The Project

Introduction:

Henry Crabb Robinson (1775-1867) was a prolific writer of ‘informal’ texts, such as diaries and private letters. Reflecting the resurgence of interest in such material among scholars and general readers, this editorial project aims to establish Robinson’s place in the canon of nineteenth-century literature.

Most of Robinson’s work is still unpublished in manuscript. The Project will produce complete and accurate texts of:

♦ Robinson’s autobiography, the Reminiscences;

♦ his early (pre-1811) diaries;

♦ and his main Diary (1811-67), including travel diaries.

The Oxford University Press edition of these texts will replace the highly selective previous editions.

Robinson’s comments on books and their writers, on the culture of religious dissent, politics, the Romantics, the Victorians, the law, the theatre, Europe (notably Spain and Germany), and his own life-writing will be a vital resource for readers with many different interests. The interdisciplinary editorial team reflects these topics and the various modern languages in which he communicated.

Robinson was also a prolific letter-writer, journalist, reviewer, literary translator and author of philosophical and political essays.

To read James Vigus’s blog post on the Queen Mary School of English and Drama website, introducing Robinson and the project, please click here.

The Research Project:

Preparation for the Henry Crabb Robinson Project began in 2007 with a Workshop held at Dr Williams’s Library (see The Archive, below). The Project is affiliated with the Queen Mary Centre for Religion and Literature in English. Until 2015 it was conducted within the Dr Williams’s Centre for Dissenting Studies (2004-2015), a collaboration between the School of English and Drama at Queen Mary University of London, and Dr Williams’s Library.

The Man:

Commemorative plaque on Robinson’s family home in Southgate Street, Bury St Edmunds. Photograph by Philipp Hunnekuhl.
Commemorative plaque on Robinson’s family home in Southgate Street, Bury St Edmunds. Photograph by Philipp Hunnekuhl.

Though best known for his interactions with most of the leading literary figures of his day, Robinson was an important writer and thinker in his own right, especially in the dissemination of German thought in England. Between 1800 and 1805, he spent three years as a student at the University of Jena, writing pioneering articles on Kant, Schelling, and the rapidly developing field of aesthetics for publication in London. Though he had briefly experimented with Godwinian scepticism in the 1790s, after his return from Germany in 1805 he identified himself as a ‘rational dissenter’, worshipping among the Unitarians. After a brief stint covering the Peninsular war as a correspondent for the London Times (1808-9), Robinson spent fifteen years as a solicitor (1813-28). In retirement, living mostly in the vicinity of Russell Square, he took an active role in the University of London, Unitarian affairs, and the literary, artistic, and political life of London until his death in 1867.

Robinson’s Journeys:

One of Robinson’s maps of Germany, including highlights. Photograph by Jane Giscombe.

Henry Crabb Robinson was an avid traveller, indefatigable walker, and ardent socializer. Whether as an apprentice clerk in Colchester, a student at Jena, barrister in Norwich, or as a young journalist and later in his retirement in London – Robinson would go to great lengths in order to regularly call on his old friends, make new ones, and participate in social events. He also went on extensive walking tours throughout his lifetime: he toured through the West Country and Wales in 1799, crossed Germany on foot with Christian Brentano in 1802, and rambled with Wordsworth in Switzerland in 1820 and in Italy as late as 1837, to name only a few.

His Network:

Henry Crabb Robinson’s friends, fresco by Edward Armitage. Image provided through the Dr Williams’s Library Adopt Scheme; publication courtesy of the Trustees of Dr Williams’s Library.

Through his intellectual curiosity, eclectic publications, committed letter-writing, and extensive journeying, Robinson became a vital hub in of one of the largest networks of his time. According to current estimates, the names of some 6,000 people, from all walks of life and many different countries, may ultimately be found across his writings. John Wesley, William Hazlitt, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Madame de Staël, Charles and Mary Lamb, William Godwin, Mary Hays, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and William Wordsworth are only a small selection of the more illustrious figures whom Robinson met or knew personally. The complete unearthing of Robinson’s network in the course of this Project will allow for a much more comprehensive reconstruction of the social history of Robinson’s environment.

The Archive:

Dr Williams’s Library. Photography by Jorge Esteveo.
Dr Williams’s Library. Photograph by Jorge Esteveo.

The Henry Crabb Robinson archive is held at Dr Williams’s Library, Gordon Square, London, a research library primarily dedicated to the study of Protestant dissent. It is one of the Library’s most important collections. Please see the Resources section of this website for more information, and the Library’s website.