The nomadic tendency is present in most of us in some degree and, as all know, is in certain races so pronounced as to govern their mode of existence and social organization.2 In persons in whom the wandering impulse is much stronger than the average it is still to be judged for practical purposes as being within normal limits, provided it has not the effect of breaking down social adjustment, but leads merely to special choice of occupation, as in many cases of explorers, sailors, railroad employees, travelling salesmen, etc.
Inhibition of the wandering impulse sometimes fails in cases of mental deficiency, epilepsy, dementia praecox, and manic-depressive psychoses. Such failure may be periodic, corresponding with psychotic attacks and resulting in nomadic episodes separated by normal intervals of months or years; or it may be permanent owing to chronicity of the underlying mental disorder.
There are, however, cases in which mental deficiency, epilepsy, psychotic disease, or mental deterioration cannot be demonstrated and in which, nevertheless, the nomadic impulse is in such degree imperative as to lead to a tramp existence and constant aimless wandering precluding all possibility of continued occupation. These are the cases included in the group of constitutional psychopathic states.
Such individuals travel on foot, in freight cars, as stowaways on steamers. They visit the most distant parts of the country or even of the world. They work only enough to keep themselves supplied with food to live on and clothes to cover them. Not infrequently they find themselves forced to beg, steal, or trespass on private property for a sheltered place to spend a night.
1C. B. Davenport. Nomadism, or the Wandering Impulse, with Special Reference to Heredity. Washington, 1915. - R. Meunier. Les vagabonds et la vagabondage. Rev. mod. de med. et de chir., 1908. - A. Joffroy and R. Dupouy. Fugues et Vagabondage. Paris, 1909. - E. Stier. Wandertrieb und pathologisches Fortlaufen bei Kindern. Samml. zwangl. Abh. z. Neuro- und Psychopath, des Kindersalters. Vol. I, 1913.
2 M. Gaster. Gipsies. Encyclopaedia Britannica, 11th edition.
They seldom stay long in one place - perhaps not more than a few hours; yet, when about to leave, it matters little to them where they go, as long as they move. A tramp starting, say, from Chicago to go to Seattle, might readily change his plan upon invitation from another to accompany him to New Orleans, even if it were the case that he had just come from there.
Pathological nomads are seldom able to give a rational reason for their wanderings. Most frequently they say it is "to see something of the world." But in reality they hardly ever interest themselves, in the manner of tourists, in the noteworthy sights of the places they visit.
Although generally without education or culture, they are apt to acquire in their wanderings much detailed geographical information of a certain kind - distances, roads, train schedules, climatic conditions, local customs; and those whose wanderings extend to foreign countries acquire a smattering of many foreign languages,