Printer Friendly

Joanna Baillie's reflections on the passions: the "Introductory Discourse" and the properties of authorship.

IN 1800, SARAH SIDDONS PLAYED THE FEMALE LEAD, LADY JANE, IN JOANNA Baillie's new play, DeMonfort. This turn of events was no doubt gratifying to Baillie not only because of her friendship with Siddons, but because Siddons was the foremost actress of the turn-of-the-century English stage, the source of a veritable "Siddonsmania." Siddons was also the favorite of Edmund Burke, whose tearful spectatorship inspired him to write his infamously excessive idealization of Marie Antoinette in Reflections on the Revolution in France. (1) Yet, as Julie Carlson has argued, the extraordinary impact of Siddons' power, particularly her power over males in the audience, had at best equivocal effects on advancing the power of women more generally. (2) As the "incomparable" Siddons, she acted as an exception to common femininity rather than as an example for emulation.

And by many accounts, her performance of Lady Jane in De Monfort was a failure. As James Boaden, one of Siddons' biographers, asserts in an often-quoted review,
 Mrs. Siddons did her utmost with the Countess Jane. But the basis of
 the tragedy was the passion of hatred, and the incidents were all
 gloomy, and dark, and deadly. On the stage, I believe, no spectator
 wished it a longer life, and it is to the last degree mortifying to
 have to exhibit so many proofs, that the talent of dramatic writing
 in its noblest branch was in fact dead among us. (3)

Historians of the theater have done much to complicate Boaden's verdict, though much of this work has acknowledged that Baillie's career, so promising in its heyday, was in the long term a historical failure. And this same work has offered explanations of this failure in terms of the erasure of women from the history of drama generally. I do not contest this approach, given Baillie's lapse into obscurity after the 1820s; I suspect that her disappearance until recently is indeed intertwined with what Anne K. Mellor calls Baillie's use of the theater "to restage and revise the social construction of gender"--an admittedly ambitious enterprise. (4) However, my purpose in this essay is to supplement the context of theater history through which much of the Baillie recovery has emerged. The theater is indeed a distinct problem in terms of authorship; Paulina Kewes, for example, describes in detail the particular barriers to originality posed by the material conditions of theatrical production in the latter half of the eighteenth century. (5) But I want to maintain a general focus on literary production in order to discuss relations between Baillie's position as a woman author and her primary purpose as an artist: representing the passions. I claim that Baillie not only uses the theater, but also uses her own powerful theoretical text, the "Introductory Discourse" to A Series of Plays (1798), to attempt to construct authorship in a way that circumvents barriers--essentially, barriers of passion--that pose particular problems for women's authorship generally at the turn of the nineteenth century. These barriers are strongly suggested by the limits to female activity Carlson describes in the case of Siddons' career. Female power is a threat, contained by the language of exceptionalism-incomparability--which acts to block the exemplarity of women. Powerful women, that is to say, cannot be models, cannot circulate as objects of emulation beyond the surfaces of fashion. Such strictures certainly act as impediments to female authorship insofar as the "author," in the broad sense described by Foucault, constitutes a power over the circulation of texts, a reproductive power. The construction "female author" is a point of departure for an understanding of gender oppression insofar as the two terms of the phrase operate as an inhibition to reproduction--to emulation--by canceling out the woman writer as a productive example to either men or to women.

Siddons' devoted fan Edmund Burke theorized related gender barriers at length (although hardly as such) in his precocious aesthetic treatise, A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and the Beautiful (1757). For Burke, the attractive power of femininity, beauty, is utterly distinct from and not to be confused with the masculine power of power itself, the sublime. Baillie contests Burke's aesthetics--as I will show below-not because of its analysis of beauty per se but because of its equation of beauty with femininity, which functions as a proscription of female imitability, relegating women's influence to a form of power one would be loathe to propagate. Not only does the proscription on sublime women foreclose the productive energies of certain female characters, condenming them to the "unsexing" of Lady Macbeth (Siddons' most famous role), this proscription also places strictures on the influence of female authors with overly ambitious aspirations. Furthermore, the historical moment in which Baillie's "Discourse" put forth her authorial design was a particularly dynamic period in the notion of authorship. The turn of the century followed upon the previous fifty years' legal wrangle over authorship that climaxed in the landmark decision on legal copyright in Donaldson v. Becket in 1774, whereas Baillie's initial surge of notoriety preceded, for the most part, the influence of the high-Romantic revision of authorship that would mark the years to come. Baillie's views, I argue, constitute a liberal feminist plan for the most strategic way to define authorship for women at the turn of the century. Unfortunately, that strategy, so at odds with more modern-and Romantic--notions of authorship, is partly responsible for Baillie's historical interment. In order to support this claim, I explore, first, the relationship of Baillie's conception of the passions to Edmund Burke's gendered conception in terms of their respective implications for the circulation of women. Second, I explore Baillie's own notion of authorship as described in the "Introductory Discourse." Finally, I examine the relationship between these terms of authorship and the discourse of authorship emerging from the eighteenth-century debate on literary property.


Joanna Baillie has merited an explosion of critical attention in the last decade. (6) After all, she was the foremost British dramatist of the opening decades of the nineteenth century, highly acclaimed by both Sir Walter Scott and Lord Byron. Much of the renewed interest in Baillie has consisted of work in cultural history, explicitly or implicitly aimed at explaining what changes might account for her disappearance, a fate she shares with so many other eighteenth- and nineteenth-century women artists. Yet perhaps owing to the very wealth of cultural detail recounted by contemporary literary historians, her connection to some of the great-looming and still-much-discussed figures and controversies of her day has yet to receive adequate attention. Actually, Baillie's dramatic theory, as outlined in the "Introductory Discourse" to the first volume of A Series of Plays on the Passions, is a work of monumental interest that needs no defense. It presents a provocative theory of the operation of the passions and the role of drama in the comprehension of emotion. At stake in Baillie's account of the passions is the educability of the individual as producer and receiver of social information, a crucial question not only in the history of gender oppression but also in the history of negotiating the respective demands of the society and the author in their claims to the fruits of artistic production.

Here I'll briefly consider Baillie's most developed statement of her artistic intentions in relation to what is perhaps the most well-known British work in eighteenth-century aesthetics, Burke's Philosophical Enquiry, particularly as those notions, though significantly revised, acquired express political force in the wake of his notorious Reflections on the Revolution in France. The primafacie grounds of this discussion are clear: both Baillie and Burke focus their work on the passions; both regard aesthetic experience as universal to humanity; and, Burke's idealization of Marie Antoinette notwithstanding, both evince a striking distrust of the beautiful--of refinement, luxury, and superficiality that become associated with aristocratic and foreign influence] But these common territories make differences all the more illuminating. Baillie contends with Burke on two major points: on the gendering of the two chief objects of passionate response, the beautiful and the sublime, and on the related issue of the passions' containment and control, that is to say, their reproduction. The implications of Baillie's divergences from Burke are emphatically political: Baillie's aesthetics attempts to lay foundations for a democratic art where artists, audience, and actors need not be confined to any particular ascribed social role--they may be women, aristocrats, or commoners. This freedom from ascription arises from Baillie's psychological theory, her notion of the subject as both an empirical and a legal subject, a self-possessed entity that successfully works and reflects upon itself. Burke shares many of these notions; his psychology, too, is universalizing and empiricist. But Baillie strongly contrasts Burke in that his subject is also a relatively passive subject that is often least reliable when most active, a profile consistent with his suspicion of individuated and interior processes, his distrust of each person's "own private stock of reason ... because we suspect that this stock in each man is small. " (8)

The passivity of this subject complements Burke's automatization of aesthetic experience; there is no space for social construction with respect to the effects of the sublime and the beautiful--and indeed, in his view, introducing a critical wedge between perception and subjective feeling could only be a source of error. For Burke, aesthetic perceptions constitute a direct means of informing subjects about objects in the world. In the case of the sublime and the beautiful, information is emotional and affective, and, as such, does not consist of definite, reproducible material for reflection and rational assessment. The absence of a clear concept of the object of the passions has been most remarked upon with respect to the sublime. (9) Burke claims that language--words, as opposed to visual media--is most suited to the communication of sublimity, and this propriety arises not because of the transparency of words but because of their obscurity. But Burke's account of beauty also emphasizes an elusive vagueness insofar as he objects to abstract equations for beauty; Burke specifically refutes any description that specifies beauty as harmony of parts or symmetry of form. Instead, as he relates in an infamous passage,
 Observe that part of a beautiful woman where she is perhaps the most
 beautiful, about the neck and breasts; the smoothness; the softness;
 the easy and insensible swell; the variety of the surface, which is
 never for the smallest space the same; the deceitful maze, through
 which the unsteady eye slides giddily, without knowing where to fix,
 or whither it is carried. (10)

Burke stresses the restlessness of effect, a pleasurable vertigo that thwarts objective reflection rather than facilitating it. In short, despite their utter distinction from each other in terms of the quality of passion aroused, both the sublime and the beautiful inhibit the formation of abstract ideas of their objects.

The impossibility of abstracting the elements of aesthetic effect does not limit their circulation, however. The barrier to abstraction is not a barrier to the social reproduction of passion--at least in the case of the sublime. Despite the fact that the sublime overpowers and dwarfs the beholder, it nonetheless extends an invitation to imitation. Burke describes the sublime as that whose imitation brings most delight:
 Now whatever either on good or upon bad grounds tends to raise a
 man in his own opinion, produces a sort of swelling and triumph that
 is extremely grateful to the human mind; and this swelling is never
 more perceived, nor operates with more force, than when without
 danger we are conversant with terrible objects, the mind always
 claiming to itself some part of the dignity and importance of the
 things which it contemplates. (50-51)

After remarking that "imitation" is a passion that "arises from much the same cause as sympathy," Burke relates the distinction of sublime objects as a source of social distinction without which society stagnates:
 Although imitation is one of the great instruments used by
 providence in bringing our nature towards its perfection, yet if
 men gave themselves up to imitation entirely, and each followed the
 other, and so on in an eternal circle, it is easy to see that there
 never could be any improvement amongst them. Men must remain as
 brutes do, the same at the end that they are at this day, and that
 they were in the beginning of the world. (49, 50)

The sublime, the imitation of which constitutes ambition, compensates for the levelling effect of sympathy, the unambitious imitation of each by each, by promoting the production of a more diverse sociality, one that stratifies the social mass. In this way, the sublime stimulates the reproduction of some version of itself, a reiteration that produces differentiation rather than similitude.

This relation of the sublime to imitation is particularly striking in comparison with the effects of beauty, which seems, in contrast, to impede its own circulation. As Frances Ferguson has observed, beauty elicits something more like contempt than emulation. (11) Beautiful objects are never perfect, says Burke--on the contrary, they are positively defective; thus
 this quality, where it is highest in the female sex, almost always
 carries with it an idea of weakness and imperfection. Women are
 very sensible of this; for which reason, they learn to lisp, to
 totter in their walk, to counterfeit weakness, and even sickness.
 In all this, they are guided by nature. Beauty in distress is much
 the most affecting beauty. (110)

Clearly, beauty inspires not imitation but, at best, condescension. The resulting binary, imitable sublime/inimitable beauty, despite the supposed universality of sublime and beautiful experience, reinforces gender roles by transforming gender difference into a difference in social reproduction. Attraction cannot destabilize gender hierarchy because, for men, there is no relation between love and imitation. One--a masculine one--specifically does not become like what one loves; this is to become inferior to what one is. The beautiful interrupts the mimetic reciprocity of both ordinary and sublime social life by presenting an affectively interesting object whose mimesis is banned.

Burke's equation of the feminine with the beautiful, and, by default, the masculine with the sublime, resists critique because these conclusions are presented as mere descriptions of effects; since such effects are immediately given, they correspond to true differences in nature. There is no point in subjecting them to further analysis; rational assessment, as Burke will insist so frequently in the Reflections, only interferes with nature. The analysis of aesthetic effect and aesthetic effect itself remain distinct; the former neither effects or affects the latter. To adequately convey aesthetic effect is in fact to transmit its experience contagiously rather than to clearly identify it, as Burke explains in the case of sublime language:
 The truth is, all verbal description, merely as naked description,
 though never so exact, conveys so poor and insufficient an idea of
 the thing described, that it could scarcely have the smallest
 effect, if the speaker did not call in to his aid those modes of
 speech that mark a strong and lively feeling in himself. Then, by
 the contagion of our passions, we catch a fire already kindled in
 another, which probably might never have been struck out by the
 object described. Words, by strongly conveying the passions, by
 those means which we have already mentioned, fully compensate for
 their weakness in other respects. (175-76)

Thus to communicate aesthetic experience is not to convey an object for reflection, but to elicit an emotional response by the natural spread of one's own emotional condition.

Baillie, in contrast to Burke, depicts the strong passions as nearly autonomous systems that, far from operating by immediate passage from subject to subject through contagion, work instead chiefly upon their own origins in the affected individual. She asserts that passions grow chiefly from themselves, not from their environing circumstances. "It is a characteristic," she writes, "of the more powerful passions that they will encrease and nourish themselves on very slender aliment; it is from within that they are chiefly supplied with what they feed on; and it is in contending with opposite passions and affections of the mind that we least discover their strength, not with events." (12) This recursive, self-augmenting structure of the strong passions is the inverse of Burke's example of passionate oratory rippling through a crowd. Baillie's passions consist of primarily internal processes, with scant reference to events outside the "closet" of the mind. They work upon themselves, auto-affectively. Thus, from the outside, to others, passion's strength rests in its mysterious quality, its dissonance with expectations and circumstance; this dissonance excites curiosity rather than emulation on the part of the observer. Far from constituting an intersubjective or contagious condition, passion's strange attraction consists in the fact that its primary source is itself, its own recursive dynamics.

Baillie emphasizes both the possibility and the value of rendering the passions available to speculative understanding by putting them on the stage. This speculative possibility carries with it the possibility of moving the audience beyond blunt reaction to aesthetic objects; Baillie aims to manage a kind of rational transformation of the understanding. By presenting not passions, but passionately affected subjects, Baillie interrupts the immediacy of effect on audience that, in Burke, prevents an interrogation of the gendering of the sublime and the beautiful. Furthermore, by the same token, Baillie mediates her own effect, that is, the flow of passion from author to audience, and attracts less direct attention to herself as her work, as, that is, a "female author." Both utilizing and challenging the ideas of Burke, Baillie's notion of dramatic function is designed to address the peculiar predicament of women artists, and it offers more generally a way to address the problem of art's reproduction of sexual oppression.

It may seem odd, then, that a key component of Baillie's strategy consists of remasculinizing both passion and the theater. (13) And indeed, Catherine Burroughs, in her important study of Baillie's work and reception, Closet Stages, argues that later nineteenth-century labelling of Baillie as "masculine" was part of an overall mechanism of cultural marginalization (92-96). However, the "Introductory Discourse," discussing objects of purportedly universal human interest, presents a relentlessly male catalogue of situations and characters. Baillie opens with an unvacillating description of an execution. She proceeds onward to describe the practices of "the savages of America," who torture their war captives not sadistically or vengefully, but as a trial of the captives' soul, a practice, she emphasizes, that depends on the fundamental likeness of the enemies' souls to those of the torturers. It is because of this likeness that spectacle produces not contagion, but "sympathetick curiosity," the trait through which Baillie explains the general fascination with individuals in extreme situations, a universal human characteristic (70-70). (14) As we have seen, instead of constituting an uncontrollable transmission from sufferer to observer, sympathetic curiosity fosters superior human judgment, and for this reason Baillie recommends its development in the formation of effective and responsible judges, magistrates, and advocates. So the theater, providing object lessons on the operations of such passions, performs a civil service to the serious business of men. As the result of its development, such men "will perceive the natural effect of every order that he issues upon the minds of his soldiers, his subjects, or his followers; and he will deal to others judgment tempered with mercy; that is to say truly just; for justice appears to us severe only when it is imperfect" (76).

Baillie's masculine collection of theatrical objects accompanies an erasure of libido from theatrical spectacle, or perhaps more precisely, a displacement of it. In contrast to the sexual overflow of Burke's extended outburst on the pathos of Marie Antoinette in the Reflections, Baillie eschews prurience even as she affirms the powerful desire to follow each of her interesting characters "into his lonely haunts, into his closet, into the midnight silence of his chamber ..." (73). While Burke's famous portrait of the assault on the French queen clearly appealed to a masculine gaze, Baillie continually arrests the suggestion of illicit desire even when dealing with the most personal moments of her characters, carefully managing the channels of curiosity. She continually reminds the reader that "[i]n examining others, we know ourselves"--the gaze is informative, not aggrandizing or sexualizing (74). Nonetheless, the relentless masculinity of her examples shows Baillie hedging her philosophical assertions about human nature with an appeal based on quite different social realities. Although she insists on the universal character of human sympathy, she tacitly acknowledges what Burke's misogyny makes explicit: that if the object of the gaze is masculine, theater has a better chance of offering a scene of universal instruction than if it offers a spectacle of feminine distress. But her use of masculine examples also operates in the other direction. Featuring males as the object of spectacle arguably feminizes them, particularly given her emphasis on exhibiting the personal and domestic setting of the closet. All in all, then, Baillie's masculine material promotes a de-gendering of the theater, first, by counteracting the (hetero)sexualizing of the gaze through the use of masculine objects, and, second, by the feminizing exhibition of masculine bodies.

Given Baillie's desire to instruct--"the theater is a school," she insists-rather than simply to entertain, the best theatrical productions ought to induce interested reflection rather than either identification or condescending disidentification (104). Reflection allows the observer to make correspondences and note differences between self and other, between one set of circumstances and another, in a deliberate, reasoned way that depends on an assumption of fundamental similitude--at least if well-prompted by the events on stage. By depicting the passions as attractive precisely because of the problem passion poses for understanding, Baillie rebuffs the power of passion to irremediably affect, or effect, the social circulation of men or women--insofar as each is, primarily, a circulation of ideas--of images of people to whose various predicaments it is possible to relate. Burke gets aesthetics wrong because he dissociates speculation from passion, and renders the latter beyond the reach of an inquisitiveness that is the foundation for education.


Baillie's instructive theater sounds far more like an operating theater than the ample but private closets that Ellen Donkin describes as scenes of private dramatic productions. (15) Baillie labors to open the closet in order to expose the obscure secrets of the passions to public understandings. (16) Baillie's metaphor of the closet in the "Introductory Discourse," often literally present in her dramas, both recalls and dramatically revises the closet of Edward Young as he describes it in Conjectures on Original Composition. Young poses a significant counterfigure to Baillie for two reasons. First, his views on authorship as expressed in the Conjectures are widely regarded as anticipations of Romanticism. Young portrays literary production as a process of self-discovery and the illumination of a personal, unique depth. Second, as Martha Woodmansee has shown, Young's position on authorship had a major role in revising literary property laws in favor of the author's very particular kind of production--not in Britain, but in Germany. This legal-cultural struggle became, according to Woodmansee, a powerful discursive force in the evolving idea of the author as original genius who produces an organically autonomous text. (17)

For Young, the closet is the site of the would--be author's productive retirement, a haven from social bustle--and from the socially-conveyed burden of the classics from which the writer must psychologically liberate himself if he is ever to achieve something new. Indeed, it is at times clear that "composition" and "the closet" are interchangeable for Young. He writes of "composition," for example, "While we bustle thro' the frenzied walks of public life, it gives us a respite, at least, from care; a pleasing pause of refreshing recollection." (18) As in Baillie, the closet, or composition, is the site of a kind of dissection--but it is emphatically a self-dissection:
 Therefore dive deep into thy bosom; learn the depth, extent, bias,
 and full fort of thy mind; contract full intimacy with the
 stranger within thee; excite and cherish every spark of
 intellectual light and heat, however smothered under former
 negligence, or scattered through the dull, dark mass of common
 thoughts; and collecting them into a body, let thy genius rise (if
 a genius thou hast) as the sun from chaos; and if I should then
 say, like an Indian, Worship it, (though too bold)
 yet should I say little more than my second rule enjoins,
 (viz.) Reverence thyself. (Young 52-53)

This process of self-discovery clearly resembles a process later associated with high Romanticism in which art constitutes a record of both self-development and self-discovery, a growth of the poet's mind or a literary biography. (19) But Young's scene of composition utterly opposes Baillie's closet in that its privacy is its virtue rather than its shortcoming. Baillie, on the other hand, is anxious to contradict any assumption that, given the publication of her dramas prior to production, "I have written for the closet rather than the stage," and she insists that the virtue of the drama is expressly "to catch the attention of him who will not, and of him who cannot read" (108-9). For Baillie, knowledge of the passions, and with that, self-knowledge, requires externalizing the attention far more than it demands literacy; commerce, not retirement, is essential to it.

The private closet was, of course, a frequent setting for women's literary composition: letters, novels, even dramatic performances. But the exaltation of the closet, or garret, as the nursery of profound creative genius would colonize it in such a way that women were further marginalized rather than validated. As Carlson puts it, "romantic theorists ... keep women from figuring as 'women' since they are also invested in filling that place" (140). Ironically, the Romantic image of the infinitely surprising complexity of genius laboring apart from the hectic shallows of public life excluded women by the mere fact of its own circulation--by making the retired author an image exclusive of women. This is not to say the conditions for female authorship were not daunting prior to Romanticism, of course. Before Romantic garrulousness over the retired self, it may have been more possible for women to negotiate terms of authorship, but, as many historians of the period have observed, women authors were still required to defend themselves against ridicule resulting from their reception by a male-dominated public, and also required to negotiate an ambivalence that issues from the restrictive and fractured identity positions from which it is possible for women to write. (20) As Susan Wolfson has pointed out, even Mary Wollstonecraft could not conceive of certain kinds of women's performance as feminine: "... the few extraordinary women who have rushed in eccentrical directions," Wollstonecraft writes in A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, were "male spirits, confined by mistake in female frames." (21)

It seems that the situation for "female authors" even in the 1790s would appear to be quite grim if the act of composition were itself an unsexing one--particularly if the demands of authorship require, as Baillie asserts for her dramatic subjects, publicizing the closet. But once again, oddly enough, Burke's treatise provides suggestive options that illuminate a possible context for some of Baillie's maneuvers in defining authorship in the "Introductory Discourse." Burke's conception of artistic production as described in the Enquiry is bifurcated in a way that leaves open a certain kind of artistry for women: essentially Burke defines an art of consumption, an art of discerning and representing objects that does not attract attention to itself; instead it mediates the observation of interesting things. In contrast to this mode, Burke relates, we can detect the artist's skill as attractive in itself when we are pleased by objects that we would not care to view apart from the artist's work: "So it is with most of the pieces which the painters call still life. In these a cottage, a dunghill, the meanest and most ordinary utensils of the kitchen, are capable of giving us pleasure. But," he continues, "when the object of the painting or poem is such as we should run to see if real, let it affect us with what odd sort of sense it will, we may rely upon it, that the power of the poem or picture is more owing to the nature of the thing itself than to the mere effect of imitation, or to a consideration of the skill of the imitator however excellent" (49-50). Baillie clearly emphasizes this second art of imitation in the "Introductory Discourse," and renders it the preeminent purpose of the drama. For Baillie, objects exterior to the self naturally arouse interest and the function of drama is to develop this interest in a systematic way.

Insofar as the product of aesthetic experience is knowledge, not the mind of the author herself, the danger of feminine authorship is doubly mitigated. Neither the subject represented nor the author representing becomes the object of an inhibitory condescension or uneasiness on the part of the audience. And this intensified direction of attention to content over style appears in Baillie's design: each drama in her series of plays treats the development and consequences of a single strong passion--"love" in Count Basil, for example, and "hatred" in De Monfort, and so forth. Each drama rests on the foundation of a universal curiosity ordinarily taken in "fellow-creatures" and develops this curiosity into an acute fascination by placing the passionate character in the extremes that constitute the issues of her plot. This fascination, moreover, does not require massively affective admiration or identification, nor does it produce loathing or repulsion; its effect is not cathartic. Her tour of examples terminates with the decidedly undelightful quality of anger: "Anger is a passion that attracts less sympathy than any other, yet the unpleasing and distorted features of an angry man will be more eagerly gazed upon by those who are no wise concerned with his fury, or the objects of it, than the most amiable placid countenance in the world" (72).

Baillie's commitment of artistic resources to passion as an interesting object, rather than to the generation of contagion from an affected author about an affected subject to a would-be affected audience, is Baillie's primary claim to intervening in the history of drama, that is, to her particular claim of originality. She criticizes the usual dramatic plotting of passion's development as casually circumstantial, its characters "affected by the passions in a transient, loose, unconnected manner" that fails to bring out the essential intelligibility of passion given the proper conditions for its observation (91). Her passionate objects are, compared with Burke's, more fully objects insofar as autonomous systems are objects. They are not co-produced by the gaze; they have an independence from the interested spectator that supports Baillie's design for her Series. Andrea Henderson has described Baillie's artistic method in a way that strongly resembles Burke's second option for the artist: an art of collection, an art of consumption rather than production. Henderson argues that Baillie's design for her series, devoting an entire play to each of the major passions, is ingeniously apt for a "social context of obsessive collection." (22) "The aim is possession and plenitude," writes Henderson, a form of desire that renders the possessor of each of Baillie's volumes eager for its sequel.

However, Baillie's ingenious design for the dramas encounters a major obstacle in terms of literariness itself, that is, in terms of her participation in the tradition of English letters. She broaches the subject with a rather formulaic apology concerning her own limitations: Baillie petitions for the "forbearance" of her reader "if he has discovered ... any unacknowledged use of the thoughts of other authors, which he thinks ought to have been noticed ...," explaining that "[w]hen a thought presents itself to me, as suited to the purpose I am aiming at, I would neither be thought proud enough to reject it, on finding that another has used it before me, nor mean enough to make use of it without acknowledging the obligation, when I can at all guess to whom such acknowledgements are due" (III), an assertion to which I will return in the next section. She then alludes to her irregular education, recalling Mary Wollstonecraft's chief complaint about the deficits of female learning: "my reading through the whole of my life," Baillie admits, "has been of a loose, scattered, unmethodical kind, with no determined direction, and I have not been blessed by nature with the advantages of a retentive or accurate memory," and she concludes the paragraph with a promise to make amends for any omissions in a second edition, if such an edition occurs (112). Despite these apologies, however, Baillie concludes by asserting her conviction of her own originality of "design," to the degree that "even if I perform it ill, I am still confident that this (pardon me if I call it so) noble design will not be suffered to fall to the ground: some one will arise after me who will do it justice; and there is no poet possessing genius for such a work, who will not at the same time possess that spirit of justice and of candour, which will lead him to remember me with respect" (113).

Baillie portrays literary property, that is, the manifestation of authorial originality, as part of an anticipated exchange with the future rather than a present and immediate issue of autonomous novelty. The culture of letters is for her a commerce of letters. It is true she cannot presently operate as a source of credit because of her disordered female education and limited intellectual resources: citational exchange is thus only a prospect, the function of an acquisition that has yet to occur. But it is also true that she views her assets as more significant than her debts: Baillie in effect promises to trade what she does not have (systematic knowledge of a canon) in order not to lose credit in the future for what she does have (design), and she clearly regards this as an attractive offer. This promised citational exchange of "design" for "thoughts" further underlines an emphasis on literature as the medium of a common project; in Baillie's view, drama is a means of organizing perceptions and reflections, an ordering of properties that are in themselves available to all. This, in turn, might facilitate the progress of drama as a disciplinary rather than more narrowly literary endeavor. Her version of citation is really closer to the modern scientific referee than to the humanities practice of acknowledging authors for their language. However, it is precisely this notion of common property that is in the process of becoming obsolete in the broad domain of letters, arguably to the disadvantage of a more democratic literary sphere. Baillie's view of the terms of credit conflict with late eighteenth-century definitions of literary property that establish a particular relation of art to modernity that closes off the disciplinary potential of artistic practice, a potential that, given Baillie's approach, might benefit the cause of women's participation in public life by constructing an objective project identifiable apart from the affective impact of the author.


In effect, Joanna Baillie claimed the title of author on the basis of "design," an idea closer to invention than to a more specifically literary mark of originality, style. In fact, Baillie specifically downplays style in ways that resemble Burke's denigration of beauty in the Enquiry. Baillie, like Burke, criticizes the intricacy and delicacy typically associated with aristocratic refinement. She contrasts it to a more fundamental hard-working simplicity that should properly rule the former. These "simples" are everybody's property, moreover, because of their roots in the native order of things:
 [T]hose works which most strongly characterize human nature in the
 middling and lower classes of society, where it is to be discovered
 by stronger and more unequivocal marks, will ever be the most
 popular. For though great pains have been taken in our higher
 sentimental novels to interest us in the delicacies,
 embarrassments, and artificial distresses of the more refined part
 of society, they have never been able to cope in the publick
 opinion with these. The one is a dressed and beautiful
 pleasure-ground, in which we are enchanted for a while, amongst
 the delicate and unknown plants of artful cultivation; the
 other is a rough forest of our native land; the oak, the elm,
 the hazle, and the bramble are there; and amidst the endless
 varieties of its paths we can wander for ever. (79)

Drama in particular ought to appeal to this common taste for fundamental physical realities; "beautiful" over-precious language is more appropriate to poetry. It is through an unfortunate historical circumstance that Western drama became entangled with the aesthetics of poetry. The mixture of poetry into drama, as Baillie relates in a footnote, resulted from the historical contingency that in the West Homer preceded the Greek dramatists, and his verbal refinement was copied into drama; in turn, subsequent dramatists, "from the beauty of those original dramas to which they have ever looked back with admiration ... have been tempted to prefer the embellishments of poetry to faithfully delineated nature" (83-84). Even poetry benefits from directing attention away from its own style; "the highest pleasures we receive from poetry," she writes, "as well as from the real objects which surround us in the world, are derived from the sympathetick interest we all take in beings like ourselves" (81).

Baillie promotes authorship as invention and regards literature, particularly drama, as most effective when driven by properties held in common, as opposed to the refined, more privately cultivated, distinctions of style. The affinity of literary production with mechanical invention follows from an empirical conception of mental operation in which the mind is mechanically subject to impressions and associations which it has the capacity, through reflection, to rearrange in novel designs. The material for reflective work, therefore, is common material, and to that degree, as Baillie writes with what I believe must be viewed as understatement bordering on irony, "There are few writers who have sufficient originality of thought to strike out for themselves new ideas on every occasion" (III). Given the common basis of literature in human nature and in a shared culture and language, the question of originality is highly suspect, as Baillie goes on to intimate in terms of her own processes of thinking--again with a nod to the so-called originals:
 Do not, however, imagine from this, I at all wish to insinuate that
 I ought to be acquitted of every obligation to preceding authours;
 and that when a palpable similarity of thought and expression is
 observable between us, it is a similarity produced by accident
 alone, and with perfect unconsciousness on my part. I am frequently
 sensible, from the manner in which an idea arises to my imagination,
 and the readiness with which words, also, present themselves to
 clothe it in, that I am only making use of some dormant part of that
 hoard of ideas which the most indifferent memories lay up, and not
 the native suggestion of mine own mind. Whenever I have suspected
 myself of doing so, in the course of this work, I have felt a strong
 inclination to mark that suspicion in a note. But, besides that it
 might have appeared like an affectation of scrupulousness which I
 would avoid, there being likewise, most assuredly, many other places
 in it where I have done the same thing without being conscious of
 it, a suspicion of wishing to slur them over, and claim all the rest
 as unreservedly my own, would unavoidably have attached to me. (46)

Baillie's eager acknowledgement of the degree to which her own ideas and "words to clothe them in" are unoriginal in this passage actually functions to convey more powerfully the impossibility of sorting out one's debts from "the native suggestion" of one's own mind. Since all impressions arise from experience and experience supplies the "hoard of ideas" in memory, it is a vain endeavor to attempt to identify the source of each thought. It follows that the material of literature, language itself, is a problematic site for claims to originality. Thus Baillie asserts not so much an originality of verbal content, but of "design"--the arrangement of ideas not her own, historically a form of originality that merited a patent rather than a copyright.

In terms of the eighteenth-century debate on literary property, Baillie's position on originality resembles those opponents of perpetual copyright who objected to the notion of a property in language. As Mark Rose paraphrases such reasoning, "The same ideas might very well occur independently to different people. Would that mean that each would be a separate proprietor of the same idea? Could Newton claim an exclusive property in the laws of the universe?" (23) Insofar as literature's traditional function is to delight and instruct, a function underscored in the "Introductory Discourse," literature expresses knowledge--a property made as common as possible for the good of society. And this emphatically pre-Romantic notion of literature, moreover, found expression in the limits of copyright propounded in the Statute of Anne (1710), insofar as it was entitled "An Act for the Encouragement of Learning."

The limits set by the Statute of Anne met significant legal challenges as they came to term over the decades following its enactment. Opponents of the limits claimed that the right of the author to perpetual copyright was rooted in common law. This argument did not acknowledge, of course, that perpetual copyright benefited the London booksellers at the expense of provincial business and consumers, and the former were determined to maintain what the latter resisted was a monopoly on the nation's cultural heritage. In 1769, the limits of the Statute of Anne would be rescinded in Millar v. Tailor; in 1774, limits would be reintroduced in the landmark decision of Donaldson p. Becket. Throughout, a huge debate raged among lawyers, writers, statesmen, businessmen, and the at-large public regarding the nature of intellectual property" and the competing interests of the author, trade, and reader. This debate would destabilize the conception of literature and authorship, and the ensuing dynamism in the discourse of literary production would not surprisingly accompany a growing sense of the individual-as-process, a conception promoted by the later Romantics as creators of an autonomous, organic literature. This concept of authorship opposes, and would bury, Baillie's concept of authorship, Her notion and those like it would be casualties for two primary reasons: their proximity to the concept of mechanical invention, and their rejection of style as a property both in and of language.

Baillie's description of her Series of Plays as a "plan" and a "design" appeals to a conception of originality modelled on that of the inventor. But the idea of modelling an author's property in his work on the property rights of an inventor met with powerful objections decades before, and was not ultimately to play a significant role in the later debates on the term of copyright. William Warburton, around mid-century, enunciated a rationale for the first of several distinctions involved in the emergence of the notion of intellectual property as distinct from invention. Warburton proposes a case for the difference between an author's rights from an inventor's rights, rationalized by the claim that, in Rose's paraphrase, "inventions were of a mixed nature, being both manual and mental products" (Authors and Owners 73). Because of that mixture, Warburton argued, patents are rightly granted to the inventor, but only for a term of years. But an author's work presents a "Case of Property in the Product of the Mind," contrasting the book as a material object with an incorporeal and individual sentiment, and as incorporeal, worthy of special privilege. (24)

Yet Warburton's stress on "incorporeality" as the distinguishing mark of "literary" property only raises the same question as Baillie does in her citational anxiety. How can something as intangible as an idea be marked out as property? And indeed, in Millar v. Taylor, which upheld the author's perpetual right of property in his work (a right that essentially became the exclusive right of a bookseller), the dissenting decision of Justice Joseph Yates expresses a position perhaps most similar to Baillie's view of authorship. First of all, Yates asserts the absurdity of a property in "ideas" given the fluid immateriality of thought processes:
 But the property here claimed is all ideal; a set of ideas which
 have no bounds or marks whatever, nothing that is capable of a
 visible possession, nothing that can sustain any one of the
 qualities or incidents of property. Their whole existence is in the
 mind alone, incapable of any other modes of acquisition or
 enjoyment, than by mental possession or apprehension; safe and
 invulnerable, from their own immateriality: no trespass can reach
 them; no tort affect them; no fraud or violence diminish or damage
 them. Yet these are the phantoms which the author would grasp and
 confine to himself: and these are what the defendant is charged with
 having robbed the plaintiff of. (25)

Furthermore, the act of communicating, for Yates, was itself the end of the writer's privacy; upon publication, the author made his thoughts common:
 I allow, that the author has a property in his sentiments till he
 publishes them. He may keep them in his closet; he may give them
 away; if stolen from him, he has a remedy; he may sell them to a
 bookseller, and give him a title to publish them. But from the
 moment of publication, they are thrown into a state of universal
 communion. (26)

However, despite the overturning of Millar v. Taylor five years later, Yates's rationale for limiting the rights of authors would be left behind for good. As Trevor Ross points out, the 1774 decision in Donaldson v. Becket concerned not so much the nature of authorial production as the competing interests of the author and the reader. And as Rose makes clear, Yates's conception of linguistic property as common would be superseded by an emphasis on literary and authorial particularity in style.

William Blackstone is perhaps the most eminent contributor to the discourse that would supplant Yates's view of language as common property. Blackstone paved the way for style as an index of property by subordinating the external referent that language merely represents to the particularity of sentiment, which carries with it a specific linguistic formulation. After mid-century Blackstone writes:
 Now the identity of a literary composition consists intirely in the
 sentiment and the language; the same conceptions, cloathed in the
 same words, must necessarily be the same composition: and whatever
 method be taken of conveying that composition to the ear or the eye
 of another, by recital, by writing, or by printing, in any number of
 copies or at any period of time, it is always the identical work of
 the author which is so conveyed; and no other man can have a right
 to convey or transfer it without his consent, either tacitly or
 expressly given. (27)

Style thus became the mark by which a creative, spiritual, and deeply individual labor manifests itself. And thus the development of a distinctive style became the mark of a newly emergent kind of personal property. In using style to mark literary property--as opposed to something like Baillie's "design"--the courts supported precisely that sort of overrefined literary production Baillie sought to revise.

Ironically, the new conception of literary property works against the liberal subject's objective "self-possession" by emphasizing subjectivity, the uniqueness of self as marked by a particularized linguistic usage, a self immune from confirmation or correction by others. In contrast to letters--including the works of Newton, Bacon, and Locke--literature established a new sort of text which could not be improved and advanced along emergent disciplinary lines, that is, with reference to a communally accessible domain of objects, such as, in Baillie's design, the passions. Such an emphasis also enhances the social power of the school: by promoting "style" as the mark of "sentiment" Blackstone promotes a canon of authors rather than writers, who, as authors, require a keener citational attentiveness than a woman of disorderly education like Baillie could manage. Furthermore, given the suggestive analogy between beauty, women, and style, as style became the mark of literary property (though it is merely "execution" in the "Introductory Discourse"), it also reinforced the economic status of women as property rather than owners or creators of property. (28) Like women restricted to the domestic sphere, literature becomes immured from modern disseminative reinscription and redescription. At the same time, as property connected to the owner by a characteristic type of labor, literature could become the distinctive mark of a new kind of professional.

What would have been the consequence of Baillie's notion of authorship if it were a success? What if authorship had come to be modelled on mechanical invention, and what if the foundations of modern authorship, that is, style, were only an individual's harvest from the commons? What if the closet of the writer were more like a laboratory, and the theater more like the operating theater in which the discoveries of the laboratory were made public? Given the history of women in science, at least since science became the exclusive business of the academy, the government, and the corporation, there is perhaps little basis for plotting an alternative course for women's social progress. But perhaps in the meantime, in Baillie's time, this alternative strategy of authorship might have rendered the scope for women's activities broader and the domestic sphere less exclusively domestic. Perhaps the segregation of public and private, on which bourgeois life depended, and which would be so extravagantly celebrated in the nineteenth century, would have been less extreme, less like Burke's gendered segregation of the sublime and the beautiful.

(1.) See Christopher Reid, "Burke's Tragic Muse: Sarah Siddons and the 'Feminization' of the Reflections,'" in Burke and the French Revolution, ed. Steven Blakemore (Athens: U of Georgia P, 1992) 1-27.

(2.) Julie Carlson, in the Theatre of Romanticism: Coleridge, Nationalism, Women (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1994) 162-75.

(3.) See James Boaden, The Life of Mrs. Jordan, 2 vols. (London: Richard Bentley, 1833) 2: 330 (qtd. in Catherine B. Burroughs, Closet States: Joanna Baillie and the Theater Theory of British Romantic Woman Writers [Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania P, 1997] 102).

(4.) Anne K. Mellor, "Joanna Baillie and the Counter-Public Sphere," Si[R.sub.33] (1994): 561.

(5.) Paulina Kewes, "[A] Play, which I presume to call 'original': Appropriation, Creative Genius, and Eighteenth-Century Playwriting," Studies in the Literary Imagination 34 (2000: 17-47; for more general treatments of women and the theater in this period, see Burroughs, as well as Tracy C. David and Ellen Donkin (eds.), Women and Playwriting in Nineteenth-Century Britain (Cambridge: Cambridge UP 1999).

(6.) Since the mid-seventies over a dozen editions of Baillie's plays and poetry have appeared, with more forthcoming; Baillie has also been the subject of a fine book-length study by Catherine Burroughs (see note 3 above), as well as the occasion of a wealth of critical articles on her theory, artistic production, life, and cultural context.

(7.) Many critics, including Carlson and Reid, have emphasized Burke's acknowledgement of the civic importance of beauty in the Reflections as a reversal of his denigration of it in the Enquiry. However, the relation between the two texts in this respect is quite complicated, and it would be oversimple to see the Reflections as a wholesale reversal of the Enquiry, as Tom Furniss makes clear. See Furniss, Edmund Burke's Aesthetic Ideology: Language, Gender, and Political Economy in Revolution (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, i993).

(8.) Edmund Burke, Reflections of the Revolution in France and on the Proceedings in Certain Societies in London Relative to that Event, ed. Conor Cruise O'Brien (London: Penguin, 1986) 183.

(9.) For a clear discussion of Burke's theories of representation with respect to the sublime and the beautiful, see W. J. T. Mitchell, Iconology: Image, Text, Ideology (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1986) 116-49.

(10.) Edmund Burke, A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful, rev. ed. James T. Boulton (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1987) 115. All subsequent citations of Burke refer to this text by page number.

(11.) Ferguson remarks, on the subject of Burke's description of beauty, that "his diddling with it out of a 'love' ... approaches much nearer to contempt than we imagine." She puts much greater stress on the sublime as a defensive reaction against the potentially mimetic attraction of the beautiful than I do here. Tom Furniss corroborates her emphasis, viewing beauty's attraction as the threat of morally crippling luxury arising among the sober bourgeoisie. See Ferguson, Solitude and the Sublime: Romanticism and the Aesthetics of Individuation (New York: Routledge, 1992) 44.

(12.) Joanna Baillie, Plays on the Passions, ed. Peter Duthie (Ontario: Broadview, 2001) 92. M1 subsequent citations of Baillie refer to this text.

(13.) Byron, for example, remarks with admiration that "When Voltaire was asked why no woman has ever written even a tolerable tragedy? 'Ah (said the Patriarch) the composition of a tragedy requires testicles.'--If this be true, Lord knows what Joanna Baillie does--I suppose she borrows them" (Letters and Journals, ed. Leslie A. Marchand [London, J. Murray: 1973-] 5: 203). On the other hand, for a brief, clear discussion of the connection between bourgeois values and the ascendancy of feminine pathetic spectacle in the theater, see Reid.

(14.) Baillie's early drama Raynor presents a conversation with two members of a crowd awaiting the verdict on the title character, who talk about their observations of previous executions and exhibit the sympathetic curiosity that humanizes rather than objectifies the object of the spectacle.

(15.) Ellen Donkin, Getting Into the Act: Women Playwrightss in London, 1776-1829 (London: Routledge, 1995).

(16.) Relevant to this development is Dorothy McMillan's interesting argument that Joanna Baillie's theory of the passions and the didactic importance of the theater in bringing about a "knowledge" of the passions relates to theories in medicine promoted by her brother Matthew and his guardian William Hunter. In this context, the connection of the profession of a playwright and the profession of a doctor are quite close, a proximity disrupted by the ascendancy of "style" as the quintessence of the literary. See McMillan, "'Dr' Baillie," in 1798: The Year of the Lyrical Ballads, ed. Richard Cronin (London: MacMillan, 1998) 68-92.

(17.) Martha Woodmansee, "The Genius and the Copyright: Economic and Legal Conditions of the emergence of the 'Author,' " Eighteenth-Century Studies 17 (1984): 425-48. See also Linda Zionkowski, "Aesthetics, Copyright, and 'The Goods of the Mind,'" British Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies 15 (1992): 163-74.

(18.) Edward Young, Conjectures on Original Composition (1759; rpt. Leeds: Scolar Press, 1966) 6.

(19.) For an extensive exploration of this thesis, see Clifford Siskin, The Historicity of Romantic Discourse (New York: Oxford UP, 1988).

(20.) For a comprehensive treatment of the subject in the case of drama, see Donkin, Getting Into the Act.

(21.) Susan Wolfson, "Gendering the Soul," Romantic Women Writers: Voices and Countervoices, ed. Paula R. Feldman and Theresa M. Kelley (Hanover, NH: UP of New England, 1995) 33.

(22.) Andrea Henderson, "Passion and Fashion in Joanna Baillie's 'Introductory Discourse,'" PMLA 112 (1997): 200.

(23.) Mark Rose, "The Author as Proprietor: Donaldson v. Becket and the Genealogy of Modern Authorship," Representations 23 (Summer 1988): 61. The final section of this essay owes a considerable debt to Rose, both in the article above and to Authors and Owners: The Invention of Copyright (Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1993), as well as to the work of Woodmansee and Trevor Ross ("Copyright and the Invention of Tradition," Eighteenth Century Studies 26 [1992]: 1-27) on the connection between copyright and the evolution of both the modern and romantic concept of authorship.

(24.) William Warburton, A Letter from an Author to a Member of Parliament Concerning Literary Property (London, 1747). Rpt. in Horace Walpole's Political Tracts 1747-1748 with Two by William Warburton 1747 and 1762, ed. Stephen Parks (New York: Garland, 1974) 8, qtd. in Rose, Authors and Owners 73.

(25.) Justice Joseph Yates, in Millar v. Taylor, English Reports, Full Reprint, 176 vols (Edinburgh and London, 1900-1930) 96: 188; qtd. in Rose, "Author as Proprietor" 60-61.

(26.) Yates, English Reports 98: 185; qtd. in Rose, "Author as Proprietor" 77.

(27.) William Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England (Oxford: 1765-1769, Facsimile rpt. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1979) 4 vols., 2: 405-6; qtd. in Rose, Authors and Owners 89-90.

(28.) Clifford Siskin has recently discussed the relation of Burke's sublime, disciplinarity, and gender in ways that are suggestive of but ultimately distinct from this account. For Siskin it is the structure of the humanities and the sciences, respectively, that accounts for the exclusion of women, rather than the division itself. In Siskin's account, Burke de-legitimizes writing as a discipline for women, a status it held specifically in the closet by providing women a means of development apart from the masculine gaze. Science, on the other hand, excluded women because of its nature as public exchange; women could not function in science apart from the disenfranchising gaze. I see the disenfranchisement here as operating through the segregation of literature from science itself, by denying literature a characteristic object and removing it to the private domain of the subject. See Siskin, The Work of Writing: Literature and Social Change in Britain, 1700-1830 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1998).

Kansas State University
COPYRIGHT 2004 Boston University
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2004 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

 Reader Opinion




Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Brigham, Linda
Publication:Studies in Romanticism
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Sep 22, 2004
Previous Article:"The child of a fierce hour": Shelley and Napoleon Bonaparte.
Next Article:Division below the surface: Olaudah Equiano's Interesting Narrative.

Terms of use | Copyright © 2014 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters