Last week, in Plate 4, we saw Francis Goodchild rewarded for his industry and piety with the proverbial keys to his master’s kingdom and the money pouch as he became the keeper of the looms rather than the worker of one. As William Hogarth contrasts Industry and Idleness, this week in Plate 5, we observe Tom Idle’s rewards for his willful lack of useful productivity.
It is interesting to observe the different interpretations between the Tate Museum and Wikipedia descriptions this week: the former depicts the scene more positively as a new job search financed by his mother, while the latter sees it more derisively as a tossing out on his ear by his former boss while his companions pour salt on his wounds.
Loose, turned adrift, discharged. Sea Phrase.
From the Tate Museum description:
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.
From the Wikipedia description:
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 labelled “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
Slang term taken from the 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue.