A solicitor in Swansea and later Gloucester, who served as President of the Folklore Society, 1899–1901. His primary folklore interest was in the folktale and he rapidly became one the country's leading experts in that field. His publications include English Fairy and Other Folk Tales (1890), an anthology of texts, and The Science of Fairytales: An Enquiry into the Fairy Mythology (1891), which attempted a theory of the subject, based firmly in the ruling doctrine of survivals and the belief that the expert can identify and apply the rules governing folklore. Hartland's tour de force was the influential three-volume The Legend of Perseus: A Study of Tradition in Story, Custom and Belief (1894–6). In this he followed the conviction that tales encapsulate custom and belief of the past, and by tracing a particular story and its analogues across the world and across time, the folklorist can seek to understand the primitive mind of our ancestors. As his researches into folklore and anthropology deepened, Hartland moved away from a primarily narrative base to a more ethnological concern with primitive societies and the origins of religion, although he always used evidence from myths and legends in his argument. Further books include: Primitive Paternity: The Myth of Supernatural Birth in Relation to the History of the Family (2 vols., 1909), Ritual and Belief: Studies in the History of Religion (1914), and Primitive Society: The Beginnings of the Family and the Reckoning of Descent (1921). As did others of his generation, Hartland clashed publicly with Andrew Lang in the journal Folk-Lore in 1898 and 1899. Another title, County Folklore: Gloucestershire (1892), although simply a slim gathering of previously printed material, is a source-book still useful today.
Obituaries by A. C. Haddon (including bibliography), Folk-Lore 37 (1926), 178–92, andby R. R. Marett, Folk-Lore 38 (1927), 83–5;Dorson, 1968.