Industry and Idleness charts the careers of two City apprentices. Hogarth later described the series as ‘calculated for the use & Instruction of Youth’. The ‘good’ apprentice, Francis Goodchild, and ‘bad’ apprentice, Tom Idle, are seen together in Plates 1 and 10. Throughout the rest of the series their respective ‘careers’ are compared and contrasted. The apprentices’ physical appearance is also contrasted. Goodchild’s expressions are serene and polite, his demeanour elegant and gentlemanly, while Idle’s features become increasingly contorted and grotesque, and his posture slovenly and misshapen.

The theme of order and disorder presented by the figures of Goodchild and Idle is mirrored by their respective environments. Initially, they share the same workroom space, underscoring the parity in their social positions and potential. As the series continues, however, Goodchild is physically separated from the street and its unruly occupants. He exists within the structured, orderly world of the polite, dutiful and successful middle class. Hogarth underlines these qualities with compositions that are literally upright, structured and solid. Idle, on the other hand, operates outside these locales and their associated values, whether by choice or by force. These compositions are fluid, untidy and thus appear undisciplined. Consequently, while Goodchild’s triumphal procession as Lord Mayor occurs at the heart of the City, Idle’s ignominious execution takes place at Tyburn in the outskirts.

Plate 1: The Fellow ’Prentices at their Looms

William Hogarth Industry and Idleness: plate 1. The Fellow 'Prentices at their Looms 30 September 1747

William Hogarth
Industry and Idleness: plate 1. The Fellow ‘Prentices at their Looms 30 September 1747
Etching and engraving on paper
265 x 345 mm

Courtesy Andrew Edmunds, London

As indicated by the tankard on the left, this scene takes place in a workroom located in Spitalfields, then the centre of London silk-weaving. Goodchild works diligently at the loom, while, Idle is fast asleep. Two volumes entitled ‘The Prentices Guide’ are strategically placed, symbolising their respective attitudes to work and authority. Goodchild’s is in pristine condition, carefully propped against a thread winder but the other is soiled, ripped and discarded on the floor. Thus the direction that each apprentice’s career takes is presented as a personal choice. The master weaver enters the workroom holding a stick with which, we can imagine, Idle is about to be soundly beaten. From the beginning transgression and punishment are established as the dominant themes of his life, just as diligence and reward are those of Goodchild’s.

William Hogarth
Industry and Idleness: plate 2. The Industrious ‘Prentice performing the Duty of a Christian 30 September 1747
Etching and engraving on paper
265 x 345 mm
Courtesy Andrew Edmunds, London

William Hogarth
Industry and Idleness: plate 3. The Idle ‘Prentice at play in the Church Yard during Divine Service 30 September 1747
Etching and engraving on paper
265 x 345 mm
Courtesy Andrew Edmunds, London

Plate 2: The Industrious ‘Prentice Performing the Duty of a Christian
Plate 3: The Idle ‘Prentice at Play in the Church Yard during Divine Service

These scenes are meant to be read as concurrent and featuring the same location. The church is representative of the establishment and indicates social and religious conformity. Goodchild is in the church, while Idle is outside. Goodchild’s preferment in the workplace and acceptance into polite society are shown by his occupying the master weaver’s church pew and sharing a hymnbook with his daughter.

Meanwhile, Idle is shown to be a gambler and a cheat. Clearly at home with the criminal underclass represented by his grotesque companions, he sprawls over a coffin signalling his disrespectful and progressively brutalised character. The skulls and bones scattered on the ground presage his fate and remind us of the biblical ‘Day of Judgement’. At the same time he seems oblivious to the punishment that is about to be served by the man wielding a stick.

William Hogarth
Industry and Idleness: plate 4. The Industrious ‘Prentice A Favourite, and entrusted by his Master 30 September 1747
Etching and engraving on paper
265 x 345 mm
Courtesy Andrew Edmunds, London

William Hogarth
Industry and Idleness: plate 5. The Idle ‘Prentice turn’d away and sent to Sea 30 September 1747
Etching and engraving on paper
265 x 345 mm
Courtesy Andrew Edmunds, London

Plate 4: The Industrious ‘Prentice a Favourite, and entrusted by his Master
Plate 5: The Idle ‘Prentice turn’d away and sent to Sea

Plate 4 highlights Goodchild’s rise in the master weaver’s business. Once he had worked at the looms on the shop floor, but now he is in the master weaver’s counting office. The master leans on his shoulder in a gesture of affection and trust. The gloves on the desk, positioned like a hand shake, suggest that a deal has been made concerning the master’s business and that they are in partnership. This is made explicit in Plate 6, where the shop sign reads ‘Goodchild and West’.

In contrast, Idle sets out for a life at sea, probably paid for by his mother in the hope of him finding paid employment (she sits weeping in front of him). He is accompanied on the journey to an awaiting ship by two characters, who take delight in goading him. One points to the vessel, the other, with his hand on Idle’s shoulder, holds a ‘cat-o’-nine-tails’ whip in his hand, a common form of punishment on board ship. The choppy waves and storm-filled skies portend the violence and insecurity of Idle’s future.

William Hogarth
Industry and Idleness: plate 6. The Industrious ‘Prentice out of his time, & Married to his Master’s Daughter 30 September 1747
Etching and engraving on paper
265 x 345 mm
Courtesy Andrew Edmunds, London

William Hogarth
Industry and Idleness: plate 7. The Idle ‘Prentice returned from Sea, & in a Garret with a common Prostitute 30 September 1747
Etching and engraving on paper
265 x 345 mm
Courtesy Andrew Edmunds, London

Plate 6: The Industrious ‘Prentice out of his Time, Married to the Master’s daughter
Plate 7: The Idle ‘Prentice return’d from Sea, & in a Garret with a common Prostitute

These two plates reveal the Apprentices’ relationships with the opposite sex. Goodchild has married the master’s daughter, thus their union is legal and respectable. Idle’s situation is the direct opposite: he is conducting a ‘liaison’ with a ‘common Prostitute’. The consequences of these unions are played out in Plates 8 and 9.

Plate 6 takes place in Fish Street Hill near the Monument (a memorial to the Great Fire of London in 1666), the base of which can be seen in the background. The well-appointed house occupied by Goodchild and his wife is both the couple’s home and a work place, which was common practice at this time. The couple have been interrupted taking tea by a large and potentially unruly band of musicians, drummers and butchers holding bones. While at first glance this appears to be part of the wedding celebrations, treating a newly-wedded couple to ‘rough music’ was a method of registering disapproval at marriages involving people from different social levels. The scene neatly underlines that Goodchild’s wealth and social advancement have not resulted solely from his exemplary attitude to work.

Idle, too, has been interrupted by noise from outside. But whereas Goodchild acts calmly, having nothing to fear, Idle is startled and terrified. Contrasting with Goodchild’s open door, his is locked, bolted and reinforced with planks of wood. The reason is clear. He and his partner in crime are thieving for a living, the ‘rewards’ of which are examined by the prostitute.

William Hogarth
Industry and Idleness: plate 8. The Industrious ‘Prentice grown rich & Sheriff of London 30 September 1747
Etching and engraving on paper
265 x 345 mm
Courtesy Andrew Edmunds, London

William Hogarth
Industry and Idleness: plate 9. The Idle ‘Prentice betray’d by his Whore, & taken in a Night Cellar with his Accomplice 30 September 1747
Etching and engraving on paper
265 x 345 mm
Courtesy Andrew Edmunds, London

Plate 8: The Industrious ‘Prentice Grown Rich and Sheriff of London
Plate 9: The Idle ‘Prentice betray’d by his Whore & taken in a Night Cellar with his Accomplice

Goodchild is now a wealthy man and one of two sheriffs of London. He and his wife are guests of honour at a City banquet. The setting has been identified as Fishmonger’s Hall near London Bridge. The advantages of Goodchild’s marriage, introduced into Plate 7, are developed further by the proverb accompanying Plate 9: ‘Exalt her & she shall promote thee: she shall bring thee to honour, when thou dost Embrace her.’ This suggests that his marriage has not only secured his position within the master’s business but brought further advancements.

In contrast, Idle has been ‘betrayed by his Whore’. She is rewarded for her ‘treachery’ by the constable who enters the night cellar. Idle, oblivious to his imminent arrest, inspects a hat full of trinkets with his grotesque accomplice. The pistol on the floor near Idle and the body being pushed through a trap door by another man on the right indicates that the robbery has ended in murder, although who is responsible is not entirely clear. Thus through the influence and actions of their respective female partners, Goodchild’s and Idle’s fortunes have changed abruptly and significantly. This sets the scene for their reunion in the next plate.

William Hogarth
Industry and Idleness: plate 10. The Industrious ‘Prentice Alderman of London, the Idle one brought before him & Impeach’d by his Accomplice 30 September 1747
Etching and engraving on paper
265 x 345 mm
Courtesy Andrew Edmunds, London

Plate 10: The Industrious ‘Prentice Alderman of London, the Idle one brought before him & Impeached by his Accomplice

Goodchild and Idle are reunited. Goodchild is an alderman and a magistrate; Idle is a common criminal. The latter’s partner-in-crime places his hand on a bible, swearing that his testimony against Idle is the truth. Meanwhile, in a gesture of either sorrow or revulsion Goodchild turns away from Idle, who is pleading for mercy or for a chance to tell his version of events. The quotation from Leviticus (below Goodchild) reads: ‘Thou shalt do no unrighteousness in Judgement.’ Clearly Goodchild has no choice but to condemn Idle. Or has he? While Goodchild’s hand gestures, especially the covering of the eyes, may represent the impartiality of the justice system, it could as easily denote ‘blindness’ and hence a miscarriage of justice. After all, why would the testimony of one criminal carry weight over another? That the testimony is, in fact, suspect or false is underlined by the court official who holds the bible with one hand, while receiving a bribe with the other.

William Hogarth
Industry and Idleness: plate 11. The Idle ‘Prentice Executed at Tyburn 30 September 1747
Etching and engraving on paper
270 x 400 mm
Courtesy Andrew Edmunds, London

William Hogarth
Industry and Idleness: plate 12. The Industrious ‘Prentice Lord Mayor of London 30 September 1747
Etching and engraving on paper
270 x 400 mm
Courtesy Andrew Edmunds, London

Plate 11: The Idle ‘Prentice Executed at Tyburn
Plate 12: The Industrious ‘Prentice Lord Mayor of London

William Hogarth Industry and Idleness: plate 12. The Industrious 'Prentice Lord Mayor of London 30 September 1747

William Hogarth
Industry and Idleness: plate 12. The Industrious ‘Prentice Lord Mayor of London 30 September 1747
Etching and engraving on paper
270 x 400 mm

Courtesy Andrew Edmunds, London

These complex, incident-filled scenes show Goodchild and Idle as the focus of crowded public events: one is the Lord Mayor’s procession through Cheapside in the City of London, the other, the cart ride to the gallows at Tyburn. Thus both men have achieved a kind of ‘celebrity’. However, while Goodchild’s continuing fame and good fortune are underlined by the cornucopias displayed in the border of the print, for Idle (as presented by the skeletons) there is only imminent death.

Earlier in the series Idle had chosen gambling and cheating in the churchyard rather than attend the church service. Now he desperately reads a Book of Common Prayer, while a Methodist clergyman evangelises over sin and damnation beside him. The Tyburn gallows, seen in the centre background, was a distinctive tripod-shaped wooden construction on which numerous criminals could be hung at once. After execution there was sometimes a scramble for the corpse between the assistance of surgeons, who required it for research and the teaching of anatomy, and friends and family of the hanged. The coffin accompanying Idle suggests that he is intended to be buried post-execution. However, the skeletons displayed either side of the print suggests that his body will end-up anatomised.

  • Industry and Idleness is on display in Room 8 of the exhibition