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Women's Literary Networks and Romanticism"A Tribe of Authoresses"$

Andrew O. Winckles and Angela Rehbein

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9781786940605

Published to Liverpool Scholarship Online: January 2019

DOI: 10.5949/liverpool/9781786940605.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM LIVERPOOL SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.liverpool.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Liverpool University Press, 2022. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in LSO for personal use.date: 25 June 2022

Ageing, Authorship, and Female Networks in the Life Writing of Mary Berry (1763–1852) and Joanna Baillie (1762–1851)

Ageing, Authorship, and Female Networks in the Life Writing of Mary Berry (1763–1852) and Joanna Baillie (1762–1851)

(p.73) Chapter Four Ageing, Authorship, and Female Networks in the Life Writing of Mary Berry (1763–1852) and Joanna Baillie (1762–1851)
Women's Literary Networks and Romanticism

Amy Culley

Liverpool University Press

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter examines older women’s literary friendships in the context of critical narratives of ageing, authorship, and gender, as depicted in the correspondence and (auto)biographical writing of Joanna Baillie and Mary Berry. These works reveal creative and collaborative exchanges, relationships with writers (both from their own generation and the next), interactions with publishers and booksellers, anxieties of reception, the pleasures and pains of ageing, and their commitment to continued publication into late life. In addition to studies of Romanticism and old age, conversely, reading literary networks and social authorship through the lens of ageing brings into sharper focus intra- and intergenerational connections and locates Berry and Baillie within and beyond Romantic literary culture. Furthermore, extending the analysis of life writing materials to include the biographical prefaces, obituaries, and collective biographies that followed the deaths of Baillie and Berry helps us to refigure the enduring literary legacies of these authors.

Keywords:   Mary Berry, Joanna Baillie, life writing, ageing, old age, female friendship, Romanticism, correspondence, (auto)biography, literary legacy

My dear Friend, I have just read your proof-sheet, in which you have made such honourable mention of an author so much forgotten by the public, and think you are a very bold and pertinacious woman to venture at this time of the day to put her in the eminent station you have assigned to her. However, I am well pleased to receive such distinction from your partiality and constancy, the tried constancy of many years, and thank you for it with all my heart.1

(Joanna Baillie letter to Mary Berry, ?March 1831)

This expression of affection and gratitude is addressed to the author Mary Berry from her ‘dear Friend’, poet and playwright Joanna Baillie, in acknowl-edgement of Berry’s Social Life in England and France, from the French Revolution in 1789, to that of July 1830 (1831). On reading Berry’s proofs, Baillie would have found herself positioned alongside Byron in a literary review of the era as poets who ‘amazed a busy and calculating world with bursts of original pathos and poetry, worthy of the more poetic ages of society’.2 This letter offers a glimpse of a literary friendship characterised by manuscript exchange, mutual encouragement, and a collaborative approach to constructing a public reputation. For in her role as biographer and historian, Berry worked to secure Baillie’s place within the canon while establishing herself as a commentator on the literature of her day. But Baillie’s reference to (p.74) ‘this time of the day’ also reminds us of these friends’ shared status as older women writers (both nearing seventy by 1831) who conversed, published, and together attempted to secure their literary afterlives into the nineteenth century.

Devoney Looser’s research has shown that attending to the full careers of eighteenth-century and Romantic women writers who ‘were active well into the nineteenth century’ can ‘refigure’ ‘our visions of literary history’ by complicating ideas of ‘periodization, authorial and generic trends, or the literary marketplace’.3 Looser’s detailed case studies of long-lived female authors provide ‘new insights about authorship across the life course’ in highlighting the circumstances and challenges literary women faced in old age and their cultural and critical reception during their own lifetimes and beyond.4 The role of older women’s literary friendships in this fascinating narrative of ageing, authorship, and gender is yet to be fully explored, as Looser notes ‘there is much yet to learn about the social, intellectual, and professional networks of aged writers of both sexes’ (Looser, Women Writers, p. 20). Reading the correspondence and (auto)biographical writing of Baillie and Berry written from the 1790s to the mid-nineteenth century provides a rare opportunity to investigate this theme. These works depict creative and collaborative exchanges, relationships with writers (both from their own generation and the next), professional interactions with publishers and booksellers, anxieties of reception, the pleasures and pains of ageing, and their commitment to continued publication into late life.

In addition to contributing to studies of Romanticism and old age, conversely, reading literary networks and social authorship through the lens of ageing and the life course brings into sharper focus intra- and intergenerational connections and locates Berry and Baillie within and beyond Romantic literary culture. As Helen Yallop argues, we know little about ‘intergenerational sociability’ in the period because studies ‘have been more concerned with the interactions between those of different sex and social standing’.5 To date, Berry and Baillie’s familial networks have been the focus of some rewarding critical attention as part of the growing recognition of family authorship ‘as a distinctive and influential cultural formation of the Romantic period’.6 (p.75) Julie Carlson highlights the influence on Baillie’s drama of her close relationship with her brother, the physician Matthew Baillie,7 while Judith Bailey Slagle foregrounds the relationship between sisters in her discussion of Agnes Berry (1764–1852) and Agnes Baillie (1760–1861) who demonstrate ‘how creative and determined women were often influenced by their more “silent” sisters’.8 Berry is also a central figure in Susanne Schmid’s study of British literary salons that perpetuated bluestocking traditions into the early nineteenth century, a form of female community which has been vital to our understanding of women’s intellectual affiliations.9 Building on this research, my focus is the longstanding friendship and model of ‘compan-ionate authorship’ that fostered the careers of Berry and Baillie within their overlapping personal and professional networks.10 Situating these writers within wider circles of friendship also recalls authorial interactions across literary periods (exemplified by Berry’s status as both editor of Horace Walpole and friend to William Thackeray) and their connections with other long-lived female writers (including Baillie’s friendships with Anna Barbauld and Maria Edgeworth). It also shows how such friendships contributed to their authorial self-fashioning in late life and their efforts to shape their posthumous reputations.

In this context, extending the analysis of life writing materials to include the biographical prefaces, obituaries, and collective biographies that followed the deaths of Baillie and Berry helps us to better understand and perhaps even ‘refigure’ the enduring critical legacies of these authors. Louise Duckling has identified Baillie’s status as a ‘“proper lady”’ and a ‘paragon of female excellence’, most at home in the kitchen or with her needle, as central to her image and popularity in the nineteenth century. This public image enabled Baillie to ‘negotiate gender roles on the public stage’, but in Duckling’s view, also resulted in an overshadowing of the ‘intellectual vigour’ and ‘cultural value’ of her drama and theatre theory; a distortion of literary history which recent (p.76) scholarship on Baillie is working to correct.11 My study contributes to this more complex picture of Baillie through exploring her ongoing interest in professional authorship, literary celebrity, and connections to the next generation articulated in her life writing in old age (including her unpublished memoirs ‘Recollections Written at the Request of Miss Berry’ and ‘Memoirs Written to please my Nephew William Baillie’).12 By comparison, Schmid suggests that Berry experienced a ‘posthumous oblivion’ which may have been caused by a combination of her ‘lack of openly acknowledged authorship’ and her status as an ‘author of the social sphere, between private and public’ (p. 69).13 Berry’s works were written for a larger audience and widely read and acknowledged by friends and acquaintances, but on publication the identity of the author was generally obscured on the title page.14 In addition, her preference for working in the genres of social history, biography, and a posthumously published journal (rather than fiction, drama, or poetry), and her roles as editor, critic, and salonnière, have made the value of her contribution to the literary culture of the Romantic period more difficult to assess both in the aftermath of her death and in subsequent literary scholarship. Examining Berry’s enduring relationship with Baillie, recorded in their life writing, provides an intimate insight into her role in making and shaping another woman’s literary career and posthumous reputation. Furthermore, a consideration of her own writing into the nineteenth century suggests how she sought to exploit the persona of the older woman writer as a historian and critic of the age.

(p.77) A Companionate Correspondence

The correspondence of Berry and Baillie demonstrates the importance of imagining eighteenth-century women writers ‘as professionalized subjects, as agents in the public sphere of letters’, as Betty Schellenberg has encouraged us to do, while suggesting how friendship and collaboration might further women’s literary ambitions.15 In her painstaking work on Baillie’s correspondence, Slagle argues that the letters that survive between Berry and Baillie provide important evidence of the ways in which ‘these literary women worked together to ensure each other’s success’.16 Berry’s first encounter with Baillie was as a reader and advocate of her plays; setting the terms for their relationship thereafter. Berry notes in a letter to a friend in 1799 that the previous winter she had been sent a copy of Baillie’s Plays on the Passions by the anonymous author, had spoken to ‘everybody’ of their merits ‘in high terms’, but had generally been ignored. Now, she laments, ‘everybody talks in the raptures (I always thought they deserved)’. Berry demands recognition as Baillie’s early and most discerning reader, in contrast to the ‘obdurate public’, and reveals her commitment to promoting the text within her circle. Despite its anonymity, the text is claimed by Berry for a female literary tradition, ‘because no man could or would draw such noble, such dignified representations of the female mind’. Berry shows a more flexible attitude to gender and genre here than critics who commonly ‘ranked the unknown author amongst the best of men’ due to Baillie’s ‘dramatic experiment’ and participation ‘in the medical and philosophical debates of her day’ (Duckling, pp. 143–4). Berry also suggests that ‘all this talking and thinking about plays’ inspires her own creative ambitions and left her ‘itching’ to return to her own ‘long-forgotten’ play which had ‘probably better be left untouched to my executors’.17 Berry did, nonetheless, return to playwriting, and by 1801 Baillie had contributed a prologue and epilogue to Berry’s play Fashionable Friends for a private theatrical at Strawberry Hill (with a cast that included sculptor Anne Damer, both Berry sisters, and Berry’s father).18

These acts of reading, commentary, creative inspiration, and advocacy are characteristic of the productive literary partnership traceable in Baillie and (p.78) Berry’s correspondence in the years that followed. Bette London argues that ‘collaborations exist in a range of “authorial” activities not necessarily named authorship: acts of assistance and inspiration; acts of mentoring or mutual influence; acts of revision or editorial input’.19 This capacious definition enables potentially invisible forms of collaboration to come into view, as women wrote and published in close consultation and exerted authorial agency as editors and readers of one another. Berry’s Journal testifies to the women’s commitment to exchanging their work in manuscript for comment. In her account of a visit to Baillie in May 1811, Berry records that following a ‘delicious fine evening’ on Hampstead Heath, the two women ‘read over together’ her new play ‘The Two Martins’ ‘and criticised them, and likewise some of my other scraps, which I think Joanna liked less than I expected’.20 The following day the disappointment was mutual, as Berry notes, ‘sat by the fire the whole day. Joanna Baillie gave us her drama upon Hope to read’ but the work ‘did not equal my expectation’; ‘a sufficiently dramatic story, but not dramatically managed’ (Berry, Extracts, II: p. 477). These evocative scenes operate in the ‘ambiguous zones in which conversation crosses over into shared inspiration, intertextual dialogue, or collaboration’ (Stone and Thompson, p. 23). The most explicit instance of collaboration occurs later in life when Baillie sends Berry a story which she suggests could form the basis of a play. Friendship and care as much as shared literary endeavour are the motivation here since this occurs during a melancholy period for Berry and Baillie advocates the therapeutic effects of literary ‘occupation’ that will ‘do you good’.

If you think it can be made such a thing as you would like to write upon let me know what alterations you would wish to have made upon it […] and I shall alter it & re-alter it twenty times over till I get it to suit you. But if you should not fancy it at all, tell me so frankly and then I will try to rake something else out of my noddle that will do better […]. As to devisions [sic] of scenes and sketching of character, we shall say nothing of that at present: it will be time enough to talk of it when the story or outline of the plot is fix’d upon.21

The play does not seem to have materialised22 but the impulse suggests the ways in which literary practice was not only focused on publication but also (p.79) embedded within friendship and imagined as an extension of conversation, correspondence, and care.

The letters also establish Berry as part of a network of women who acted as critics and editors of Baillie’s manuscripts. Writing to Berry in 1806, Baillie comments, ‘Mrs Damer tells me in her note […] that there are some corrections you have to make on the last acts of my Family Legend, and I should be glad to know what they are as soon as may be’. The urgency is due to Baillie’s desire to incorporate Berry’s revisions alongside the ‘friendly corrections’ provided by Anne Damer, suggesting that her work is shaped at least in part by this social circle of editors (Baillie, Letters, I: pp. 158–9). Berry’s Journal records her ongoing relationship with Baillie’s play and establishes her contributions to its reception and dissemination. At a breakfast in 1809 she recalls ‘somebody was to read Joanna Baillie’s tragedy, “The Family Legend;” this somebody was obliged to be me, as nobody else knew her hand, or had ever seen the play’. Also preserved for posterity is the detail that the reading ‘had a vast effect upon Walter Scott, and one that was very pleasing, from the evident feeling of one poet for another’ (Berry, Extracts, II: p. 381).23 Berry, like her salon, acts as a conduit for an exchange between poets who were themselves corresponding from 1808. Thereafter, Scott wrote a prologue for the play and arranged for it to be produced in Edinburgh. In subsequent years, Berry’s experience of the play migrated to a more overtly public setting when she attended a performance at Drury Lane in 1815, noting: ‘It could not have been worse acted; however the fine lines, spoilt as they were, were appreciated and applauded by the pit’ (Berry, Extracts, III: p. 50). Berry thereby records the appreciation of a (discerning) audience of the middling and professional classes for a play she had known by this stage for nearly ten years.

As literary works were performed or published, both women remained attentive to the other’s achievements. Letters show that copies of new publications, often inscribed with ‘the very partial expressions of a friend’ (Berry, Extracts, III: p. 370), are precious and reciprocal gifts. Baillie apologises when the copy of Metrical Legends (1821) set aside for Berry is mistakenly sent to someone else and suggests of the second edition that ‘no body shall take it out of my hands till I put it into your[s]’ (Baillie, Letters, I: p. 171). Likewise, on receipt of a copy of Berry’s Some Account of the Life of Rachael Wriothesley Lady Russell (1819), Baillie comments both on the text’s ‘intrinsic value’ and ‘the value I particularly set upon it as your gift, and a token of your regard’ (Berry, Extracts, III: p. 176). In addition to expressing friendship, such exchanges also enable both women to reveal anxieties and receive reassurance regarding public reception, as Berry accompanies a copy of A Comparative View of the (p.80) Social Life of England and France: From the Restoration of Charles the Second, to the French Revolution (1828) with the admission that ‘I have no hopes of any popularity for my book. It will fall between wind and water. The trifling will think it dull, and graver readers will not think of it at all’, prompting Baillie’s more confident assertion that it can ‘scarcely fail of success’ (Berry, Extracts, III: pp. 369–70). There is also a deep engagement with the works themselves, particularly on questions regarding women’s writing and a female readership. Baillie has high praise for Berry’s biography of Rachel Russell as ‘a pleasing and edifying example to the young women of the day’ (Berry, Extracts, III: p. 176). But she is less certain regarding the propriety of A Comparative View of the Social Life of England and France. She commends the style, spirit, and observation of Berry’s text, but confident that friendship can withstand ‘sincere opinion’ she expresses her doubts about the ‘delicacy’ of a woman writer narrating the lives of scandalous women. Berry’s response invokes genre in her defence as she argues that history offers greater licence than fiction:

I have only to say that, if women treat of human nature and human life in history and not in fiction (which perhaps they had better not do), human nature and human life are often indelicate; and if such passages in them are treated always with the gravity and the reprobation they deserve, it is all a sensible woman can do, and (not writing for children) all she can think necessary.

(Berry, Extracts, III: pp. 371–2)

In her turn, Berry’s concerns lay not with questions of feminine propriety, but rather Baillie’s public interventions in religious debates in A View of the General Tenour of the New Testament Regarding the Nature and Dignity of Jesus Christ (1831). Berry falls short of direct criticism of Baillie, but is nonetheless equivocal regarding the value of public professions of faith and cautions that ‘liberal opinions’ are ‘so apt to be mistaken’.24

This interest in the opportunities and challenges of female authorship permeates the letters and Baillie and Berry are both keen to use their connections to promote the careers of others. Baillie solicits a subscription from Berry in 1806 for a publication by Miss Warner of Bath, ‘a shy, retired’ single woman writing to support herself, her mother, and her widowed sister. During the same period, Baillie responds to Berry’s request to speak to her publisher Thomas Longman regarding the work of Miss Seaton (Baillie, Letters, I: pp. 160–1).25 In 1823 Baillie combined ‘literary philanthropy’ with (p.81) canon formation in A Collection of Poems, Chiefly Manuscript, and from Living Authors, a work edited for the financial benefit of her widowed former school friend Mrs. Stirling and including contributions by Felicia Hemans, William Wordsworth, Anna Barbauld, and Robert Southey amongst many others.26 The women also exchange news on recent publications, such as Childe Harold that is recommended by Berry and Scott by letter on the same day. Closer to home, Baillie pictures herself and her sister ‘deeply engaged’ with Lucy Aikin’s newly published Memoirs of the Court of Charles I (1833), before noting ‘very entertaining & interesting. I suppose you have seen it’ (Baillie, Letters, I: p. 174). Here intergenerational friendship is expressed through reading; Baillie was friend to Aikin’s aunt, Anna Barbauld, and Aikin would later publish her ‘Recollections of Joanna Baillie’ in 1864.

However, the focus of epistolary dialogue was not solely literary and letters also provide space for Baillie and Berry to explore the personal narratives of their lives. Their shared identity as single women shapes these conversations and their understanding of the life course. In a letter of 1805, Baillie advises Berry to think carefully before rejecting a marriage proposal received in her forties because ‘you wish for employment, and you wish to be useful in the world: as the Wife of a man of fortune you will have this much more in your power than you are ever likely to have by remaining single’. But despite this apparent support for marriage on the basis of public utility, Baillie nonetheless concludes that ‘every single woman, who is to remain so, has great pride in seeing such a woman as you of her Sister hood, and cannot possibly see you quitting the ranks but with considerable regret’ (Baillie, Letters, I: p. 157). The familial and military metaphors position Baillie and Berry within a broader network of single women and implicitly present friendship as an alternative to conjugal bonds. Around nine years later, Baillie explains her decision in her fifties to refer to herself and her sister as ‘Mrs’ because ‘I have always thought that when single women are advanced in years and Mistress of a house with neither Father nor Mother over their heads, they might assume this with propriety’ (Baillie, Letters, I: p. 167). It is notable that as well as their shared status as single women, age is an important element of their intimacy and, particularly as they grow older, ‘at our time of life’ becomes a recurrent refrain in the letters.27

This awareness of their position in the life course is evident in detailed accounts of the ageing body (including physical frailty, medical symptoms, treatment, and convalescence) as well as remarks on social perceptions of older women. Berry generally adopts a melancholy tone in her reflections on the (p.82) experiences of ageing, whereas Baillie’s letters often work more optimistically to provide encouragement and reassurance. Addressing public perceptions of Berry when both women were in their seventies, Baillie speaks with the authority of a lifelong friend, noting ‘I do not wonder that people should forget your age; in company you seem to have spirit and vigour for anything […] your eyes nearly as bright as they were some twenty years ago’ (Berry, Extracts, III: p. 442). Elsewhere, her comments adopt a more self-reflective mode providing a dual portrait in her reassuring address to Berry:

But you go down the hill gently, and are not afraid of the last step; and may God support both you and me, and give us comfort and consolation when it is most wanted! As for myself, I do not wish to be one year younger than I am, and have no desire, were it possible, to begin life again, even under the most favourable circumstances.

(Berry, Extracts, III: p. 453)

The spatial metaphor of the hill echoes Berry’s own writing in which she variously imagines herself in her later years on a slope, plane, or a terrace and travelling downhill. But downhill is not equated with obsolescence for in an elaborate metaphor of 1840 Berry asserts her modernity, commenting that ‘after having been long posting downhill, I am now going at Railway pace – I wish I was sure of getting to the Terminal without any accident’.28 These shared reflections on ageing and identity in terms of gender, social perceptions, and physical change, and the attempts to articulate feelings prompted at different stages of the life course, are a welcome reminder that identity and friendship have ‘diachronic aspects’ (Yallop, p. 148) which evolve in response to the passing of time.29

Their correspondence shows that, in addition to their friendship, their self-conception as professional authors is also inflected by age. Mutual support for each other’s literary careers is influenced by their position as older women in their shared anxieties regarding the print marketplace, critical reception, and literary afterlives. Looser’s study has highlighted how, in the Romantic period, ‘a number of aged women writers saw their reputations and fame diminishing before their eyes, and a few fought to reverse the process’ (Looser, (p.83) Women Writers, p. 7). In this case, collaboration is key to resisting a narrative of decline, for just as Berry had first promoted Baillie as a playwright in her salon in the 1790s, thirty years on she continued to contribute to Baillie’s public reputation. To return to Berry’s Social Life in England and France, from the French Revolution in 1789, to that of July 1830, there is a palpable desire to engage with debates regarding Baillie’s critical reputation and defend her friend’s contribution to literary history. Berry draws on her authority as an older woman to provide a retrospective survey of the age and position Baillie within it. In her portrait, Berry evokes a paradigm of Romantic genius in claiming Baillie was ‘born a Poet in the truest and most exalted sense of the word’. Nonetheless, she suggests that Baillie’s innate powers are circumscribed by sex given that ‘the retired nature and virtuous habits of women confine their observation of human life and passion within a much smaller circle than that always open to man’. As a consequence, Baillie excels in ‘exquisitely portrayed characters of excellence and of virtuous feeling’ consistent with her own exemplary character. If that might expose her to accusations of ‘sameness’ due to her resistance to dealing with vice and violent passions then it is noted that Byron is equally repetitious in his preference for Eastern subjects and love of profligacy and skepticism (Berry, Social Life, p. 47).

Writing Lives Together30

Berry’s impulse in Social Life in England and France to secure Baillie’s place in literary history seems to have been part of a shared project of the early 1830s to respond to past criticism, challenge critical obsolescence, and construct a posthumous reputation. The retrospective vantage point offered by late life, which Berry uses to good effect in her social history, was, in the same year, put to work by Baillie in an autobiographical mode in response to encouragement by Berry. At the age of 69, Baillie composed a manuscript fragment ‘Recollections Written at the Request of Miss Berry’ retained in the archives of the Royal College of Surgeons. Four years later, in 1835, Baillie followed this with a companion piece ‘Memoirs Written to please my Nephew William Baillie’, written in dialogue with the earlier recollections for Berry and preserved in the Wellcome Library.31 As the titles suggest, Baillie presents a highly (p.84) networked model of authorship in her examination of the ways in which family, friendship, and the literary marketplace shaped her career, while at the same time engaging with ideas of Romantic genius and professionalism. Reading these two manuscripts in conjunction therefore offers a more nuanced picture of Baillie’s authorial self-fashioning in late life than her nineteenth-century incarnation as a model of retirement and feminine virtue might suggest.

‘Recollections Written at the Request of Miss Berry’ implies that friendship acts as a spur to self-writing as the recollections are, at least in part, an extension of the women’s conversation and correspondence. For instance, Baillie interrupts her history of learning to write by noting in self-deprecating style, ‘I think I have told you that many a time in writing letters, I have used not such words as I wished and as best expressed my meaning but such as I know how to spell’.32 Baillie introduces key autobiographical themes, particularly the influence of her family on her literary career and her Romantic privileging of imagination over education, while carefully balancing feminine propriety and professional authorship and offering a lengthy disquisition on her early fascination with geometry. Her sister Agnes is credited with teaching her to read (which culminates in her love of Ossian, Milton, and the sisters’ shared passion for ghost stories) while with her school friends she finds her first audience as ‘a contriver of tales’. Authorship is in part feminised and domesticated, but in Baillie’s recollection of composing a play ‘while my fingers were employed in sprigging muslin for an apron’ she resists the traditional opposition of pen and needle detected by Valerie Sanders in the life writing of women as diverse as Laetitia Pilkington, Margaret Oliphant, and Harriet Martineau.33 Even in this domestic context there are hints which undercut a narrative of feminine modesty when Baillie competes with and outshines her brother in his school exercise of writing couplets on the seasons. Her mother expresses anxiety regarding her daughter’s vanity in writing verses and ‘very sensibly knocked that on the head’, but this discouragement is countered by her brother’s ‘hearty & manly praise’ for her first endeavours as a playwright.

The manuscript ends abruptly leaving Baillie in childhood, but these threads of family, friendship, and literary professionalism are amplified in Baillie’s second attempt, ‘Memoirs Written to please my Nephew William Baillie’, composed by Baillie at the age of 73.34 Baillie seems to have grown in confidence in (p.85) articulating a narrative of professional authorial vocation and retrospectively re-evaluates the earlier ‘Recollections’ as a more modest gesture. The ‘little memoir in the possession of Miss Berry’ is referred to as a source of ‘drole whimsical anecdotes’, whereas this text seems more concerned with events that ‘had any influence on my mind, connected with the writings of my after life’.35 What emerges here is a more detailed engagement with Romantic myths of authorship and a commentary on the potential barriers to professional success and critical acclaim for women writers. Linda Peterson argues that by the mid-nineteenth century ‘many women writers embraced the “parallel streams” model’ that ‘separated the woman from the author, the private, domestic self from the public persona and literary creator’ in order to ‘preserve the category of artistic genius for women’s authorship, even while demonstrating that literary women could fulfill (and would not abandon) the duties of domestic life’.36 As a single woman Baillie was not required to reconcile her credentials as a wife and mother with literary genius, and while family relationships play an integral role in artistic production they comfortably coexist and intertwine with accounts of genius and professional interactions. Baillie is heavily invested in Romantic myths of childhood, focusing on ‘chiefly out of door recollections’ and suggesting that her imagination was fostered by nature, encounters with rural life, visits to see paintings and gardens, and excursions to the forest, all of which ‘did my fanciful untaught mind much good’. Baillie’s ‘Introductory Discourse’ to Plays on the Passions (1798), in which she stresses the importance of representing ‘the plain order of things in this every-day world’, is now recognised as an important influence on Wordsworth and Coleridge’s preface to Lyrical Ballads (1798).37 Likewise, the model of Romantic childhood which emerges here is reminiscent of Wordsworth’s self-examination of poetic vocation that would find its fullest expression in The Prelude (posthumously published in 1850).

In addition, Baillie recounts the origins of her career as a dramatist, including seeing a play for the first time, staging scenes for school friends, family, and servants, and reading Bell’s British Theatre (1776–8). Her later theories of drama are mapped onto these early experiences as her first play is written ‘following simply my own notions of real nature’ and an audience’s (p.86) emotional response is prized above all. Her development as a poet is located more firmly within a familial context as the inspiration of her aunt-in-law, the poet Anne Hunter, who ‘used to read to me every new composition as it came from her pen’. Early poetic experiments, including her poem ‘Winter Day’ written in blank verse, lead Baillie to ‘believe that I possessed some genius’.

Yet Baillie moves beyond a narrative of inspiration and poetic genius to chart the challenges and exhilaration of engaging with the literary marketplace and its professional networks (in which Berry is included). Baillie suggests that familial support was integral to developing her literary confidence and Matthew Baillie is identified as an early ‘friendly Critic’. But recognition solely from within the familial sphere is regarded as working ‘in the dark’ and publication of Plays on the Passions only comes through the encouragement of outsiders. Berry is part of this narrative and identified as an ambassador for Baillie’s early work, mirroring Berry’s self-construction in her Journal and reminding us of a friendship forged initially as an interaction between an influential woman of letters and an aspiring writer. Commenting on the anonymous publication of Plays on the Passions, Baillie notes:

As my name was entirely concealed I sent no copies of the book to any of my own friends, but to some literary persons, who might perhaps if they liked it, mention it to others. None of those literary persons, as far as I know, took any notice of it but Miss Berry, who saw much company at her house and spoke in the highest terms of it to every body. To her zeal in the cause I have always felt myself to be a debtor.

In these dialogic autobiographical texts, Berry is therefore positioned simultaneously as literary agent, executrix, reader, and extended family member.

Baillie shows an acute awareness in retrospect of how the reception of her work was shaped by wider cultural responses to women dramatists. At a distance of over thirty years, Baillie rehearses the original preface to Plays on the Passions to offer a defence against objections raised by the critical establishment while also recalling the initially positive reception the work received before her (female) identity was revealed.38 She remarks that ‘the discovery of the hitherto conceald [sic] Dramatist being not a man of letters but a private gentlewoman of no mark or likelihood, turned the tide of publi[c] favour, and then influential critics and Reviewers from all quarters North & South, attacked the intention of the work’. Her early career is characterised as the ‘brightest part’, but she does not wholly subscribe to a narrative of decline, (p.87) reminding us of the ‘generous encouragement’ she subsequently received from Sir Walter Scott which inspired her ongoing project of Metrical Legends: ‘that my endeavours have not been in vain, my having not long since in my old age composed a Metrical Legend of that admirable Indian Begum […] is a pretty strong proof’. Characteristically, success is measured in critical esteem and an enduring relationship with her readership rather than monetary gain.

There is no closure to these autobiographical reflections, but Baillie ends with a rehearsal of the importance of family, her Scottish childhood, and the potential for the imagination in the small, the everyday, and the familiar. This is a position compounded by the reflections with which Baillie closes the fragment that evoke her nephew’s presence by her side in the sublime landscape of Switzerland. Like many Romantic travelers before her, more well-known for their accounts of Mont Blanc, Baillie acknowledges its ‘sublime appearance’ and recalls a moment on the mountain from which she beheld a ‘Hall of Clouds’. But her response to Switzerland is ambivalent, for she asserts enigmatically that because her mind was ‘occupied with anxious thoughts’ she ‘did not carry home’ all that she might ‘to add to the indwelling treasures of my heart’. To conclude her ‘Recollections’, she ultimately turns away from Mont Blanc to ‘the clouds seen in my youthful days floating’ across the mountains of Scotland, described in highly Wordsworthian terms as ‘my chief store of mountain-Ideas’ which ‘continued so through life’. From this vantage point of later life, Baillie therefore engages with and, in some cases, contests circulating discourses of Romantic genius. The imagination is grounded in a sense of home and landscapes of the past, while authorship emerges from a network of influences and assistance (personal, familial, and professional) which she seeks to record. These fragments that address a friend and nephew, and are bound together through intertextual reference, therefore seem eminently suited as an autobiographical mode that foregrounds collaboration and personal and professional relationships over individualized achievement.

Writing in Late Life

Paralleling Berry’s role in these late life autobiographical projects, Baillie’s contribution to Berry’s career in old age also seems to have involved encouragement from behind the scenes. The planned publication by Richard Bentley of a sixth edition of Horace Walpole’s letters which appeared in 1840 prompts Berry to consider writing an advertisement to the work. Providing a portrait of Walpole around forty years after his death inspired anxiety, but Baillie’s view is unequivocal:

Undoubtedly a volume of Lord Orford’s Letters, with the addition of those addressed to yourself, require a notice from your pen, and it will, I am (p.88) sure, be well done, though you say something about being dry as a stick, which I hope is only a figure of speech more humble than applicable. Do not in the fear of saying too much say too little – a fault you have (unlike other modern writers) frequently committed.

(Berry, Extracts, III: p. 442)

Berry seems to have taken the advice to heart, writing back in her advertisement to former editors and biographers of Walpole, especially Thomas Babington Macaulay who had launched a scathing attack on Walpole in The Edinburgh Review in 1833. Furthermore, in signing the ‘Advertisement’ ‘M B.’, Berry moves closer at this late stage in her career to direct acknowledgement of authorship. From the perspective of female ageing, it is striking that she claims authority as an old woman, the pen ‘forced’ into her ‘feeble and failing hand’ to contest the ‘giant grasp’ of Macaulay whose portrait of Walpole was ‘entirely and offensively unlike the original’. She defers to Macaulay as a pre-eminent writer and critic of his age but reminds him of the limits of his knowledge in comparison to the long-lived woman writer. His view of Walpole is mistaken not only because he has ‘no acquaintance with his subject’ but also because he is removed ‘from the fashions, the social habits, the little minute details, of the age to which Horace Walpole belongs, – an age so essentially different from the business, the movement, the important struggles, of that which claims the critic as one of its most distinguished ornaments’.39 Berry suggests that ‘by the “painful pre-eminence” of age’ she remains ‘the sole depository’, able to offer a gift to literary posterity in the accuracy and intimacy of her view of writers of a previous generation (Berry, ‘Advertisement’, p. xx). But, at the same time, she connects herself to nineteenth-century literary networks by asserting her personal friendship and admiration for Macaulay, a writer who was a regular member of her salon.

Berry’s ability to simultaneously imagine herself as a member of the literary past, present, and as a shaper of future tastes, is a reminder that, contrary to some constructions of the older woman writer, ambition did not decline for Berry or Baillie in old age. Contemporaries also recognised the value of Berry’s longevity, for on the publication of her complete works in 1844 at the age of eighty-one, The London Quarterly Review noted that Berry had ‘experienced and enjoyed the pleasures of fashionable as well as literary intercourse more and longer than any living author’ and was therefore authorised to act as ‘the historian of society in her own as well as in former periods’.40 The publication of the complete works also prompted an intriguing exchange between Berry and Baillie, indicative of their continuing concerns regarding critical reputation. Baillie wrote to Berry on 16 October 1844 suggesting that if she ‘were much given to envy’ she should (p.89) envy Berry ‘that a clever knowing-in-the-trade bookseller calls for permission to reprint your works’ for ‘on what spot of the earth lives that book-seller who would now publish at his own risk any part of my works?’. Berry responds:

Why, what a goose you are! – (that ever I, M. B., should dare to call Joanna Baillie a goose!) But don’t you see that ‘a clever knowing-in-the trade bookseller’ reprints trifles made for a drawing-room table and the talk of the day, and not works written for posterity and to take their place in the small band of real poets who have adorned our country. There you will flourish ever green, and will rise in importance as you recede from the present generation.

(Berry, Extracts, III: pp. 489–90)

Berry sets her own literary fashionability and contemporary relevance against Baillie’s longevity in a language similar to her public endorsement in Social Life in England and France. Once again she couples Baillie with Byron and, in this case, also with Shakespeare and suggests that Baillie’s literary fortunes will find posthumous fulfillment. She implicitly expresses anxieties about her own future obsolescence and lack of enduring fame in the process, but nonetheless reasserts her role as a discriminating literary critic.

Despite her fears, Baillie continued publishing into late life, including The Complete Poetical Works of Joanna Baillie published in Philadelphia by Carey & Lea in 1832 (indicative of her success in America),41 Dramas in 1836, Fugitive Verses in 1840, and The Dramatic and Poetical Works of Joanna Baillie, constructed by Baillie for her heirs in 1851 and appearing in the months before her death. These editions provided further opportunities for shaping her past career in prefaces that enabled a more public articulation of her autobiographical ‘Recollections’ and were coloured by her sense of longevity. Baillie’s literary endurance is a thread also taken up by reviewers as Fraser’s Magazine noted that Dramas ‘awakened that long dormant eagerness of curiosity with which we used to look forward to the publication of her volumes, in those remote days when Wordsworth was yet unknown, and the first faint beams of the genius of Walter Scott had only shewn themselves in a few and scattered miscellaneous poems’.42 The same rhetoric is in evidence in the preface to Fugitive Verses in which Baillie gathered together many of her previously published poetic works. She recontextualises her poems in a past literary landscape, reminding us that ‘when these poems were written […] of all our eminent poets of modern times, not one was then known. Mr. Hayley and Miss Seaward [sic], (p.90) and a few other cultivated poetical writers, were the poets spoken of in literary circles’.43 In Fugitive Verses, she also asserts the importance of female literary networks for inspiring publication, indicating that it was Barbauld’s selection of some of her early poems for republication at a moment when these works had otherwise ‘gradually faded from my thoughts’ that in part encouraged her own determination to republish (Baillie, Fugitive Verses, p. viii).

The reference to Barbauld is a reminder that Baillie and Berry were conscious of their position within a broader network of long-lived female authors whose careers were enduring into the nineteenth century. Maria Edgeworth (1768–1849), close friend to Baillie from 1813, is praised in Baillie’s letters to Margaret Holford Hodson (1778–1852), a fellow writer who Baillie suggests took a ‘Sisterly interest’ in her literary career (Baillie, Letters, II: p. 666).44 On the news that Edgeworth was writing a new novel Helen, published in 1834 when Edgeworth was in her mid-sixties, Baillie hopes ‘it will not diminish her fame’ (Baillie, Letters, II: p. 647). Despite the anxiety that publication of new works in late life threatens to ‘diminish’ past successes, Baillie was able to happily report on reading the novel that Edgeworth’s ‘powers have not been weakened by age, and this all her friends rejoice to see’.45 However, Baillie’s verdict on the late works of Frances Burney, whom she met only once (Slagle, A Literary Life, p. 220), was considerably less supportive of the ageing woman writer and more in line with the ageism of Burney’s reviewers. Baillie acknowledges that there is some pleasure to be had in the accurate portraits of the past in Memoirs of Dr Burney (1832), but concludes ‘What a strange stile she has acquired in her old age, after writing so admirably well in her youth!’ (Baillie, Letters, II: p. 641). The posthumous publication of Burney’s Diary and Letters in 1842 prompts further comment, perhaps influenced by Baillie’s anxiety expressed elsewhere that public tastes in this period privileged ‘scandal & biography’ over poetry (Baillie, Letters, II: p. 682). ‘It is curious how eagerly people enter into all the detail of her life after she has been for so many years nearly forgotten and the interest of her novels so much superceded [sic] by a succession of similar works nearly as popular, some of them more so than hers’ (Baillie, Letters, II: p. 714). Baillie’s contrasting responses to Edgeworth and Burney, while informed by friendship, are also consistent with Looser’s insight that ‘Edgeworth performed the role of “old woman novelist” far more conventionally than did Burney, which in the (p.91) short term contributed to the former’s greater success as a late-life author’ (Looser, Women Writers, p. 27). Berry likewise enables us to trace interactions between women writers who crossed the borders of the Romantic/Victorian period and feature in each other’s life writing. She makes a brief, tantalising appearance in the Memorials of the Life of Amelia Opie (1854) published after Opie’s death in 1853 at the age of 84. Allegedly, the two women met at the Great Exhibition in 1851 and Opie playfully challenged her fellow octogenarian to a chair race.46

In addition to these intragenerational connections, Baillie and Berry both demonstrate a commitment to intergenerational sociability which worked to challenge their potential dismissal as relics of the past. This is particularly evident in their continued participation in the literary culture of the period through reading, writing, and in their personal friendships with younger authors. In addition to Berry’s combative engagement in print with Macaulay over the reputation of Walpole, she continued to assert her role as a critic in her salon able to comment on writers of an earlier era and connect to the next generation. This is exemplified in an anecdote recalled by Kate Perry (friend to Thackeray) around 1849 when Berry allegedly surprised the company by claiming that she had never read Jane Austen’s novels until someone lately had lent them to her. Perry states:

But she could not get on with them; they were totally uninteresting to her – long-drawn-out details of very ordinary people, and she found the books so tedious that she could not understand their having obtained such a celebrity as they had done. ‘Thackeray and Balzac’, she added (Thackeray being present), ‘write with great minuteness, but do so with a brilliant pen’.47

Such a declaration seems entirely consistent with Berry’s commitment to attaching herself to literary modernity, flattering Thackeray, who had recently published Vanity Fair, and asserting her preference for a Victorian novelist over an author regarded as her contemporary who had been dead more than thirty years.

Likewise, Baillie shared Berry’s desire to connect to the next generation, evident in her friendships with the children of celebrated Romantic poets. These included Dora Wordsworth (whose father she had met in 1808) and Hartley Coleridge, who composed a poem in which Baillie is commended for her courage in confronting authorship in old age as a poet who ‘yet delights to weave the moral rhyme, / Nor fears what is, should dim what thou hast been’ (Slagle, A Literary Life, p. 275). Baillie’s friendship with Anna Jameson (p.92) (1794–1860), glimpsed in their correspondence in the early 1840s, offers a rich example of an intergenerational literary friendship between women. In her warm and familiar letters, Baillie adopts the persona of the older woman writer and identifies Jameson with the literary present.48 She asks Jameson to apologise on her behalf to a gentleman who has asked her to write for a periodical publication because ‘I am too old now to write any thing and have always declined similar proposals’. Yet she retains her interest in the current literary market, wishing to exploit Jameson’s position ‘so much among literary people’ to help a friend attempting to secure a review in the Athenaeum (Baillie, Letters, II: p. 1027). Jameson provides Baillie with recent publications and the women exchange views on developments in literary taste, in these ‘“giddy-paced times’”. Such conversations prompt Baillie to reflect on her place in literary history and thank Jameson for her high regard, noting:

I have for many years past been so completely put out of sight, that nothing but great partiality can ever hope more (more) for me than a place in the corner of some great Library that would not be reckoned quite complete if any books that ever had any considerable reputation were wanting.

(Baillie, Letters, II: p. 1028)

Baillie’s expression of modesty and humility is underlined here by a quiet confidence in her own significance, transmitted to Jameson, a writer ‘so much among literary people’.

Literary Afterlives

Baillie and Berry died within a year of one another in 1851 and 1852 respectively. The perceptions of both by the mid-nineteenth century, as expressed by editors, biographers, obituary writers, and reviewers, illuminate interactions between the Victorians and their Georgian ancestors and provide insight into responses to older women writers in the period. The preface to the second edition of The Dramatic and Poetical Works of Joanna Baillie (1851) offered an opportunity for a posthumous biographical portrait of the author written by her descendents which, alongside numerous obituaries, had an enduring impact on Baillie’s reputation. These accounts drew on Baillie’s unpublished autobiographical works for their stock of anecdotes, but emphasised childhood and family over the more thorny issues these memoirs addressed such as professional authorship, women’s encounters with the critical establishment, and literary fame. Berry is barely mentioned and instead family relations and male friendships are privileged, (p.93) particularly Baillie’s attachment to Sir Walter Scott. The dominant thread in these portraits is Baillie’s commitment to ‘retirement from the first hour to the last’ and a ‘domestic circle of the highest moral purity’, with her ‘seclusion’ apparently intensifying in late life.49 As The Illustrated London News expressed it:

Though Miss Baillie’s fame tended greatly to draw her into society, her life was passed in retirement. It was pure and moral in the highest degree, and was characterised by the most consummate integrity, kindness, and active benevolence. She was an instance that poetical genius of a high order may be united to a mind well regulated, able and willing to execute the ordinary duties of life in an exemplary manner.50

In her study of the Victorian lives of Romantic women writers, Lisa Vargo suggests that in biographical accounts ‘Romantic writers are made to echo notions of Victorian propriety’ yet ‘at the same time some telling discords suggest that female literary authority cannot be so easily written to resonate with a finer tone of passivity’.51 Such tensions proliferate in these constructions of Baillie. The exemplary woman writer whose life of domestic retirement ensured that literary ‘fame’ and ‘poetical genius’ proved no distraction from ‘the ordinary duties of life’ coexists with acknowledgements of Baillie’s membership of brilliant literary and scientific circles and her ability to attract numerous admirers from Europe and America, especially in late life.

This narrative of retirement is central to Lucy Aikin’s ‘Recollections of Joanna Baillie’ of 1864 that offers a record of Aikin’s friendship with Baillie from their first meeting in Hampstead when Aikin was a young girl. Aikin had already established a model for the lives of Romantic female authors in the memoir of her aunt, included in Works of A. L. Barbauld in 1825. Implicitly reminding us of this, and evoking her authority as an older woman writer herself by this point, Aikin begins by asserting that ‘it has been my privilege to have had more or less of personal acquaintance with almost every literary woman of celebrity who adorned English society from the latter years of the last century nearly to the present time’.52 Modesty, family duty, and piety are central to Aikin’s account as Baillie is again established as a model worthy of emulation by the next generation.

(p.94) Aikin’s recollections therefore reveal how Victorian women writers engaged with the generation that preceded them through biography and used the genre to celebrate women’s literary achievements, participate in canon formation, establish their critical voices, reflect on models of female authorship, and shape their own authorial identities. A brief survey of Victorian collective biographies in the decades following Baillie’s death extends the idea of women’s cross-generational literary networks into these (auto)biographical encounters. Jane Williams in The Literary Women of England (1861) offers a weary assessment of the challenges long-lived writers such as Baillie and Barbauld present for her project of constructing a female literary history.

The different lengths of the lives of the Poetesses, and the extreme longevity of a few, tend, in a chronological survey, to produce a somewhat bewildering, although a just effect, answering to real life, where whole generations do not die off regularly in the order of birth, but certain individuals live on, and become successively cotemporary [sic] with the second, third, and even with the fourth ranks of population’s advancing hosts.53

Nonetheless, Williams and her contemporaries took up the challenge in their accounts of Baillie, putting her life into service in defence of female authorship. Her roles as ‘daughter, sister, aunt, and grand-aunt’, and her ‘handiness with the needle’, are repeatedly stressed, accompanied on one occasion by the revealing riposte ‘(hear it all those who must needs believe an authoress “handless”)’.54 Catherine Jane Hamilton’s Women Writers: Their Works and Ways (1872) provides a clear example of Vargo’s ‘telling discords’ in the attempt to reconcile Baillie’s ‘semi-masculine nature’, ambition, and courage in youth, with the multiple portraits of her in late life as a ‘white-haired old lady’ in a ‘little old lace cap that encircled her peaceful face’.55 Like the earlier posthumous narratives, Berry is largely absent in these accounts, although Sarah Tytler and Jean L. Watson’s The Songstresses of Scotland (1871) is a notable exception, with space devoted to Berry and Baillie’s friendship (portrayed in sentimental terms) and Berry’s role in publicising Plays on the Passions. Excerpts from Berry’s Journal (which had been published seven years previously) are also incorporated into this narrative of Baillie’s life.

While Baillie was a recurrent figure in nineteenth-century collective biographies of women writers, Berry is a notable absence. Working in the genres (p.95) of history and biography was inconsistent with Victorian collective biographers’ enthusiasm for poetesses and novelists and Berry posed a challenge to nineteenth-century models of the woman writer. Instead, her appearance in print in the second half of the nineteenth century was through her Journals, which she arranged to be edited and posthumously published by the Whig hostess, Lady Theresa Lewis as Extracts of the Journals and Correspondence of Miss Berry from the Year 1783 to 1852 (1865). Given Berry’s preference for semi-anonymous authorship during her lifetime, her determination to see her Journals in print is intriguing. It suggests an awareness of the cultural value of her personal reflections and social connections and a desire to perpetuate her role as a critic and social historian of the era beyond her own lifetime. At the same time, posthumous publication enabled her to avoid the charge of egotism that publishing while still alive would inevitably have provoked. In contrast to Baillie’s association with domestic retirement, Lewis’s biographical introduction to the edition positions Berry as ‘a centre round which beauty, rank, wealth, power, fashion, learning, and science were gathered’ (Berry, Extracts, I: p. xiii). She echoes Berry’s self-portrait in late life as a woman who provided a valuable link to the past at the same time as she forged connections to the next generation and shaped future literary directions. The incidents recorded in her Journal are ‘the stepping-stones that help us to remount the stream of Time’, yet Lewis also asserts that in Berry’s ‘old age, the loved and admired of the fastidious Horace Walpole won the hearts of the grandchildren and great-grand children of the friends of her youth’ (Berry, Extracts, I: pp. xvii, xiv). The same dynamic is at work in a poem by Richard Monckton Milnes published in The Times, following the death of the Berry sisters in 1852, which simultaneously connects them to the onward generation and establishes their talismanic relationship with the past:

  • While others in Time’s greedy mesh
  •    The faded garlands flung,
  • Their hearts went out and gathered fresh
  •    Affections from the young.
  • Farewell, dear ladies! in your loss
  •    We feel the past recede,
  • The gap our hands could almost cross
  •    Is now a gulf indeed.56

On the Journal’s publication, enthusiastic reviewers echoed this characterisation of Mary and Agnes Berry as ‘connecting links’,57 while the Journal was purported to offer ‘a perfect picture of the society of the last century, with most interesting (p.96) gleams of its current history’.58 In a more elastic approach to historical accuracy, Thackeray in his American lectures on The Four Georges in 1855–6 referred to an old woman whose life spanned the reigns of George I to George III (identified by Ian Haywood as Berry), noting ‘I often thought as I took my kind old friend’s hand, how with it I held on to the old society of wits and men of the world’.59 Despite these celebrations of Berry’s significance, she has struggled to secure her place in literary history. However, by attending to her interactions with Baillie, we are able to see her contributions as a shaper and recorder of literary history, and participant in the sphere of letters, into the nineteenth century.

The case of Berry and Baillie suggests the value of taking up Schellenberg’s invitation to ‘pay attention to whole career trajectories’ (Schellenberg, p. 19) in order to reconsider our understanding of female literary networks in the Romantic period and reframe established critical narratives of the careers of individual authors. Friendship and collaboration fostered these women’s writing lives over a fifty year period and in their exchanges we glimpse revealing moments of anxiety and agency, particularly in relation to the challenges and opportunities of continuing to publish into late life. Situating them within wider circles of friendship highlights the connections they forged with other long-lived authors, and illuminates their deliberate attempts to connect to the following generation and secure their future critical reputations. Identifying age as a category of analysis in studies of Romantic literary sociability also enables us to examine intra- and intergenerational connections both within and across traditional literary periods. The life writing of Baillie and Berry therefore provides insight into the ways in which friendship might contribute to the management of a literary career throughout the life course and beyond.


Printed Works

Aikin, Lucy. Memoirs, Miscellanies and Letters of the Late Lucy Aikin, ed. Philip Hemery Le Breton. London: Longman, 1864.

Bailey Slagle, Judith. ‘Evolution of a Writer: Joanna Baillie’s Life in Letters’, in Joanna Baillie, Romantic Dramatist: Critical Essays, ed. Thomas C. Crochunis. London: Routledge, 2004, pp. 8–26.

Baillie, Joanna. Fugitive Verses. London: Edward Moxon, 1840.

—. Further Letters of Joanna Baillie, ed. Thomas McLean. Madison: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2010.

—. Plays on the Passions, ed. Peter Duthie. Ontario: Broadview, 2001.

(p.97) —. The Collected Letters of Joanna Baillie, ed. Judith Bailey Slagle, 2 vols. Madison: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1999.

Berry, Mary. ‘Advertisement’, The Letters of Horace Walpole, 6 vols. London: Richard Bentley, 1840.

—. Extracts of the Journals and Correspondence of Miss Berry from the Year 1783 to 1852, ed. Lady Theresa Lewis, 3 vols. London: Longmans, Green and Co, 1865.

—. Social Life in England and France, from the French Revolution in 1789, to that of July 1830. London: Longman, Rees, Orme, Brown, and Green, 1831.

Brightwell, Cecilia Lucy. Memorials of the Life of Amelia Opie. London: Longman, Brown and Co, 1854.

Burroughs, Catherine B. Closet Stages: Joanna Baillie and the Theater Theory of British Romantic Women Writers. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1997.

Burwick, Frederick. ‘Joanna Baillie, Matthew Baillie, and the Pathology of the Passions’, in Joanna Baillie, Romantic Dramatist: Critical Essays, ed. Thomas C. Crochunis. London: Routledge, 2004, pp. 48–68.

Carhart, Margaret. The Life and Work of Joanna Baillie. North Haven: Archon Books, 1970.

Crochunis, Thomas C., ed. Joanna Baillie, Romantic Dramatist: Critical Essays. London: Routledge, 2004.

Duckling, Louise. ‘Coming Out of the Closet and Competing with John Anybody: The Bold World of Joanna Baillie’, British Women and the Intellectual World in the Long Eighteenth Century, ed. Teresa Barnard. London: Routledge, 2016.

Edgeworth, Maria. Letters from England, 1813–1844, ed. Christina Colvin. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1971.

Feldman, Paula R. British Women Poets of the Romantic Era: An Anthology. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2000.

Gullette, Margaret Morganroth. Aged by Culture. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004.

Hamilton, Catherine Jane. Women Writers: Their Works and Ways, 2 vols. London: Ward, Lock, 1872.

Haywood, Ian. ‘Thackeray, Mary Berry, and The Four Georges’. Notes and Queries, 30:4 (1983).

Levy, Michelle. Family Authorship and Romantic Print Culture. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmilllan, 2008.

London, Bette. Writing Double: Women’s Literary Partnerships. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1999.

Looser, Devoney, ed. The Cambridge Companion to Women’s Writing in the Romantic Period. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015.

—. Women Writers and Old Age in Great Britain, 1750–1850. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008.

Melville, Lewis. The Berry Papers. London: John Lane, 1914.

Peterson, Linda H. Becoming A Woman of Letters: Myths of Authorship and Facts of the Victorian Market. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2009.

(p.98) Sanders, Valerie. The Private Lives of Victorian Women: Autobiography in Nineteenth-Century England. Hemel Hempstead: Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1989.

Schellenberg, Betty A. The Professionalization of Women Writers in Eighteenth-Century Britain. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005.

Schmid, Susanne. British Literary Salons of the Late Eighteenth and Early Nineteenth Centuries. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013.

—. ‘Mary Berry’s Fashionable Friends (1801) on Stage’. The Wordsworth Circle (2012).

Slagle, Judith Bailey. Joanna Baillie: A Literary Life. Madison: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2002.

—. ‘Sisters – Ambition and Compliance: The Case of Mary and Agnes Berry and Joanna and Agnes Baillie’, Woman to Woman: Female Negotiations During the Long Eighteenth Century, ed. Carolyn D. Williams, Angela Escott, and Louise Duckling. Newark: University of Delaware Press, 2010.

Stone, Marjorie and Judith Thompson, eds. Literary Couplings: Writing Couples, Collaborators, and the Construction of Authorship. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2006.

Thackeray, William. Miscellanies: The Four Georges, 5 vols. Boston: Fields, Osgood, 1869.

Tytler, Sarah and Jean L. Watson. The Songstresses of Scotland, 2 vols. London: Strahan and Co, 1871.

Vargo, Lisa. ‘A Finer Tone: Victorian Lives of Mrs. Barbauld and Mrs. Shelley’, Romantic Echoes in the Victorian Era, ed. Andrew Radford and Mark Sandy. Aldershot: Ashgate, 2008.

Williams, Jane. The Literary Women of England. London: Saunders, Otley, and Co, 1861.

Yallop, Helen. Age and Identity in Eighteenth-Century England. London: Routledge, 2013.


Berry, Mary. Letter to Joanna Baillie, 21 Sept 1832. Wellcome Library, MS 5613 77/1.

‘The Berry Papers: Correspondence, Papers and Journals of Mary Berry (1763–1852), Add MS37758, British Library.

Baillie, Joanna. ‘Recollections Written at the Request of Miss Berry’ (1831). Royal College of Surgeons, Hunter-Baillie, MS0014/3.

—. ‘Memoirs Written to please my Nephew William Baillie’ (1835). Wellcome Library, MS 5613/68/1–6.


Fraser’s Magazine

The Illustrated London News

The Times


Thanks are owed to the BA/Leverhulme Small Grants Scheme for support in funding this research.

(1) Further Letters of Joanna Baillie, ed. Thomas McLean (Madison: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2010), p. 139.

(2) Mary Berry, Social Life in England and France, from the French Revolution in 1789, to that of July 1830 (London: Longman, Rees, Orme, Brown, and Green, 1831), p. 46.

(3) Devoney Looser, Women Writers and Old Age in Great Britain, 1750–1850 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008), pp. 6–7.

(4) Devoney Looser, ‘Age and Aging’, in The Cambridge Companion to Women’s Writing in the Romantic Period, ed. Devoney Looser (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015), pp. 169–82 (p. 178).

(5) Helen Yallop, Age and Identity in Eighteenth-Century England (London: Routledge, 2013), p. 114.

(6) Michelle Levy, Family Authorship and Romantic Print Culture (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008), p. 2.

(7) Julie A. Carlson, ‘Social, Familial, and Literary Networks’, in Cambridge Companion to Women’s Writing, pp. 145–57 (p. 152); See also, Frederick Burwick, ‘Joanna Baillie, Matthew Baillie, and the Pathology of the Passions’, in Joanna Baillie, Romantic Dramatist: Critical Essays, ed. Thomas C. Crochunis (London: Routledge, 2004), pp. 48–68.

(8) Judith Bailey Slagle, ‘Sisters – Ambition and Compliance: The Case of Mary and Agnes Berry and Joanna and Agnes Baillie’, in Woman to Woman: Female Negotiations During the Long Eighteenth Century, ed. Carolyn D. Williams, Angela Escott, and Louise Duckling (Newark: University of Delaware Press, 2010), pp. 79–100 (p. 81).

(9) Susanne Schmid, British Literary Salons of the Late Eighteenth and Early Nineteenth Centuries (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013).

(10) Marjorie Stone and Judith Thompson, ‘Contexts and Heterotexts: A Theoretical and Historical Introduction’, in Literary Couplings: Writing Couples, Collaborators, and the Construction of Authorship, ed. Marjorie Stone and Judith Thompson (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2006), pp. 3–37 (p. 29).

(11) Louise Duckling, ‘Coming Out of the Closet and Competing with John Anybody: The Bold World of Joanna Baillie’, in British Women and the Intellectual World in the Long Eighteenth Century, ed. Teresa Barnard (London: Routledge, 2016), pp. 143–55 (pp. 153–5). The biographical narrative of Baillie as a ‘woman in retirement’ was perpetuated into the twentieth century by Margaret Carhart’s The Life and Work of Joanna Baillie (North Haven: Archon Books, 1970), originally published in 1923. Scholars including Judith Bailey Slagle, Louise Duckling, Catherine Burroughs, and others, have provided a valuable corrective to this account. Catherine B. Burroughs, Closet Stages: Joanna Baillie and the Theater Theory of British Romantic Women Writers (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1997).

(12) For instance, focusing on Baillie’s late life writing complicates Looser’s portrait of Baillie as an ideal of the woman writer in old age in her commitment to retirement and philanthropy. Women Writers, pp. 24–5.

(13) For a more detailed picture of Berry’s approach to anonymous and semi-anonymous publication, see Schmid, pp. 65–6.

(14) As an example, Berry ‘edited the posthumous collection of The Works of Horatio Walpole, Earl of Orford, published in five volumes (1798), although her father was named as editor’. (ODNB). Berry seems to have been committed to semi-anonymous publication to a wider audience rather than circulation in manuscript to a select community of readers.

(15) Betty A. Schellenberg, The Professionalization of Women Writers in Eighteenth-Century Britain (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005), p. 181.

(16) Judith Bailey Slagle, Joanna Baillie: A Literary Life (Madison: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2002), p. 119.

(17) Extracts of the Journals and Correspondence of Miss Berry from the Year 1783 to 1852, ed. Lady Theresa Lewis, 3 vols. (London: Longmans, Green and Co, 1865), II: pp. 88–90.

(18) The play was staged (unsuccessfully) at Drury Lane in 1802 without naming Berry as the author. For further discussion of Fashionable Friends, and the hostile critical reception it inspired, see Susanne Schmid, ‘Mary Berry’s Fashionable Friends (1801) on Stage’, The Wordsworth Circle (2012), pp. 172–7.

(19) Bette London, Writing Double: Women’s Literary Partnerships (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1999), p. 19.

(20) Berry’s play does not survive and she seems to have written no further dramas.

(21) The Collected Letters of Joanna Baillie, ed. Judith Bailey Slagle, 2 vols. (Madison: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1999), I: p. 175.

(22) Slagle suggests that this story is the one contained in the Royal College of Surgeons’ Library: HB. ix-69a-c. Collected Letters of Joanna Baillie, I: p. 175.

(23) See Schmid, p. 58 for a discussion of this anecdote in the context of the culture of the literary salon.

(24) Mary Berry letter to Joanna Baillie, Wellcome Library, MS 5613 77/1, 21 September 1832.

(25) Slagle suggests this is probably Rebecca Warner, author of Original Letters (1817) and Epistolary Curiosities (1818).

(26) Paula R. Feldman, British Women Poets of the Romantic Era: An Anthology (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2000), p. 25.

(28) Mary Berry, ‘The Berry Papers: Correspondence, Papers and Journals of Mary Berry (1763–1852), Add MS37758, British Library, 6 November 1840. These reflections are excluded from Lewis’s printed edition, but are extant in the manuscript of Berry’s Journal held at the British Library.

(29) Yallop is drawing on Margaret Morganroth Gullette’s insight that identity theorists and, Yallop argues, eighteenth-century historians, have too often neglected the category of age in studies of personal identity, see Margaret Morganroth Gullette, Aged by Culture (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004), pp. 121–2.

(30) My subtitle is borrowed from the conference, ‘Writing Lives Together: Romantic and Victorian Biography’, University of Leicester, September 2015 where this research was first presented. I am grateful to the organisers and delegates for the very useful feedback on the original paper.

(31) Baillie’s papers are in the archives of the Royal College of Surgeons and the Wellcome Library due to her family connections to Matthew Baillie, physician to George III, and William and John Hunter, both celebrated eighteenth-century surgeons. For a fuller discussion of Baillie’s biography in relation to these manuscripts, see Judith Bailey Slagle, ‘Evolution of a Writer: Joanna Baillie’s Life in Letters’, in Joanna Baillie, Romantic Dramatist: Critical Essays, pp. 8–26.

(32) Joanna Baillie, ‘Recollections Written at the Request of Miss Berry’ (1831), Royal College of Surgeons, Hunter-Baillie, MS0014/3. All subsequent quotations are from this manuscript.

(33) Valerie Sanders, The Private Lives of Victorian Women: Autobiography in Nineteenth-Century England (Hemel Hempstead: Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1989), p. 44.

(34) This work formed part of a wider project of family authorship preserved in the archive. Joanna and Agnes Baillie provide brief accounts of their memories of former generations written at the request of their nephew, William Baillie. He was allegedly intending to write a short life of his aunt after her death, but there is no evidence that he did so. Slagle, Joanna Baillie: A Literary Life, p. 294.

(35) Joanna Baillie, ‘Memoirs Written to please my Nephew William Baillie’ (1835), Wellcome Library, MS 5613/68/1–6. All subsequent quotations are from this manuscript.

(36) Linda H. Peterson, Becoming A Woman of Letters: Myths of Authorship and Facts of the Victorian Market (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2009), p. 7.

(37) Joanna Baillie, Plays on the Passions, ed. Peter Duthie (Ontario: Broadview, 2001), p. 80; See also Duthie, ‘Introduction’, p. 45.

(38) Baillie’s defence seems to particularly write back to Francis Jeffrey’s notorious attack on Plays on the Passions in the Edinburgh Review 4 July (1803), pp. 269–86. (See Duthie, Plays on the Passions, p. 429).

(39) Mary Berry, ‘Advertisement’, The Letters of Horace Walpole, 6 vols. (London: Richard Bentley, 1840), VI: p. ix.

(40) The London Quarterly Review, March (1845), p. 256.

(41) Writing to Berry on the publication of her complete works in America, Baillie notes ‘I am right proud of my book, tho’ it is as ugly a thing to look at on the outside as ever lay upon a table’. Collected Letters of Joanna Baillie, I: p. 174.

(42) Fraser’s Magazine, February (1836), p. 236.

(43) Joanna Bailie, Fugitive Verses (London: Edward Moxon, 1840), p. ix.

(44) Edgeworth, likewise, found solace in her friendship with Baillie in late life, noting in her correspondence in 1830 following a visit: ‘It has been a great pleasure to me to feel myself so kindly received by those I liked best years ago […] when not only the leaves of the pleasures of life fall naturally in its winter but when the great branches on whom happiness depended fall’. Maria Edgeworth, Letters from England, 1813–1844, ed. Christina Colvin (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1971), p. 442.

(46) Cecilia Lucy Brightwell, Memorials of the Life of Amelia Opie (London: Longman, Brown and Co, 1854), p. 389.

(47) Lewis Melville, The Berry Papers (London: John Lane, 1914), p. 438.

(48) Baillie’s letters indicate that she was also visited by Jameson’s friend and contemporary, Harriet Martineau (1802–76), during this period. (Baillie, Letters, II: p. 1033).

(49) The Dramatic and Poetical Works of Joanna Baillie, 2nd edn. (London: Longman, Brown, Green, and Longmans, 1851), pp. v, xii.

(50) The Illustrated London News, 1 March (1851), p. 180.

(51) Lisa Vargo, ‘A Finer Tone: Victorian Lives of Mrs. Barbauld and Mrs. Shelley’, in Romantic Echoes in the Victorian Era, ed. Andrew Radford and Mark Sandy (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2008), pp. 15–26 (p. 15).

(52) Memoirs, Miscellanies and Letters of the Late Lucy Aikin, ed. Philip Hemery Le Breton (London: Longman, 1864), p. 7.

(53) Jane Williams, The Literary Women of England (London: Saunders, Otley, and Co, 1861), p. 553.

(54) Sarah Tytler and Jean L. Watson, The Songstresses of Scotland, 2 vols. (London: Strahan and Co, 1871), II: pp. 209, 190–1.

(55) Catherine Jane Hamilton, Women Writers: Their Works and Ways, 2 vols. (London: Ward, Lock, 1872), I: pp. 111, 130–1.

(56) Quoted in Berry, Extracts, III: pp. 519–20.

(57) Notes and Queries, 7 October (1865), p. 299.

(58) The Times review, quoted in Notes and Queries, 4 November (1865), p. 383.

(59) William Thackeray, Miscellanies: The Four Georges, 5 vols. (Boston: Fields, Osgood, 1869), IV: p. 3; Ian Haywood, ‘Thackeray, Mary Berry, and The Four Georges’, Notes and Queries, 30:4 (1983), p. 299.