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William Hogarth
Industry and Idleness



One of Hogarth's most popular picture-dramas was Industry and Idleness, a homily about the rewards of hard work and the wages of idleness. Hogarth stated that Industry and Idleness was "calculated for the use and instruction of youth, wherein everything necessary to be known was to be made as intelligible as possible, and as fine engraving was not necessary to the main design, provided that which is infinitely more material, viz. the characters and expressions, were well preserved, the purchase of them came within the reach of those for whom they were chiefly intended."

Simple as Hogarth's morals seem, Hogarth was too much the realist to deal only in such absolute terms as right and wrong. In this series, his hero is the apprentice who does his job well, but he also has the wit to marry the boss's daughter and the self-confidence to push himself into public life. The successful middle-class people with whom he associates are all too human in their comfort and satisfaction with the life of privilege they enjoy.

Hogarth contrasts his industrious hero with a lazy apprentice, a laggard who is content among the dregs of society. In this shoddy world, Hogarth's characters are a rowdy, zesty lot; he captures the coarse appeal of their wayward life with its easy pleasures, jungle code of ethics and quick betrayals. At the end of the drama, the hard-working apprentice sits in judgement of his idle counterpart. One has obviously done well, the other miserably. Yet the tale clearly shows that each is the product of the English society Hogarth observed and understood so well. As though to reinforce the moral message in his scenes, the artist added to each picture quotations from the Bible set in embellished frames.

Selected Works
Fellow 'Prentices at their Looms
Industrious 'Prentice Performing the Duty of a Christian
Idle 'Prentice at Play in the Church Yard
Industrious 'Prentice a Favourite and Intrusted by his Master
Idle 'Prentice Turn'd Away and Sent to Sea
Industrious 'Prentice Out of his Time and Married to his Master's Daughter
Idle 'Prentice Returned from Sea and in a Garrett with a Common Prostitute
Industrious 'Prentice Grown Rich and Sheriff of London
Idle 'Prentice Betray'd by his whore, and Taken in a Night Cellar with his Accomplice
Industrious 'Prentice Alderman of London, the Idle One brought before him, & impeach'd by his Accomplice
Idle 'Prentice Executed at Tyburn
Industrious 'Prentice Lord Mayor of London
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