Joanna Baillie

1762-1851

Literary history has commonly recognized Wordsworth's preface of 1800 as the first text of English Romantic criticism, but Wordsworth was hardly alone, in the last years of the eighteenth century, in making the attempt to confront the political and cultural crisis of Europe in the 1790s with claims for new, transformative kinds of cultural production. Three years before the appearance of the preface, William Godwin (1757-1836) and Joanna Baillie (1762-1851) had each attempted to rethink the progressive political ideas and rhetorics of the radical Enlightenment within the complicating genres of narrative and dramatic representation. Baillie, a Scottish playwright and poet, appealed in her "Introductory Discourse" to Plays on the Passions (1798) to an analytic, revisionist mode of tragedy that would reconstruct the tragic, "tyrannical passions" from the little, unremembered gestures of everyday life. A rare example of female literary theory in this period, Baillie's "Discourse" was an ideological critique of tragedy's claim to represent a universal human nature, which she countered by tracing the human passions through their genealogy from domestic life to the torrential, officially "tragic" visitations in which (to put it more simply than Baillie does) angry educated men flog and humiliate women, children, and finally one another, as surrogates for themselves. By displacing tragedy from the realm of the state to the domestic spheres of civil society, Baillie also tried to make the latter, gender-defined arena a basis for criticizing the public world, where, in traditional tragedy, the "tragic passions" had been made to appear transhistorical rather than specifically masculine and contextually linked to the larger "tyranny" of England's own ancien régime. In this way, Baillie's theory of tragedy was less an attempt to privatize and domesticate formerly public and political controversy than an effort to rethink the mode of dramatic representation as a discourse capable of making explicit the political restaging of private life.(from Johns Hopkins Guide to Literary Criticism)


Matthew Baillie

  (b. Oct. 27, 1761, Shots Manse, Lanarkshire, Scot.--d. Sept. 23, 1823, Duntisbourne, Gloucestershire, Eng.), Scottish pathologist whose Morbid Anatomy of Some of the Most Important Parts of the Human Body (1793) was the first publication in English on pathology as a separate subject and the first systematic study of pathology ever made.
A nephew of the great anatomists John and William Hunter, Baillie was educated at Oxford (M.D., 1789) and soon after became a fellow of the Royal College of Physicians and of the Royal Society. After the publication of his book, he devoted himself to his medical practice, which by 1800 was the largest in London.
   

 

(To cite this page: "Baillie, Matthew" Britannica Online.
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from Dark Imagination: Poetic Painting in Romantic Drama

Joanna Baillie: A Series of Plays

First published anonymously in 1798, these lines allude to the basic polarities inherent in the period we call Romanticism. At first glance, we might think that they had been written by William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge or by George Gordon, Lord Byron, but they were in fact lines written by a quiet, soft-spoken woman of Hampstead. Blue stocking poet, dramatist, Joanna Baillie whose works were lauded from 1798 to 1851 in England, Germany, Scotland, Cingal, the United States and translated into German and Cingalese, was hailed as "our great new poet" by literary communities, was visited by aspiring writers on pilgrimage, and was at the center of a medical, social, and literary so-called salon or conversazioni. In addition to her contributions in the field of drama, she sponsored new legislation on copyright laws; fought for anti-slavery legislation; supported new and deserving younger writers; sponsored the publication of England's first slave narrative, Olaudah Equiano or Gustavus Vassa; wrote lyrics which were put into songs and ballads by George Thomson, composed songs for which music was provided by Haydn, Kozeluch, and Beethoven, produced The Beacon and The Election which were performed as light operas wrote theological doctrines, corresponded with United States clergyman, Sir William Elery Channing, on religious matters, and wrote the first and only ballad about Sir William Wallace, whose bravery was recently honored in the film Braveheart. When her anonymous collection containing her first important plays appeared, reviewers and fellow poets/dramatists/writers alike assumed that the seventy-two page "Introductory Discourse" to A Series of Plays on the Passions: in which it is Attempted to Delineate the Stronger Passions of the Mind, Each Passion Being the Subject of a Tragedy and a Comedy was so "revolutionary" in its own way that "a learned man" must be the author of the volume. Her "Introductory Discourse" to the three plays contained in that first volume appeared the same year as another anonymous publication, William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge's Lyrical Ballads, yet it is significant to note that Baillie's prose explanation of her new poetics supersedes that contained in Wordsworth's now-more famous 1800 edition. Besides the "Discourse" the volume contains three plays: Basil,a tragedy on on love; De Monfort, a tragedy on hate; and The Tryal, a comedy on love. In these works, she inaugurates a new poetics, which raises the importance of imagination to new heights, and she dramatizes in beautiful natural language persons of "humble and lowly class" as they respond to "beauty," or labor under self-doubt, haunted by memories, often wandering alone in Nature. Her reputation grew steadily among her contemporaries, and she became so well known that she claimed many leading artists and writers as her intimate friends and admirers: William Wordsworth, Robert Southey, William Sotheby, Mary Berry, Sarah Siddons, Samuel Rogers, Sir George Beaumont, Lucy Aiken, Anna Leticia Barbauld, Maria Edgeworth, and Felicia Hemans. Lord Byron hailed Baillie as "our only dramatist since Otway" (Byron's Letters and Journals ed. Prothero, 1898-1904. 3:399) while Sir Walter Scott championed her even more enthusiastically as "the best dramatic writer since the days of Shakespeare and Massinger" (Familiar Letters 1.99). Mary Berry, a woman who was to become one of Baillie's many lifelong friends and supporters, writes in her journal on March 19, 1799 that "all the great guns of taste," Sir George Beaumont, Charles Fox, Uvedale Price, and Richard Payne Knight, communicated with one another about the excellent qualities of these wonderful new plays (2:88-89). While only seven of her plays were staged during her lifetime, in England, Scotland, and the United States, they each attracted impressive attention.

In the "Introductory Discourse," she argues part of the task particularly belonging to tragedy is that of "unveiling the human mind under the dominion of those strong and fixed passions," which can only be expressed in solitude. Baillie's particular strengths are in her characterizations of the visionary spirit, alienated sensibility, the fragmented self, the romantic sublime, and poetic madness. In the Series of Plays she depicts, as she expresses it in remarkably "Wordsworthian" phrases, "a passion that is permanent in its nature" yet "varied in its progress" (50). She dramatizes passion in her tragic heroes, saying of them, "the chief antagonists they contend with must be the other passions and propensities of the heart, not outward circumstances and events" (59). Simply speaking, in her Series of Plays Baillie gives priority to character and imagination over plot and circumstance. She worked on these ideas for over sixty years, supporting herself, her sister, and her mother with the profits from their sales. In addition to the immensely popular first volume of A Series of Plays on the Passions, she published another volume in 1802 (containing The Election, a comedy, Ethwald, a tragedy on ambition, and The Second Marriage, a comedy); a third in 1812 (containing Orra, a tragedy on fear, The Dream, a tragedy on fear of death, The Seige, a comedy on fear, and The Beacon, a musical on hope), and volumes containing what she terms miscellaneous plays, but nevertheless carry out her main emphasis on the passions. In what follows, I shall discuss the important aspects of De Monfort (1798) and briefly mention important themes and methods of dramatization in Basil: A Tragedy, The Family Legend: A Tragedy (1810), Constantine Paleologus: The last of the Caesars (1805), and Orra (1812), a few of the plays which represent the range of her dramatic contributions from 1798 to 1836. In these plays particularly, her dynamic portrayals of inner fears, of fantasies, of visions, of hauntings reveal her preoccupation with psychological motives and desires as the basis of tragic character. Her depiction of character—which, for reasons I shall explain presently, is grounded on her awareness of scientific, particularly medical and psychological, information—probing the inner workings of memory, imagination, perception, and passions as men and women form their comprehension of reality. The inner eye's vision, she knew, often conflicts with the physical eye's sight; the dream often is shown to be superior to common rational observations. That Baillie's dramas portray a vitality emanating from a scientific perspective calls for more intense study today if we are to accord her work the attention and significance that has been denied to it since her own time.

The Romantic drama, as Frederick Burwick explains in his essay in this volume, both that which was performed and that which was read directs our attention to its theoretical regard for matters aesthetic and dramatic. The play between illusion and delusion informs Baillie's dramas, yet we ask how did her dramatic representations fit with other Romantics' sense of the drama, with Coleridge's experimentations, Shelley's visual panoramas, and Byron's mental theatre? In her systematized, almost analytical approach, she articulates a sublime and often unconscious fear of death and disintegration of self; specifically, she examines with almost scientific precision the play of illusion in human consciousness. Drama becomes for Baillie the expressive, projective dialogue and visualization of internal realities, symptoms of internal conflicts and fantasies. John Philip Kemble once referred to her as the "metaphysical" dramatist, suggesting that she dealt with conceptions about the passions which seemed to be beyond the physical world (Boaden 186). Her approach is founded on the realization that all cognition is based on passion, that knowing is essentially a matter of inner perception. While her uncles and brother explored the unknown world of internal physical properties in their pioneering attempts to map surgery and medicine in new directions, Baillie's plays uncover a symbiosis of mind and body which proleptically reflects modern psychology and medicine.

In what follows is a very brief sketch of her family background which I include only because this family's unique professional interests influenced her own work. Daughter of a university professor (her father was a lecturer at Glasgow University), Baillie learned geometry, philosophy, and Latin in her teens; she blossomed in the intellectual community which surrounded her father. Her work also shows the influence of her first readings at seven years of age: those of James Macpherson's Ossian and of Shakespeare's dramas. Baillie was a self-educated woman, as many women of this period were; but beyond that her development received particular stimulus from the interests of her two uncles, William Hunter and John Hunter, the famous physicians and anatomists, and from the medical career of her brother, Matthew, with whom she was very close for most of her life. Author of Morbid Anatomy, the first scientific discussions to relate the morbidity of an organ with its symptoms, Matthew Baillie and his uncle William were the first physicians to study the problems involved with women's anatomy, particularly obstetrics. Her Series of Plays illustrate how a hero's actions are symtoms caused by an excessive or over-powerful passion of the mind. Her use of illusion, of imagination, of epistemology, of actions as symptom of pathological mental conditions, all fall within this vitalist-romantic tradition, linking her works through the power of the sign and symptom to those of her brother. Of the three medical men in Baillie's family, perhaps the most well-known was John Hunter who had a strong theoretical perspective that complemented his clinical experiments and gave his thoughts significance and application beyond the laboratory, reflecting fundamental principles about life and consciousness that influenced the literary creations of his niece. Hunter's work could be defined as explications of various phases of life exhibited in organized structures, both animal and vegetable, from the simplest to the most highly differentiated; he studied the human body "in cases of sudden death to compare the normal state of the organs with those of diseased bodies" (Hunterian 19); and his comparative analysis led to his insight into what he called an animating principle in all nature. This theoretical work put Hunter at the center of the vitalist-mechanist debate that involved the whole intellectual community during the early nineteenth century, including literary figures like Coleridge; and Hunter's authority was cited by both sides even well after his death. Baillie herself finds herself also at the center of the vitalist-mechanist debate as it occurs in the literary world. For the last fifty years of her life, she lived in Hampstead near her uncles' and her brother's laboratory, and it was in this highly-charged climate that she became the center of a literary salon.

A sister and niece in this family of anatomists and Royal physicians, Baillie found rich physiological and psychological material for her dramas. Her brother's and her uncles' professional connections with the Royal family also inspired dramatic themes of intrigue, madness, and disease. Both of her uncles and her brother were physicians to the royal family at one time or another, her brother specifically attended the derranged George III. King George III's mental condition paints the dramatic background to a her plays. On a broader scale, dramatic themes of turmoil and change explain some of the violence operative during Georgian times. Baillie lived for almost a century, witnessing the prevalent malice and corruption, the revolutionary mentality, the rise of the industrial nation, the end of the Napoleonic era, and the end of the Regency in England, the revolutionary mentality, the Peterloo massacre, and the rise of the influence of science, mechanization, and materialism. In Baillie's plays, we see men and women driven to murderous acts; but her stronger themes involve the consequential secrecy and guilt associated with those acts. Baillie dramatizes human struggles with consciousness, relative to public perceptions, and inner battles between action and suffering.

Baillie portrays the psychological dilemma of heroes who project all painful and unpleasant sensations or feelings in their mind onto others; her heroes attribute these malignant thoughts and desires to someone else as we will see in De Monfort especially. In De Monfort's deep self-hatred, in ambition's tenacious hold on Ethwald (Ethwald 1802), and in Basil's divided loyalities (Basil 1798), we see that the weaker the identity, the more likely the figure to go mad. Delusion in the extreme clothes the madman, but illusion fits the imaginative poet. Basil, De Monfort, Constantine Paleologus, Orra, and Ethwald deny their own delusion, deny the destructive nature of the unconscious or subconscious fears, deny their own psychological responsibility. However, in a moment of keen dramatic awareness, they realize that destructive forces lie not elsewhere; they realize that they have become progressively deluded by their own mental fixations. Their sense of external reality has been gradually transformed by their inner vision, by their vital core, their passions of the mind. Baillie's Series of Plays on the Passions provides the key to much of the literature of the period because she anticipates the male Romantics both generally and specifically. Here I wish to refer to a few of the plays to suggest just how her work is psychologically innovative, how it limns the dilemma of the vitalist-mechanist debate, evokes the Burkean sublime, and is at the core, highly Romantic.

Of the three plays contained in the first volume of A Series of Plays on the Passions the most well-known is De Monfort. Baillie's first stage success came with the 1800 production at Drury Lane, featuring Sarah Siddons and John Philip Kemble in the leading roles of Jane De Monfort and her brother, De Monfort. James Boaden, in his memoirs of Kemble, recounts how the play came to be produced: Mr. Kemble "had been struck with De Montfort [sic] . . ." and explained his intention to "make some alterations" so as to make it a better "stage representation" and play the lead himself, "consigning" Jane "to the care of Mrs. Siddons" (255).

The production of the play, including actors, directing, and stage scenery, of course all derived from the unique conceptual content and the story of the play. The setting of Baillie's five-act tragedy is Germany in the late Middle Ages. Its plot is simple: De Monfort, plagued by hatred for Rezenvelt ever since they were boys, finally kills him. It is here that Baillie sets forth her hero "whose secret soul, / With all its motley treasure of dark thoughts, / Foul fantasies, vain musing, and wild dreams" (1.2) curses his existence. Echoing Gothic literature of the eighteenth century, but, more importantly, anticipating the Byronic hero (Byron, we remember, was attracted to Baillie's work) and the theme of androgyny in both Byron and Shelley, Baillie presents a hero consciously driven by ignoble motives of pride and humiliation, motives which he himself despises; yet possibly subconsciously motivated by a far more powerful drive: incestuous desire. From a modern psychoanalytic perspective, perhaps this might explain De Monfort's suffering as arising from this unacknowledged attraction to his sister. Another view might be that De Monfort sees Rezenvelt as his negative double, containing all the negative emotions he himself had felt toward his mother and Jane, De Monfort's sister, might represent the idealized mother, a personification of the idealized union which existed once between his mother and him, but which can no longer be maintained. The object of De Monfort's hatred, Rezenvelt, is not only his rival since boyhood, not only the person who saved his life and made him feel utterly weak, inferior and demeaned, but also the man who, De Monfort is told, has attracted his sister's love. From the tension between conscious ignoble motivations, somehow too powerful to resist, and subconscious attraction between two noble souls of the same parentage, Baillie develops her tragedy. The action of the tragedy deals with the internal struggle of De Monfort to resist his hatred of Rezenvelt and forebear against the impulse to murder. De Monfort cries, "Hell hath no greater torment for th'accurs'd / Than this man's presence gives-- / Abhorred fiend . . . it makes me mad" (1.2). The play opens with De Monfort's old landlord and his old servant narrating and explaining a change in De Monfort's appearance since last they saw him. The servant Jerome's comment, "All this is strange—something disturbs his mind" (1.1.), sets the tone and focuses our attention on the main problem of the play. When old friends, Count Freberg and his wife, arrive, De Monfort exclaims, "O! many varied thoughts do cross our brain, / Which touch the will, but leave the memory trackless" alluding to the passion or disturbance of his mind. The "morning sun" and "light and cheerful" atmosphere seem to reassure De Monfort that he will feel freedom; yet as he utters words expressing a sense of inner peace, he also refers to "abhorred serpents" crossing his way. Beneath the exterior manners of man, De Monfort says, we should be aware of "a sore disease," a serpent sting of some secret guilt at the soul which is manifested in external appearance and not understood: "We mark the hollow eye, the wasted frame, / The gait disturb'd of wealthy honour'd men, / But do not know the cause" (1.2). The cause of De Monfort's changed appearance, however, will soon be revealed as his diseased mind, a mind tormented with guilt and repressed hatred. As spectators we understand De Monfort's suffering because of what Baillie calls our universal "sympathetic propensity." Baillie argues, "There is, perhaps, no employment which the human mind will with so much avidity pursue, as the discovery of concealed passion, as the tracing the varieties and progress of a perturbed soul" (11). As spectators, however, when we witness De Monfort's anguish and see his suffering, we wonder about Rezenvelt's character. Who is this man who is capable of engendering so much hatred? We feel empathy toward De Monfort in the scene wherein he anticipates the arrival of Rezenvelt (1.2). We are not aware yet that De Monfort is deluded; we have willingly partaken of the illusion that Rezenvelt's arrival on the scene will reveal his villainous nature. In the opening scenes, Baillie has played with our expectations, for we erroneously expect the villain's actions will reveal all. Ironically, however, when Rezenvelt appears, his actions reveal little about him, but much about De Monfort's own perception. The very worst we can say about Rezenvelt is that he taunts De Monfort. The audience and the reader see De Monfort's vision of Rezenvelt because Baillie paints us a lively portrait. We are not told about Rezenvelt's hair color, his mode of dress, or any other detail. Rather, we see "the side glance of that detested eye! / That conscious smile! / that full insulting lip" (1.2). We see only his essence, the coloration of darkness, the natural hue of malignant evil. We do see him before our inner eye. When Rezenvelt appears on the stage and confronts De Monfort, whether we are reading the scene or witnessing it, we compare with our imagination the insulting tone of the character we see now with what we envisioned earlier.

As the play progresses, De Monfort's hatred is fed by a deluded perception, that Lady Jane has become betrothed to Rezenvelt. The idea that his hated alter-ego could take his place in his sister's love, in her bed, drives De Monfort to the edge of insanity. The intensity of his own delusions becomes unbearable. At the end of scene 2, tossing his arms distractedly, De Monfort cries, "Hell hath no greater torment for th'accurs'd / Than this man's presence gives-- / Abhorred fiend . . . it makes me mad" (1.2). But his raving passion is comprehensible, understandable, and dark. It is representative of the world of the unseen, the invisible seething world.

After the deed is done toward the end of the play, De Monfort feels self-exiled and alienated from the natural world: "the filmy darkness on mine eyes has clung / And closed me out from the fair face of nature" (5.4). He realizes, too late, that he had been compelled by his own anxieties to hate Rezenvelt. Completely alone, he sees himself clearly as a man deluded only by himself, noble in his alienation from himself, who rises in stature by his intense suffering. Repeating a Job-like utterance, "I am because I suffer," he promotes a Romantic sensibility. For De Monfort, there is no external guidance, no solace in powers or structures larger than himself, no alleviation from the alienation and torment of the hatred he felt. Old systems of thought, old patterns of belief, whether Christian, moral, or rational are of no consequence to him. Some critics have objected to Baillie's focus on De Monfort's internal struggles, and what seems to them to be a fault: the simplicity of plot as a means to delineate one passion throughout a play. However, another way of looking at this drama, might be to argue that it is precisely this kind of seeming lack of action which constitutes the actual strength of Baillie's work. The real "action" in this play is predominantly psychological, reflecting proairesis, rather than praxis. In fact, Baillie incorporates narration as a dramatic trope to slow down the action, to allow the audience to envision the behind-the-scene action and causes which precede the on-stage situation. She frequently collapses time and space, as she creates what we would call a tableau vivant, particularly as we have seen De Monfort describe Rezenvelt earlier. The audience responds to De Monfort's suffering because of what Baillie calls our universal "sympathetic propensity." Baillie argues, "There is, perhaps, no employment which the human mind will with so much avidity pursue, as the discovery of concealed passion, as tracing the varieties and progress of a perturbed soul" (11). This is in general how the play works; now let us look at a few other plays which follow the same pattern and are grouped with that famous first volume of a Series of Plays.

(from Companion to Romanticism, edited by Duncan Wu. Blackwell, 1998.)

Baillie offers psychological insights, demonstrating new conceptions of dramatic illusion. In the "Discourse," she argues that part of the task particularly belonging to tragedy is that of:

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Baillie portrays the visionary dread, the romantic sublime, in her plays. Her concern in her works is to depict, as she expresses it in remarkably "Wordsworthian" phrases, "a passion that is permanent in its nature" yet "varied in its progress" (50). The modern world, that world which saw the French Revolution turn from the dawning of hopes and dreams regarding the future of man, is now turned inward, Baillie believed. She dramatizes this inward condition in her tragic heroes, saying of them, "the chief antagonists they contend with must be the other passions and propensities of the heart, not outward circumstances and events" (59). Baillie gives priority to character and imagination, then, over plot and circumstance. I shall discuss the confluence of character and imagination in the following works: De Monfort, The Dream, The Family Legend, The Martyr, Constantine Paleologus, and Orra. These plays represent the range of her dramatic contributions over the period from 1798 to 1836. In them, her dynamic portrayals of inner fears, of fantasies, of visions, of hauntings reveal her preoccupation with psychological motives and desires as the basis of tragic character. Her depiction of character—which, for reasons I shall explain presently, was grounded on her awareness of scientific, particularly medical and psychological, information—probed the inner workings of memory, imagination, perception, and passions as men and women form their comprehension of reality. The inner eye’s vision, she knew, often conflicts with the physical eye’s sight; the dream often is shown to be superior to common rational observations; complexities and dynamics of personal and familial relationships are examined; and, therefore, in her plays psychologically symbolic language gains ascendancy over simile, over metonymy. That Baillie’s dramas portray a vitality emanating from a scientific perspective calls for more intense study today if we are to accord her work the attention and significance that has been denied to it since her own time, as we should in today’s literary world.

In a previous chapter, I painted the backdrop of the Romantic drama in its theoretical regard for matters aesthetic and dramatic to suggest how Baillie’s ideas, Coleridge’s experimentations, Shelley’s visual panoramas, and Byron’s numerous stylistic variations fit on the Romantic stage. Baillie, in her systematized, almost analytical approach, articulates a sublime and often unconscious fear of death and disintegration of self; and she probes the play of illusion in human consciousness. Drama becomes for Baillie the expressive, projective dialogue and visualization of internal realities, of internal conflicts and fantasies. John Philip Kemble once referred to her as the "metaphysical" dramatist, suggesting that she dealt with conceptions about the passions which seemed to be beyond the physical world (Boaden 186). And indeed Baillie’s work is best understood in psychological terms and in terms having to do with new perceptions of a world in which new dimensions of existence were being realized. Baillie’s world was peopled by men and women who were making new discoveries in the physical sciences, offering new ways of thinking about the "mighty world of eye and ear" (Wordsworth "Tintern Abbey") and new epistemologies brought about by scientific experimentation and discoveries being made through the telescope and microscope. Her world encompassed dynamic change in theology, medicine, philosophy, science, and aesthetics. The vast world of that which is absent from everyday sight, the unseen, the world of imagination, of inner vision, of illusion, becomes for Baillie more powerful, more valid, than the previously ordinary world of empirical reality.

Daughter of a university professor (her father was a lecturer at Glasgow University), Baillie learned geometry, philosophy, and Latin in her teens; she blossomed in the intellectual community which surrounded her father. She became an educated woman, then; but beyond that her development received particular stimulus from the interests of her two uncles, William Hunter and John Hunter, the famous physicians and anatomists, and from the medical career of her brother, Matthew, with whom she was very close for most of her life. Both of her uncles and her brother were physicians to the royal family at one time or another, her brother actually attending George III. For the greater part of her life, she lived in Hampstead near her uncles’ laboratory and in close association with her brother, who continued the Hunters’ work after they died. It was at Hampstead that Baillie became the center of a literary circle. Prominent artists of the day were drawn to her dramatizations, with their delineations of the "human mind" under strong and fixed passions.

Of the three medical men in Baillie’s family, the most important was John Hunter. His method of research was primarily inductive and comparative, seeking a reason for each phenomenon that came under his notice. He had a strong theoretical perspective that complemented his clinical experiments and gave his thoughts significance and application beyond the laboratory, reflecting fundamental principles about life and consciousness that influenced the literary creations of his niece. Hunter’s work could be defined as explications of various phases of life exhibited in organized structures, both animal and vegetable, from the simplest to the most highly differentiated; he studied the human body "in cases of sudden death to compare the normal state of the organs with those of diseased bodies" (Hunterian 19); and his comparative analysis led to his insight into what he called an animating principle in all nature. Drawing from his experiments with temperature differences at which sap in trees and out of trees freezes, and the differences in temperatures at which a living egg and a nonfertilized egg freeze, Hunter found that there exists in animals a latent heat of life, set free in the process of death. This theoretical work put Hunter at the center of the vitalist-mechanist debate that involved the whole intellectual community during the early nineteenth century, including literary figures like Coleridge; and Hunter’s authority was cited by both sides even well after his death.

A sister and niece in a family of anatomists and Royal physicians, Baillie found rich physiological and psychological material for her dramas. Her characters are painted upon a stage of dramatic possibilities, where she imaginatively sketches out vital figures against the scenic background. She draws heroes and heroines of convincing complexity who desire peace not violence, stability not anarchy, individual spirit not mass submission. According to Baillie, tragedy is:

In her depiction of a hero, she concentrates upon the character’s struggle against himself or herself. For example, she defines ambition as one of those passions that acquires "strength from gratification and the dominion which it usurps over the mind is capable of enduring from youth to extreme age" (2.ix). Her heroes seem "dark" in their moods and show signs of deep distress. Baillie’s dramas portray a hero’s tragic tensions and conflicts within his consciousness, "the passions of his mind," mirrored through language spoken by the other characters in the play.

Her brother’s and her uncles’ professional connections with the Royal family also inspired dramatic themes of intrigue, madness, and disease. King George III’s mental condition paints the dramatic background to a world haunted by a mind gone awry, by Napoleon’s mad empire building, and by unrealized dreams. On a broader scale, dramatic themes of turmoil and change explain some of the violence operative during Georgian times. Baillie lived for almost a century, witnessing the prevalent malice and corruption, the revolutionary mentality, the rise of the industrial nation, the end of the Napoleonic era, and the end of the Regency in England, the revolutionary mentality, the Peterloo massacre, and the rise of the influence of science, mechanization, and materialism. In Baillie’s plays, we see men and women driven to murderous acts; but her stronger themes involve the consequential secrecy and guilt associated with those acts. Baillie dramatizes human struggles with consciousness, relative to public perceptions, and inner battles between action and suffering.

Psychoanalysis informs our understanding of Baillie’s dramas as she investigates a dynamic relationship between emotional experiences and perceptions of the mind. Her approach is founded on the realization that all cognition is based on emotion, that knowing is essentially an imaginative experience. Baillie portrays the psychological dilemma of heroes who project all painful and unpleasant sensations or feelings in their mind onto others; her heroes attribute these malignant thoughts and desires to someone else. The heroes fear, more than anything else, those destructive forces operating unseen, inside, and against their own being. Delusion becomes a manifestation of hiding the truth from the self, throwing the responsibility onto someone else for feelings of lack in love and goodness. Her heroes disown and repudiate them as emanating from themselves, tragically finding otherwise in a moment of anagnorisis. They come to realize that destructive forces lie not elsewhere; they are within his or her own mind. Death, in this dramatic situation, represents the extreme of destructiveness, the acme of negative forces within. Baillie integrates the elements of passion with the mind and paints the imagination and phantasm as not other-worldly, but primarily of this world.

Baillie delineates the complexity of De Monfort’s inner vision with almost scientific precision. De Monfort’s inability to integrate his perception of Rezenvelt with the real, to separate his identity from Rezenvelt, provides the psychological trauma which precipitates this drama. His is a projective identification: De Monfort sees Rezenvelt as his negative double, containing all the negative emotions he himself had felt toward his mother. On the other hand, Jane, De Monfort’s sister, represents the idealized mother, a personification of the idealized union which existed once between his mother and him, but which can no longer be maintained. De Monfort’s psyche envelops the world as extensions of his primary self: he is narcissistic in his love of Jane as well as in his hatred for Rezenvelt. Part of that psychological complexity involves an exaggerated outward fondness for his sister, Jane De Monfort, and rage over Jane’s alleged intent to marry his hated enemy blinds De Monfort to the consequences of his actions. It is precisely his inability to integrate his love-hate feelings which causes his tragedy. Baillie records the progress of passions of the mind with psychoanalytic care.

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Some critics have objected to Baillie’s focus on De Monfort’s internal struggles, and what seems to them to be a fault: the simplicity of plot as a means to delineate one passion throughout a play. I wish to argue that it is precisely this kind of seeming lack of action which constitutes the actual strength of Baillie’s work. The real "action" in this play is predominantly psychological, reflecting proairesis, rather than praxis. In fact, Baillie incorporates narration as a dramatic trope to slow down the action, to allow the audience to envision the action and causes which precede the on-stage situation. This is in general how the play works; now let us look at it more specifically in terms of Baillie’s plot and theme.

The play opens with De Monfort’s old landlord and his old servant narrating and explaining a change in De Monfort’s appearance since last they saw him. The servant Jerome’s comment, "All this is strange—something disturbs his mind" (1.1.), sets the tone and focuses our attention on the main problem of the play. When old friends, Count Freberg and his wife, arrive, De Monfort exclaims, "O! many varied thoughts do cross our brain, / Which touch the will, but leave the memory trackless" alluding to the passion or disturbance of his mind. The "morning sun" and "light and cheerful" atmosphere seem to reassure De Monfort that he will feel freedom; yet as he utters words expressing a sense of inner peace, he also refers to "abhorred serpents" crossing his way. Beneath the exterior manners of man, De Monfort says, we should be aware of "a sore disease," a serpent sting of some secret guilt at the soul which is manifested in external appearance and not understood: "We mark the hollow eye, the wasted frame, / The gait disturb’d of wealthy honour’d men, / But do not know the cause" (1.2). The cause of De Monfort’s changed appearance, however, will soon be revealed as his diseased mind, a mind tormented with guilt and repressed hatred for himself.

He has long loved his sister, admired her, and maintained a bond with her which simultaneously idealized her and made her the forbidden object of his lust. Under the stress of rivalry and hostility towards his sister, he turns against himself. Unable to bear these feelings, he transfers his aggression toward his double or doppelgänger, Rezenvelt. His suffering becomes so intense that he can no longer bear to be with others; De Monfort chooses "to be alone." He cries out, "It is too much: by heaven it is too much! / He haunts me—stings me—like a devil haunts-- / He’ll make a raving maniac of me." He achieves tragic stature, though, when he valiantly exclaims, "I’ll stay and face thee still" (1.2) He is a man deluded by himself, noble in his alienation from himself, who rises in stature by his intense suffering. Repeating a Job-like utterance, "I am because I suffer," he promotes a Romantic sensibility.

As spectators we understand De Monfort’s suffering because of what Baillie calls our universal "sympathetic propensity." Baillie argues, "There is, perhaps, no employment which the human mind will with so much avidity pursue, as the discovery of concealed passion, as the tracing the varieties and progress of a perturbed soul" (11). As spectators, however, when we witness De Monfort’s anguish and see his suffering, we wonder about Rezenvelt’s character. Who is this man who is capable of engendering so much hatred? We feel empathy toward De Monfort in the scene wherein he anticipates the arrival of Rezenvelt (1.2). We are not aware yet that De Monfort is deluded; we have willingly partaken of the illusion that Rezenvelt’s arrival on the scene will reveal his villainous nature. In the opening scenes, Baillie has played with our expectations, for we erroneously expect the villain’s actions will reveal all. Ironically, however, when Rezenvelt appears, his actions reveal little about him, but much about De Monfort’s own perception. The very worst we can say about Rezenvelt is that he taunts De Monfort. The audience and the reader see De Monfort’s vision of Rezenvelt because Baillie paints us a lively portrait. We are not told about Rezenvelt’s hair color, his mode of dress, or any other detail. Rather, we see "the side glance of that detested eye! / That conscious smile! / that full insulting lip" (1.2). We see only his essence, the coloration of darkness, the natural hue of malignant evil, and this is pertinent to my argument of Romantic drama’s depiction of skiagraphically-portrayed images. We do see him before our inner eye. When Rezenvelt appears on the stage and confronts De Monfort, whether we are reading the scene or witnessing it, we compare with our imagination the insulting tone of the character we see now with what we envisioned earlier.

As the play progresses, De Monfort’s hatred is fed by a deluded perception, that Lady Jane has become betrothed to Rezenvelt. The idea that his hated alter-ego could take his place in his sister’s love, in her bed, drives De Monfort to the edge of insanity. The intensity of his own delusions becomes unbearable. At the end of scene 2, tossing his arms distractedly, De Monfort cries, "Hell hath no greater torment for th’accurs’d / Than this man’s presence gives-- / Abhorred fiend . . . it makes me mad" (1.2). But his raving passion is comprehensible, understandable, and dark. It is representative of the world of the unseen, the invisible seething world.

Baillie dramatizes the dynamics of memory’s function in furthering characterization and plot development. For example, Jerome, Jane, and Freberg speak of their past visions of De Monfort compared to present ones, interpreting their present perceptions in reference to their memories of their previous ones. However, De Monfort’s own mode of visualizing the past presents grave psychological difficulties. He cannot assimilate his past vision of his sister, his own subsequent diminished view of himself in regard to her, and his projected hatred of Rezenvelt. In order to destroy the guilt and hate he so intensely feels, he feels compelled to destroy the object of his hate. His memory and his ability to perceive others is disfunctional. Herein lies his tragedy.

After De Monfort agonizingly resists telling the cause of his hatred even to his loving sister, he finds that she knew the conscious reason as she expresses in referring to the duel the two men fought, when Rezenvelt won but spared De Monfort’s life:

She attempts to cheer and comfort him, pleading with him to turn his thoughts away from his hatred for Rezenvelt, advising him ". . . to study some art, / Or nobler science, that compels the mind / To steady thought progressive, driving forth / All floating, wild, unhappy fantasies," rather than succumb to secret "dreadful thoughts" of "black, lasting, deadly hate" which have haunted his mind (2.1). De Monfort is consumed with self-loathing and self-hatred for his inability to control his hatred of Rezenvelt:

She plans to school him, in order to preserve "[t]he noble Monfort I have lov’d so long, / And must not, will not lose" (2.2).

The play’s tension increases as we witness De Monfort’s passion feeding on itself until, ultimately, he murders Rezenvelt. Conrad, a servant to Rezenvelt, lies to De Monfort about an impending marriage between Rezenvelt and Jane. Upon hearing this, De Monfort "staggers backwards, and sinks into a chair; then starting up hastily," he cries:

Unaware of his own unconscious incestuous love for his sister, De Monfort is threatened to the point of insanity by the thought that his hated enemy might marry her. He loses rational control. When he hears that Rezenvelt has gone to a remote wooded area alone, De Monfort "seizes his dagger from the wall, looks steadfastly at its point, and exit[s] hastily" (stage directions 4.2).

Baillie’s particular challenge is to have the exterior events and scenery reflect interior states of agitation. In the murder scene, in act 4, scenery mirrors De Monfort’s wild, uncontrollable passion. The scene takes place in the moonlight, on a wild path in a wood, shaded with trees. We see Baillie subtly psychologizing the landscape. De Monfort, "a strange expression of disquiet, mixed with fear, upon his face," enters center stage. Waiting to ambush Rezenvelt, De Monfort looks behind, and bends his ear to the ground, as if he is listening to something.

of a common motion and spirit, unified. Noticing "a gleam of sunshine" as it "[b]reaks through yonder clouds," she exclaims:

Political upheaval, visions in dreams, cultural destruction, psychological turmoil, and illusions of power permeate another of Baillie’s plays: Constantine Paleologus: the Last of the Caesars. In this play, Baillie exploits explicitly the Romantic theatrical scenic display, the vastness of the theaters, and the taste of the current theatre-going audiences. We see this from the fact that she includes elaborate stage directions and scenic descriptions in her published text and in a note when she states:

The subject of this play Baillie took from Gibbon’s account of the May, 1453 siege by the Turks of Constantinople, a haven for science and learned men. This particular episode in history may have attracted her attention because, according to Lemprière’s Classical Dictionary, the resulting migration of men of science to Italy’s protection and support "was highly favorable to the cause of science" in Europe (183). More important than that, however, was something about the subject and the nature of the chief figure in that story:

Baillie made alterations from the Gibbon account: she introduced the character of Constantine’s wife, Valeria, a strong insightful female; she also introduced other characters. But her chief achievement in the play is her treatment of the growth and development of character resulting from the ordeals which the figures of her story undergo.

The play’s setting is the city itself and the Turkish Sultan’s camp near the city. Stage directions for the opening scene prescribe both set and scenery: "a large platform on the roof of the palace of Lord Petronius; from which are seen spires and towers, and the broken roofs of houses, with the general appearance of a ruined city, the distant parts involved in smoke" (Works 446). The painted and architectural scenery includes palaces, a Turkish camp, majestic views of the city, cloudy moonlight, the red glare of torches, and many people lost amidst the confusion of war. Spectacle, in fact, is a major feature of this play. Admitting that "in the conduct of this Tragedy I have sometimes weakened the interest of it by attending too much to magnificence and show," Baillie acknowledges that she wrote it for a huge theatre "where a play is rather looked at than listened to . . ." (Works 391); yet it is clear from various remarks she made on the nature of the visual effects in the theatre that she conceived of the whole pictorially.

Baillie’s interest in Constantinople as the last remnant of a refined and learned civilization overthrown by violent pagan forces is part of her long-standing interest in individual human dignity and sensitivity in the face of seemingly uncontrollable human passions. Before the threat of collapse began, Constantinople and its leaders represented a civilized, if decadent culture, as Baillie knew from Gibbon’s account of advancing barbarism against declining civilization (like most of her contemporaries, she sets aside Gibbon’s point that barbarism began with Christianity, preferring the interpretation that Christianity represented a civilizing element). Baillie was attracted to periods of, in her own words, "discord, usurpation, and change" (Works 8), periods which throw individuals into boundary situations that test the fiber of their being and the meaning of their lives both personally and in a social, cultural environment. Such periods provide background and context for characters’ confrontations between their sense of personal identity or individual unity and possible lack of control of, or inability to conquer, passions and primordial drives. Baillie sees the larger scene of conflict between human groups, that is, as emblematic of the individual psyche in its struggle to attain and affirm integrity and metaphysical identity against the chaos of the empirical and the physical. In Constantine Paleologos this is most obvious in Baillie’s consistent depiction of the growing threat of the Turkish hordes as an inhuman tide or impersonal force, even a beast or a swarm of insects, attacking the soul of the city. (For instance, during the scene when the city falls Baillie creates an ekphrastic image by having a voice call from the wall, describing the invaders: "See! see! how, cluster’d on each other’s backs, / They mount like swarming bees, or locusts link’d / In bolt’ring heaps!" And "midst yon streams of liquid fires, / And hurling ruins and o’erwhelming mass / Of things unknown, unseen, incalculable . . . man’s strength is naught" [5.1]). Constantinople’s disintegration is paralleled by human individual disintegration and death.

Fearful of futurity and the approaching death of all, Valeria provides an articulate questioning presence throughout the play. Like her husband, she also suffers distress and dividedness: supportive and dedicated to him, yet needing love and reassurance, she feels the strain of uncertainty:

Baillie offered to the literary world a new way of looking at drama and poetry; yet, up to now, her plays and poems are not even anthologized in our studies of the Romantic Period. Certainly a playwright such as Baillie, who was in her own day revered by poets on both sides of the Atlantic; whose works were once translated into Cingalese and German and were performed widely in both the United States and Great Britain, will reward reexamination now, when we are finally coming to understand that the evolution of the received canon of literary studies may well have taken place under a gender bias that systematically marginalized women writers. Given the dates of her plays, we can say that she initiates a Romantic perspective in the drama at least. And her psycholoanalytical depictions of the human psyche influenced Romantic literature far more broadly than most critics have realized.

(from Dark Imagination: Poetic Painting in Romantic Drama. I have purposely created excerpts here that are in a sense lacking in full development. I do this hoping that those who read this material will properly cite it and look forward the book version.)