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Life and Work of Joanna Baillie
Chapter 2 - Literary Background


A modern essayist remarks that at thirty those fortunate mortals who have the gift of self-expression stop reading, because the intoxication of creating makes passive looking-on at literature too tame to be interesting. Certainly no woman was ever busier with her pen than was Joanna Baillie, for between 1793 and 1836 she published twenty-seven dramas, seven metrical legends of exalted characters, many short poems, and a treatise on the nature and dignity of Jesus Christ. In spite of this productivity, there are indications that she was increasingly interested in reading.

In 1836 a writer in the Quarterly Review said of Miss Baillie:

Nor has she, like our old dramatists, or even the prince of our dramatists, freely laid under contribution the novel, the poem, the chronicler, the older play, whatever could furnish a background ready sketched out for the introduction of their own groupes of figures. No dramatist has borrowed so little: we do not presume to venture within the sanctuary of her study, but few writers could be proved out of their own works to have read so little as Miss Baillie.

With modem temerity let us 'venture within the sanctuary of her study on the ground floor of Bolton House, and try to reconstruct the reading which occupied her there. Her great-niece writes: ' As to her library I never heard that she had any valuable collection of books. They were doubtless absorbed in my father’s library and there is no list of them. The library is now broken up but of course I preserved presentation and other books.'

Some books, then, she owned, but she belonged to that increasing body who borrow from the public libraries.

The poems included in her first volume, Fugitive Verses, indicate a simple, inexperienced woman, whose life had been spent more with nature than with books. In her old age, Miss Baillie commented upon her ignorance in 1790. 'When these poems were written' she says, ‘the author was young in years, and younger still in literary knowledge. Of all our eminent poets of modem times, not one was then known. Mr. Hayley and Miss Seward, and a few other cultivated poetical writers, were the poets spoken of in literary circles. Burns, read and appreciated as he deserved by his own countrymen, was known to few readers south of the Tweed, where I then resided'. The only verses in this volume whose tone suggests poetical influence are A Winter's Day and A Summer's Day. The first of these follows the general idea of The Cotter's Saturday Night, without having its dignity. When these Fugitive Verses were collected with her other works, Miss Baillie added to A Winter's Day a group of lines on 'the Evening exercise' which increase the resemblance to Burns. The only other indication of her intellectual life before 1798 is her knowledge of the importance of Adam Smith, whom she had the courage to refer to when Henry Mackenzie in her hearing attacked Scotch men of genius.

The first volume of Plays on the Passions appeared in 1798. It was prefaced by an introductory discourse, in which the author explained her theory of the drama. According to Mrs. Piozzi, its tone caused the critics to decide that the dramas were written by a learned man. This preface closes with a frank statement of her intellectual equipment. After apologizing for the lack of acknowledgment of help from the works of others, she. says: 'I am situated where I have no library to consult; my reading through the whole of my life has been of a loose, scattered, unmethodical kind, with no determined direction, and I have not been blessed by nature with the advantages of a retentive or accurate memory. Do not, however, imagine from this, I at all wish to insinuate that I ought to be acquitted of every obligation to preceding authors; and that when a palpable similarity of thought and expression is observable between us, it is similarity produced by accident alone, and with perfect unconsciousness on my part. I am frequently sensible, from the manner in which an idea arises to my imagination, and the readiness with which words, also, present themselves to clothe it in, that I am only making use of some dormant part of that hoard of ideas which the most indifferent memories lay up, and not the native suggestions of my own mind.' The fact that this statement was written in 1798 shows an early tendency to analyze her equipment for dramatic production.

A knowledge of the past is perhaps less important m her theory ot dramatic writing than in that of her immediate predecessors. Her avowed aim was to describe 'the boundless variety of nature' instead of following the example of earlier dramatists, through whom ‘certain strong outlines of character, certain bold features of passion, certain grand vicissitudes and striking dramatic situations, have been repeated from one generation to another.' The indications of a sound foundation are most evident in her discussion of tragedy. She adopts the theory of a Bacchanalian origin for Greek drama and in a foot-note, added in her old age, attributes to Homer the long poems which were familiar to the Greeks before dramatic poetry originated. Her treatment of the protagonist is definitely Aristotelian in tone,1 as is her idea of the catharsis resulting from tragedy, from which she derives the serious moral purpose which prompted her to write. Her summary of the Greek drama indicates familiarity with the great tragedies. She speaks of the admiration among the Greeks of a play 'in which their great men and heroes, in the most beautiful language, complained of their rigorous fate, but piously submitted to the will of the gods: . . . and in which whole scenes frequently passed, without giving the actors anything to do but to speak’ — a direct reference to scenes in such plays as Oedipus, or The Trojan Women, or Agamemnon.

Shakespeare's plays had been among her favorite books from childhood. At Long Calderwood the family were thrown entirely upon their own resources for entertainment, and Joanna seems to have acquired the habit of reading. Her nephew says that during these years she became 'familiar with the best poets, and above all studied Shakespeare with the greatest enthusiasm.' It is surprising, therefore, to find very few references to Shakespeare in her theoretical statements. In the preface to the first volume of miscellaneous plays, she speaks of an * attachment to the drama of my native country, at the head of which stands one whom every British heart thinks of with pride.' In two foot-notes she excepts him from her criticism of tragic writers. The first of these notes refers to his fidelity to nature. 'It appears to me a very strong testimony of the excellence of our great national Dramatist,' she says, 'that so many people have been employed in finding out obscure and refined beauties, in what appear to ordinary observation his very defects. Men, it may be said, do so merely to show their own superior penetration and ingenuity. But granting this; what could make other men listen to them, and listen so greedily too, if it were not that they have received, from the works of Shakspeare, pleasure far beyond what the most perfect poetical compositions of a different character can afford?'

The second note deals with his delineation of character:

Shakespeare, more than any of our poets, gives peculiar and appropriate distinction to the characters of his tragedies. The remarks I have made, in regard to the little variety of character to be met with in tragedy, apply not to him. Neither has he, as other dramatists generally do, bestowed pains on the chief persons of his drama only, leaving the second and inferior ones insignificant and spiritless. He never wears out our capacity to feel by eternally pressing upon it. His tragedies are agreeably chequered with variety of scenes, enriched with good sense, nature, and vivacity, which relieve our minds from the fatigue of continued distress.

The influence of Shakespeare is very evident even in her first volume, and many lines have been criticized as modeled too closely upon those in his plays. Only a few instances will be mentioned, but these will indicate the effect upon her work of her study of Shakespeare. In The Tryal, Harwood's railing against Agnes is an echo of the tone of Petruchio in The Taming of the Shrew, and Agnes' description of her suitors recalls the similar scene in The Merchant of Venice. Basil contains many reminders; old Geoffrey, for example, affronting the officer, reminds one of Hotspur in I Henry IV. Basil's speech to his mutinous soldiers, and his use of the letter, recalls Antony’s speech in Julius Caesar. In addition, the quarrel between Basil and Rosinberg follows the general trend of that between Brutus and Cassius, and the talk between Frederick and Rosinberg that between Cassius and Brutus, when the conspirators sound Brutus' attitude toward the plot against Caesar. One of the most noticeable likenesses is that between the witch-scenes in Macbeth and Ethwald.

Her knowledge of modem tragedy is shown by her reference to the admiration for the type of heroes who bear with majestic equanimity every vicissitude of fortune; who in every temptation and trial stand forth in unshaken virtue, like a rock buffeted by the waves; who, encompassed with the most terrible evils, in calm possession of their souls, reason upon the difficulties of their state; and, even upon the brink of destruction, pronounce long eulogiums on virtue, in the most eloquent and beautiful language.

In connection with her plan to write a companion-comedy for each of her tragedies on the passions, she makes an interesting analysis of comedy, again without incurring the odium which might result from an attack upon definite dramas. Her division of comedy as generally exemplified, into four groups, 'satirical, witty, sentimental, and busy or circumstantial' is not so original that we must decide it arose from her own study. Many of her observations, however, point clearly to her knowledge of definite comedies then in vogue. Upon Shakespeare she makes no attack here, but confines her disapprobation to modem writers.

In connection with Satirical Comedy she says:

These plays are generally the work of men whose judgment and acute observation enable them admirably well to generalise, and apply to classes of men the remarks they have made upon individuals, yet know not how to dress up, with any natural congruity, an imaginary individual in the attributes they have assigned to those classes. ... It only affords us that kind of moral instruction which an essay or a poem could as well have conveyed, and, though amusing in the closet, is but feebly attractive in the theatre.

'Two or three persons of quick thought, and whimsical fancy' she says in regard to Witty Comedy, 'who perceive instantaneously the various connections of every passing idea, and the significations, natural or artificial, which single expressions or particular forms of speech can possibly convey, take the lead through the whole, and seem to cummunicate their own peculiar talent to every creature in the play.’

The references to comedies which she classes as Sentimental are equally vague, as she mentions no definite dramas when she criticizes the ‘ embarrassments, difficulties, and scruples, which, though sufficiently distressing to the delicate minds who entertain them, are not powerful enough to gratify the sympathetic desire we all feel to look into the heart of man in difficult and trying situations.' Her greatest emphasis is laid upon Busy Comedy, and here she goes into much detail in her reference to ‘that ambushed bush-fighting amongst closets, screens, chests, easy-chairs, and toilet-tables.’

But had she read these plays of the previous dramatic era? Her intense feeling against them leads us to the belief that she had not only read than, but had seen some of them produced. She says, for example, that Witty Comedy ‘ pleases when we read, more than when we see it represented; and pleases still more when we take it up by accident, and read but a scene at a time.' There is no assurance that she had been able before the writing ot this discourse to satisfy propriety, and yet attend the dramatic productions then being given in Hampstead; but it is hard to believe that a woman of her determination had failed entirely to satisfy this desire.

After the publication of the first series of Plays on the Passions, she must be considered as a mature woman, whose knowledge was as complete as it ever would be. In her metrical legend on Lady Griseld Baillie, she explains briefly the position of the Brownie in Scotch folk-lore, and ends by saying, 'Fortunately, perhaps, for the reader, want of learning prevents me from tracing the matter further.’ Similar statements in other places are so naturally and easily made as to free her from all charges of affectation. In 1841 a critic in the Quarterly Review said:

Unversed in the ancient languages and literatures, by no means accomplished in those of her own age, or even her own country, this remarkable woman owed it partly to the simplicity of a Scotch education, partly to the influence of the better portions of Burns’ poetry, but chiefly to the spontaneous action of her own forceful genius, that she was able at once, and apparently without effort, to come forth the mistress of a masculine style of thought and diction.... which at the time contributed most beneficially to the already commenced reformation of the literary principles of the country.

In the preface to the volume of contemporary poetry edited in 1823, she asks the contributors to remember that, in submitting their poems to an editor without classical learning, and one who never has written correctly, they have rendered themselves liable to be injured.

The only hints that she possessed any knowledge of Latin are contained in the anecdote of her translation of her brother’s Latin lesson into English verse, in a casual statement as to the skill of Livy as a historian, and in short quotations from Horace and Persius used as foot-notes. When it comes, however, to a question of her knowledge of classical literature, the statement of the critic seems somewhat sweeping. In addition to the knowledge shown in her Introductory Discourse, there should be cited several references in her dramas to classical subjects. She was familiar with Pope’s translation of the Odyssey, and refers to Horace and to Persius. She also mentions Bacchus, Mercury, Pegasus, Achilles, Proteus, Bacchants, and the siege of Troy.

Her dramas are noticeably free from foreign characters, and from phrases from the modem languages. In The Alienated Manor appears a German philosopher by the name of Smitchenstault. His English is a curious combination of dialects, in some phrases adopting German word-order, but usually sounding toe much confused to resemble any language. 'Hear you me: my name is Smitchenstault. Hear you me. De sublime vertue is de grand, de only vertue. I prove you dis.— Now we shall say, here is de good-tempered man; he not quarel, he not fret, he disturb no body. Very well; let him live de next door to me: but what all dat mean?'

Manhaunslet, a German servant in Enthusiasm, speaks much the same type of broken English. In the Election, however, Bescatti, the Italian master, uses an almost identical dialect, so far as one can tell from the spelling. 'I make no doubt dat in reality dey are the cows, alto in appearance dey are de sheep' he says. There is no systematic following ot German word-order. Smitchenstault uses the imperative word-order idiomatically in “Hear you me;” but he also says “he not love wine" and Manhaunslet uses the negative similarly in 'Do not know.’ In both cases, verbs appear in the English and not in the German order, as in ‘let him build my house, let him make my shoe' and 'When in one moment de large inn house burst into flame, and somebody wid two long arms trowed de child out from window, which I did catch in my gaberdine.’ There are no German quotations or expressions used even in the drinking-scene in Rayner. The description by Sir Level Clump of his efforts at landscape-gardening in The Alienated Manor agrees closely in thought with Solomon’s in Kotzebue's Stranger, with which she may have been familiar at this time.

The use of German scenes, also, is so slight as to seem inconclusive. Germany is the scene of both De Monfort and Rayner, but the action of De Monfort is as suitable to any Catholic country as to ancient Germany. In the preface to the first volume of miscellaneous plays, she says in regard to Rayner:

A play, with the scene laid in Germany, and opening with a noisy meeting of midnight robbers over their wine, will, I believe, suggest to my readers certain sources from which he will suppose my ideas must have certainly been taken. Will he give me perfect credit when I assure him, at the time this play was written, I had not only never read any German plays, but was even ignorant that such things as German plays of any reputation existed?

There is still less evidence in regard to her knowledge of French. The action of The Siege takes place in the French confines of Germany, but there are no foreign phrases used, nor is there anything in the action peculiar to the country. A few French words occur, but the use of esprit de corps, eclat, and bon mot is so common that their appearance does not indicate a knowledge of the language. Her only use of material from French literature is a reference to Le Sage in the Introductory Discourse. In describing human curiosity she says: ‘To lift up the roof of his dungeon, like the Diable boiteux, and look upon a criminal the night before he suffers .. . would present an object to the mind of every person, not withheld from it by great timidity of character, more powerfully attractive than almost any other.' In a foot-note in the Collection of Poems, she quotes in French a single line from Boileau.

There are many indications that history formed the major part of her reading. In her preface to the miscellaneous plays of 1805, she explains her idea of the use of history. 'It appears to me' she says, 'that, in taking the subject of a poem or play from real story, we are not warranted, even by the prerogatives of hardship, to assign imaginary causes to great public events. We may accompany those events with imaginary characters and circumstances of no great importance, that alter them no more in the mind of the reader, than the garniture with which a painter decorates the barrenness of some well-known rock or mountain.’ It should be noted that she based only one of her plays upon history—Constantine Paleologus. She says that as she was reading Gibbon’s account of the siege of Constantinople by the Turks, the subject 'pressed itself’ upon her, and ‘would be written upon.’ The character of Constantine affected her so deeply that she wished to write upon the ties which bound his few faithful followers to him, but, as some further element was necessary if ordinary spectators were to be interested, she added the imaginary character of Valeria. The temptation to make a romantic passion for Valeria the cause of Mahomet’s attack upon the city was strong, as it would ‘have made this play appear to them more like what a play ought to be; but I must then have done what I consider as wrong,’ she says. Mahomet, Justiniani, and Constantine are the only historical characters. In this connection it should be recalled that she refused to write a tragedy on the Fall of Darius, on the ground that she preferred a ‘more private and domestic story than that of Darius, which appears to me only fitted for the splendour of a large theatre'.

Many references indicate her interest in the history of England and Scotland. Henry's History of England depicts the religious life in Mercia near the end of the Heptarchy in such dark colors as, she thinks, to justify her picture in Ethwald. She makes no claims to historical accuracy here, but exhibits a life consistent with what is known of that confused period. In this preface, she lays herself open to the charge of lack of intellectual thoroughness, since she deliberately chooses a period ‘full of internal discord, usurpation, and change; the history of which is too perplexed and too little connected with any very important or striking event in the affairs of men, to be familiarly known. ... I have, therefore' she says, ‘thought that I might here, without offence, fix my story.'

Of Holinshed’s Chronicles she made some use, as she quotes from it at length in her notes to the Metrical Legend on William Wallace. These references, however, are confined to a few pages of the text, and there are no indications that she knew more of it. ,Our opinion of her scholarship rises somewhat when we learn that, of the authorities on Wallace that are specially endorsed by the Scottish Text Society, she had carefully consulted two— Holinshed’s Chronicle and Buchanan’s History of Scotland. Besides these strictly historical sources, she used Barbour’s Bruce, Wintoun’s Chronicle, Miss Halford’s Wallace and Margaret of Anjou, Miss Porter’s Scottish Chiefs, and, most of all, the poem of Harry the Minstrel. She also casually mentions Blair as one of her authorities, probably because she knew Blind Harry in his edition. Her version of Holinshed is modem, but Wintoun and Barbour she quotes in the original, and Blind Harry in a partially modernized form.

In her metrical legend dealing with Lady Griseld Baillie, she uses primarily as her authority Lady Murray's account of the trial, and Wodrow's History of the Sufferings of the Church of Scotland. In the appendix and foot-notes, she quotes extensively from her authorities. In the preface, she tells us that Mr. Rose's answer to Fox's History of James II aroused her interest in Lady Griseld, and that she consulted the original manuscript in charge of the Keeper of Registers in Edinburgh. She refers also to Laing's History of Scotland, and to Hume's History of England.

In the Collection of Poems, she uses Prince's Worthies of Devon as an authority. Her interest in Robin Hood literature is indicated in several places. In The Traveller by Night in November, she describes the road which

Seems now to find through tangled wood,
Or forest wild, where Robin Hood,
With all his outlaws stout and bold,
In olden days his reign might hold.

In Rayner she has introduced a disconnected episode, which, she says, ‘is a fancy come into my head from hearing stories in my childhood of Rob Roy, our Robin Hood of Scotland.'

Her historical reading was not, however, confined to England and Scotland. A knowledge of Greek history is shown by the foot-notes in the Collection of Poems. Planta's History of Switzerland, she says, records a pestilence similar to that in The Dream, and in Miss Plumtre's Residence in France she found the account of a death from fright similar to that of Osterloo. ‘I wished to have found some event in the real history of Ceylon,' she says in the preface to The Bride, ‘that might have served as a foundation for my drama; but not proving successful in my search, which circumstanced as I am, could not but be very imperfect, I have of necessity had recourse to imagination.' One of her metrical legends deals with Christopher Columbus, and here, too, she is very careful to state her authority. In the foot-notes and the appendix she quotes long passages from Robertson's History of America, and from Herrera's History of America, which she read in Stevens' translation. These two sources she has woven together very cleverly, so as to produce one of the best of her legends. In her old age, Sir John Malcolm’s Central India moved her so deeply that she added the poem Ahalya Baee to her list.

Miss Baillie seems to have inherited from her father an interest in philosophy and theology, which remained with her throughout her life. It is rather surprising to find a person 'so unlearned’ as she, quoting Stewart's Elements of the Philosophy of the Human Mind in regard to Hume. Fox’s Book of Martyrs, on the other hand, seems a perfectly normal book for her to know, as are Dr. Samuel Clark’s Sermon on The Power and Wisdom of the Gospels, Paley’s Sermons on Hebrews, Sherlock’s Sermons on Philippians, and Professor Norton’s work on the genuineness of the Gospels.’ Between 1824 and 1838 she carried on an intellectual correspondence with Channing. On June 2, 1828, she wrote him concerning his discourse on the Evidences of Christianity, which she liked, and in 1834 s^e was still discussing his writings with him. In 1824 she asked his opinion of Moore’s theory that a genius is unfitted for friendship or domestic life.

A comprehensive knowledge of the Bible is to be expected in a daughter of James Baillie, who received her early instruction directly from him. Joanna's attitude toward careful study of it is stated very clearly in the preface to The Bride. There she speaks of ‘ our sacred Scripture which we call the Gospels; containing His history, and written by men who were His immediate followers and disciples, being eye and ear witnesses of all that they relate; and let no peculiar opinions or creeds of different classes of Christians ever interfere with what you there perceive plainly and generally taught. It was given for the instruction of the simple and unlearned; as such receive it. She took her own advice in preparing the pamphlet on the Nature and Dignity of Jesus Christ, in which she collected all the important statements on the subject that occur in the New Testament. As a result, Sir Walter Scott said in his Journal, ‘she has published a number of texts on which she conceives the controversy to rest, but it escapes her that she can only quote them through translation. I am sorry this gifted woman is hardly doing herself justice, and doing what is not required at her hand'.

Biblical references and influences are to be found everywhere throughout her dramas. The more evident ones include the following:

Now behold the unnumber'd host
Of marshall'd pillars on fair Ireland's coast.
Phalanx on phalanx rang'd with sidelong bend,
Or broken ranks that to the main descend,
Like Pharaoh's army, on the Red-sea shore.
Which deep and deeper went to rise no more.
But there’s a law above all human bonds,
Which damps the eager beating of my heart,
And says, ‘do thou no murder.'
I know right well The darkest, fellest wrongs have been forgiven
Seventy times o’er from blessed heav’nly love.
Which human eye hath ne’er beheld, nor mind
To human body linked, hath e'er conceiv’d.
Where our brave hands, instead of sword and spear,
The pruning knife and shepherd’s staff must grasp.
Well, let them know, some more convenient season I’ll think of this.

Many other references might be given of a similar nature, but these are typical of the entire list. In her volume of Fugitive Verses appears a section of Verses on Sacred Subjects. Among them are poems with Biblical titles, St. Matthew, v, 9, St. Luke, xviii, 16, St. Luke, vii, 12, St. John, xxi, 1, Job, xiii, 25, Psalm 14J, and Psalm 93.

It is natural to expect from any writer a familiarity with the literature of her day. As Scott was Miss Baillie’s closest friend, it is not surprising to find many references to his work. The Lay of the Last Minstrel she finished reading shortly before she met Walter Scott in 1806. Before January 10,1813, Scott had sent her a copy of Rokeby, from which she quoted in a foot-note to Christopher Columbus.

In the biography which prefaced the edition of 1851, the following story is told in regard to the greatest tribute ever paid to her genius: 'During the stay of the sisters in Scotland, Scott's spirit-stirring and immortal poem of Marmion first appeared; and Joanna . . . was reading to a circle of friends for the first time this signal triumph of his genius. She came suddenly upon the following lines:

Or, if to touch such chord be thine,
Restore the ancient tragic line,
And emulate the notes that rung
From the wild harp, that silent hung
By silver Avon’s holy shore,
Till twice an hundred years roll’d o'er;
When she, the bold enchantress,
Came With fearless hand and heart on flame!
From the pale willow snatch’d the treasure,
And swept it with a kindred measure,
Till Avon's swans, while rung the grove With
Montfort's hate and Basil's love,
Awakening at the inspired strain,
Deem’d their own Shakspeare lived again.

Deeply as Joanna must have felt, from a source which she prized above all others, a tribute of such beauty and power, which could not fail to enhance the fame of the most eminent, she read the passage firmly to the end; and only displayed a want of self-command when the emotion of a friend who was present became uncontrollable'. The Home of Aspen she read with ‘ high gratification ’ in 1808, while she was in Edinburgh. In 1815 he sent her his pamphlet on Waterloo, of which she wrote him her approval. Witchcraft was suggested to her by The Bride of Lammermoor, of which she says, ‘ Soon after the publication of that powerful and pathetic novel, I mentioned my thoughts upon the subject to Sir W. Scott.' A footnote to her collection of poems refers to The Antiquary.

In addition to Scott’s novels, she and her sister Agnes read the novels of Charles Dickens as they appeared. From one of Dr. Moore’s novels she took a character in Constantine Paleologus, and she refers to Miss Edgeworth’s Castle Rackrent and Ennui, and to Don Quixote. Hogg's Brownie of Bodsbeck she calls an ‘ingenious tale.’

There is unfortunately little indication of her attitude toward the poets. Milton and Homer she accounts the greatest poets except Scott.40 Milton influenced her expressions more than any other English poet. In Ethwald she says,

How like a ship with all her goodly sails Spread to the sun, the haughty princess moves.

and the foot-note states, 'Probably I have received this idea from Samson Agonistes, where Dalilah is compared to a stately ship of Taisus “with all her bravery on, and tackle trim,” etc. In explaining the nature and properties of the brownies, she mentions the Lubber Fiend as appearing in Milton, and thus shows her accurate knowledge of Allegro. She had a ‘non-feeling for Lycidas' because she was ‘dry and Scotchy' Sara Coleiidge continues, 'her criticisms are so surprisingly narrow and jejune, and show so slight an acquaintance with fine literature in general.' Such quotations as the following point unmistakably to Paradise Lost:

An honour’d sword Like that which at the gate of Paradise From steps profane the blessed region guard.

And again:

Around the chief of hell such legions throng’d,
To bring back curse and discord on creation.

Basil’s great speech, however, is more difficult to place:

I can bear scorpions' stings, tread fields of fire,
In frozen gulfs of cold eternal lie,
Be toss'd aloft through tracts of endless void.
But cannot live in shame.

These details correspond less exactly to Milton’s hell than to Dante’s; she may have known the Injerno in translation.

Some idea of her attitude towards contemporary English poets may be gained from the list of those to whom she appealed for contributions to the Collection of Poems in 1823. The list includes Scott, Southey, Wordsworth, Campbell, Crabbe, Rogers, Milman, Sotheby, Mrs. Barbauld, Mrs. John Hunter, Mrs. Hemans, Anna Maria Porter, Mrs. Grant of Laggan, and Miss Holford. In her old age she spent a quiet evening with John Dix, who says: 'She spoke in the most enthusiastic terms of Sir Walter Scott, both as a man, and a writer, and expressed her opinion that take him all together his equal has never lived. Wordsworth, too, was a prime favorite; but she seemed to have little liking for Shelley, though she spoke of him without severity. Of her own productions she said not a word during the evening.’

Something has already been said concerning her estimate of Byron, the man; her opinion of him as a poet was equally scathing, as we have seen above. Scott urged her to read Childe Harold, which he declares is a 'very clever poem, but gives no good symptom of the writer’s heart or morals.’

There are several references to minor poets. Mrs. Hemans’ poems she knew, and those of Miss Fanshaw; she approved so highly of Struthers’ Poor Man's Sabbath, that she persuaded Scott to arrange for its publication.

There are few references to dramatic literature. She speaks of the characterization of Hamlet and Othello as too difficult for a boy such as Young Roscius, and describes with cielight Mrs. Siddons’ reading of comedy parts from Shakespeare. She went with friends to the premiere of Talfourd’s Ion, and was present at the first production of Fashionable Friends at Strawberry Hill. Mr. Milman’s drama, The Martyr of Antioch, she called beautiful, and the similarity of title made her feel ‘ some degree of scruple ’ about retaining her original title of The Martyr. For one of Mrs. Hemans’ dramas she interceded with Scott. She praises Mrs. Jameson’s translations of the plays of the Princess of Saxony, and thanks Miss Ferrier for a copy of Destiny, whose characters she analyzes.

A few miscellaneous leferences complete our list of definite books. She seems to have known something of science. Her dramas contain many indications of medical knowledge, which she undoubtedly acquired from her brother.53 She wrote to Rogers: 'I have read Sir John Herschell’s book twice, or rather three times over, have been the better for it both in understanding and heart, and mean to read parts of it again ere long; you will not repent having bestowed it upon me.' In her Address to a Steam-Vessel occur the lines,

Watt, who in heraldry of science ranks
With those to whom men owe high meed of thanks,
And shall not be forgotten, ev’n when
Fame Graves on her annals Davy’s splendid name!

Of Lockhart's Life of Scott she never approved.56 Mrs. Jameson's Winter Studies and Summer Rambles in Canada she mentions to Channing57, and Mrs. Dodd’s An Autumn near the Rhine she calls 'a very entertaining publication.’ Shortly after her death John Dix published the following anecdote, which, with its sympathetic personal touch, is a fitting close to this chapter:

Some years ago, I spent the summer months on, as Wordsworth calls it, Hampstead’s breezy heath, and whilst there, I received from a literary friend a poem on Windermere, with a request that I would, when I had perused it, hand it to Mrs. Joanna Baillie, as there were in the poem references to the Bard of Rydal, and to herself, which he thought would gratify her.

Accordingly as I had not the pleasure of a personal acquaintance with the poetess, I enclosed the volume, with my friend’s note, in a parcel, and was on my way to Holly-bush Hill, the place of the poetess’s residence, intending to leave it as I passed, when I stepped into a Circulating Library of the village, for the sake of reading the morning papers.

I had not been there long when a customer entered. It was on old gentlewoman, accompanied by a little serving maid carrying a basket. Addressing the man behind the counter, the lady inquired whether the Poetesses of England, which I afterwards learned she had ordered, and was extremely anxious to see, had arrived. The volume was enveloped in paper, which she immediately, and I thought somewhat anxiously, removed. Sitting down, she put on a pair of spectacles, and turned over the leaves of the book until she came to an apparently sought-for portion of it. As she read, her countenance brightened as though she was pleased with what met her eye. I did not recognize her. When she departed, the librarian informed me it was Miss Baillie, or Mrs. Baillie, as she was called by the Hampstead people.’

The Athenaeum said of her: ‘Out of the fulness of a true heart her works have been written, rather than from any vast or precious store of book-learning: never indeed were a set of high heroic poems so devoid of every trace of research and allusion as her dramas'. Might it not be a fairer statement to attribute her writings to a heart filled with a store of knowledge of mankind, gained partly through a keen imagination, and partly by reading? If such an education produced such a woman, Joanna Baillie may be accepted as an exemplification of her theory of the educational rights of women.


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