F. J. Harvey Darton

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Frederick Joseph Harvey Darton (22 September 1878 – 26 July 1936)[1][2][3] was an author, publisher, and historian of children's literature.[4] He wrote the pioneering work The Story of English Children's Books in England: Five Centuries of Social Life in 1932. The Children's Books History Society gives out an award in his honor.[5]


Darton was the oldest child of Joseph William Darton (1844–1916) and Mary Darton (née Schooling). Joseph was a partner in the publishing firm Wells Gardner, Darton and Company, which had been started by William Wells Gardner (1821–1880) to produce mainly ecclesiastical texts, but had branched out into children's literature with Joseph's involvement.[6] The family involvement in publishing children's literature went back to 1787, with the two publishing firms of Frederick's great-grandfather and great-great-grandfather, William Darton.[7] William Darton had pioneered the publication of books for children, introducing Ann and Jane Taylor to English schoolchildren.[8][9][10]

He went to Sutton Valence School,[3] Dover College and graduated from St. John's College, Oxford in 1899 with a degree in classics. While at college, he visited Dorset many times on reading parties,[11] and developed a love of the county which would last his entire life.[3]

After graduating, he joined the family publishing firm, becoming a director in 1904. Wells Gardner, Darton & Co. published children's magazines as well as books, including The Prize and Chatterbox, which Darton edited from 1901 to 1931.[3][12] He was "instrumental" in the company's publication of John Masefield's Martin Hyde (1906).

At this time, Wells Gardner, Darton & Co. produced a lot of compilations of much older stories, including reissues of the old chapbook The Seven Champions of Christendom (1901) and many compilations of stories from Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales.

In 1906 he married Emma Lucretia Bennett, a granddaughter of Sheridan Le Fanu. Together they worked on A Wonder Book of Beasts (1909), in which Emma retold "Reynard the Fox" from the version printed by William Caxton, 400 years before.[13] In 1920, their marriage was annulled.[14]

In 1913 he published the first of two novels. My Father's Son was published under the nom de plume "W. W. Penn" and apparently "prepared for the press by John Harvey", both names suggesting Darton's own Quaker background.[14] In 1929 he wrote a second novel, When, again pseudonymously. The protagonists of both books end up in the family book trade and, although they are not autobiographical, Margaret Drabble, investigating Darton, called both books "darkly illuminating."

Children's Books in England[edit]

Darton's magnum opus was Children's Books in England: Five Centuries of Social Life, published in 1932. In the preface, he wrote:

The story of English Children's Books has not yet, so far as I know, not been written as a continuous whole, or as a minor chapter in the history of English social life, which is what the present volume is meant to furnish. It has in fact been told only once with any completeness, in Mrs Field's The Child and His Book (1892).[15]

The work drew on his family's 200 years in children's publishing, and his more than 30 years' experience. As an academic work, it didn't fly off the shelves but, as Kathleen Lines noted in her introduction to the second revised edition, in 1958, it "slowly found its way into libraries, schools and training schools for librarians." When reprinting the first edition in 2011, Cambridge University Press noted:

Setting children's books in their historical context, the work reflects much about the history of English social life as well as providing an in-depth perspective on the genre ... A classic and authoritative study for anyone interested in the history of children's literature.[16]

In the book, Darton wrote that Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland books "changed the whole cast of children's literature".[17]

Later life[edit]

Darton also wrote about his great love, the English countryside, and Dorset in particular. In 1922 he wrote The Marches of Wessex, which was also published in America under the more obvious title The Soul of Dorset. He followed this up with A Parcel of Kent, and returned to Dorset for an article in T. P.'s and Cassell's Weekly called "Thomas Hardy's Birthplace" in 1924.[18]

He retired to Cerne Abbas, Dorset and lived in the village's Red Lion pub for the last two years of his life.

His final book, Alibi Pilgrimage, was published on 24 July 1936. It looks into the case of Elizabeth Canning, who had claimed to be kidnapped by gypsies in 1753. Darton attempted to confirm the gypsies' alibi by undertaking long walks through all the counties from Somerset to London.

Darton died, after a short illness, in Dorchester County Hospital, on 26 July 1936, two days after the publication of Alibi Pilgrimage. His obituary in the The Times, suggested that the arduous walks undertaken in its research contributed to his death.[8]

In her revision of Children's Books in England in 1958, Kathleen Lines summed up Darton thus:

It is probably safe to say that Darton will never be supplanted. His interest was life-long and his personal knowledge immense. His opportunities for detailed information about and round the subject were unique, for his family had maintained a continuous connection with publishing for 140 years.


  • The Story of the Canterbury Pilgrims: Retold from Chaucer and Others (1904)
  • Without Fear and Without Reproach: The Adventures of the Famous Knight Bayard (1905)
  • The Merry Tales of the Wise Men Of Gotham (1907). Illustrated by Gordon Browne.
  • A Wonder Book of Old Romance (1907). Illustrated by A. G. Walker.
  • Pilgrims' Tales from "Tales of the Canterbury Pilgrims" (1908). Illustrated by Hugh Thomson.
  • A Wonder Book of Beasts (1909). Illustrated by Margaret Clayton.
  • My Father's Son: a Faithful Record (1913), under the nom-de-plume of W. W. Penn.[3]
  • Seven Champions of Christendom (1913). Illustrated by Norman Ault.
  • The London Museum (1914)
  • Arnold Bennett [Writers of the Day series] (1915). "a brilliant survey of Arnold Bennett's work, and an estimate of the man"[19]
  • The Marches of Wessex (1922). Published in America as The Soul of Dorset.
  • A Parcel of Kent (1924)
  • "Thomas Hardy's Birthplace", in T. P.'s and Cassell's Weekly (1924)
  • Vincent Crummles, his Theatre and his Times (1926)
  • English Books 1475–1900: a Signpost for Collectors (1927). With Charles J. Sawyer, another bookseller and publisher.
  • Reynard the Fox. With E. L. Darton
  • When: a Record of Transition (1929), under the name "the late J. L. Pole"
  • J. M. Barrie [Writers of the Day series] (1929)
  • The Surprising Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1930). Darton edited and provided an introduction.
  • From Surtees to Sassoon: some English contrasts (1838-1928) (1931)
  • Children's Books in England: Five Centuries of Social Life (1932)
  • English Fabric: A Study Of Village Life (1935)
  • Alibi Pilgrimage (1936)


  1. ^ According to the transcription of his headstone available on Ancestry, he was born on 22 September 1879, but either the headstone or transcription are in error, because he was baptised on 27 October 1878.
  2. ^ "London, England, Freedom of the City Admission Papers, 1681-1925 about Frederick Joseph Harvey Darton". London, England, Freedom of the City Admission Papers, 1681-1925 [database online]. Ancestry.com. (subscription required (help)). 
  3. ^ a b c d e "Mr. F. J. Harvey Darton", The Western Gazette, 31 July 1936 – via The British Newspaper Archive, (subscription required (help)) 
  4. ^ F. J. Harvey Darton Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
  5. ^ "The Harvey Darton Award". The Children's Books History Society. Retrieved 2014-06-26. 
  6. ^ "Announcement of W. Wells Gardner's death, quoted from the Athenæum". Grantham Journal. 17 January 1880 – via The British Newspaper Archive. (subscription required (help)). 
  7. ^ Darton, Lawrence (2004). The Dartons: an annotated check-list of children's books issued by two London publishing houses 1787–1876. British Library Publishing Division. ISBN 9780712347495. 
  8. ^ a b "Mr. F. J. Harvey Darton: writer on English country life". The Times. London. 28 July 1936. p. 16 – via The Times Digital Archive. (subscription required (help)). 
  9. ^ David, Linda (1992). "Children's books published by William Darton and his sons : a catalogue of an exhibition at the Lilly Library, Indiana University, April-June, 1992: a machine-readable transcription". Retrieved 2014-06-26. 
  10. ^ Painter, Steve. "Harvey Darton on the Taylors". The Taylors of Ongar and others of their family. Retrieved 2014-06-26. 
  11. ^ "Books to Buy and Ask For". The Times. London. 25 July 1922. p. 13 – via The Times Digital Archive. (subscription required (help)). Some twenty years ago the late Sidney Ball, of St. John's, Oxford, took the first of his celebrated reading parties to Bridport, and among the band was an undergraduate named F. J. Harvey Darton. 
  12. ^ Oxford Encyclopedia of Children's Literature. Oxford University Press. 2006. 
  13. ^ Richmond, Velma Bourgeois (2004). Chaucer as Children's Literature: Retellings from the Victorian and Edwardian Eras. McFarland and Co. p. 236. ISBN 978-0786417407. 
  14. ^ a b Drabble, Margaret (2010). The Pattern in the Carpet: a Personal History with Jigsaws. Mariner Books. p. 348. ISBN 9780547386096. 
  15. ^ Referring to Louise Frances (Mrs. E. M.) Field's (1856–) The Child and His Book: Some account of the History and Progress of Children's Literature in England.
  16. ^ "Children's Books in England: Five Centuries of Social Life". Retrieved 2014-06-26. 
  17. ^ Clark, Dorothy G. (2010). "The Place of Lewis Carroll in Children's Literature". The Lion and the Unicorn. The Johns Hopkins University Press. 34 (2): 253–258. doi:10.1353/uni.0.0495. Retrieved 26 June 2014. 
  18. ^ Darton, F. J. Harvey (7 February 1925). "Thomas Hardy's Birthplace". The Living Age: 303–305 – via UNZ.org. 
  19. ^ Shaw, Albert (ed.). "The American Review of Reviews". 52: 504.