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Playing with Maps: Taking a Tour Through Napoleonic Europe with the Dartons.

Having the original rule-book brings this scarce cartographic race game alive. Taking the ‘Grand Tour’ had become a rite of passage for wealthy and aristocratic young Britons, but when the Dartons published their educational tour in 1810, revolution and war had placed the continent off limits to conventional British travellers for a generation.  The game is teeming with references to contemporary events, but for the purposes of expanding their knowledge of Europe the players are invited to suspend their belief, and move freely across borders.

Darton, William & Thomas: Walker’s New Geographical Game exhibiting a tour through Europe, London 1810
The rule-book

The board is an engraved map, hand coloured at the time before being dissected into 12 sheets and laid on linen, which makes it both portable and stronger. It folds into its original marbled slipcase with engraved publisher’s labels, explaining what’s inside. The rule-book, an unassuming 24 page pamphlet in plain buff wrappers, is an even rarer survivor than the map, easily lost or thrown away. The rules explain that between two and six players can follow a route around Europe learning as they do so, spinning a totem and moving counters or pyramids which represent travellers, with London as the starting point and Athens, the ancient ‘seat of learning, arts, and arms’ as their goal. All 133 potential stops en route are supplied with a brief historical and geographical description. There are also hazards, which are mostly of an improving kind. For example, if landing on Milan the player misses three turns ‘to see the immense library of books’. Some enforced delays are more ambiguous. The game was published when the Peninsular War was at its height, and any player landing on Lisbon misses four turns ‘to take a view of the British Army’. This isn’t necessarily a celebration of British martial achievements. The Dartons were Quakers (William Darton senior joined the Society of Friends in 1777), and moral instruction includes advocating the traditional Quaker rejection of war. Any player landing on Copenhagen (114, towards the end of the tour with victory in sight) is reminded that the city has recently been bombarded twice by the British – by Nelson in 1801 and Lord Cathcart in 1807 – despoiling it of its beauties and causing ‘considerable execution’: ‘Here go back to London, no. 1, and endeavour to live in peace with Denmark’. Denmark was ostensibly neutral (if under enormous pressure to cooperate with France), and British concerns about retaining access to the Baltic and denying the French access to the Danish fleet were evidently insufficient justifications in the author’s mind.

Occasionally their prejudices occasionally break out more unexpectedly. Returning to Lisbon for a moment, after noting a great deal in the city’s favour, the text continues: ‘The religion of the Portuguese is Catholic; they are bigots and somewhat superstitious’.

William Darton junior and his son Thomas briefly worked together between 1806 and June 1810, and both are included in the imprint on the map. The imprint on the title-page of the rules is that of William Darton alone, but the contents support the 1810 date it carries and it was presumably issued later in the year. Unlike some educational games, which confine themselves to dry lists of dates and manufactures, the descriptions are firmly rooted in the current affairs of the day. The description of Amiens refers to the short-lived peace treaty of 1802, after which ‘hostilities again commenced, and have continued without intermission to the present time’, and Napoleon is referred to explicitly as the current owner of Versailles. The description of Paris is at first glance more puzzling. It refers to the events of 1793-4 – specifically the executions of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, and the end of the Terror (‘humanity shrinks from the retrospection of barbarities committed under a delusive idea of liberty’) as having taken place seventeen years before, which brings us more or less up to 1810. However, ‘France is again a monarchy, and her capital the scene of revelry to many crowned heads of Europe’. These words could easily have been written in 1814-15, but there is no mention of either of Napoleon’s abdications, and in any case from 1805 Napoleon was frequently styled ‘His Imperial and Royal Majesty, the Emperor of the French and King of Italy’. After the collapse of the fifth coalition in 1809, most of the crowned heads of Europe existed in an uneasy alliance with France and Paris was the setting for the 1810 treaty signed with Sweden; the reference to ‘revelry’ may be despair at the fickle nature of European diplomacy, or yet another indication of Quaker disapprobation. Stanford University in California possesses an edition with a 34 page rule-book, dated to circa 1829, and one of these days it would be interesting to see how the text was revised. Copies of our edition are located in the British Library, Library of Congress and the Universities of Delaware and Melbourne.

In 1820 William Darton published another cartographic game, which passed through our hands a couple of years ago. Beautifully produced in aquatint and engraving, this was his ‘survey of London, by a party of tarry-at- home travellers’, hand colour and dissected again and this time accompanied by a 40 page rule book.

William Darton: A survey of London, by a party of tarry-at- home travellers. London, 1820

It springs to mind now because Darton was still using his games to express strong opinions. One of the landmarks where players might land is East India House. Darton describes the East India Company, a private company which governed increasingly vast swathes of the subcontinent, as ‘a company of rich individuals… whose extensive concerns in the East Indies are the means of bringing to this country many luxuries and curiosities’. Luxury here is not a good thing: it leads to moral decay. Describing the collection of Indian art in East India House, much of it brought to Britain as trophies, Darton exclaims: ‘we must all know they could have been spared – as we might have spared the thousands of eastern natives who have suffered from our false ambition and unjust claims on their property and landed possessions’.

Ideas such as these run counter to what one might expect from a popular early 19th century game. However, the Darton family ran a successful commercial enterprise for over half a century. They never compromised their Quaker beliefs, but their ideas evidently had a broad appeal.

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