Joanna Baillie

(1762-1851 / Scotland)

Biography of Joanna Baillie

Joanna Baillie poet

Joanna Baillie (11 September 1762 – 23 February 1851) was a Scottish poet and dramatist. Baillie was very well-known during her lifetime and, though a woman, intended her plays not for the closet but for the stage. Admired both for her literary powers and her sweetness of disposition, her cottage at Hampstead was the centre of a brilliant literary society. Baillie died at the age of 88, her faculties remaining unimpaired to the last.

Poetry

1790 • Baillie’s first publication: Poems: Wherein it is Attempted to Describe Certain Views of Nature and of Rustic Manners. Baillie later revised a selection of these early poems which were reprinted in her Fugitive Verses (1840).

• Her first poem, ‘Winter Day,’ was evocative of the winter sights and sounds in the neighbourhood of Long Calderwood.

1821 • Metrical Legends of Exalted Characters, which told in verse the heroic stories of such historical figures as William Wallace, Christopher Columbus, and Lady Grizel Baillie. These were inspired in part by the huge popularity of Walter Scott's heroic ballads, her enthusiasm for which had, she admitted, made writing drama ‘less interesting for a time’ (Baillie, ‘Memoirs’).

1836 • three volumes of Dramatic Poetry.

1840 • encouraged by her old friend the banker poet Samuel Rogers, Baillie issued a new collection, Fugitive Verses, some of which were old and some recently written. It was generally agreed that her popular songs, especially those in Scots dialect, would live on.

1849 • Baillie published the poem Ahalya Baee for private circulation [subsequently published as Allahabad (1904)].

[edit] Plays

1790 • a tragedy, Arnold, which was never published. • ‘a serious comedy’ which was later burnt. • Rayner was written, though it was heavily revised before it was published in Miscellaneous Plays (1804).

1791 • Plays on the Passions first conceived.

1798 • the first volume of Plays on the Passions published anonymously under the title of A Series of Plays. Volume 1 consisted of Count Basil, a tragedy on love, The Tryal, a comedy on love, and De Monfort, a tragedy on hatred.

In a long introductory discourse, the author defended and explained her ambitious design to illustrate each of the deepest and strongest passions of the human mind. The plays, the author explained, were part of a larger design and were a completely original concept. They arose from a particular view of human nature in which sympathetic curiosity and observation of the movement of feeling in others were paramount. Real passion, ‘genuine and true to nature’, was to be the subject; each play was to focus on the growth of one master passion. This unusually analytic approach generated much discussion and controversy, and in “a week or two Plays on the Passions was the main topic of discussion in the best literary circles” (Carswell 273). The authorship, though at first attributed to a variety of established male and female poets, was revealed in 1800 in the title-page of the third edition.

1800 • De Monfort was produced at Drury Lane with John Kemble and Sarah Siddons in the leading parts. Splendidly staged, the play ran for eight nights but was not a theatrical success. Henriquez and The Separation were coldly received.

1802 • second volume of Plays on the Passions published under Joanna Baillie's name, with a preface which acknowledged the reception given to volume one: ‘praise mixed with a considerable portion of censure’. Volume 2 consisted of The Election, a comedy on hatred, Ethwald, a tragedy in two parts on ambition, and The Second Marriage, a comedy on ambition. Baillie herself was of the opinion that these plays, especially Ethwald, exemplified her best writing.

1804 • published a volume entitled Miscellaneous Plays: the tragedies Rayner and Constantine Paleologus, and a comedy, The Country Inn.

1810 • the Scottish-themed Family Legend, produced at Edinburgh under the enthusiastic patronage of Sir Walter Scott, had a brief though brilliant success. It included a prologue by Scott and an epilogue by Henry Mackenzie. Its success encouraged the managers of the Edinburgh theatre to revive De Monfort, which was also well received.

1812 • third and final volume of Plays on the Passions published. It consisted of two gothic tragedies, Orra and The Siege, a comedy, The Alienated Manor, and a serious musical drama, The Beacon. The tragedies and comedy represented the passion of Fear, while the musical drama represented Hope. Introducing what she described as ‘probably the last volume of plays I shall ever publish’ she went on to explain that it was her intention to complete her project by writing further dramas on the passions of Remorse, Jealousy, and Revenge, but she did not intend to publish them since publication had discouraged stage production.

1815 • The Family Legend produced at Drury Lane, London.

1821 • De Monfort produced at Drury Lane, London, with Edmund Kean in the title role. • Constantine Paleologus, though written with John Kemble and Sarah Siddons in mind, was declined by Drury Lane. It was produced at the Surrey Theatre as a melodrama, Constantine and Valeria, and, in its original form, at Liverpool, Dublin, and Edinburgh.

1836 • three volumes of Miscellaneous Plays published. They included, along with nine other new plays, the continuation of Plays on the Passions promised earlier: a tragedy and comedy on jealousy and a tragedy on remorse. Their publication created a stir, and critics were almost universally enthusiastic and welcoming. Fraser's Magazine declared: ‘Had we heard that a MS play of Shakespeare's, or an early, but missing, novel of Scott's, had been discovered, and was already in the press, the information could not have been more welcome’ (Fraser's Magazine, 236).

Baillie's reputation does not rest entirely on her dramas; she also authored poems and songs admired for their great beauty. Considered the best of them are the Lines to Agnes Baillie on her Birthday, The Kitten, To a Child and some of her adaptations of Scottish songs, such as Woo'd and Married an'a'. Scattered throughout the dramas are also some lively and beautiful songs, The Chough and The Crow in Orra, and the lover's song in The Phantom.

PoemHunter.com Updates

A Character

ASK you, 'What charms first chain'd my heart,
'And held me from the world apart,
'Made young ambition's turmoil cease,
'And blest me in the haunts of peace?'
'Twas not th' unfolding of the rose,
That in the cheeks' fresh vermeil glows;
Not health, whose fragrant lip exhales
The breath it stole from morning gales;
Not the smooth front, as spotless fair,

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