Scotch Poetess and Dramatist
1762 – 1857 A.D.
Joanna Baillie was born in Bothwell Manse, in Lanarkshire, September 11, 1762. Her father, a Presbyterian minister, in 1776 became professor of Divinity in Glasgow; her mother was the sister of William and John Hunter. She received a superior education, and soon began to manifest those talents which subsequently excited the admiration of the public. Her career was a singularly happy one, but devoid of all striking incident.
In 1784 she went to reside in London, where her brother, Matthew Baillie, had established himself as a physician. In 1806 she and her sister took a house for themselves at Hampstead, and here she remained until her death, which occurred on February 23, 1851. Agnes, her sister, survived til 1861, being then a hundred years old.
No authoress ever enjoyed a larger share than Joanna Baillie of the esteem and affection of her literary contemporaries. All vied in showing her a courteous respect, and even America sent its votaries to her little shrine at Hampstead. Her greatest achievement is undoubtedly the nine Playa on the Passions, which, though erroneous in conception, are full of noble and impressive poetry, and often characterized by intense dramatic power. the principle upon which Miss Baillie proceeded in the construction of these plays, was, like Marlowe and George Meredith, to take a single passion as the subject of a work, and to exhibit its influence on an individual supposed to be actuated by nothing else.
The most popular as well as the most powerful of her works is the tragedy of De Monfort. Her Family Legend, produced at Edinburgh under Scott’s auspices in 1810, was a great success.
Many of Miss Baillie’s minor pieces were very sweet, simple, and beautiful; and are marked by a sprightly grace of versification, and a playful serenity of spirit, which pleasantly remind one of the author’s personal character. She was under the middle size but not diminutive; her form was slender, and her countenance showed high talent, worth and decision.
Reference: Woman: Her Position, Influence, and Achievement Throughout the Civilized World published by the King-Richardson Co. in 1903.