Who Was Joanna Baillie? Facts and Quotes About Famous Scottish Poet Once Compared to Shakespeare

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Joanna Baillie is the focus of today's Google Doodle. Getty Images

Famous poet and playwright Joanna Baillie is the inspiration for today's Google Doodle.

Baillie is best known for her works Plays on the Passions (published in three volumes between 1798 and 1812) and Fugitive Verses (1840).

The youngest of three children, Baillie was the niece of physicians William and John Hunter. Her father was a Presbyterian minister and her aunt was a published poet. Baillie was born in Bothwell, Scotland on September 11, 1762, and died at 88 in Hampstead, England.

After her uncle Dr. William Hunter died in 1783, the family moved into his London house the following year. The house was given to Baillie's brother, Matthew. After a few years in Colchester, Baillie moved to Hampstead, on the outskirts of London. She spent the rest of her life here with her sister Agnes. Neither ever married.

Their mother, Dorothea Hunter, died in 1806 and her brother died in 1823. Her sister outlived them all and went on to reach 100.

Plays of the Passions was conceived in 1791 and was dedicated to "unveiling the human mind under the dominion of those strong and fixed passions." Every play was designed to focus on one key passion and featured middle-aged women as protagonists. The work was originally attributed to a male. In 1800, Baillie revealed she had written the plays. Her works become so famous, she was once dubbed "second only to Shakespeare."

Interestingly, Baillie did not learn to read until she was nine. She was sent to a boarding school in Glasgow at age 10. Her sister claimed that Baillie had not actually learned to read until she was 11.

Quotes from Baillie:

  • "A willing heart adds feather to the heel."
  • "Pampered vanity is a better thing perhaps than starved pride."
  • "I have seen the day, when, if a man made himself ridiculous, the world would laugh at him. But now, everything that is mean, disgusting, and absurd, please them but so much the better."
  • "I wish I were with some of the wild people that run in the woods and know nothing about accomplishments."
  • "A woman is seldom roused to great and courageous exertion but when something most dear to her is in immediate danger."
  • "I can bear scorpion's stings, tread fields of fire, in frozen gulfs of cold eternal lie, be tossed aloft through tracts of endless void, but cannot live in shame."