Joanna Baillie (1762-1851) was a Scottish dramatist and poet. Born in Bothwell, Lanarkshire, and educated in Miss McDonald’s boarding-school at Glasgow, she later settled in London. She published a book of verse Poems; Wherein It Is Attempted to Describe Certain Views of Nature and of Rustic Manners in 1790, but achieved success in 1798 with her first volume of Plays on the Passions, in which each verse drama displays the effect of one particular passion.
Basil, on the subject of love, and De Montfort, on hatred, were the most successful. The volume brought her the friendship of Sir Walter Scott, who called her ‘the immortal Joanna’, but her dramas were strongly criticized by Francis Jeffrey in the Edinburgh Review. A second volume of the Passions appeared in 1802, Miscellaneous Plays in 1804, and a third Passions volume in 1812.
Her tragedy Constantine Paleologus or The Last of the Caesars (1804) was considered by John Stuart Mill to be ‘one of the best dramas of the last two centuries’. Her most successful play, The Family Legend, based on a bitter Scottish feud, was produced in 1810 with a prologue by Scott and an epilogue by Henry Mackenzie. Scott described it as a ‘complete and decided triumph’ and it established Baillie as a literary and social success. Her house in Hampstead became a meeting place for many of the literary figures of her time.
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