Henry Crabb Robinson

Though best known for his interactions with most of the leading literary figures of his day, Henry Crabb Robinson (1775-1867) 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), living mostly in the vicinity of Russell Square. In retirement, 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. He met Mary Hays in 1799 when both were still moving within the Godwin circle and other Dissenting circles in London comprised mostly of Unitarians. Robinson and Hays remained close friends and correspondents through her death in 1843. Robinson's record of his visits with Hays at her various homes includes invaluable references to other members of her family and her geographical movements within greater London, thus providing the best accounting of her living conditions and familial connections after 1800.

For texts of his comments on Hays from his diary, click here; for texts of his comments on Hays from his reminiscences, click here; for texts of his correspondence with Hays, click here.

Only a small portion of Robinson’s literary remains have been published. Scholars still rely on Thomas Sadler’s Diary, Reminiscences and Correspondence (3 vols, 1869) and Edith Morley's Henry Crabb Robinson on Books and their Writers (3 vols, 1938), both highly selective and, in Sadler’s case, not altogether accurate. Both works left out nearly 200 references to Mary Hays by Robinson. Other works on Robinson include John Milton Baker’s Henry Crabb Robinson of Bury, Jena, The Times, and Russell Square (1937), Hertha Marquardt's Henry Crabb Robinson und seine deutschen Freunde (2 vols, 1964, 1967), Eugene Stelzig’s Henry Crabb Robinson in Germany: A Study in Nineteenth-Century Life Writing (2010), and James Vigus’ s Henry Crabb Robinson: Essays on Kant, Schelling, and German Aesthetics (2010). For accounts of Robinson and Hays, see Timothy Whelan, “Mary Hays and Henry Crabb Robinson,” The Wordsworth Circle 46.3 (2015): 176-90; and Whelan, “Mary Hays and Dissenting Culture, 1770-1810,” The Wordsworth Circle 50 (Summer 2019): 318-47.