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Joanna Baillie

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Joanna Baillie

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Full Name: Joanna Baillie
Born: September 11, 1762
Bothwell, Scotland
Died: February 23, 1851
Hampstead, London, England
Occupation: Writer
Nationality: Scottish


Baillie was born on 11 September 1762. Her mother, Dorothea Hunter (c. 1721-1806) was a sister of the great physicians and anatomists William and John Hunter. Her father, Rev. James Baillie (c. 1722-1778), was a Presbyterian minister, and in his last two years Professor of Divinity at the University of Glasgow. Her aunt, Anne Home Hunter, was a poet.

Joanna Baillie was the youngest of three children; her twin sister died unnamed as a baby. Her one surviving sister was Agnes (1760-1861), and an elder brother Matthew Baillie, who became a London physician. Baillie was no dedicated scholar and her early passions were for the Scottish countryside. She had her own pony and her interest in stories was demonstrated by plays she created and stories she told. At home she was dealt with strictly and displays of anger or glee were discouraged. She was not taken to the theatre. The only drama she saw was a puppet show.

In 1769 the family moved to Hamilton, where her father was appointed to the collegiate church. Baillie did not learn to read until the age of ten, when she attended a Glasgow boarding school known for "transforming healthy little hoydens into perfect little ladies" (Carswell 266). There she wrote plays and demonstrated abilities in maths, music and art.

Baillie's father died in 1778 and their financial position was reduced, although Matthew Baillie went on to study medicine at Balliol College in Oxford. The rest of the family retreated to Long Calderwood near East Kilbride. They returned in 1784, as her uncle Dr William Hunter had died the year before and her brother had been left a London house and his collection, which is now the University of Glasgow's Hunterian Museum and Art Gallery). Her aunt, Anne Hunter, was a society hostess and a poet, and through her Baillie was introduced to the bluestockings Fanny Burney, Elizabeth Carter, and Elizabeth Montagu. She studied Corneille, Racine, Molière, Voltaire and Shakespeare, and began to write plays and poetry while running their brother's household until he married in 1791.

Joanna and her sister and mother moved houses several times, before settling in Colchester, where she began her Plays on the Passions. In 1802 they moved to Hampstead. In 1806 Mrs Baillie died. Anna Laetitia Barbauld and her niece Lucy Aikin were neighbours and close friends. She wrote letters to Sir Walter Scott and they would stay with each other.

When she reached her seventies, Baillie experienced a year of ill health, but recovered and returned to writing and correspondence.

"[Joanna Baillie] was anxious that all her works with the exception of her theological pamphlet be collected in a single volume, and had the satisfaction of seeing this 'great monster book' as she called it, which appeared in 1851, shortly before she died. Though no longer robust -- 'Ladies of four score and upwards cannot expect to be robust, and need not be gay. We sit by the fireside with our books' (Carhart, 62) -- she had remained in good health until the end. She died in 1851 in Hampstead, having almost reached her ninetieth year. Her sister, Agnes, lived on to be 100. Both sisters were buried alongside their mother in Hampstead parish churchyard, and in 1899 a sixteen-foot-high memorial was erected in Joanna Baillie's memory in the churchyard of her birthplace at Bothwell."

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