|Died||2 December 1732
|Cause of death||possibly tuberculosis.|
|Resting place||St. John's Parish Church, Drumcondra, Dublin, Ireland|
|Known for||editor, poet, and classical scholar|
Constantia Grierson [née Crawley] (c. 1705 – 2 December 1732), was an editor, poet, and classical scholar from County Kilkenny, Ireland. She was married to the Dublin printer and publisher George Grierson.
Constantia was born to an impoverished rural family in County Kilkenny. Her parents noticed her intelligence at an early age and furthered her desire to learn by every means that lay in their power. Her father sought advice on the matter, and, although he did not have much money, he was able to supply her with books suited, as he had been told, to the capacity of a child her age. But soon her parents found that her abilities were far beyond her years. Constantia was tutored in Hebrew, Greek, Latin, English, and French by her local vicar, but was mostly self-educated. According to one editor she was "a most excellent scholar, not only in Greek and Roman literature, but in history, divinity, philosophy, and mathematics: and what makes her character the more remarkable is, that she died so early as the age of 27, and that she acquired this great learning merely by the force of her own genius, and continual application." Laetitia Pilkington felt "her Learning appeared like the Gift poured out of the Apostles, of speaking all languages without the Pains of Study; or, like the intuitive Knowledge of Angels."
At about eighteen Constantia moved to Dublin and began to study midwifery under Dr. Van Lewen, a Dutch physician and the father of Laetitia Pilkington. Constantia ceased her studies when she met publisher George Grierson (c.1679–1753) for whom she edited many works. By 1727 she had carefully edited titles in the pocket classics edition, including Terence's Comediae, to which she prefixed a Greek epigram from her own pen, inscribing it to Robert, son of Lord Carteret; in 1730 she edited the work of Tacitus, inscribing it to Lord Carteret himself. Jonathan Swift was so impressed with her editing that he wrote to Alexander Pope on 6 February 1730: 'She is a very good Latin and Greek scholar, and hath lately published a fine edition of Tacitus, and she writes carmina Anglicana non-contemnenda.' The edition was also much praised by the classical scholar Edward Harwood. It is not clear if they married at all, as the date is unrecorded. Constantia played an important role in her husband's business and household, which included apprentices and journeymen as well as domestic servants. Highly regarded by Dublin's literary élite for her gifts as an editor as well as a poet, and for her remarkable memory, women from the landed gentry of Ireland were attracted to her and became some of her husband's most valued customers. Her husband emphasised her contributions in his successful petition to the Irish House of Commons in 1729 to be granted the patent for King's Printer: "the Editions corrected by her have been approved of, not only in this Kingdom, but in Great Britain, Holland and elsewhere, and the Art of Printing, through her care and assistance, has been brought to greater perfection than has been hitherto in this Kingdom."
In addition to her editorial work she was a poet. Little of her poetry survives, however her friend Mary Barber published six of her pieces in her Poems on Several Occasions (1734). Those six and two others, included by Laetitia Pilkington in her Memoirs, were published in Poems by the Most Eminent Ladies of Great Britain and Ireland. Jonathan Swift included her, along with Barber and literary critic Elizabeth Sican, in his "triumfeminate" and she was part of his Dublin literary circle.
After a period of frail health, Grierson died at the age of twenty-seven, possibly of tuberculosis, and was buried in Drumcondra, County Dublin. Her reputation was enhanced by being mentioned by George Ballard in his Memoirs of Several Ladies of Great Britain, who have been Celebrated for their Writings or Still in the Learned Languages, Arts and Sciences (1752), though she did not receive much critical attention until recently.
Virgil, Terence and Tacitus were three of the greatest writers/poets of their time. They wrote a multitude of books in their day. Virgil is well known for his tale The Aenid. In Constantia's time, not many knew how to speak Latin. Constantia studied Latin and was able to edit the works of these three great men. Many people were impressed by her editing skills. Constantia started editing when she was eighteen; by the time she completed these three edits she was only 24. Her great intelligence and ability garnered her much due adoration among her peers. When Constantia was assisting her husband in his appeal to the House of Commons her edits were described as follows, "the Editions corrected by her have been approved of, not only in this Kingdom, but in Great Britain, Holland and elsewhere, and the Art of Printing, through her care and assistance, has been brought to greater perfection than has been hitherto in this Kingdom." In addition to her editorial work she was a poet. Little of her poetry survives, however her friend Mary Barber published six of her pieces in her Poems on Several Occasions (1734).
- Grierson, Constantia (1773), "Poems by Mrs. Constantia Grierson", in Colman, G.; Thornton, B., Poems by the most eminent ladies of Great-Britain and Ireland, VOL. I (A new ed.), London: printed for T. Becket and Co. and T. Evans, near York building, Strand., p. 240.
Constantia's poems are few and far between, yet the ones still in circulation are seen as proof of her intelligence. Many poems, epigrams, and occasional pieces flowed from her facile pen—written in Latin, Greek, or English; but as they did not come up to her standard of excellence, she burnt them all before her death. None of her poems have been preserved, save a few which she addressed to various friends, notably to Mrs. Barber, and which are too personal to be quoted as they could not possess any interest for the general reader; and, on the other hand, it would be unfair to give them as specimens of Mrs. Grierson's poetical abilities.
- (Grierson 1773, p. 240)
- Pilkington, Laetitia (1997). Memoirs of Laetitia Pilkington. University of Georgia Press. ISBN 0-8203-1719-5.
- Swift, Jonathan (1965–72). The correspondence of Jonathan Swift. Oxford : Clarendon Press.
- (Rees 2004)
- Bryan, Coleborne (2004), "Barber, Mary (c.1685–1755)", in Matthew, H.C.G.; Harrison, Brian; British Academy, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
- (Ballard 1752)
- Cibber, Theophilus; Shiells, Robert; Coxeter, Thomas (1753), "Mrs. Constantia Grierson", The Lives of the Poets of Great Britain and Ireland, Vol. V, London: Printed for R. Griffiths at the Dunciad in St. Paul's Church Yard, pp. 72–74.
- Rees, D. Ben. (2004), "Grierson, Constantia (1705–1732)", in Matthew, H.C.G.; Harrison, Brian; British Academy, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
- Lonsdale, Roger H., ed. (1989), "Constantia Grierson.", Eighteenth century women poets: an Oxford anthology, New York: Oxford University Press, pp. 91–93, ISBN 978-0-19-811769-8.
- Ballard, George (1752), "Memoirs of Constantia Grierson.", Memoirs of several ladies of Great Britain:who have been celebrated for their writings or skill in the learned languages, arts and sciences, Oxford: Printed by W, Jackson, for the author, pp. 461–464.