Industry and Idleness by William Hogarth

Industry and Idleness is one of the memorable engravings that English painter William Hogarth brought to this world. Credited with pioneering western sequential art, his works are normally aimed at ridiculing the local norms, customs and politics. In Industry and Idleness, Hogarth brought to light the story of two apprentices in twelve plot-linked engraving. The original engravings were exhibited in Sheffield’s Graves Gallery today.

In plate 1 the two protagonists are introduced: both are “‘prentices” on equal terms with their master, and doing the same work.

Beyond this framework, the two characters rigorously follow their respective traits: Francis is busy at work with his loom and shuttle, with his copy of “The Prentice’s Guide” at his feet and various wholesome[6] literature tacked up on the wall behind him such as “The London Prentice” and (portentously) “Whitington Ld Mayor”.

Tom Idle leans snoring against his still loom, probably as a result of a huge mug labeled “Spittle Fields” sitting on his loom. A clay pipe is wedged into the handle and a cat is busy fooling with the shuttle. Tacked to the post he’s sleeping against is “Moll Flanders”; his “Prentice’s Guide” is also lying on the ground, but in a completely filthy and shredded state.

To the right, their master looks disappointedly at Thomas, with a thick stick in his left hand.

Their future courses are marked off for them by the imagery surrounding the frame of the painting: To the left, representing Idle’s future, a whip, fetters and a rope; to the right, over Goodchild, a ceremonial mace, sword of state and golden chain. The master’s sword segues exactly into the shaft of the mace: more foreshadowing for the second encounter of the two in plate 9.

Idle’s verse:

Proverbs Chap: 23 Ve: 21
The Drunkard shall come to
Poverty, & drowsineſs shall
cloath a Man wth rags


Proverbs Ch:10 Ver:4
The hand of the diligent
maketh rich

Plate two occurs at some point on a Sunday, when their master has given them part (or all) of the day to attend church service. Francis Goodchild is shown taking good advantage of this, attending St. Martin-in-the-Fields[7], standing in a pew with his master’s daughter, singing out of a hymnal. Their piety is contrasted with the sleeping man in the pew and the vain woman at the far right, and complements the quiet devotion of the old pew opener, the woman who has the keys to the pew, who is facing away from the service to spot new arrivals.[8]

Significantly, since this is the first in the series of images of Francis’ fortune, his career is literally shown to start with his devotion.

Note the tricorns hanging everywhere.

Psalm CXIX Ver:97
O! How I love thy Law it is my
meditation all day

In this case, Tom Idle is shown doing the exact opposite: gambling and cheating with some pence on top of a tomb in the churchyard. The foreground is strewn with spare bones and skulls, and behind him a beadle is about to whack him with a cane or something similar for his insolence and tardyness.

Also note that the frame is reversed: Now the mace, etc. are on the left of the engraving.

Proverbs CH:XIX. Ve:29.
Judgments are prepared for scorners
& stripes for the back of Fools

Clearly Goodchild’s industry and piety are paying off. He’s now no longer working a loom, but rather keeping his master’s business: He holds the “Day Book”, keys to the house and a pouch of money. His master is also present and using the greatest familiarity with him, further testifying to his advanced state. On the desk before them two gloves shaking hands illustrate the friendship and foreshadow their ultimate harmony and agreement in plate 6.

Behind them are a row of women at looms and one at a spinning wheel and to the left, a man wearing the symbol of the Corporation of London and carrying material in labeled “To Mr West”. Both show that the business is a going concern.

To the lower right a copy of the “London Almanack” is tacked up, headed by an allegorical figure of the genius of Industry assaulting Father Time. A dog stands by the carrier, annoying a cat up on the platform West and Goodchild stand on.

Matthew CHAP:XXV. Ve:21.
Well done good and faithfull
servant thou hast been faithfull
over a few things, I will make thee
Ruler over many things

On the other hand Tom Idle’s useless ways have finally gotten their reward: His master (possibly with the consultation of or incitement by Francis) either throws him out or orders him away to sea. In either case, Tom clearly feels that his authority over him is at an end and has cast his indenture into the boat’s wake in the lower left-hand corner.

Judging by his companions’ antics, his reputation of laziness and disobedience have preceded him: One tries to tease him with the frayed end of a rope {i.e a cat o nine tails}, the other points towards a man hanging from a gallows at the waterline for some nautical crime (It is also possible he’s pointing at their ship). The sky also grows noticeably darker in the direction their boat is pointed.

For the first time, we learn his name from the wooden crate next to him labeled “Tho Idle his Chest”. An old woman, dressed as a widow, tearfully remonstrates with him, while he ignores her. The verse at the bottom clearly indicates this is his mother.

In the background, on low land, are a number of Dutch windmills.

Proverbs CHAP:X. Ve:1.
A foolish son is the heavineſs
of his Mother

The next plate shows that Francis Goodchild has been improving his time, as usual. He has also escaped his apprenticeship, but in the intended manner: Having served his time, he is free and a journeyman weaver. Beyond that even, the sign of “WEST and GOODCHILD” under their trademark of a lion rampant shows that his former master has taken him into partnership (Not an unreasonable step given that he previously kept the accounts).

The other significant change is that Miss West, last seen in Plate 2, has become Mrs. Goodchild. The scene here is likely the day after, when they distribute the remnants of the feast to various poor people.

Francis is at the window holding a teacup (without a handle) and giving a coin. In the foreground at the door a footman gives away a plate. To the left, a legless man in a tub, probably invalided from the Army or Navy, holds out a sheet of paper containing “Jeſse or the Happy Pair. a new Song”. Behind him a Frenchman with a base viol is forced out of the line by a (British) butcher.

The background shows the London Monument when it contained the lines “by the treachery of the Popish Faction.

Proverbs CH:XII. Ver:4.
The Virtuous Woman is a
Crown to her Husband.

For reasons unknown (but probably related to his namesake vice), Tom Idle is back on land again. If he was callous enough to throw out his indenture leaving land, he certainly doesn’t feel bound by any law on his return as he has gone so far as to turn highwayman and take up a (dismal) residence with “a common Prostitute”.

In contrast to the luxury of Francis in plate 8, Thomas and his companion are shown living in complete squalor somewhere in London. The sole article of furniture in the room is the broken down bed that Tom and his woman are lying on. She is busy examining the various nonmonetary spoils from his thefts on the highway, including an earring that looks like a gallows. The bottles on the fireplace mantel are suggestive of venereal disease, similar to those of plate 3 in A Harlot’s Progress.

The broken flute and bottle, together with the pair of breeches discarded on the bedclothes suggest they’ve been spending their time in drunken debauchery. Samuel Ireland suggests that he was doing this to drive away his fears of the law.

The principal event of the scene is a cat falling down the chimney with a few bricks (Which strongly suggests the quality of the house they are lodging in), which causes Tom Idle to start up with all the fear of the law on him.

The extremely dilapidated condition of the building, lack of any obvious source of light or fire and covering over of the window by a hoop petticoat suggest that Idle is in hiding and sparing no pains to keep his location a secret.

Leviticus CHAP:XXVI. Ve:30.
The Sound of a Shaken Leaf
shall Chace him.

Plate 8 shows the opulence that industry has produced (or rather, allowed to be procured): the couple sit in state at the far end of the table (Just to the right of the man in the foreground with the staff) on chairs, apparently in state. His chair has the sword of state on its right arm and on her left the crowned mace.

A significant portion of this plate is taken up with a related satire of gluttony, which takes place in the left foreground. In particular, the two on the far right warn that even earned riches are as susceptible to squander and waste as any other.

To the upper left, an orchestra on a balcony provides musical accompaniment.

The chamberlain (the man with the staff of office) examines a paper addressed “To the worſhipl Fraſ Goodchild Eſq Sher[…] Lond” while a crowd of people mills at the bar. This is the first time we find out his first name.

Proverbs CH:VI. Ver:7, 8.
With all thy getting get understanding
Exalt her, & she shall promote thee: she
shall bring thee to honour, when
thou dost Embrace her

Idle has now gone from highway robbery to out and out murder for petty gain. He’s shown here examining the effects of the dead man in a hat (probably his!) between them, while another man pitches the body down a trap door. In the process, they are all totally oblivious not only to the men of the Law coming down the stairs with lit lanterns, but Idle’s prostitute being paid (one coin) for her information! Clearly Idle is caught without any means of escape.

The background shows his most congenial surroundings to be the most lawless and depraved possible: playing cards are strewn in the right foreground, men are murdered with no hue and cry, a rope hangs ominously from one of the beams in the ceiling, a syphilitic woman with no nose serves a mug of something and a massive drunken brawl occupies half of the room, while the others unconcernedly ignore it.

Proverbs CHAP:VI. Ve:26.
The Adultereſs will hunt for
the precious life

Note that in some versions the title is “The Idle ‘Prentice betrayed by his Whore, & taken in a Night-Cellar with his Accomplice”, whereas others remove “by his Whore”.

Having led their separate lives for four plates each, the two apprentices meet again, considerably further down their paths of life. Again, Tom is on the left, Francis, the right (Interestingly, the frame is reversed, so the rope, etc. is above Francis).

Idle is now completely lost: his accomplice readily turns King’s evidence, a man behind him holds up the two pistols and sword used in the commission of the murder in one hand and points to Idle with the other, and he’s being arraigned before his former fellow-apprentice, who remembers his earlier inclinations and could well imagine him turning footpad. While he turns away, either struggling with his feelings (As implied by the quote at the bottom of the frame) or disgustedly spurning his entreaties, the clerk next to him writes out the warrant of admission “To the Turnkey of Newgate”.

To the right of Idle, his mother again tearfully pleads with an officer who dismisses her. The bailiff administering the oath has put his quill pen behind his ear facing forward, making him look ridiculous, so that he might take a bribe from the woman next to him, who is paying him to not notice that the oath he’s administering is being sworn with the wrong hand and hence worthless.

Fire buckets labeled “SA” hang from the balcony behind the crowd.

Pſalm IX. Ver:16.
The Wicked is snar’d in the
work of his own hands
Leviticus CH:XIX Ve:15.
Thou shall do no unrighteous-
-neſs in Judgement

Idle now comes, like Tom Nero in The Four Stages of Cruelty, to the reward of his depredations and malice: a felon’s death on the gallows.

The procession from left to right shows a detachment of British soldiers marching behind the tumbrel containing a preacher with a book labeled Wesley, an obvious reference to Methodism vigorously discoursing to the now hairless Thomas Idle, who is leaning on his own coffin (Shown by his initials “T.I.”). In the coach ahead of them the Official clergyman (Who will actually preside at the execution) and beyond him, the Tyburn Tree. His executioner lays unconcernedly along one of the crossbeams, smoking his pipe and totally inured to the nature of his work.

In the right background, more or less well behaved spectators wait. One releases a bird that will fly back to Newgate and give the news that (by the time it’s arrived) the malefactor is dead.

Around and in the midst of the semi-orderly procession, chaos reigns.

In the front center, a woman with a baby is advertising “The last dying Speech & Conſeſsion of—Tho. Idle.”, a most brazen fraud, considering that he hasn’t even gotten to the gallows yet and everyone who can hear here can clearly see as much! To the left, a brawl involves two to four people. To her left, a drunken sot attempts to court her with ridiculous airs, notwithstanding his holding a dog up by the tail. The suspended dog, positioned directly below the gibbet in the picture, prefigures another “cur” who is about to be hanged. Behind them a massive riot goes on while a woman assaults the man pushing over her cart of fruit. A man to the far right peddles something. In one corner are two boys, one pickpocketing and the other resisting temptation, echoing Idle and Goodchild?

The frame of the picture shows Thomas’ ultimate fate, hung on a gibbet for his highway collecting or anatomized, for his murder.

Finally, the verse at the bottom completes his utter doom.

Proverbs CHAP I. Verſ:s 27, 28.
When fear cometh as desolation, and their
destruction cometh as a Whirlwind; when
distreſs cometh upon them, they shall
call upon God, but he will not answer


Now that the Idle ‘Prentice met his reward, industry gets its turn: The industry and morality of Francis Goodchild result in his being chosen the Lord Mayor of the City.

He is here shown riding in the Lord Mayor’s carriage, holding the sword of state and looking completely ridiculous in his top hat. From the balcony on the right, a genteel crowd observes his passing, as to people in all the windows fronting on the street.

Meanwhile, as usual, the crowd drunkedly near-riots around him. In the far lower right, a boy holding “A full and true Account of ye Ghoſt of Tho Idle. Which […]” shows the final fate of Thomas Idle’s memory: an entry in The Newgate Calendar.

The frame is now surrounded by cornucopias, referring to the verse at the bottom:

Proverbs CHAP: III. Ver:16.
Length of days is in her right hand, and
in her left hand Riches and Honour

Source: Wikipedia

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