Henry Crabb Robinson (1775–1867) lived for literature, English and foreign. For Robinson, literature was always inclusive and convivial. He loved and lived literature not because it offered a retreat from the world and social concerns – that worn-out charge against the Romantics – but because it promised, more than anything else, to bring people together. Few, if any, people would have known this better than Robinson: his network consisted of an estimated 6000 individuals, spanned several European countries, and is among the largest of the Romantic and Victorian periods. Literature permeated every aspect of, and influenced every key decision in, Robinson’s long and exceptionally eventful life. As a teenager, he educated himself thoroughly in the hope of one day establishing himself as a man of letters, and developed his first theory of literature from his self-acquired learning. In Germany from 1800 to 1805, Robinson’s desire to understand the genius of Schiller drove his study of Kant, his unmatched transmission of Kant to England, and his adaptation of Kant’s thought into one of the most ingenious theoretical approaches to literature at the time. Literature was also the central subject of Robinson’s career as a professional writer between 1805 and 1811. When he eventually became a barrister (1813–1828), he did so in order to be able to pursue a literary life without the constraints of having to secure a living from it. And he became the most perceptive diarist of the Romantic and first half of the Victorian period as he recorded, above all else, matters relating to the many British and foreign authors he knew, as well as his reflections on their works. Henry Crabb Robinson: Romantic Comparatist, 1790–1811 unearths the formation of the unique critical voice behind these reflections.
Likewise, Robinson’s merits as a writer and thinker now stand beyond doubt. Henry Crabb Robinson: Romantic Comparatist, 1790–1811 has benefited (p.xii) from the increasing scholarly attention that Robinson has drawn in recent years: James Vigus has demonstrated Robinson’s philosophical erudition, Timothy Whelan his centrality in a wide network of Romantic and Dissenting figures, Gregory Maertz his shrewdness as a critic of Goethe, and Eugene Stelzig his skill as an autobiographer. Work by Stefanie Stockhorst in Germany, Karen Junod in Switzerland, and Jordi Doce and Elías Durán de Porras in Spain further highlights the surge of interest in Robinson beyond English-speaking countries. The Robinson Editorial Project is in the process of making Robinson’s merits fully accessible to audiences around the world.1 Over the coming decade, Oxford University Press will publish a multi-volume scholarly edition of Robinson’s early diaries, main ‘Diary’, and ‘Reminiscences’, all for the first time in their entirety. As editor of the early diaries, I have been in the particularly fortunate position to revise Henry Crabb Robinson: Romantic Comparatist, 1790–1811 in the light of my ongoing work for the Robinson Project. I wish to thank the series editors of the Project, Timothy Whelan and James Vigus, for entrusting me with the task of editing Robinson’s early diaries and for assisting my work in a variety of ways over the years, as well as the German Research Foundation (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft) for so generously supporting it by funding my fellowship at the University of Hamburg.2 Here, Ute Berns has been the most supportive mentor I could have wished for.
I was equally fortunate to have carried out the groundwork research for this book while living in London. I had the immense pleasure of tracing Robinson’s footsteps between his former residences in Drury Lane, Hatton Garden, and Russell Square, and his regular visits to Charles and Mary Lamb in Inner Temple Lane, Anna Letitia Barbauld in Stoke Newington, Mary Hays in Islington, Hazlitt in Southampton Buildings, Godwin in Skinner Street, and countless more writers of varying degrees of fame. Yet my work with Robinson’s surviving manuscripts still outweighed this pleasure. For making these manuscripts available to me, I wish to thank the director and staff of Dr Williams’s Library: David Wykes, Alice Ford-Smith, Mary Ruskin, Micol Barengo, Alan Argent, and the late Jonathan Morgan all went to great lengths to facilitate this most sensitive and fascinating aspect of my work. Jane Giscombe, the Conservator, deserves especial gratitude for the extra time and care she dedicated to accommodate the requirements of my research. I thank the Trustees of the Dr Williams’s Trust for granting permission to publish from Robinson’s manuscripts, images, and likenesses in their keeping. The generous funding I received from the British Arts and Humanities Research (p.xiii) Council and Queen Mary University of London enabled me to undertake this work in London in the first place.
Paul Hamilton’s incomparable expertise in British and European Romanticism, literary theory, and philosophy has been the strongest intellectual influence on Henry Crabb Robinson: Romantic Comparatist, 1790–1811. Isabel Rivers provided vital guidance for a foreigner trying to get to grips with the intricacies of English religious Dissent. Uttara Natarajan has been exceptionally supportive over the years, both as a reader of my work and mentor in all matters academic. Gregory Dart, Stephen Bygrave, and Claire Sheridan provided much-appreciated feedback on earlier versions of Henry Crabb Robinson: Romantic Comparatist, 1790–1811. Karen Racine kindly shared her Crabb Robinson bibliography with me. I am grateful to David Duff for inviting me to present my research at the London–Paris Romanticism Seminar, and to Elinor Shaffer and Maximiliaan van Woudenberg for their invitation to participate in the Anglo-German Colloquium at Clare Hall, University of Cambridge. I wish to thank Tim Fulford and Alan Vardy for welcoming this volume into their series. The exemplary dedication and editorial support from Christabel Scaife and her colleagues and associates at Liverpool University Press were indispensable for preparing the final manuscript. I owe Peter Mitchell for his conversational guidance across the fields of English literature, politics, and history, Elizabeth Williamson for her paleographical advice, and Kirsty Rolfe for her book proposal inspiration. Without Veronica O’Mara’s long-standing support and encouragement, I would never have embarked on the journey that led to Crabb Robinson.
In short, I have had the best conceivable conditions in which to write Henry Crabb Robinson: Romantic Comparatist, 1790–1811. Any errors, omissions, or inconsistencies therefore are entirely my own.
22 February 2020