Sir Herbert J.C. Grierson, literary scholar and Professor of English, was born Herbert John Clifford Grierson on the 16th of January 1866 in Quendale House, Lerwick. He was the son of Andrew John Grierson of Quendale, a landowner and a successful businessman eventually to become Depute Lieutenant of the County of Zetland.Herbert Grierson was educated at home by Miss Martha Hunter at first, then attended the Anderson Educational Institute in Lerwick. Continuing his education at Cheltenham, he graduated with a 1st class degree in Mental Philosophy from Aberdeen University and taught for a time at the Collegiate School there.
Grierson gained an Open Classical Exhibition at Christ Church College, again graduating 1st class in 1893, and took up a lectureship in the then relatively new discipline of English Literature. In 1894 he became the first professor of English Literature at Aberdeen. After twenty-one years in this position, he was appointed to the Chair of Rhetoric and English Literature at the University of Edinburgh in 1915, where he remained until 1935. After this he enjoyed a full retirement, living to the age of ninety-four. His influence over Scottish and English letters in the first half of the 20th century was considerable.
Grierson is now best known in literary circles for his seminal role in reintroducing the work of John Donne and The Metaphysical Poets, so beloved of the young T.S. Eliot, and his many editions and essays remain essential references in this area of study, primarily in the volumes 'Metaphysical Lyrics & Poems of the 17th Century. Donne to Butler' (1928) and 'Cross Currents in the Literature of the Seventeenth Century' (1929).
Grierson was an acquaintance and early mentor of the great Scottish poet Hugh MacDiarmid, who lived in Whalsay during the 1930s. MacDiarmid dedicated to Grierson the poem 'I Heard Christ Sing', in his first volume of Scots language poetry 'Sangschaw' (Edinburgh, 1925).
Grierson also published a life of Sir Walter Scott (1932), a volume of translations of poetry, mainly from Dutch, entitled 'The Flute' (1931), which included some original work, and a volume on the history of the English Bible and its literary influences (1943).