Constantia Grierson

Life
?1706-1733; b. Graigvenamanagh, Co. Kilkenny; apprenticed as midwife to Dr. Van Lewen; learned in Hebrew, Greek and Latin and, through Laetitia Pilkington, a friend of Jonathan Swift, forming his ‘female senate’ with Mary Barber and Mary Delany; m. George Grierson [q.v.], holder of the patent for royal printer in Ireland [George II]; ed. Virgil (1724), Terence (1727) and Tacitus (1730) for her husband; she was working on Sallust when time of death, aetat. 27; contrib. seven poems in praise of friends to George Colman and Bonnell Thornton’s Poems by Eminent Ladies (1755), and six others interspersed with Mary Barber’s in Poems on Several Occasions (1734). RR CAB ODNB OCIL FDA

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Works
[George Colman & Bonnell Thornton, eds.,] “Poems by Mrs. Constantia Grierson”, in Poems by the most eminent ladies of Great-Britain and Ireland, Vol. I [A new edition edn.] (London: printed for T. Becket and Co. and T. Evans, near York building, Strand.) , p.240.

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Criticism
Bernard Tucker, ‘“Swift’s Female Senate”: Three Forgotten Poets’, in Irish Studies Review, 7 (Summer 1994), pp.7-10. See also Richard Ryan, Biographia Hibernica: Irish Worthies (1821), Vol. II, p.285-88.

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Commentary
Laetitia Pilkington (Memoirs, 1748): ‘She wrote elegantly both in verse and prose; and some of the most delightful hours I ever passed were in conversation of this female philosopher’. [q.p.]

W. B. Stanford, Ireland and the Classical Tradition (1984), Constantia Grierson, the first to produce a full edition of a major classic in Ireland; b. Phillips, 1705 of poor parents in Co. Kilkenny, learned Greek, Latin and Hebrew; m. George Grierson, King’s Printer; won favour of Lord Carteret by including an elegant Latin dedication and Greek epigram of her own to his son in Grierson’s text of Terence (1727); supervised Grierson’s printing of a 3 vol. ed. of Tacitus by Theodor Rycke, a Dutch scholar; the ed. being highly praised; her contribution to the scholarship nugatory. [166]

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References
Charles A. Read, The Cabinet of Irish Literature [1876-78]; bio-dates 1706-1733; born poor in Graiguenamanagh, Co. Kilkenny, self-educated. According to Laetitia Pilkington, ‘when about eighteen years of age, Constantia was brought to her father [circumstances not explained] to be instructed in midwifery; that she was mistress of Hebrew, Greek, Latin, and French, and understood Mathematics as well as most men.’ She married Grierson, the King’s printer, and had her name inserted on the patent as a favour from Lord Carteret, to whom she dedicated her Dublin edition of Tacitus. The majority of her verses are to be found in [Mary] Barber’s volume, and some are in broadsides, tracts and ephemeral publications’ (I, 148). The poem addressed to Laetitia Pilkington contains the lines, “But beaux! They’re young attorneys, sure, you mean,/Who thus appear to your romantic brain.” ‘On the Art of Printing’, “Hail, mystic art, which men like angels taught .../[To] make one sense perform the task of three ... Dead letter thus, with living notions fraught,/Prove to the soul the telescope of thought ... And keep, like fate, all nature in a book.’

Seamus Deane, gen. ed., The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing (Derry: Field Day 1991), Vol. 1: biog, b. in Ireland between 1703 and 1705, apprenticed in midwifery during teens to Dr Van Lewen, Dublin physician and father of Mrs Laetitia, later Mrs Pilkington; attracted attention as poet and scholarly editor; m. George Grierson, king’s printer and colleague of Faulkner; involved as ed. and proofreader in Grierson’s editions of classical authors, incl. Terence (1727), and Tacitus (1730); her poetry is uncollected; some of her poems included in Mrs Barber’s Poems on Several Occasions (Lon 1734); also in The Memoirs of Laetitia Pilkington, 3 vols. (Dublin 1748-54). d. Dublin 1732. FDA1 selects “To Miss Laetitia van Lewen in a Country-town at the time of the Assizes” [‘The fleeting birds may soon in Ocean swim, / And Northern Whales thro’ liquid Azure skim. / The Dublin ladies their Intrigues forsake, / To Dress and Scandal an Aversion take; / When you can in the lonely forest walk / and with some grave Matron gravely talk / Of Possets, Poutices, and Waters still’d [/.. ../] But Beaux! They’re young Attorneys! sure you mean! / Who thus appear to your romantic Brain ... Bad as they are, they’ll soon abandon you / And Gain, and Clamour, in the Town pursue / So haste to Town, if ev’n such Fools you prize ... and bless the longing eyes / Of your Constantia’ [419-20]; Bibl. cit., Constantia Grierson, ‘to Miss Laetitia van Lewen ...’ from The Memoirs of Mrs Laetitia Pilkington (Dublin 1776), pp.25-26. BIOG., 495-96, as above.

A. N. Jeffares & Peter Van de Kamp, eds., Irish Literature: The Eighteenth Century - An Annotated Anthology (Dublin/Oregon: Irish Academic Press 2006), selects “To Miss Laetitia van Lewen in a Country-town at the time of the Assizes” [pp.187-88.]

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