26 January 1802
Henry Crabb Robinson, Grimma, Saxony, to Mary Hays, 22 Hatton Garden (Mrs Coles),1 London, 26 January 1802.2
Grimma (Saxony) January 26th 1802
My dear Miss Hayes,
I avail myself of another Opportunity of sending a Pacquet to England, and write in spight of the ill success of my former Letter. I have heard from a third hand that you received it, And it is possible you may have answerd it too – be that as it may I write again for no other purpose than to assure you, that the variety of new Objects which have here interested me, have by no means weakened the recollection of those I have left behind It has been my good fortune during the last six months to see the first Literary Characters & Poets of Germany as every one allows – of Europe as is confessed by most of those who are acquainted with German Literature. I have been in company with Schiller & Wieland & Herder & Göthe3 – I have been happy too in the forming of private acquaintances & one ffriendship with persons whose personal worth & excellence may fairly be compared with those I knew in England – I have been travelling all the Summer on ffoot And have begun the study of a new System of Philosophy which threatens to crush all I have ever before heard & believed – And yet with all these Apologies for inconstancy, if I were conscious of it, I must do myself the justice to declare that I feel no estrangement towards the few in whose Society my heart & understanding have been betterd – By no means unaccustomed to pensive musing, I have never ceased thinking of you And the acquaintances I have formed thro’ you I have had the low spirited hours And I have on such occasions the reflected with peculiar Interest on the sentimental melancholy of your Character which so particularly interested me – I wished repeatedly to hear from you, but always hoped & fancied a reason for your Silence not mortifying to myself And yet not supposing any illhap to you – I have heard several times from Anthony Robinson:4 he has mentioned you And I therefore infer that you live where & as you did – In your Literary Employment you have I hope found ease & an occupation weighty enough to fill up your mind And prevent the evil effects of Solitude on a temperament so acutely sensible as yours – Your very worthy ffriends the Fenwicks And Miss Reid remain I trust in London – I know how important they were to your enjoymt – What stuff is this! one may exclaim, to repeat the Circumstances of past acquaintance when you ought to be relating somewhat of your own history – That is true – And yet it is more pleasant to me to think about my old ffriends than to talk about the incidents of my the last 2 years. I left Frankfurt in June just as my heart began to be interested by one or two valuable characters – I accompanied a young man over Cassel & Gottingen And the mountains of the Harz to Leipzick in the neighbourhood of which I am at present here I have resided this winter & shall stay till the Spring – In the Autumn I took several shorter Journies on ffoot – And one to Dresden & Prague – I have every reason to praise the Country & its people My Adventures were always pleasant & my Enjoyments pure – I will not play the Traveller & fill my paper with a description of Towns – you can consult your Gazeteer & Geography. I saw what others saw tho’ not always with the same Eyes. I have learnt to be less exclusively attached to my own Country – I find that humanity is not to that degree oppressed even by popery & despotism, as we fancy – And the natural advantages which this Country in many points possess over England compensate for the evils of its more abused & unjust political & moral Institutions Catholicism is more an object of ridicule than horror in its present fallen impotent state And the Course of my late & present Opinions run much in favor of religion as a state of Establishment – If we cannot get out of the mire of Scepticism If the Principles of population really preclude all hopes of a material change in Society – I do not see how the present System of imposition & deceit can be changed much for the better of to the Advantage of those who are cheated & imposed on – If Life be really that gloomy dull Jest which we have been apt to think And if it be not the Peristile of a nobler Structure I do not see what motive or call we have to worry ourselves with vain attempts to reform it – And therefore as the Conclusion for the better for from ou my former Opinions is decidedly unfavorable to the Individual. I have been putting myself in the way of coming to other Conclusions And forming another System if possible in its place – You have perhaps heard of the Kantian Philosophy tho’ indistinctly – it makes great professions & promises – And the ^initiated^ say, it keeps its word – I have been labouring for some time at this hard & knotty Critical Philosophy – I have & made the precious discovery that the little I thought I was confident about, is in reality as uncertain as the rest And the sceptical philosophical [philosophies] of Hume & Helvetius &c has lost its weight & respectability in my mind – It is true one may call such Systems rather Apologies for having no notions, than notions themselves – But when ^one^ has nothing, an Apology for ones poverty he is still something – now Kants Works are written to investigate the Boundaries of human knowledge as fixed by the nature of mind – he reestablishes the antient notion of a something in the mind previous to all observation or experience – And he has I think successively overthrown the Theory of Locke5 – You I know are fond of metaphysicks And I mention this as a Phenomenon which will possibly interest you.
This Philosophy, the german Language & poetry have been my constant Occupation – of the latter I have the highest Opinion And regret that so few of the masterpieces of German pieces Literature are adequately translated – Have you read Göthes Iphigenia in Tauris?6 It is perhaps the most perfect Tragedy in any modern Language At least I can recollect none in which such uniform sanctity of manners & sentiments is to be found – Iphiginia is a model of still silent dignity – ffemale softness virgin purity & regal majesty throw over her a supernatural air – In exquisite keeping of character she is not inferior to Miltons Eve tho: the Mother of men has an infintely greater Variety displays womanhood in a much greater variety of forms how far the unequalled delight this piece has afforded me, arises from the Language I know not – I shod like to know how you are impressed by it in english It is (they say well) translated by William Taylor of Norwich And if I mistake not Johnson was the Publisher. Göthes Herman & Dorothea is also an admirable Poem7 – but I suspect it has not been or will not be well received in England under the metamorphosing hand of Holcroft –
I do not recollect to have talked with you about Werter but I am a priori sure it must be one of your favorite Works8 – Göthe is unquestionably the greatest Poet in Germany – Here, his Admirers proclaim him to be the Equal not Rival of Homer, Shakespear Cervantes & Dante whom the Critics here consider as the only first rate Poets
During the last 3 months I have read scarcely any works of taste but those of Göthe & Schiller who are bosom Friends tho’ as Authors their characters are very different. Schiller is a profound Metaphysician even in Verse – He & Göthe delight in putting metaphysical riddles into Rhyme Distiches. S. has recently given a new Tragedy to the public “The Maid of Orleans” he entitles it a romantic Tragedy: he might have called it lyrical[.]9
Joan speaks like as one inspired, not merely in rhyme but in elegiac Verse And in eight line Stanzas – her declamatn is sometimes accompanied by music and the piece as a shew has so much pantomine & stage effect that it fascinates the Mob, who are quite incapable of understanding the Odes or the long moral declamations, in which sort of versified preaching, Schiller is peculiarly excellent – How has Coleridge succeeded with Wallenstein? – In my mind “The Camp” is the only part which is excellent tho’ splendid excellent declamation is scattered throughout. Schiller said to me that he understood his Translator was a man of Genius, but not perfect in the german, that he had made most ridiculous blunders &c But I forget that you are not interested in german Literature – You on the contrary can with little trouble delight me exceedingly – Do tell me what is going forward in your Circle – I have seen newspapers And almost all the Monthly Magazines – And nothing else. Godwin I find has made a play Mrs Opie a novel Darwin I hear has made a new Poem – I hunger & thirst not after Wisdom but after Gossip – Do not think it I prythee, beneath your dignity to gratify my low Wants – You may give me as much Wisdom as you please into the bargain – You go on as I hear with your illustrious Women. I suppose Phillips is your publisher10 Are you satisfied with him? Is he increasing in respectability? I do not ask this as a mere Question of Curiosity – I have a Translation by me which I do not know what to do with – But I confess I feel ashamed to have any thing to do with him – This is perhaps an unjust feeling I do not [know] how I came by it –11
I shall remain here in Saxony a couple of months longer, I shall then make in company with my ffriend Brentano12 a walk of a month or two, & spend some time at ffrankfurt on the Main – My further plans are not yet fixed I had resolved to walk to Paris, but I believe I shall now spend the Summer in lounging about Germany – I shall afterwards possibly take up my residence at Jena or some other German University for a year or two13 I would willingly bring something with me not yet in England And I am desirous to make up for my no Education in my youth – It is likely therefore that my delay ^residence on the Continent^ may be considerably lengthened – Some half dozen ffriends excepted Germany is more agreeable to me than England – My narrow ffortune is here less inadequate to my wishes Manners are here more simple: Luxury is not so universally spread – I could not endure a Banishment from Britain, but I can bear the Thought of an indefinite Stay here – As this is the case I am partic[ular]ly desirous now & then to hear from the few ffriends I sincerely esteem – You are one of the few. Do write to me. I will not trouble you with frequent Letters. I am much too barren & vacant to & too conscious of my barrenness & vacancy to wish often to write – Write to me a long Letter on folio in the month of March (not before as I cannot tell ^exactly^ where I shall be) And inclose it undirected in a note to Messrs Rutt14 & Jameson15 Thames St.t – they will forward it to me – In this Letter I hope I shall hear that you have gained in Spirits & Comfort – without knowing the Cause of your frequent dejection, it always interested me16 for I hate & – You will not I hope reject me as an occasional Correspondent because I cannot furnish my Letters with Wit or Thought – I know you prize in domestick Life something more than Talents And that something is I hope in some degree possessed by me as least if I may judge from the ffeelings with which I subscribe myself
H. C. Robinson
To your interesting ffriends the Fenwicks – To Miss Reid – To the Dr & your relations remember17 me with the due Gradation of regard with which you believe I should express myself if present –
Address: Miss Hayes | No 27 [sic] (Mrs Cole’s) | Hatton Garden | London. Postmark: [when received in London] February 27, 1802, at Lombard Street
1 Once again Hays is boarding with Ann Cole (her age now earning her the more appropriate "Mrs."), Hays’s former landlady in Kirby Street, living now a short distance away at 22 Hatton Garden, a street that would soon be known for its jewellers. Hays's neighbors include her friends, John and Mary Reid, and her publisher, Richard Phillips.
2 Crabb Robinson Archive, Bundle 6. XIII (b.), Dr. Williams's Library, London; Brooks, Correspondence 549-53.
3 Four of the leading literary and philosophical figures in Germany at that time: Johann Christoph Friedrich von Schiller (1759-1805), Christoph Martin Wieland (1733-1813), Johann Gottfried von Herder (1744-1803), and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832).
4 Anthony Robinson (1762-1827) (no relation to Crabb Robinson) was a classmate at Bristol Baptist Academy in the mid-1780s of John Evans, General Baptist minister at Worship Street, London, and friend and correspondent of Mary and Elizabeth Hays. Upon graduation, Robinson served as minister to the Particular Baptist congregation at Fairford, Gloucestershire, 1786-88, and preached for a year to the General Baptist congregation in Worship Street, London, in 1790, before returning home to his home in Kirkland. In 1792, while preaching occasionally to a small dissenting congregation there, Robinson published A Short History of the Persecution of Christianity, by Jews, Heathens, and Christians; to which are added, An Account of the Present State of Religion in the United States of America, and some Observations on Civil Establishments of Religion. Robinson moved to London c. 1795 and became a prosperous sugar refiner; he also continued to write and to edit, working with Joseph Johnson at the Analytical Review for a time and later with Robert Aspland’s Unitarian periodical, the Monthly Repository. By the time Robinson left Bristol Academy he had most likely joined with Evans and another fellow student, Stephen Freeman, and become a Unitarian. Like Mary Hays, Benjamin Flower, Thomas Mullett, and George Dyer, Robinson’s movement into Unitarianism was influenced by the Cambridge Particular Baptist minister Robert Robinson. Anthony Robinson visited Cambridge in the 1780s and met George Dyer at that time. By the time he arrived in London in the mid-1790s, he was already an accomplished spokesperson for the movement and a prolific speaker and debater, as evidenced by many comments on Robinson’s presence at the Royston Book Club and other London debating societies at that time. Anthony Robinson would become friends with Godwin, Hays, Mullett, and the family of his son-in-law from Bristol, Joseph Jeffries Evans, as well as a young Crabb Robinson through his relation, another Unitarian, John Towill Rutt.
5 John Locke (1632-1704) was influential in positing the system that knowledge was derived through the senses, a theory Kant brilliantly attacked in his writings.
6 Goethe’s Iphigenia in Tauris (1779) was translated into English by the Norwich Unitarian writer and scholar, William Taylor, in 1793, published by Joseph Johnson.
7 Goethe’s epic poem, Hermann & Dorothea, appeared in 1798; it was translated by Thomas Holcroft and published in 1801 by Longman and Rees.
8 Goethe’s most popular work, The Sorrows of Young Werther,appeared in 1774 (English version in 1779).
9 Schiller’s play about Joan of Arc, Jungfrau von Orleans, appeared in 1801, Robinson’s first year abroad in Germany.
10 Robinson is referring to Hays’s important multi-volume work, Female Biography; or, Memoirs of Illustrious and Celebrated Women, of All Ages and Countries, would appear in six volumes early in 1803, published by Richard Phillips.
11 Robinson's first translation of a German work, one of many that he would undertake during his time in Germany and in the years following his return to England.
12 Christian Brentano (he was around 20 at the time of the above letter), son of Franz Brentano, a businessman in Frankfurt, who was Robinson's traveling companion at that time and who, along with his family, remained close friends of Robinson thereafter. His brother, Clements, was a poet who married the poetess Sophie Mereau. Brentano is the young man mentioned earlier in this letter who was traveling with Robinson.
13 Robinson matriculated at Jena in 1802 and remained a student into 1804, when he will be asked to leave due to his part in a complaint by a number of students against a professor in the university.
14 John Towill Rutt (1760-1841) was raised among orthodox Independents in London. He spent a year at John Collett Ryland’s academy in Northampton before studying under the General Baptist (Unitarian) Joshua Toulmin at Taunton. He became a Unitarian and leading member of the Unitarian congregation at Gravel Pit in Hackney. He published important biographies of Gilbert Wakefield and Joseph Priestley, edited the entire works of the latter, and became a close friend of Crabb Robinson in 1796. A number of his poems appeared throughout the 1790s and early 1800s in Benjamin Flower’s Cambridge Intelligencer and numerous monthly periodicals. When HCR first met Rutt, the latter was operating as a ‘drug merchant’ at 239 Rutland Place, Upper Thames Street, London (Lowndes London Directory for 1799). John Towill Rutt. He had family connections in Witham, Essex (his wife was a Pattisson), where Crabb Robinson had relations as well (the Isaacs); Rutt would later become attached to both Hays and Crabb Robinson through the marriage of George and Peter Wedd, nephews of Rutt, to Sarah and Mary Dunkin, nieces of Mary Hays. Mention Hays’s nephew living now at Beeleigh (John Hays Dunkin).
15 William Jameson was J. T. Rutt's business partner at this time. Jameson's father succeeded Robinson's uncle and Rutt's friend, Habbakuk Crabb, as Independent minister at Royston in 1795.
16 Another reference to Hays's on again – off again relationship with Frend, as suggested by her sister Elizabeth in her letter of 4 February 1801.
17 Mary and John Reid (see Biographical Index) were living nearby in Hatton Garden. Before he left for Germany, Robinson no doubt met Elizabeth Hays and probably at least of the brothers, either John or Thomas Hays. Because of his involvement with the family, it is probable Robinson also met John Dunkin at this time and possibly some of Hays’s numerous nephews and nieces, many of whom will later appear in his diary.