Henry Crabb Robinson

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1869 engraving by William Holl the younger after a photograph of Crabb Robinson.

Henry Crabb Robinson (13 May 1775 – 5 February 1867)[1] was an English lawyer, remembered as a diarist. He took part in founding London University.


Robinson was born in Bury St. Edmunds, Suffolk, third and youngest son of Henry Robinson (1736-1815) and Jemima (1736-1793), daughter of Denny Crabb, a landowner, maltster, and deacon of the congregational church at Wattisfield, Suffolk, and sister of Habakkuk Crabb.[2] After education at small private schools, he was articled in 1790 to an attorney in Colchester. At Colchester he heard John Wesley preach one of his last sermons. In 1796, he entered the office of a solicitor in Chancery Lane, London; but in 1798 a relative died, leaving Robinson a sum yielding a considerable yearly income. Proud of his independence and eager for travel, he went abroad in 1800. Between 1800 and 1805, he studied at various places in Germany, meeting men of letters there, including Goethe, Schiller, Johann Gottfried Herder and Christoph Martin Wieland. He then became correspondent for The Times in Altona in 1807. Later on he was sent to Galicia, in Spain, as a war correspondent in the Peninsular War.[3]

Grave of Henry Crabb Robinson in Highgate Cemetery

On his return to London in 1809, Robinson decided to quit journalism and studied for the Bar, to which he was called in 1813, and became leader of the Eastern Circuit. Fifteen years later he retired, and by virtue of his conversation and qualities became a leader in society. He was one of the founders of the London University (now University College London)[4] and travelled several times to Italy, as many of his contemporaries did. Among those whom he befriended in Rome in 1829 was the novelist Sarah Burney.

Robinson died unmarried, aged 91. He was buried in a vault in Highgate Cemetery alongside his friend Edwin Wilkins Field.[5] A bust of Crabb Robinson was made, and a portrait by Edward Armitage.[6]


Robinson's Diary, Reminiscences and Correspondence was published posthumously in 1869.[7] It contains reminiscences of central figures of the English romantic movement: including Coleridge, Charles Lamb, William Blake, William Wordsworth, and of other writers such as Sarah Burney. They are documents on the daily lives of London writers, artists, political figures and socialites. In his essay on Blake, Swinburne says, "Of all the records of these his latter years, the most valuable, perhaps, are those furnished by Mr. Crabb Robinson, whose cautious and vivid transcription of Blake's actual speech is worth more than much vague remark, or than any commentary now possible to give."[8]

In 1829, Robinson was made a fellow of the Society of Antiquaries (F.S.A.), and contributed a paper to Archæologia entitled "The Etymology of the Mass".[6]

His diaries were bequeathed to Dr Williams's Library, because Robinson had been a member of the Essex Street Chapel, the first avowedly Unitarian congregation in England.


  1. ^ "Henry Crabb Robinson". Britannica.
  2. ^ "Robinson, Henry Crabb (1775–1867), diarist and journalist". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/23842. ISBN 978-0-19-861412-8. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  3. ^ Durán de Porras, Elías (2008). Galicia, the Times y la Guerra de la Independencia. Henry Crabb Robinson y la corresponsalía de The Times en A Coruña (1808-1809). A Coruña: Fundación Pedro Barrié de la Maza. ISBN 9788495892676.
  4. ^ "The Four Founders of UCL". University College London. Retrieved 22 November 2015.
  5. ^ Rigg, James McMullen (1897). "Rolt, Sir John" . In Lee, Sidney (ed.). Dictionary of National Biography. Vol. 49. London: Smith, Elder & Co. pp. 173, 174.
  6. ^ a b Rae, William Fraser (1897). "Robinson, Henry Crabb" . In Lee, Sidney (ed.). Dictionary of National Biography. Vol. 49. London: Smith, Elder & Co. sources: Diary, Reminiscences, and Correspondence of Henry Crabb Robinson, by Thomas Sadler; Letters of Charles Lamb, ed. Ainger.
  7. ^ Cousin 1910, p. 319.
  8. ^ Symons, Arthur (1907). "Appendix: Extracts from the Diary, Letters, and Reminiscences of Henry Crabb Robinson". William Blake. New York: E. P. Dutton and Company. pp. 331–335.


Further reading[edit]

  • Diana Behler: "Henry Crabb Robinson as a Mediator of Lessing and Herder to England". In: Lessing Yearbook 7 (1975), pp. 105–126
  • Diana Behler: "Henry Crabb Robinson: A British Acquaintance of Wieland and his Advocate in England". In: Christoph Martin Wieland. Nordamerikanische Forschungsbeitrage zur 250. Wiederkehr seines Geburtstages 1983. Ed. Hansjörg Schelle. Tübingen, 1984, pp. 539–571
  • Diana Behler: "Henry Crabb Robinson and Weimar". In: A Reassessment of Weimar Classicism, ed. Gerhart Hoffmeister. Lewiston (NY), 1996, pp. 157–180
  • Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Robinson, Henry Crabb" . Encyclopædia Britannica. Vol. 23 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 422.
  • Lorna J. Clark, ed.: The Letters of Sarah Harriet Burney. Athens, Georgia, and London: University of Georgia Press, pp. 125–130, 133–143 and passim
  • Edith Morley. The Life and Times of Henry Crabb Robinson. London: J. M. Dent & Sons, 1935

External links[edit]