Joanna Baillie was born in September of 1762 in Hamilton, Lanark, Scotland. Her mother was Dorothea Hunter and her father, Jamies Baillie, was a Presbyterian minister and a Professor of Divinity at the University of Glasgow. They were strict in the raising of their children, making sure to encourage them not to display any strong emotions. She was one of three children, as well as a twin to a sister who died when she was still a baby. Her surviving siblings were one older sister, Agnes, and an older brother Matthew who became a physician in London.
While she was enrolled in school, Ballie was not a dedicated student. She spent most of her time in the countryside where she first crafted her stories and plays. Today, she is known primarily as a playwright, but as a girl, she was barely exposed to the form.
In the late 1760s, the family moved to Hamilton. It was there she first learned to read at a Glasgow boarding school for the transforming of unruly children into young ladies. It was around this time period she wrote her first poems and plays. Baillie’s father died in 1778 and the family was forced to reduce their circumstances to save money. They moved to Long Calderwood for a time before returning to Hamilton after the death of an uncle.
Baillie, her sister, and her mother, moved around the surrounding area until they finally settled down in Colchester. It was here, in 1791, that Baillie conceived and wrote, Plays on Passions. Around this same time period, Ballie’s first collection of poetry, Poems: Wherein it is Attempted to Describe Certain Views of Nature and of Rustic Manners, was published. Her next collection was not released until 1821 and was titled, Metrical Legends of Exalted Characters. This work told heroic stories from the lives of William Wallace, Christopher Columbus, and more.
Later Life and Plays
In the intervening years, she published Plays on the Passions which explored the deepest emotions of humankind. The second volume of this work followed in 1802, and the third in 1812. Throughout her life, Ballie wrote 27 plays, only a few of which were produced or performed. Her play, De Monfort, was produced at Drury Lane in London and Constantine Paleologus at the Surrey Theatre. Another work, Constantine and Valeria was performed in Liverpool, Dublin, and Edinburgh.
Joanna Baillie died in 1851 in Hampstead at the age of 89. She was buried in Hampstead parish churchyard beside her mother. Today, a memorial can be seen in her hometown, dedicated to her accomplished life.