Darby and Joan

Darby and Joan

Darby and Joan is a proverbial phrase for a married couple content to live a quiet shared life.



The Nuttall Encyclopædia defined the phrase as "a married couple celebrated for their mutual attachment",[1] 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. The term is also used disparagingly to describe younger people who are perceived to favour spending their evenings in or to follow pursuits seen as middle-aged.[citation needed] In England, clubs for senior citizens are often called Darby and Joan Clubs, a usage thought to originate from a club in Streatham founded in 1942.[2]

Appearances as a poetic conceit

John Darby and his wife Joan were first mentioned in print in a poem published in The Gentleman's Magazine by Henry Sampson Woodfall in 1735, original title The Joys of Love never forgot. A Song. Woodfall had been apprentice to Darby, a printer in Bartholomew Close in the Little Britain area of London, who died in 1730.[3] 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 (1763–1798).[4] 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."

Lord Byron referred to the old couple in a letter addressed to Francis Hodgson on 8 December 1811:[5]

Master William Harness and I have recommenced a most fiery correspondence; I like him as Euripdes liked Agatho, or Darby admired Joan, as much for the past as the present.

Frederic Edward Weatherby mentioned the couple in the Victorian era. His poem "Darby and Joan" concludes with the following:[6]

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 side–
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.

They appear also in We Have Loved of Yore from Robert Louis Stevenson's Songs of Travel and Other Verses, published in 1896:[7]

Frost has bound our flowing river,
Snow has whitened all our island brake,
And beside the winter fagot
Joan and Darby doze and dream and wake.
Still, in the river of dreams
Swims the boat of love –
Hark! chimes the falling oar!
And again in winter evens
When on firelight dreaming fancy feeds,
In those ears of aged lovers
Love's own river warbles in the reeds.
Love still the past, O my love!
We have lived of yore,
O, we have loved of yore.

Appearances in popular music

Woodfall's poem was set to music, as a ballad, by the time of the appearance in 1805 of James Plumptre's Collection of Songs, where it was #152 in the first volume.[8]

Oscar Hammerstein II and Jerome Kern's 1937 ballad "The Folks Who Live On the Hill" mentions Darby and Joan:

We'll sit and look at the same old view,
Just we two.
Darby and Joan who used to be Jack and Jill,
The folks who like to be called,
What they have always been called,
"The folks who live on the hill".

The phrase was used satirically by Noël Coward in the song "Bronxville Darby and Joan" from his musical Sail Away (1961). The refrain begins, "We're a dear old couple and we hate one another."

Appearances in prose

Darby and Joan appear in William Makepeace Thackeray's The History of Henry Esmond (1852), when the beautiful, spoiled Beatrix taunts Esmond for his seemingly hopeless infatuation with her:

You have not enough money to keep a cat decently after you have your man his wages, and your landlady her bill. Do you think I'm going to live in a lodging, and turn the mutton at a string whilst your honour nurses the baby? Fiddlestick, and why did you not get this nonsense knocked out of your head when you were in the wars? You are come back more dismal and dreary than ever. You and mamma are fit for each other. You might be Darby and Joan, and play cribbage to the end of your lives.

They appear in Anthony Trollope's novel Phineas Finn (Chapter 51, "Troubles at Loughlinter"), published in 1869:

He was disposed to think that the whirlwind had hitherto been too predominant, and had said so very plainly with a good deal of marital authority. This autumn and winter were to be devoted to the cultivation of proper relations between him and his wife. "Does that mean Darby and Joan?" his wife had asked him, when the proposition was made to her.

and there are also several references in Trollope's subsequent The Prime Minister (1876), when Lady Glencora, Duchess of Omnium, bridles at her husband's requests that she put an end to the string of lavish parties she has been throwing to celebrate his selection as the country's leader. She dreads his demand that they adopt what she dismissively describes as a "Darby & Joan" existence.

Other references include Ruth Rendell's The Best Man to Die (1981):

My father called my mother darling once or twice and there was a kind of Darby and Joan air about them;

and Henry James's The Golden Bowl (1904):

Their very silence might have been the mark of something grave – their silence eked out for her by his giving her his arm and their then crawling up their steps quite mildly and unitedly together, like some old Darby and Joan who have had a disappointment.


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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Darby and Joan — [ˌda:bi ən ˈdʒəun US ˌda:rbi ən ˈdʒoun] n BrE [Date: 1700 1800; Origin: The names of a happy long married couple in an 18th century poem] like Darby and Joan used humorously when talking about an old husband and wife who live very happily… …   Dictionary of contemporary English

  • Darby and Joan — 1735, characteristic name of an old, happily married couple …   Etymology dictionary

  • Darby and Joan — ► NOUN Brit. ▪ a devoted old married couple. ORIGIN from a poem (1735) in the Gentleman s Magazine …   English terms dictionary

  • Darby and Joan — [där′bē ənd jō an′, jōn′] n. [< an 18th c. song] an old married couple much devoted to each other …   English World dictionary

  • darby and joan — n. a devoted old married couple. Phrases and idioms: Darby and Joan club Brit. a club for people over 60. Etymology: 18th c.: perh. f. a poem of 1735 in the Gentleman s Magazine * * * |därbēənˈjō(ə)n, jōˈan noun Usage: usually capitalized D&J… …   Useful english dictionary

  • Darby and Joan — noun be like Darby and Joan BrE humorous used when talking about an old husband and wife who live very happily together …   Longman dictionary of contemporary English

  • Darby and Joan clubs — ➡ Darby and Joan * * * …   Universalium

  • Darby and Joan (film) — Darby and Joan may refer to: Darby and Joan (1912 film), an American film Darby and Joan (1919 film), a British film starring Meggie Albanesi Darby and Joan (1937 film), a British film starring Tod Slaughter This disambiguation page lists… …   Wikipedia

  • Darby and Joan (1919 film) — Darby and Joan is a 1919 British drama film directed by Percy Nash and starring Ivy Close, Meggie Albanesi and George Wynn.[1] It was based on a story by Hall Caine and set on the Isle of Man. Cast Ivy Close Sheila Moore George Wynn Reginald… …   Wikipedia

  • Darby and Joan (1937 film) — Darby and Joan is a 1937 British drama film directed by Syd Courtenay and starring Peggy Simpson, Ian Fleming, Tod Slaughter and Mickey Brantford.[1] Cast Peggy Simpson Joan Templeton Ian Fleming Sir Ralph Ferris Mickey Brantford Yorke Ferris Tod …   Wikipedia

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