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Darby and Joan

Darby (right) and Joan (left)
Royal Doulton Figurines

Darby and Joan

The term "Darby and Joan" is defined by the Random House Dictionary as "a happily married couple who lead a placid, uneventful life." The Reader's Encyclopedia mentions the "loving, old-fashioned and virtuous" qualities of Darby and Joan. In England, clubs for senior citizens are appropriately called Darby and Joan Clubs.

It seems most likely that John Darby and his wife Joan were first mentioned in a poem published in The Gentleman's Magazine by Henry Woodfall in 1735. At that time Woodfall was apprentice to Darby, a printer from the town of Bartholemew Close. The poem was issued again as a broadside in 1748. One stanza of this poem reads:

Old Darby, with Joan by his side
You've often regarded with wonder.
He's dropsical, she is sore-eyed
Yet they're ever uneasy asunder.

The apparent popularity of this poem led to another titled "Darby and Joan" by St. John Honeywood (1763-98). It reads, in part:

When Darby saw the setting sun,
He swung his scythe and home he run,
Sat down, drank off his quart and said,
"My work is done, I'll go to bed."

It was Frederic Edward Weatherby who kept the torch burning for this rustic couple in the Victorian era. His poem "Darby and Joan" concludes with the following:

Hand in hand when our life was May

Hand in hand when our hair is grey
Shadow and sun for every one,
As the years roll on;
Hand in hand when the long night tide
Gently covers us side by sideľ
Ah! lad, though we know not when,
Love will be with us forever then:
Always the same, Darby my own,
Always the same to your old wife Joan.

This, then, is the literary history of a term which has been generally understood to stand for a "happy old couple" for more than two hundred years.