Read MRS. CONSTANTIA GRIERSON of The Lives of the Poets of Great Britain and Ireland (1753) Vol. V, free online book, by Theophilus Cibber, on

This lady was born in Ireland; and, as Mrs. Barber judiciously remarks, was one of the most extraordinary women that either this age, or perhaps any other, ever produced.  She died in the year 1733, at the age of 27, and was allowed long before to be an excellent scholar, not only in Greek and Roman literature, but in history, divinity, philosophy, and mathematics.

Mrs. Grierson (says she) ’gave a proof of her knowledge in the Latin tongue, by her dedication of the Dublin edition of Tacitus to the lord Carteret, and by that of Terence to his son, to whom she likewise wrote a Greek epigram.  She wrote several fine poems in English, on which she set so little value, that she neglected to leave copies behind her of but very few.

’What makes her character the more remarkable is, that she rose to this eminence of learning merely by the force of her own genius, and continual application.  She was not only happy in a fine imagination, a great memory, an excellent understanding, and an exact judgment, but had all these crowned by virtue and piety:  she was too learned to be vain, too wise to be conceited, too knowing and too clear-sighted to irreligious.

’If heaven had spared her life, and blessed her with health, which she wanted for some years before her death, there is good reason to think she would have made as great a figure in the learned world, as any of her sex are recorded to have done.

’As her learning and abilities raised her above her own sex, so they left her no room to envy any; on the contrary, her delight was to see others excel.  She was always ready to advise and direct those who applied to her, and was herself willing to be advised.

’So little did she value herself upon her uncommon excellences, that it has often recalled to my mind a fine reflexion of a French author, That great geniuses should be superior to their own abilities.

’I perswade myself that this short account of so extraordinary a woman, of whom much more might have been said, will not be disagreeable to my readers; nor can I omit what I think is greatly to the lord Carteret’s honour, that when he was lord lieutenant of Ireland, he obtained a patent for Mr. Grierson, her husband, to be the King’s Printer, and to distinguish and reward her uncommon merit, had her life inserted in it.’  Thus far Mrs. Barber.  We shall now subjoin Mrs. Pilkington’s account of this wonderful genius.

’About two years before this, a young woman (afterwards married to Mr. Grierson) of about eighteen years of age, was brought to my father, to be by him instructed in Midwifry:  she was mistress of Hebrew, Greek, Latin, and French, and understood the mathematics as well as most men:  and what made these extraordinary talents yet more surprizing was, that her parents were poor, illiterate, country people:  so that her learning appeared like the gift poured out on the apostles, of speaking all languages without the pains of study; or, like the intuitive knowledge of angels:  yet inasmuch as the power of miracles is ceased, we must allow she used human means for such great and excellent acquirements.  And yet, in a long friendship and familiarity with her, I could never obtain a satisfactory account from her on this head; only she said, she had received some little instruction from the minister of the parish, when she could spare time from her needle-work, to which she was closely kept by her mother.  She wrote elegantly both in verse and prose, and some of the most delightful hours I ever passed were in the conversation of this female philosopher.

’My father readily consented to accept of her as a pupil, and gave her a general invitation to his table; so that she and I were seldom asunder.  My parents were well pleased with our intimacy, as her piety was not inferior to her learning.  Her turn was chiefly to philosophical or divine subjects; yet could her heavenly muse descend from its sublime height to the easy epistolary stile, and suit itself to my then gay disposition.