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Joanna Baillie was a Scottish poet, playwright, and dramatist who came to be known for her works including her famous Plays on the Passions which was a theatrical sequence. More than 250 years after her death, Joanna’s writings which mostly centered on women, moral philosophy, and the Gothic, still remain very relevant globally. In 2018, her birthday was commemorated by Google with a Google Doodle.
Who Is Joanna Baillie?
It was on September 11, 1762, that Joanna Baillie was born as a twin by Dorothea Hunter, with Rev. James Baillie as her father. Unfortunately, she lost her twin sister who was then still unnamed. She grew up in a family that was highly educated with a father who was a Presbyterian minister who later became a professor of Divinity.
From her mother’s side of the family, she had William Hunter and John Hunter who were great physicians and anatomists as uncles and the poet, Anne Home Hunter was her aunt. In fact, Anne would be a great inspiration for Joanna as she grew up.
Even with the kind of home she came from, she did not learn to read or write until the age of 10 when she attended a Glasgow boarding-school. While she was there, she had an interest in arts, plays, and maths.
Looking at her family life, she was the youngest of three siblings, she lost her father in 1778, a tragedy that saw the family’s financial state dwindle, forcing it to move to Long Calderwood before returning a few years later after the death of William Hunter.
Much later, however, she found herself, her mother, and sisters moving from house to house before they finally settled in Colchester. It was here that she began what would end among her most popular works, Plays on the Passions.
Facts about the Poet, Dramatist, and Playwright
As pointed out, what would become her first and major influence to becoming a poet and playwright was her aunt, Anne Home Hunter, a famous poet.
Thanks to this, Joanna Baillie sustained her interest in the art and in 1790, she published her first work, Poems: Wherein it is Attempted to Describe Certain Views of Nature and of Rustic Manners. The work was later revised and reprinted in 1840 as part of her Fugitive Verses. In 1821, she published Metrical Legends of Exalted Characters followed by Dramatic Poetry which was a 3-volume work in 1836.
In 1840, she was encouraged by her friend, Samuel Rogers who was also a poet into publishing Fugitive Verses. Finally, she published Ahalya Baee in 1849, but it was only for private circulation and so it was again published in 1904 as Allahabad.
Where she will even be more popular was with her plays, the first of which was a 1790 work, Arnold which never got to be published. Having conceived the idea of Plays on the Passions in 1791, it got to see the light of the day in 1798 when the first volume was published. From then on, she kept writing until her death on 23 February 1851 at the age of 88 in Hampstead. That said, her years of writing was interrupted when she was in her seventies following an ill-health that she suffered, but when she was back to health, she continued.
With all that Joanna Baillie had achieved through her writing, she revealed that she had no interest in publishing any of her works but for the persuasion of her brother. Considering that she grew up in a religious home, she also had a religious work, The Martyr which was published in 1826.
Before her death, one of her greatest worries was to have all her books collected as a single volume which she referred to as the ‘great monster book’. To her delight, it came into fruition in 1851, just shortly before her death.
A Google Doodle was released for her by Google on 11 September 2018 in commemoration of what was supposed to be her 256th birthday. This is not surprising considering the fact that she’s celebrated among the best Scottish writers. Writers such as William Wordsworth, Maria Edgeworth, John Stuart Mill, and many others.
Apart from her writing, Joanna Baillie was also involved in different other things including philanthropic activities. She was said to have donated as much as half of the earnings she made from her works as a writer to charity, while at the same time being involved in a good number of other philanthropic works.