any global ties.  

Definition of locality from Samuel Johnson's Dictionary (1755)

          When they decided to set off for Kent, Hogarth and his fellows self-consciously responded to the antiquarian literature, as well as contemporary travel guides. The popular Tour Thro’ the Whole Island of Great Britain (1724) of Daniel Defoe (1660?–1731) was undoubtedly on their shelves and in their minds. The Peregrination can be read as a provocative response to Defoe’s remark in his preface that he "could have made his Historical Account a Satyr upon the Country, as well as upon the People; but they are ill Friends to England, who strive to write a History of her Nudities, and expose, much less recommend her wicked Part to Posterity; [the author] has rather endeavour’d to do her Justice in those things which recommend her, and humbly to move a Reformation of those, which he thinks do not.” Undoubtedly, the peregrinators’ grotesque irreverence for the remains of the past puts them on the side of agitators rather than reformers who observed the locality with severe critical distance.

        At the time, Kent was Britain’s interface with the rest of the world; the Thames and Medway rivers that run through it served as primary passageway for the ships that connected the island nation with the various corners of an ever-expanding empire. As Jacqueline Riding observed: “This is a part of England…that speaks brilliantly of national and even global events, past, present and future, due to its geography, topography and history, with references to trade and to Royal Navy, Good Queen Bess and the Spanish Armada, the devastating mid seventeenth-century Dutch raid on the Medway, and the ongoing threat of invasion and war at home and abroad.”

The five participants only glanced casually at the docklands where the Navy’s vessels had been constructed for over two centuries; and they largely dismissed the achievements of military architecture whose pervasive presence in the region betrayed the country’s sustained anxiety of invasion from other European powers. At Sheerness, for example, Forrest writes: “We Travers’d the Fort and went around the Lines Saw all the Fortifications and Batteries and had a Delightful Prospect of the Sea and the Island of Sheppy. Hogarth [was laughed at] for Sitting Down to Cutt his Toe Nails in the Garrison.” By largely ignoring the economic past and present realities of the empire, the peregrinators demonstrated ad absurdum that a topographical survey is constituted as much by what its authors see as what they fail to see.

This section of the exhibition examines closely the historical and geographical self-consciousness of the Five Days Peregrination. It inscribes the project within a longer antiquarian tradition that celebrated the county’s history to which the Peregrination held up a distorting mirror. It also sheds light on the different copies of the manuscript in its published and unpublished forms, particularly the circumstances of its production and dissemination.

William Hogarth
[Breakfast at the Nag’s Head Inn in Stoke, Kent]
Pen and brown ink with watercolor
In Ebenezer Forrest et al., An account of what seem’d most Remarkable in the Five Days peregrination...
Published 1732
© The Trustees of the British Museum

The British Museum preserves the original travel manuscript of the peregrination, which includes Ebenezer Forrest’s chronicle, nine illustrations by William Hogarth and Samuel Scott, a map of Kent by John Thornhill, and William Tothall’s expenses report. Hogarth’s and Scott’s drawings have faded over time, but the colors correspond nonetheless to the brighter colors of later copies and editions. In this fourth drawing imitating the Dutch genre paintings of Adriaen Brouwer and others, Hogarth portrays the five peregrinators at breakfast after a second night slightly disturbed by bug bites.

R. Godfrey after Conrad Martin Metz and Raymond Cantuar
[Portrait of William Gostling]
Etching and engraving
In A Walk in and about the City of Canterbury...
Published 1777
The Lewis Walpole Library, Yale University

In praise of the Peregrination through Kent, the Rev. William Gostling wrote a versified version of Forrest’s prose. Friendly with several of the participants, Gostling probably had access to the manuscript soon after its completion. In 1781, Hogarth’s biographer John Nichols (1745–1826) printed Gostling’s text in twenty copies as a literary curiosity, and later as an annex to the third edition of his Biographical Anecdotes of William Hogarth (1785).

Described by an acquaintance as “a man delighting in quaint remains and curious travel,” Gostling was an antiquary, music historian, and occasional inventor. He is mostly remembered today for his historical book about his hometown, A Walk In and About the City of Canterbury, published for the first time in 1774. Gostling, portrayed in the book’s frontispiece, served as a local historian who guided tourists around the city and whose house, according to an eyewitness, “was a provincial museum which all travelers who had an introduction by a friend or by their own importance, visited, and into which they were received with the most easy-good humour.” Gostling’s daughter, who led the tours of the museum-house, recorded the visit of at least two thousand persons who could admire, among other items, a collection of Greek, Saxon, and English coins and medals.

Richard Livesay after William Hogarth
Frontispiece [Hogarth’s Tour]
Etching and aquatint
In Ebenezer Forrest, An Account of What Seemed Most Remarkable in the Five Days Peregrination…
Published 1782
The Lewis Walpole Library, Yale University

The painter and engraver Richard Livesay (1750–1826) published the first edition of the Account of What Seemed Most Remarkable in the Five Days Peregrination in 1782, accompanied by his own aquatints made after the original drawings—except for Thornhill’s map. Livesay was living at the time in Leicester Fields with William Hogarth’s widow, for whom he engraved several of her late husband’s works, and he later taught drawing to some of the royal children at Windsor before his appointment as drawing master at the Royal Military Academy. The frontispiece designed and signed by Hogarth represents a split bust positioned next to a column piece. The bust figure holds a gentleman’s walking stick in the right hand (turned backward) and a broken mast in the left hand (oriented toward the viewer). In the background stands Rochester Castle, visited during the tour. Hogarth’s caricature of this “Mr. Somebody,” as he was later called, sets the tone for a tour that had neither head nor tail. In his edition, Livesay added the title Hogarth’s Tour, no doubt to capitalize on the artist’s fame nearly twenty years after his death.

John Thornhill
[Map of Kent]
Pen and brown ink with watercolor
In Ebenezer Forrest et al., An account of what seem’d most Remarkable in the Five Days peregrination...
Published 1732
© The Trustees of the British Museum

In 1732, the same year as the peregrination, John Thornhill, who trained as a coach and barge painter, took up his father’s position of Serjeant Painter. This funded position, which Hogarth also held later, entitled the court painter to decorate the royal residencies, coaches, and barges, as well as to supervise the design of banners and ornaments for festivities. His crude map documenting the peregrination appears to be his only contribution to the project. It draws on the numerous existing maps of the county and closely resembles A New Description of Kent, a map engraved in 1596 after the cartographic survey of Philip Symonson (1577–1598), collaborator of William Lambarde. In the upper part of the drawing, Thornhill represented the two porpoises which the travelers perceived on their return journey while sailing off the coast of the Isle of Grain.


Unidentified cartographer
A Carde, of the Beacons, in Kent
In William Lambarde, A Perambulation of Kent
Published 1596
Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University

The choice of the term “peregrination” directly evokes William Lambarde’s Perambulation of Kent. First published in 1576, this book marked a milestone in the practice of local history in Britain. As the author’s biographer remarks: “Not only was it the first history of Kent, it was also the first county history to be published.” Lambarde opens the second edition of his book on what might be called a topography of anxiety: this map represents the positions of all the county’s beacons, which were a consequence of constant threats of invasion. According to the text, by light signals, these structures were meant to spread “the knowledge of the enimies coming.”

John Speed and Thomas Bassett
Kent with her Cities and Earles Described and observed (ca. 1676)
Tipped into Edward Hasted, The History and Topographical Survey of the County of Kent
Published 1778–1799
The Lewis Walpole Library, Yale University

In the early years of the seventeenth century, the cartographer John Speed (1551/2–1629) compiled the maps that would form the first comprehensive British atlas. The Theatre of the Empire of Great Britain, as it was titled, appeared between 1611 and 1612 to great acclaim. It was republished throughout the century in various formats, including an augmented edition by Thomas Bassett (fl. 1676–1682) and Richard Chiswell (1639–1711) in 1676. The map of Kent included in the album offers indications about the county’s geological relief, architecture, nobles (with the row of arms on the top), and different territorial divisions. In the lower right-hand corner, Speed highlighted the importance of the port of Rochester with the depiction—in exaggerated proportions—of several large ships sailing on the Medway.

This copy of Speed’s map of Kent, reworked by Bassett, comes from Horace Walpole’s copy of The History and Topographical Survey of Kent by Edward Hasted (1732–1812). Enjoying the life of a country gentleman in Kent, Hasted indulged in his passion for the county’s history. For some forty years he gathered material from an extensive array of archives in Kent and in London, traveled across the county, and sent questionnaires to locals. Although criticized for inaccuracy, the book received a second revised edition in twelve volumes, published between 1797 and 1801, which suppressed some of the information regarding the family of landowners and added more on the region’s demographics as well as some local gossip to appeal to a wider audience. In addition, Hasted’s History of Kent comprises updated and more detailed maps of the various towns visited in the peregrination.

John Ogilby
The Road from London to Dover
In Britannia Depicta
Published 1764
The Lewis Walpole Library, Yale University

After a career in dance as well as an activity as poet and translator, John Ogilby (1600–1676) had a successful publishing career. Four years after his appointment as the king’s cosmographer in 1671, he published Britannia, “a geographical and historical description” of England and Wales. The book is particularly remembered for the accuracy of its road maps, which contributed to the standardization of the mile unit throughout the kingdom. Ogilby illustrated his cartographic surveys in the unusual form of strip maps, as in this print depicting Kent, which comes from one of the numerous revised editions of the book. On the left page, the road starts in London—“The Metropolis of the British Empire” as described on the facing page—located in the lower left corner and proceeds upward, continuing at the bottom of the next strip on its right, and so on to Dover in the upper right corner. The numbers along the road indicate the miles—about seventy-one in total—while several beacons, already mentioned on Lambarde’s map, also punctuate the journey. On the margins around the map, this edition provides historical and practical information on some localities, particularly Rochester and Chatham, which were visited in the peregrination.

Richard Livesay after William Hogarth
Monument of the Lord Shorland in Minster Church
Etching and aquatint
In Ebenezer Forrest, An Account of What Seemed Most Remarkable in the Five Days Peregrination…
Published 1782
The Lewis Walpole Library, Yale University

Throughout their tour of Kent, the five travelers took a wicked pleasure in seeking epitaphs and church monuments in order to mock the practice of antiquarians. The reclining statue on the tomb of Lord Shorland documented by Hogarth is among their most surprising finds. The travelers acquired the alleged story of this Elizabethan knight from the locals. The legend combines both anticlerical sentiments and a pronounced anti-heroic aspect. In Gostling’s verses, the story starts as follows:

         The Lord of Shorland, on a day,
Chancing to take a ride this way,
About a corpse observ’d a crowd,
Against their Priest complaining loud,
That he would not the service say,
Till somebody his fees should pay.
        On this, his Lordship too did rave,
And threw the Priest into the grave,
“Make haste, and fill it up,” said he,
“We’ll bury both without a fee.”

Filled with remorse, Shorland decides to swim to the queen’s boat that was moored near the coast in order to petition for grace. The queen grants her pardon and he swims back to the beach, where an old woman warns him:

            “This horse, which now your life doth save," 
              Says she, “will bring you to the grave.”

While disparaging the prophecy, Shorland decides as a precaution to behead his mount on the spot. Several months pass before he happens to stroll pass the beach again and notices the animal’s carcass, which he shows to his companions,

            As ’twas not far, he led them to’t,
            And kick’d the skull up with his foot,

(An alternative pastiche of the legend of Sir Robert Shurland (sic) and his horse Grey Dolphin, accompanied by an illustration of his tomb, may be found in The Ingoldsby Legends.)

Richard Livesay after William Hogarth
Upnor Castle
Etching and aquatint
In Ebenezer Forrest, An Account of What Seemed Most Remarkable in the Five Days Peregrination…
Published 1782
The Lewis Walpole Library, Yale University

Immediately after Hogarth had recorded this view, Upnor Castle’s surroundings served as a playground for the five travelers who “had a Batle Royall with Sticks pebbles and Hog’s Dung.” Sparing no details, Forrest informs the reader that “in this Fight Tothall was the Greatest Sufferer and his Cloaths carried the Marks of his Disgrace.” Soon after, the party reached Hoo’s churchyard, where they demonstrated further disregard for the monuments. In Forrest’s words: “Hogarth having a Motion; untruss’d upon a Grave Rail in an unseemly Manner which Tothall Perceiving administred penance to ye part offending with a Bunch of Netles, this occasion’d an Engagement which Ended happily without Bloodshed and Hogarth Finish’d his Business against the Church Door.” As often in the Peregrination, the prose clashes dramatically with the illustrations’ dignity.

These two anecdotes, alongside other ribald details that pepper the text, exemplify the codes of masculinity that the participants were embodying in order to amuse themselves as well as their audience at the Bedford Arms. Although this aspect greatly dismayed Horace Walpole, William Thackeray (1811–1863) endorsed the participants’ earthy manners, describing this “jolly party” as “not very refined, but honest and merry,” a testimony to the true spirit of John Bull. Likewise, J. C. Hotten presented his 1872 edition of the Peregrination as “the chronicle of a boisterous cockney excursion” and advertised it as: “A graphic and most extraordinary picture of the hearty English times in which these merry artists lived.”

Richard Livesay after William Hogarth
The Town of Queenborough
Etching and aquatint
In Ebenezer Forrest, An Account of What Seemed Most Remarkable in the Five Days Peregrination…
Published 1782
The Lewis Walpole Library, Yale University

In this view, Hogarth demonstrates his skills as topographical artist, as later mythologized by his arrest for drawing the Gate of Calais. Forrest provides context for this sketch of Queenborough, a small village on the Isle of Sheppey: “Returning to Our Quarters Wee got a Wooden Chair and plac’d Hogarth in it in the Street where he Made the Drawing N°. 6: and gather’d a great Many Men Women and Children abt. him to see his performance.” Hogarth had here an opportunity to demonstrate his bravura by drawing rapidly and accurately a perspective view of the city’s main street, which Forrest describes as “Clean and Well Pav’d […] and answers the Descripcõn I have had of a Spanish Town.” On the right, the peregrinators are shown chatting with a group of stranded sailors to whom they offered money to buy themselves some cockles and drinks.

Richard Livesay after Samuel Scott
A View from Rochester Bridge
Etching and aquatint
In Ebenezer Forrest, An Account of What Seemed Most Remarkable in the Five Days Peregrination…
Published 1782
The Lewis Walpole Library, Yale University


Printmaker unidentified
The North West Prospect of the City of Rochester
Published 1751 
The Lewis Walpole Library, Yale University

The Lewis Walpole Library’s collections include several views of the sites that Hogarth, Scott, Tothall, Thornhill, and Forrest visited. These were mostly produced in the later years of the eighteenth century to illustrate historical, literary, or geographical accounts. Compared with the Peregrination, they demonstrate on the one hand the accuracy of Scott’s topographies; on the other, they show what he decided to ignore. In his view of Rochester, for example, the painter opted for a picturesque sight taken from the city’s bridge. His depiction shows in the background a few traces of enclosure on the hill while small fishing boats populate the foreground. The bird’s-eye view of Rochester published in the Universal Magazine two decades later to illustrate an “Account on the County of Kent” expands the horizon. The anonymous engraver shows what Scott left out, namely the much larger military and commercial ships returning from or departing for one of the global trade routes. This wider view demonstrates what the peregrinators decided to turn their backs on, literally and symbolically, in concentrating almost exclusively on the Britishness of the region.

Thomas Rowlandson after William Hogarth and Samuel Scott
[The Embarkation]
Pen and ink over graphite and watercolor
In the copy of Ebenezer Forrest et al., An account of what seem’d most Remarkable in the Five Days peregrination
Published 1782
© The Trustees of the British Museum

The British Museum also preserves a copy of the Peregrination produced fifty years after the event and attributed to Thomas Rowlandson (1757–1827). The artist faithfully reproduced all the illustrations, presumably for a publication that was abandoned after the appearance of Livesay’s edition the same year. Here Rowlandson copied the illustration of the party’s precarious embarkation on a yawl for Sheerness on which Hogarth and Scott had collaborated—the former delineating the figures and the latter the sea views. Scott’s agitated seascape recalls the Dutch marine paintings of Jan Porcellis (ca. 1583/5–1632) and Willem Van de Velde (1633–1707), both particularly fashionable among British collectors.

Later, Rowlandson illustrated the three volumes by William Combe (1742–1823) narrating the story of Dr. Syntax, an unfortunate rural schoolmaster traveling across England to record remarkable scenes but reaping mainly burlesque anecdotes involving his own person. In his text, Combe ridiculed the amateur artists who journeyed through the British countryside in search of the most picturesque vistas. In illustrating the book, Rowlandson most likely remembered the anecdotes and the spirit of the Peregrination, which he had thoroughly copied in his early career. The epic boarding of the peregrinators resonates particularly with Dr. Syntax’s struggles in and with nature.


S. W. after William Hogarth and Samuel Scott
Hogarth Embarking at the Isle of Grain
In William Hone, Table Book, Vol. II, No. 37
Published 1827
Yale University Library

This publication is another testimony to the Peregrination’s enduring success among literary figures. William Hone (1780–1842) was a radical publisher, a vocal advocate of freedom of the press, and a collaborator of George Cruikshank (1792–1878). Along with the Everyday Book, the Table Book is certainly among Hone’s most popular publications. Read by a large audience that included Charles Dickens, this weekly paper was described by Hone’s biographer as “a literary kaleidoscope” that blended “information with amusement, utility with diversion,” and with which the publisher hoped “to please the young, and help divert the wise.” For the content, Hone relied on a wide range of contributors who provided him with a variety of short pieces on travels, natural and local history, anecdotes, and so on, and he also wrote articles based on his own visits to the British Museum. 

Unidentified illustrator
Hogarth’s Five Days Peregrination by Land and Water 1732
In Hogarth’s Frolic. The Five Days’ Peregrination around the Isle of Sheppey of William Hogarth and his Fellow Pilgrims, Scott, Tothall, Thornhill, and Forrest
Published 1872
Yale University Library

John Camden Hotten (1832–1873) was another kaleidoscopic publisher, whose interests ranged from literature to history and antiquarianism, including pornographic books. In the preface to his Hand-Book to the Topography and Family History of England and Wales (1863) he underlined the nationalistic importance of topography, quoting the Romantic author Robert Southey (1774–1843), who claimed: “[I]f thou hast any intellectual eyes thou wilt then perceive the connection between topography and patriotism.” While the Peregrination is not among the extensive list of sources Hotten compiled for his chapter on Kent, he praised the “spirit of burlesque historic accuracy” in a new edition of the Peregrination that he published ten years later with the title Hogarth’s Frolic. He reproduced the original illustrations in sepia tone, either from Livesay’s edition or the British Museum’s manuscript, alongside additional figures and scenes drawn in a Hogarthian style. The frontispiece, for example, was inspired by Forrest’s description of what occurred after a heavy lunch on the first day of the trip: “Hogarth and Scott Stop’d and played at Hop Scotch in the Colonade under the Town Hall and then wee Walk’d On to Chatham, bought Shrimps and eat them, and proceeded by a round about Way to the Kings Storehouses and Dock yard which are Very Noble.” On the lintel, the unidentified illustrator inscribed the Latin phrase that the participants spotted on the porch of a college: “Abi tu et fac similiter”: Go and do likewise.

Definition of estrange from Samuel Johnson's Dictionary (1755)

Coda: Estranging Britain

[A map] is entirely oriented toward an experimentation in contact with the real. The map does not reproduce an unconscious closed in upon itself; it constructs the unconscious…. The map has to do with performance, whereas the tracing always involves an alleged “competence.”

Gilles Deleuze & Félix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus (1980)


“The Veracity of this Manuscript is attested by us.” With this sentence, inscribed above their signature, the participants in the Peregrination mock one last time the antiquarians’ scientific pretense to exactitude. Their manuscript, indeed, is more an invention than a documentation of space. Hogarth and his friends drift in a landscape in which they have no ties; they estrange a space that the accumulation of antiquarian reports, literature, legends, and travel books had made so familiar to the rest of the country. The peregrinators mapped the here and now of the region, dismissing most of its ruins as mere backdrops. Barely any history can be found here; their approach bespeaks a pronounced desire for forgetting. This element is particularly exemplified by Forrest’s anecdotes involving memory losses, mainly caused by the travelers’ constant intoxication. On the first page of the manuscript, one reads: “At Poorfleet wee had a Veiw of the Gibralter the Dursley Galley and Tartar Pink Men of War, from the last of which wee took on Board the pilot who Brought her up the Channell, he Entertain’d us with a Lieutenants accot. of an Insult offer’d him by the Spaniards and other Affairs of Consequence which Naturally Made us Drowsy and then Hogarth fell asleep, But soon awaking, was going to relate a Dream he had, but falling asleep again, when he awak’d had forgott he had Dream’d at all.” The Peregrination lampoons in many ways the antiquarian obsessions with stability, with roots, with origins, to which it opposes a provocative mis-looking, mis-reading, and mis-remembering of both past and present.

Guy Debord
The Naked City: Illustration de l’hypothèse des plaques tournantes en psychogéographique
Published [ca. 1957]
Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library
Image courtesy of Madame Alice Debord

The Peregrination’s apparently meaningless roaming into a landscape charged with so many historical signifiers led Keith Miller to read it as an anticipation of the Situationists’ practice of dérive. Described by Guy Debord (1931–1994) in 1958 as the affirmation of a “playful-constructive attitude,” the dérive consisted in experimental group explorations of a well-known environment, without any plans in mind and with the imperative of responding only to the circumstances and encounters in order to construct what he called a “psychogeography.” As a topo(il)logical exercise, the Peregrination offers a similar wandering that disrupts the perception of both the land and the history of Kent in particular, and of England in general.