Joanna Baillie

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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, she hosted a brilliant literary society in her cottage at Hampstead. Baillie died at the age of 88, her faculties remaining unimpaired to the last.



Baillie was born in 1762. Her father, Rev. James Baillie (c.1722–1778), was a Presbyterian minister and briefly, during the two years before his death, a Professor of Divinity at the University of Glasgow. Her mother Dorothea Hunter (c.1721–1806) was a sister of the great physicians and anatomists, William and John Hunter. The Baillies were an old Scottish family, and claimed among their ancestors the Scottish patriot Sir William Wallace.

Joanna Baillie was the youngest of three children; she had had a twin sister, but this child had died unnamed a few hours after her birth. Baillie grew up in close companionship with her sister, Agnes (1760–1861), and brother, Matthew Baillie (1761–1823), who became a celebrated London physician.

Baillie’s early years were marked by a passion for the outdoors. Uninterested in books, she preferred playing in the garden, riding her pony, splashing on the banks of the River Clyde, and listening to ghost stories by the fireside. Baillie’s own gift for narrative invention revealed itself early in stories told to her companions or acted out in impromptu amateur dramatics.

In 1769 the Baillies moved from Bothwell to Hamilton, South Lanarkshire, where Rev. Baillie had been appointed to the collegiate church. A few years later, at the age of ten, Joanna Baillie was sent to Glasgow to attend a boarding-school known for “transforming healthy little hoydens into perfect little ladies” (Carswell 266). Her intellectual and artistic faculties were here stimulated, and she displayed a talent for drawing, considerable musical ability, and a love of mathematics. Above all, however, was her facility in the writing and acting of plays. It was in Glasgow that she visited the theatre for the first time, kindling a passion which was to continue for the rest of her life.

With the death of their father in 1778, the Baillie family found themselves with little to live on. Matthew Baillie went to Balliol College, Oxford, following in his uncles' footsteps in the study of medicine. Mrs. Baillie and her daughters retired to Long Calderwood, her family home near East Kilbride, where they led quiet lives as country gentlewomen.

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