Hale, "'[S]hak[ing] the dwellings of the great': Liberation in Joanna Baillie's Poems (1790)"

Utopianism and Joanna Baillie

"[S]hak[ing] the dwellings of the great": Liberation in Joanna Baillie’s Poems (1790)

Robert C. Hale, Monmouth College

  1. Alluding to phrases from Joanna Baillie's Introductory Discourse, Jeffrey Cox comments that "with her turns to the 'middling' ranks in her plays" Joanna Baillie "might seem to be a 'leveler' in literature," but he cautions that "we should be careful" in how far we push the notion of Baillie as "embracing 'democratic' principles" since "she does not extend the appeal of her plays to those below that middle" ("Staging" 161).[1]  Elsewhere, Regina Hewitt notes the difficulty of defining Baillie "as liberal or conservative" and comments that "Baillie’s letters attest to some affiliation with the Whig party, though she enjoyed a close friendship with the zealously Tory Sir Walter Scott" ("Stardom" 8).

  2. Baillie was certainly no radical Jacobin, but in my estimation, a reading of Judith Bailey Slagle's The Collected Letters of Joanna Baillie points to a left-of-center political ideology interested in expanding freedom.  We might see this concern for expanding others' freedom as anticipating her interest in "sympathy which most creatures… feel for others of their kind" which numerous critics have explored in her Introductory Discourse (DPW 1).[2]  Baillie's letters demonstrate that she greatly sympathized with the "starving weavers" and "turbulent spinners" who were victims of the Peterloo Massacre in 1819 (Letters 1.395), supported the repeal of the Test and Corporation Acts in 1828 (Letters 2.916), was very much in favor of the 1832 Reform Act which she said would "rid us of the rotten Boroughs" (Letters 2.625, 924, 928), and applauded Peel for the repeal of the Corn Laws in 1846 (Letters 2.510, 971).  Slagle and others have noted that Baillie sympathized with George III during his illness (Life 179), which to some might suggest a right-leaning ideology, but in the nineteenth-century portion of her life, she was "accustomed to think and call [herself a] Whig[]" (Letters 2.510).[3]  Indeed, in a letter to Scott in 1810, she jokingly admonishes him for his party affiliation: "I know no good Tories are for but serving as a balance against wrong-headed republicans" (Letters 1.258).[4]

  3. While most critics focus their efforts on Baillie's life and plays after the 1798 publication of the first volume of A Series of Plays, exploring and understanding Baillie's political ideology becomes all the more difficult if one is interpreting her anonymously published collection Poems.  J. Johnson published Poems in 1790 and it includes twenty-three poems, many of them thematically grouped in twos, threes and fours.[5]  After Baillie became famous as a dramatist, she re-collected, re-ordered, and in some cases revised these poems as a part of Fugitive Verses in 1840 with a second edition in 1842.  She included this abridged re-collection in The Complete Dramatic and Poetical Works of Joanna Baillie in 1851.  Interestingly, Baillie says in the preface to Fugitive Verses that the poems "have undergone very little more than verbal corrections, with the expunging or alteration of a line here and thee, and have never (but on one occasion noticed in a short note,) received the addition of new thoughts" (DPW 772).[6]  In most of the revisions Baillie seems true to her word about not adding "new thoughts" which suggests that the political ideology expressed in Poems in 1790 stays fairly consistent fifty years later in Fugitive Verses; however, as I will later show, she does make some changes to the collection which suggest a slight modification from her political views in 1790.

  4. 1790 was a politically significant year—it was the year after the fall of the Bastille, the same year Helen Maria Williams published Letters Written in France, sympathetically chronicling the events of the French Revolution, and Burke published his Reflections on the Revolution in France, warning of its consequences.  According to David Duff, most of the public held consensus approval or at least tolerance of the revolution in the early days despite Burke's cautions (28).  Many British citizens viewed it as France's version of the Glorious Revolution of 1688 while others saw it as the arrival of "new heavens and a new earth" (Isaiah 65:17).[7]

  5. Knowing Baillie’s views on the French Revolution at its outset is impossible since, as Slagle tells us, none of her early letters survive (Letters 1.18); however, I would like to engage in a close reading of Poems to suggest that the young adult Baillie (she would have been around 28 when Poems was published) sympathized, like much of the public, with ideals of liberté, egalité, and fraternité.  I will consider the class politics of Poems in terms of her poetics and representations of people of different classes and nature’s power.  Ultimately, I will argue that even though some of the poems depict some ambivalence about the class system, the early Baillie ultimately critiques that system and subtly encourages rural workers to resist the stifling roles of the eighteenth-century class system. 

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  6. Baillie’s title explicitly articulates her aims:


    With her interest in "rustic manners" she writes out of a tradition interested in rural and country life with forerunners such as Oliver Goldsmith's "The Deserted Village" (1770), William Cowper's The Task (1785), and in particular, Robert Burns's Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect (1786).[8]  The interest is most clearly displayed in the opening poem "A Winter Day" and its companion piece "A Summer Day," both which examine life in a rural village at different times of the year.  As in Goldsmith's "The Deserted Village," Baillie explores rural life in general terms examining stock characters.  However, in poems such as "A Reverie," "A Disappointment," and "A Lamentation," she gives particular characters voices of their own to express their experiences of love in ways similar to Burns's character studies.  As I will later suggest, Baillie writes about these rustics in ways that resonate with Goldsmith, Cowper, and Burns's political ideologies as well.

  7. Baillie elucidates her own democratic political ideology most clearly in “An Address to the Muses.”  She begins the poem conventionally with a typical neoclassical apostrophe: 

           Ye tuneful sisters of the lyre,
           Who dreams and fantasies inspire;
           Who over poetry preside
           And on a lofty hill abide
           Above the ken of mortal flight,
           Fain would I sing of you, could I address you right. (73)

    She continues in the next stanza to evoke standard classical references: Temples, battles, wine, lovers’ woes, and poets with upcast eyes.  However, she indicates that this emphasis on nature (the "valley" and "forest" [74]) and pagan Religion ("rites and oracles" and "sacred fane" [75]) is how the muses "pow'r of old was sung" (73, my italics).  The new, neoclassical poets seek the muse "in the shelved room . . . the dusty nook . . . [and] the lettr'd book" (75).  Baillie emphasizes the importance of imitation so prevalent during the eighteenth century, the copying of classical models of verse and application of those forms and rules for a poet's own verse.  Both the "youthful poet" and the "tuneful sage" of her day rely on this indirect method of inspiration.  However, when the speaker seeks the muses' help, when her attempt at "studied talk is done," she discovers that the product is "rugged" verses which "the learned" scorn (77).

  8. Baillie not only criticizes her neoclassical precursors' and contemporaries' methods, but she also implies that their ways do not work for her and that there are other ways to produce poetry.  She refuses the avenue of "Grecian lyre" and "heathen fire"; the muses inspire her via a direct intercourse between nature and her imagination: "in earth, and air, and ocean wide" and "the answering changes in the human mind" (78).  We can see the resonances of nature and psychology with Wordsworth clearly here, except this collection was published eight years before Lyrical Ballads.  Certainly Baillie was influenced by second-phase eighteenth-century poets like James Thomson, who appreciated natural settings in his The Seasons, but Thomson's attention to Nature was much more visually than psychologically complex.  Baillie illustrates the psychological relationship between subject and object in "To Fear" in the way she depicts a traveler walking through a rural churchyard at night and displays the interaction between his mind and the natural scene.[9]

  9. She attends to another psychological issue, memory, in a later stanza of "Address to the Muses":

           From you, when growling storms are past,
           And light'ning ceases on the waste,
           And when the scene of blood is o'er,
           And groans of death are heard no more,
           Still holds the mind each parted form,
           Like after echoing of th' o'erpassed storm. (79)

    Like Cowper in The Task, she says the original impression of nature inspires the poet, but her memory of it allows her to convert the experience into poetry—as she says in the next stanza, the scene "within the bosom still remains" (79).  Again, she anticipates Wordsworth, in this case his definition of poetry as "emotion recollected in tranquillity" (148).  However her attempt to liberate her readers by offering an alternative view of poetic production based on personal experience instead of an inherited model precedes Wordsworth by a decade.

  10. Baillie's theory of who can be a poet is also egalitarian. She observes in all classes of people a capacity to be inspired by nature and to create poetry: "Full many a breast with pleasures swell"; however, most of these people "ne'r shall have the gift of words to tell" (79).  She says the muses via nature visit "the learned sage, and simple child," "him who wears the monarch's crown" and "the unlettr'd artless clown."  However, they "add but to the bard the art to tell" (80).  Again, she anticipates Wordsworth who says the poet is like the common person, but the poet has a "more lively sensibility" and that at least in terms of "liveliness and truth" the poet's language actually "fall[s] far short of that which is uttered by men in real life" (48-9).  Both unlettr'd clowns and monarchs have felt the muses' "secret power", but only the "bard," who is never clearly positioned, has the technique—"the art to tell."  She creates such sensitive souls in the ballad "The Storm-Beat Maid," a character similar to Cowper's "Crazy Kate" and Wordsworth's Margaret from "The Ruined Cottage."

  11. Baillie, like Cowper and Burns, acknowledges a different, middle- and working-class audience than those neoclassical poets she alluded to earlier.  She wants to speak to those "who feel and never sing" (81)—the people who can be inspired by nature, but who cannot express that experience.  However, she will not use the "studied talk" she mentioned previously, but instead, speaks to her audience "With simple words" (81). The difference from first and second phase eighteenth-century poets is obvious, yet her language, in theory and practice, seems much more egalitarian than Cowper's sometimes stilted diction of The Task and Thomas Gray's mixture of Latinate phrases and common speech in "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard."

  12. Baillie's theory of poetry aims to liberate her audience, herself, and other poets because she elevates the working class as a subject worthy of poetry, describes a method of poetic production that is "anti-classical" and anti-authoritarian, presents the figure of the poet as classless, and embraces "simple words" instead of "studied talk" to reach a wide audience of readers.

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  13. But Baillie does not only espouse a liberating poetic theory in 1790; she also practices a "leveling" ideology using three primary strategies:  she praises members of the working class for their character and hard work and chides people in higher classes for the problems of the poor, she equalizes members of different classes in light of Nature's power, and she presents class hierarchy as an obstacle to "true love."

  14. In "A Winter Day," the collection's first poem, Baillie inspires respect for the working classes and blames the upper classes for the problems of the poor.  The poem commences with a "labring hind" who

           Dreams of the gain that next year's crop should bring;
           Or at some fair disposing of his wool,
           Or by some lucky and unlook'd-for bargain.
           Fills his skin purse with heaps of tempting gold,
           Now wakes from sleep at the unwelcome call,
           And finds himself but just the same poor man
           As when he went to rest.—
           He hears the blast against his window beat,
           And wishes to himself he were a lord,
           That he might lie a-bed.—(1-2)

    Baillie begins the collection with a character who longs for class mobility—from a middle class merchant who accumulates "heaps of tempting gold" which seems like a realizable goal to the unattainable "wish" to be "a lord."  She takes care to emphasize how the hind and his family work hard all day long, yet they seem to just get by, despite their best efforts.  In the 1840 revision in Fugitive Verses (and in subsequent editions), Baillie glosses the word hind as "somewhat above a common labourer,—the tenant of a very small farm, which he cultivates with his own hands" (DPW 772).  Baillie's note elevates the status of the hind and emphasizes his independence—he is not simply a farmhand, but an agent who works "with his own hands."

  15. Later in the poem, Baillie introduces an old soldier who roams the countryside and seeks shelter with the hind's family.  Even though the hind does not have disposable income, he hospitably welcomes the soldier and "bids him stay, and share their homely meal, / And take with them his quarters for the night" (13).  It is no accident that in the next stanza Baillie emphasizes that the hind and his wife are industrious even during their leisure hours as the wife "turns her spinning wheel" and the hind "a little basket weaves" (13).  They are not like "the lord" the hind "wishes" to be in the opening poem who has ample leisure time to "lie a-bed," and Baillie implies with her very positive rendering of the hard-working hind that this lazy, lordly status is not that desirable.

  16. Later in the poem, Baillie's narrator calls attention to the universal appeal of "mankind['s]" "stor[ies] of himself" with the community that gathers at the hind's house.  These stories emphasize sympathy towards others (helping a neighbor avoid being duped into buying a cow) and an individual's success because of personal skill (winning a horse race or corn binding contest) (14).  While these stories instill feelings of pleasure and pride with their valuation of community responsibility and individual achievement, when the soldier tells his "tales of war and blood," the listeners "gaze upon him, / And almost weep to see the man so poor, / So bent and feeble, helpless and forlorn" (15).  The veteran has been deserted by the wealthy men whose interests have been best served by his sacrifice and is left to the working poor who struggle to eke out a living for themselves.  Baillie emphasizes the soldier's sad state further stressing that he is alone because the sons who might have sheltered him in his old age are in "honourable, but untimely graves" because they became soldiers too (12).  While Baillie does not lodge a direct attack against moneyed classes, the way she presents the working poor as rescuers of the pitiable, old veteran implies a critique of the rich.[10]

  17. Baillie continues to esteem the industry of the rural working class in "A Summer Day" (the companion poem to "A Winter Day") and lodges a subtle critique against the upper classes.  In one section, she spotlights a scene of community field work noting that "The old and young, the weak and strong are there" and says that:

           The village oracle, and simple maid,
           Jest in their turns, and raise the ready laugh;
           For there authority, hard favour'd, frowns not;
           All are companions in the gen'ral glee,
           And cheerful complaisance still thro' their roughness,
           With placid look enlightens ev'ery face. (22)

    Baillie establishes the working class with its own sub-hierarchy, but then levels that power structure by saying that authority "frowns not" in this setting and idealizes a "cheerful" community working together in peace.  The hard favour'd authority that the workers have presumably seen in the faces of the landed gentry is absent here.  While Goldsmith, in "The Deserted Village" was critical of the rich who supported enclosure acts that robbed the poor of communal lands and forced them to flee to America for new lives, Baillie presents the rustics as a co-operative community working together to benefit each other.

  18. More directly than in "A Winter Day," Baillie criticizes the upper classes for their ill treatment of the aged in "A Summer Day."  Here, the victim is a loquacious old man who rambles a bit.  The members of the community "fret not at the length of his discourse, / But listen with respect to his remarks." On the other hand, Baillie adds,

           The silken clad, who courtly breeding boast,
           Their own discourse still sweetest to their ears,
           May grumble at the old man's lengthened story,
           But here it is not so.— (29)

    The working class esteems the old man for his wisdom and advice while people with "courtly breeding" would denigrate him.  Baillie's sympathy continues to go towards works, character, and deeds and not inherited social position.

  19. In her pioneering book on Joanna Baillie, Margaret Carhart says that the only influence of Burns on Baillie is his "The Cotter's Saturday Night" on her "A Winter Day" and "A Summer Day" (70).  All three of these poems present the rural working class as noble and criticize the wealthy, yet Burns's poem is certainly more of a Scots poem than Baillie's.  His Scots dialect is characteristically much more pronounced, and his class critique, unlike Baillie's, ispresented with a cry for Scottish nationalism:

           O Scotia! my dear, my native soil!
           For whom my warmest wish to Heaven is sent!
           Long may thy hardy sons of rustic toil
           Be blest with health, and peace, and sweet content!
           And, oh! may Heaven their simple lives prevent
           From luxury's contagion, weak and vile!
           Then, howe'er crowns and coronets be rent,
           A virtuous populace may rise the while,
           And stand a wall of fire around their much-lov'd isle. (172-80)

    Here, Burns values the "sons of rustic toil" of "Scotia," and criticizes thepresumably British and noble "contagion" of "luxury" which he associates with "crowns and coronets."  In "A Winter Day" and "A Summer Day" Baillie has no direct references to Scotland and her use of the dialect is more subtle than Burns's—her critique is more class- than nation-centered.[11]  In her later "Metrical Legend on William Wallace," as Nancy Goslee has argued, Baillie does combine an interest in Scottish nationalism with "lovingly detailed portrayals of rural work" (58).[12]

  20. Baillie explicitly displays Nature's ability to raze class distinction in "Thunder" by describing the effects of an approaching storm on all creatures, regardless of their status.  As the storm approaches,

           Wild creatures of the forest homeward scour,
           And in their dens with fear unwonted cow'r.
           Pride in the lordly palace is forgot,
           And in the lowly shelter of the cot
           The poor man sits, with all his fam'ly round,
           In awful expectation of thy sound.  (108-9)

    Both lordly and lowly anticipate and fear the storm's destructive power.  Once it arrives, Baillie more directly describes the storm's leveling power:

           The lightning keen, in wasteful ire,
           Fierce darting on the lofty spire,
           Wide rends in twain the ir'n-knit stone,
           And stately tow'rs are lowly thrown.
           Wild flames o'erscour the wide campaign,
           And plough askance the hissing main.
           Nor strength of man may brave the storm,
           Nor shelter skreen the shrinking form;
           Nor castle wall its fury stay,
           Nor massy gate may bar its way. (111-12)

    Natasha Aleksiuk compares the 1790 and 1840 versions of "Thunder" and argues that the "The angry energy of the storm" parallels "the energy of the mobs in Paris," which are "directed at both the church and the nobility." She comments that lightning "attacks the 'pointed spire' [{lines} 64] of the church… throws aristocratic 'stately towers' [{lines} 66] to the ground…[and] rends 'in twain the iron-knit stone' [{lines} 65] of the church"(134). Furthermore, she asserts that Baillie's characterization of the lightning's "ire" as "wasteful" suggests a critique of the French Revolution.

  21. While Aleksiuk's interpretation that the architectural elements are metonymies for powerful institutions is insightful in explaining the revolutionary power of the storm, I disagree with her interpretation of this moment as a "critique" of the revolution.  Her reading hinges on the word wasteful which she interprets as profligate, but devastating or destructive are more consistent denotations of wasteful, particularly in light of a subsequent passage which describes how the storm places all people on an equal playing field:

           It visits those of low estate,
           It shakes the dwellings of the great,
           It looks athwart the secret tomb,
           And glares upon the prison's gloom;
           While dungeons deep, in unknown light,
           Flash hidious on the wretches' sight,
           And lowly groans the downward cell,
           Where deadly silence wont to dwell.  (112)

    Baillie places "those of low estate," alongside those who live in "great dwellings," the dead, and prisoners.  If one agrees with Akeksiuk's direct connection of this passage to the French Revolution (as I do), the mention of the "low estate" and the five lines she devotes to the dungeons seems to allude to the Bastille and implies particularly strong support for the revolutionary storm. The storm is powerful and destructive, but it is completely natural.

  22. In the companion poem "Wind," Baillie continues to flatten class distinctions by focusing on a storm's impact on architecture and people. As in "Thunder" "tow'r[s] and "spire[s]" are forced down just as "social home[s]" are "uncovr'd"—Nature does not distinguish among the status of the structures it topples (118). Likewise, when the storm arrives, "The peasants leave their ruin'd home" and

           Low shrinking fear, in place of state,
           Skulks in the dwellings of the great.
           The rich man marks with careful eye,
           Each wasteful gust that whistles by. (120)

    As in "Thunder," Baillie emphasizes the destructive power of Nature to raze class distinction, although in this poem she emphasizes how the wind instills fear in all classes.

  23. Baillie also attempts to level the class system by presenting class position as an obstacle to true love.  Once again, she relies on companion poems, "A Reverie" and "A Disappointment" to launch her critique.  In "A Reverie," she presents Robin, another poor, rural laborer, who dreams of marrying "Nelly fair" (57).  Robin's first words explain why they cannot be together:

           Ah! happy is the man whose early lot
           Hath made him master of a furnish'd cot;
           Who trains the vine that round his window grows,
           And after setting sun his garden hoes;
           Whose wattled pales his own enclosure shield,
           Who toils not daily in another's field. (58)

    Robin longs for a higher status that would have enabled him to inherit a furnished home and his own farm so that he does not have to work "in another's field."   The word lot has denotations of both inheritance and fate which point to his class-determined situation.  He continues lamenting his position and longs for wealth to gain respect from his neighbors, to buy things for his imagined wife, and to make life easier for her.  Then he snaps back to reality and asks the rhetorical question:

           Ah, Nelly! can'st thou with contented mind,
           Become the help-mate of a lab'ring hind,
           And share his lot, whate'er the chances be,
           Who hath no dow'r, but love, to fix on thee?" (59)

    Robin alludes to an answer to his rhetorical question when he recounts a meeting in which he "'pass'd Old Hodge's cottage in the glade'" with Nelly and "wish'd both cot and Nelly made for me'" (60).  Nelly's reaction suggests that she loves him and wants to marry him.  As Robin abruptly awakens from his reverie at the sound of Nelly's voice, the narrator closes out the poem suggesting that the two will unite despite his want of property.  However, the obstacle that has prevented (and continues to prevent) the lovers from marrying is the fact that Robin was born into a very poor class which has sealed his lot.

  24. In "A Disappointment," Baillie presents William, another rustic worker separated from his beloved because of his poor financial state; however, in this poem, the lover has a much more negative attitude about his beloved.  In his experience, a lad "Who thinks with love to fix a woman's will" is "simple" because "keep[ing] his pockets bare" by "spend[ing] half his wages on pedlar's ware" is the only way to keep a lover (63).  His case in point is Susan who clearly loved him but left him for "Rob," a "hateful clown" whom William and Susan used to mock, but whose "'pockets'" are "'line[d]'" with "'more gold,'" whose "'cottage'" "'store'" never "'lacks,'" and "'round'" whose "'barn thick stands the sheltr'd stacks'" (64).  William emphasizes that Rob's fortune is what has made him the groom, noting that "'the lots were cast" and calling him a "lucky swain."  Baillie stresses the harmful social effects of William's lot when he kicks his own dog in frustration at the end of the poem.

  25. In "A Storm-beat Maid," Baillie presents her clearest critique of the class system by depicting a poor woman who had been jilted by a nobleman but who inspires him to overcome society's expectations and dedicate himself to her.  Baillie characterizes the maid with strength and independence by introducing her traveling fearlessly across the landscape at night during a cold, winter storm.  When she arrives in the morning at a castle where a wedding celebration is beginning, she speaks to no one, but walks "straight into the hall" and "sat her on the ground" (100).  The servants refuse to dismiss her inhospitably on the day of their master's wedding, so a page reports the arrival of this very beautiful, but not "courtly" (103), woman to him. The lord gradually realizes that this must be his former lover:

           "So soft and fair I know a maid,
           There is but only she;
           A wretched man her love betrayed,
           And wretched let him be."

    Once the lord actually sees the maid, he openly confesses how he has wronged her:

           "O cursed be the golden price,
           That did my baseness prove!
           And cursed be my friends advice,
           That wil'd me from thy love!"

           "And cursed be the woman's art,
           That lur'd me to her snare!
           And cursed be the faithless heart
           That left thee to despair!" (105-6)

    In these two stanzas, Baillie critiques the class system that led the lord to desert his beloved maid.  The "golden price" is the dowry that his noble bride (whom he will now jilt) enticed him with, and certainly the "friends [sic] advice" is the pressure that his courtly comrades placed on him to leave the storm-beat maid.  Interestingly, he also blames the noble woman to whom he proposed marriage saying that she "lur'd [him] to her snare!" However, the lord acknowledges some personal responsibility because his "faithless heart" "left her to despair."  The lord ultimately proclaims

           Yet now I'll hold thee to my side,
           Tho' worthless I have been,
           Nor friends, nor wealth, nor dizen'd bride,
           Shall ever stand between." (106)

    He will resist the pressures of the class system and follow his heart.  Even though Baillie implies here that love has the power to raze class distinctions, she never clearly says the lord will marry the storm-beat maid, nor does she resolve what will happen to the newly jilted bride.  The fact that these loose ends are not tied up suggests the story's lack of realism; however, we can also interpret it as Baillie's wish that true love and not position be the primary impetus for marriage, or perhaps even that women might have roles outside of marriage or that the institution of marriage itself should be reconfigured.  My analysis of this poem fits into the conversation about limited gender roles in Baillie's plays that critics such as Catherine Burroughs, Anne Mellor, and Marjorie Purinton have initiated.[13]

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  26. As I mentioned in the introduction to this essay, Baillie re-collected, re-ordered, and revised Poems into Fugitive Verses in 1840.  Overall, in the preface, Baillie seems committed to the ideas she presented in the original collection.  Baillie claims that the poems "have undergone very little more than verbal corrections… and have never (but on one occasion noticed in a short note,) received the addition of new thoughts" (DPW 772).  While some of the changes suggest that she may have had some reservations about her old thoughts (see footnote 4 for complete changes), other changes suggest a commitment to the ideals of her youth.

  27. The only substantive change, the "one occasion,"  Baillie confesses to making in 1840 concerns "A Winter's Day" (originally titled "A Winter Day") in which she added a section on "family worship" (Dramatic and Poetical Works 775).  She characterizes her omission of "The Evening Exercise" of prayer as a "great omission, for which I justly take shame to myself" (775).  With this addition she does not focus on a submission to the authority of a higher power, but continues to show how the community of workers comes together in "evening exercise" (DPW 775).  With this self-conscious addition to the poem, Baillie reinforces the apparent ideology of her younger years by valuing community.

  28. Other changes suggest a shift in Baillie's attitude.  One of the poems she deletes from the collection is "Wind."  While she may have omitted it because it is too close to the theme and style of its companion poem "Thunder," the omission implies that she may have had reservations about overemphasizing the power of nature to raze class distinction, particularly with architectural references alluding to the French Revolution, the year after the Chartists reforms failed to pass Parliament (1839) and resulted in widespread rioting.  As Natasha Aleksiuk has argued, Baillie also seems to pull back from the leveling impulse of her early years with her 1840 revisions of "Thunder": "into a subdued form, more palatable to early Victorians," (132-3). Aleksiuk explains how Baillie removed references to birth and the female body as they are associated with the violent storm and shifts, except for stanzas three and four, from couplets to blank verse.  The reduction of the revolutionary force by deleting "Wind" and revising "Thunder" suggest that she may have had more radical ideas in her youth than she did at age seventy-eight.

  29. Baillie also omits "The Storm-beat Maid" from Fugitive Verses.  With this deletion she removes the most extreme class critique of the 1790 collection by removing a repentant nobleman who values love over wealth and status in his selection of a partner and a complex conclusion to a poem that questions traditional gender roles.  The only clear principle she mentions for including certain poems in Fugitive Verses is that they "regard the moods and passions of the human mind" (DPW 772), and so she implies that the poems that she did cut were eliminated because they were not psychologically complex.  However, as my analysis has shown, the storm-beat maid is a rich and complex character and the lord's reaction to her arrival provides an interesting exploration of human motivation for love.  The reason why she chose to delete the poem must be for another reason, perhaps because the class critique is too overt.

    *          *          *

  30. I have discussed just a few of the ways that this collection suggests that the young adult Joanna Baillie held a more liberal than conservative ideology.  With the title of the collection and the poem "To the Muses" she argues for a liberating poetics by raising the working class to a subject worthy of poetry, presenting an "anti-classical" and anti-authoritarian means of poetic creation, figuring the poet as classless, and valuing "simple words" over "studied talk" to reach a broad audience.  With the characters and situations of many of the poems she criticizes class hierarchy by extolling the working class and disparaging the upper classes, underscoring Nature's power to level class distinction, and marking hierarchy as a barrier to "true love."  Furthermore, an examination of her revisions complicates our understanding of Baillie's possible ideological shifts over time.

  31. If we had letters from the 1780s and 1790s, we could certainly develop a better sense of Baillie's actual ideology. These letters might show how her attitudes evolved once Louis XVI was executed, war was declared, the Terror began, and Napoleon took control; these letters could complement the left-of-center portrait revealed by the letters after 1800. However, even without this biographical information, her poetics and the characters she depicts in Poems suggest that she may have been quite radical at the dawn of the Revolution.  Her poetry expresses considerable sympathy with the working class and seems very much in harmony with the democratic ideals of the French Revolution.

  32. While we will probably never find Baillie's early letters, we should be able to have a collected edition of her poems.  Jonathan Wordsworth's Woodstock facsimile edition is the only reliable edition of Baillie's Poems available, and the availability of the George Olms Publishers 1976 reprint of The Dramatic and Poetical Works which includes Fugitive Verses is limited.  Two internet companies have published reprints of Poems and Fugitive Verses, but these texts have no scholarly apparatus or named editor.  Having a modern edition of Baillie's complete poems would greatly enhance scholars' ability to explore her complex and interesting poetry,provide us with a more complete picture of her imaginative power as a poet, and fill out the portrait of Baillie as dramatist that has emerged over the past several years.

Works Cited

Aleksiuk, Natasha. "Joanna Baillie's 'Thunder' in 1790 and 1840." Notes and Queries 48.2 (2001): 132-36

Baillie, Joanna.  The Dramatic and Poetical Works of Joanna Baillie. London: Longman, Brown, Green, and Longmans, 1851.

---. "Introductory Discourse from A Series of Plays: In Which it is Attempted to Delineate the Stronger Pasions of the Mind, Each Passion Being the Subject of a Tragedy and a Comedy."  British Literature, 1780-1830.  Ed. Anne K. Mellor and Richard E. Matlak. Boston: Heinle & Heinle, 1996. 438-58.

---.  Poems. 1790. Ed. Jonathan Wordsworth. New York: Woodstock, 1994.

Brewer, William D. "The Prefaces of Joanna Baillie and William Wordsworth." Friend: Comment on Romanticism 1.2-3 (1991): 34-47.

Burroughs, Catherine B. Closet Stages: Joanna Baillie and the Theater Theory of British Romantic Writers. Philadelphia, PA: U of Pennsylvania P, 1997.

Carhart, Margaret S. The Life and Work of Joanna Baillie. New Haven, CT: Yale UP, 1923.

Cox, Jeffrey N. "Baillie, Siddons, Larpent: Gender, Power, and Politics." Women in British Romantic Theatre: Drama, Performance, and Society, 1790-1840.  Ed. Catherine Burroughs. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2000. 23-47.

---. "Staging Baillie." Joanna Baillie, Romantic Dramatist: Critical Essays. Ed. Thomas Crochinus. New York: Routledge, 2004. 146-67.

Davis, Leith. "Gender and the Nation in the Work of Robert Burns and Janet Little." SEL: Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900 38.4 (1998): 621-45.

Dawson, P.M.S.  "Poetry in an Age of Revolution." The Cambridge Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1993. 48-73.

Duff, David. "From Revolution to Romanticism: The Historical Context to 1800." A Companion to Romanticism. Ed. Duncan Wu. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 1998. 23-34.

Forbes, Aileen. "'Sympathetic Curiosity' in Joanna Baillie's Theater of the Passions." European Romantic Review 14.1 (2003): 31-48.

Goslee, Nancy. "Contesting Liberty: The Figure of William Wallace in Poems by Hemans, Hogg, and Baillie." Keats-Shelley Journal 50 (2001): 35-63.

Henderson, Andrea. "Passion and Fashion in Joanna Baille's 'Introductory Discourse." PMLA: Publications of the Modern Language Association of America 112.2 (1997): 198-213.

Hewitt, Regina.  "Scott, Baillie, and the Bewitching of Social Relations." European Romantic Review 16.3 (2005): 341-50.

---. "Joanna Baillie's Stardom: Social Claims, Literary Objects, and Scholarly Lenses." Literature Compass 1.1 (2004): 1-13.

Judson, Barbara. "'Sympathetic Curiosity': The Theater of Joanna Baillie." Tulsa Studies in Women's Literature 25.1 (2006): 49-70.

Mellor, Anne.  Mothers of A Nation: Women's Political Writing in England, 1780-1830.  Bloomington: Indiana UP, 2002.

Purinton, Marjean D. Romantic Ideology Unmasked: the Mentally Constructed Tyrannies in Dramas of William Wordsworth, Lord Byron, Percy Shelley, and Joanna Baillie. Newark--London: U of Delaware P--Associated UP, 1994.

Slagle, Judith Bailey. Joanna Baillie: A Literary Life. Madison, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson UP, 2002.

--- ed.  The Collected Letters of Joanna Baillie. 2 vols. Madison, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson UP, 1999.

Wordsworth, William. "The Preface to Lyrical Ballads." The Prose Works of William Wordsworth. Ed. W.J.B. Owen and Jane Worthington Smyser. Vol. 1.  New York: Oxford UP, 1974. 111-89.

Yudin, Mary F. "Joanna Baillie's Introductory Discourse as a Precursor to Wordsworth's Preface to Lyrical Ballads." Compar(a)Ison: An International Journal of Comparative Literature 1 (1994): 101-11.


1 Elsewhere, Cox writes about "a gold ring containing hairs taken from the head of Charles I" that Baillie gave him and inscribed with the word Remember. Cox believes that "this recollection of a king beheaded by revolutionary forces is less "a sign of some shared Romanticized Jacobinitism than of a common anti-Jacobinism" ("Baillie, Siddons, Larpent" 31).

2 Sympathetic curiosity, one of the central tenets of Baillie's dramatic theory, has been a rich avenue of exploration for critics of the plays. See, for example, Brewer's "The Prefaces of Joanna Baillie and William Wordsworth," Yudin's "Joanna Baillie's Introductory Discourse as a Precursor to Wordsworth's 'Preface to Lyrical Ballads,'" Henderson's "Passion and Fashion in Joanna Baille's 'Introductory Discourse," Burroughs's, Closet Stages, Forbes's "'Sympathetic Curiosity' in Joanna Baillie's Theater of the Passions," and Judson's "'Sympathetic Curiosity': The Theater of Joanna Baillie." Few, if any critics, have applied this important theoretical concept to her poetry.

3 One might account for Baillie's sympathy for George III because her physician brother Matthew attended him.

4 In her comparison of Scott's The Bride of Lammermoor to Baillie's Witchcraft, Hewitt interprets Baillie as somewhat progressive in her attitude about the Poor Laws: "Less fearful of unrest than Scott, or perhaps more fearful of oppression, Baillie directs her criticism at the abusers of power and their self-sacrificing victims" ("Bewitching" 348). 

5 Baillie published the poems in the following order in 1790: "A Winter Day," "A Summer Day," "A Night Scene" in three parts, "A Reverie," "A Disappointment," "A Lamentation," "An Address to the Muses," "A Melancholy Lover's Farewell to his Mistress," "A Cheerful Tempered Lover's Farewell to his Mistress," "A Proud Lover's Farewell to his Mistress," "A Poet, Or, Sound-Hearted Lover's Farewell to his Mistress," "The Storm-Beat Maid," "Thunder," "Wind," "An Address to the Night--A Fearful Mind," "An Address to the Night--A Discontented Mind," "An Address to the Night--A Sorrowful Mind," "An Address to the Night--A Joyful Mind," "To Fear," "A Story of Other Times--Somewhat in Imitation of the Poems of OSSIAN," "A Mother to Her Waking Infant," "A Child to His Sick Grandfather," and “The Horse and His Rider." In the 1840 Fugitive Verses and the 1851 The Dramatic and Poetical Works of Joanna Baillie she deletes "The Storm-Beat Maid," "Wind," "An Address to the Night--A Fearful Mind," "An Address to the Night--A Discontented Mind," "An Address to the Night--A Sorrowful Mind," "An Address to the Night--A Joyful Mind," "To Fear," "A Story of Other Times--Somewhat in Imitation of the Poems of OSSIAN," and adds "Fragment of a Poem."  She changes the order of the poems as well, most notably moving "To the Muses" to the four spot which gives her aesthetic theory more prominence.

6 I cite the Dramatic and Poetical Works version of the preface because the original 1840 version is not widely available, no scholarly edition of Fugitive Verses exists.

7 See Duff's "From Revolution to Romanticism: The Historical Context to 1800" and Dawson's "Poetry in an Age of Revolution" for brief and lucid discussions of the impact of the French Revolution on Britain during the 1790s.

8 In the 1840 preface to Fugitive Verses, Baillie takes special pride in a reviwer's comment that her early poems "contained true unsophisticated representations of nature" (771). 

9 A number of critics have examined the psychological complexity of Baillie's plays.  See, for example, Purinton's Romantic Ideology Unmasked and Forbes's "'Sympathetic Curiosity' in Joanna Baillie's Theater of the Passions."

10 This criticism is consistent with Hewitt's observation in "Scott, Baillie, and the Bewitching of Social Relations" that Baillie "celebrates" her wealthy ancestor, Lady Griseld Baillie's "personal commitment to relieving the sufferings of those left destitute by war" in "The Legend of Lady Griseld Baillie" (345).

11 Leith Davis comments on the complexity of Burns's politics: "In works such as 'The Cotter's Saturday Night' and 'Scotch Drink,' Burns speaks of his allegiance to Scotland. Yet in other poems such as 'The Author's Earnest Cry and Prayer, to ... the Scotch Representatives in the House of Commons,' he harnesses this patriotism to the larger enterprise of representing Britain" (623).  It is worth noting that Baillie only uses the word Scotland in footnotes in Fugitive Verses and never in the poems, and so her interest in Scotland as a nation appears to be much more muted than Burns's.  A comparison of Burns and Baillie's collections could yield important insights into the work of both poets and become a valuable contribution to literary studies of eighteenth century Scottish literature.

12 In the conclusion to her essay, Goslee comments that "Metrical Legends as a volume becomes destabilized.  Its conservative, pan-British nationalism, even imperialism, like its affirmation of a separate domestic sphere of heroism for women, is unsettled, even subverted, by the liberating potential of the Wallace legend" (63) which points to the complexity of her attitudes about liberation in the context of British nationalism.  In "Staging Baillie" Cox addresses this complex split between revolution and British nationalism in the context of her staging of The Family Legend in Edinburgh in 1810 (see especially 160-64). 

13 See, for example, Burroughs's Closet Stages, Mellor's Mothers of a Nation (especially chapter two "Theatre as the School of Virtue"), and Purinton's Romantic Ideology Unmasked (particularly chapter five on Count Basil and De Monfort).