An Irish Woman Poet’s First Published Collection of Poems. With additional Poems by Constantia Grierson and Elizabeth Rowe

Barber, Mary (ca. 1685-1755); Grierson, Constantia (1704/5-1732); Rowe, Elizabeth (1674-1737)

Poems on Several Occasions.

London: Printed [by Samuel Richardson] for C. Rivington, at the Bible and Crown in St. Paul’s Church-Yard. 1735


Octavo: 20 x 12.5 cm. xliv, 290, (14) pp. A8, b-d8, B-U8

SECOND EDITION (1st ed. 1734).

Bound in contemporary paneled calf, rebacked, and with some wear at the extremities. A crisp, clean copy with just a small, light stain to the upper outer corner of the title and first three leaves, and the occasional smudge or light stain. The text is adorned with fine initials and head- and tail-pieces throughout.

In addition to Mary Barber’s own poems, this volume includes the first appearance of six poems by another Irish woman poet, Constantia Grierson, another member of Swift’s “triumfeminate”, and one poem by Elizabeth Rowe.

Mary Barber (ca. 1690-1757) was the wife of a Dublin tailor. In 1724 she wrote a poem to solicit charity for an officer's widow left penniless with a blind child, and sent it to Thomas Tickell, with the request that it be brought to the attention of Lord Carteret, then Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. Tickell succeeded, and Mrs. Barber thus became known to the literary world of Dublin; she was soon introduced to Jonathan Swift, who became her ardent admirer and friend. Mrs. Barber continued to write occasional verse, and Swift always considered her the most talented of the women poets in his circle.

In 1730, Mrs. Barber made her first trip to England, with introductions provided by Swift to all his most influential friends, including Pope, Gay, Arbuthnot, Tonson, and many others. She immediately began seeking subscriptions to this collection of her poetry, and the final list is impressive; virtually all the Scriblerians are included (Swift himself took ten copies), along with a substantial array of British aristocrats. An additional subscriber was Samuel Richardson, who printed the volume in his most elegant manner. Swift provided an appropriate six-page dedication to the Earl of Orrery. As finally assembled, the collection includes a number of poems by Mrs. Barber's deceased friend, the learned and highly respected Constantia Grierson, and one by another noted bluestocking, Elizabeth Rowe; there is also a selection of verse by her son Constantine, who was educated at Trinity College, Dublin, and became a physician. Many of Mrs. Barber's own poems are addressed to her children, whom she always described as her principal source of inspiration. Her book received a mixed critical reception, and in her later years, plagued by gout and rheumatism, she wrote little.

“Mary Barber (c.1685–1755), poet, is of unknown parentage. She married Rupert Barber (d. 1777?), a Dublin woollen draper, and lived in Werburgh Street, Dublin, from at least 1705 to at least 1724. In 1719 her husband acquired rights to property at Delville, north of Dublin, adjoining that of Patrick Delany, a friend of Swift and later chancellor of St Patrick's; by 1744, when Mrs Delany, formerly Mary Pendarves, came to Delville, Mary Barber and her family were neighbours. She had nine children, four of whom survived infancy: Constantine, born in 1714, later MD, professor of materia medica at Trinity College, Dublin, and president of the Royal College of Physicians; Mira, born in 1717; Rupert, born in 1719 and later known as an artist in miniature and an enamellist; and Lucius, born in 1720.

“Barber admitted in the preface to her Poems (1734) that a woman should not enter into public debate and that she wrote poetry to educate her children, but almost a decade previously she had attracted the attention of Lord Carteret, the lord lieutenant of Ireland, and Lady Carteret with several poems, one of which, a petition on behalf of the widow of an army officer, is the earliest evidence of the social conscience which she demonstrated in her Poems. These poems also came to the attention of the poet Thomas Tickell, whom Carteret had appointed chief secretary in Ireland in 1724 and who was on favourable terms with Swift. Through her connection with the Carterets Barber entered Swift's circle, coming to know Delany, the poet and classical scholar Constantia Grierson, and Laetitia Pilkington. Swift praised Barber's work, including her in his ‘triumfeminate’ with Constantia Grierson and the literary critic Elizabeth Sican (Psyche).

“In 1730 Barber visited England, with Swift's support, to raise subscriptions for a volume of her work. Against his advice she approached, and irritated, Alexander Pope, evidently expecting the encouragement she had readily obtained in the senatus consultum of her friends in Dublin, where Swift, in the chair, Constantia Grierson, Laetitia Pilkington, her husband Matthew, and Delany had discussed her verse. While Swift believed, as he wrote to Pope in 1731, that ‘her Modesty and her Ambition’ had been in conflict (Correspondence, 3.457), mystery surrounds an incident later in 1731 in which Swift's signature was forged on a letter to Queen Caroline in praise of Mary Barber. Swift denied any involvement in a letter to Pope and Mary Barber has never been cleared of suspicion.

“Barber travelled between Ireland and England several times in the early 1730s, visiting London, Tunbridge Wells, and Bath. She contributed anonymously to Tunbrigialia, or, Tunbridge Miscellanies, for the Year 1730. In 1732 Swift attempted to assist her, without success, when he asked his friend John Barber, lord mayor of London, who was no relation, to secure a position for her husband. In 1734 she was arrested in England with Matthew Pilkington and others for possession of manuscript copies of some of Swift's political poems attacking Walpole's administration. Matthew Pilkington had informed against her. After an early release she lived for some years in Bath, possibly with her son Rupert. She obtained over 900 subscribers to her Poems (1734), including leading figures of the Irish and British establishments. Swift subscribed for ten copies. The Pilkingtons were conspicuously absent. Six poems by Constantia Grierson were published posthumously in this volume. Barber's son Constantine contributed five and Elizabeth Rowe one. One poem, ‘Apollo's Edict’, has since been published as Swift's and has inspired scholarly controversy. A second edition followed in 1735 and was reissued in 1736. Swift and Mary Barber wrote prefaces to the earl of Orrery, one of her most influential patrons.

“In 1737 Swift gave Barber the manuscript of his Complete Collection of Genteel and Ingenious Conversation (1738) in response to her plea for support. She was unwell, having suffered considerably for some years from gout, for which she had been treated by Dr Richard Mead. She abandoned her idea of sailing to Georgia and returned to Ireland, where she lived near the Delanys at Delville, possibly with her son Rupert. She wrote very little after 1734, notably some verse on gout in the Gentleman's Magazine in 1737 and some minor pieces. She corresponded with her printer Samuel Richardson about Pamela in 1741, and indirectly with George Ballard in 1747 about Constantia Grierson. She was given significant representation in Poems by Eminent Ladies (1755).

“Barber died on 14 June 1755, ‘in an advanced Age’ (Dublin Journal, 14/17 June 1755). A few months before, Mrs Delany, her friend from the early 1730s, wrote that ‘Old Mr. Barber is alive, drinks his claret, smokes his pipe, and cares not a pin for any of his family’. He survived his wife by twenty-two years (Pilkington, 2.391).

“Swift's praise of Barber as ‘the best Poetess of both Kingdoms’ (Correspondence, 4.186) was not universally accepted. Her most trenchant critic, Laetitia Pilkington, thought her work ‘might … be seen in the Cheesemongers, Chandlers, Pastry-cooks, and Second-hand Booksellers Shops’ (Pilkington, 2.383). Swift referred to her ‘bashfulness’ (Correspondence, 4.456) but that did not protect her from controversy. Her world of the friendships and social conscience of an early eighteenth-century Irishwoman has been generally neglected since her own time, but since the 1970s she has received individual scholarly and critical attention as a woman writer and a significant figure in Irish culture and eighteenth-century studies.” (Bryan Coleborne, ODNB)

“Constantia Grierson [née Crawley], (1704/5–1732), classical scholar and editor, was born in co. Kilkenny of ‘poor illiterate country people’ (Pilkington, 1.17) and was tutored in Hebrew, Greek, Latin, English, and French by her local vicar. She was also knowledgeable in mathematics, and her mother insisted that she became efficient in needlework. According to Laetitia Pilkington ‘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’ (ibid.).

“At about eighteen Constantia Crawley moved to Dublin and began to study midwifery under Dr Van Lewen, a Dutch physician and the father of Laetitia Pilkington. Soon she met the publisher George Grierson (c.1680–1753) and in 1724 began editing Virgil's Opera for him. By 1727 she had carefully edited other 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’ (Correspondence, 3.369). The edition was also much praised by the classical scholar Edward Harwood.

“Constantia Crawley's marriage to Grierson in 1726, after the death of his first wife in May, is unrecorded for the reason that she was expecting his child; George Primrose was baptized at St John, Drumconda, on 17 July but in September he was ‘overlaid and killed through the carelessness of the nurse’ (Elias, 45). Another child, presumably George Abraham, was baptized on 1 October 1728, but two daughters were buried, in 1731 and 1733.

“Constantia Grierson 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. Only a few of her poems are extant, six of which her friend Mary Barber published in her collection Poems on Several Occasions (1734).

“On 3 January 1730 the Griersons petitioned the Irish House of Commons for the patent of king's printer. Their petition stressed Constantia's contribution to the business:

‘Petitioner Constantia hath, in a more particular manner, applied herself to the correcting of the Press, which she has performed to general satisfaction; in so much, that 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.’ (Elias, 40)

“The petition was successful and the office of king's printer was granted to Grierson for forty years in reversion after the death of the current patentee, Andrew Crooke (d. 1732).

“Constantia Grierson was editing an edition of Sallust at the time of her death, aged twenty-seven, in Dublin on 2 December 1732, and a copy of it, with her annotations, came into the possession of Lord George Germain. She was buried on 4 December at St John's cemetery in Dublin. Her only surviving child, George Abraham, died in Düsseldorf in 1755, two years after her husband's death. Her reputation was greatly enhanced by her inclusion in George Ballard's Memoirs of Several Ladies of Great Britain, who have been Celebrated for their Writings or Still in the Learned Languages, Arts and Sciences (1752).”(D. Ben Rees, ODNB)

Foxon p. 45; ESTC T42623; Maslen, Samuel Richardson, 21