Henry Crabb Robinson (1775-1867), the noted diarist, traveler, and friend of nearly every important literary figure of the first half of the nineteenth century, considered the Wordsworths of Rydal Mount, along with their relations and friends in the Lake District, London, and in various other locations, as his most important social circle outside his own family. His friendship with Mary Wordsworth (1770-1859), whom he first met in 1812, spanned more than 45 years. Initially, William and Dorothy were his primary correspondents, but after Dorothy’s mental condition deteriorated in the 1830s, Robinson transferred his attentions to Mary. If any letters passed between Robinson and Mary Wordsworth prior to 1833, they are no longer extant, nor are they mentioned in Robinson’s diary. Between 1833 and 1858, however, 129 letters (some attached to letters to other recipients) have survived, with 83 written by Robinson and 46 by Mary Wordsworth. Ninety-two of these letters reside at Dr Williams’s Library, London, the primary depository of Robinson’s massive manuscript collection. In 1927 Edith Morley relied solely on this collection for the texts of Mary Wordsworth’s letters that appeared in Morley’s two-volume edition of The Correspondence of Henry Crabb Robinson with The Wordsworth Circle. In those two volumes Morley also included portions of Robinson’s letters to Mary Wordsworth likewise belonging to the Robinson collection at Dr Williams’s Library. However, the 37 letters by Robinson to Mary Wordsworth, now residing in the Wordsworth Library, Grasmere, all composed during the final ten years of Mary Wordsworth’s life, were not known to Morley in 1927.
How these letters became separated from the primary collection of Robinson’s correspondence at Dr Williams’s Library (and thus escaped Morley’s notice) remains a mystery, but the result has been that the contents of these letters have likewise escaped the notice of scholars of the Wordsworth circle and Crabb Robinson. Though diligent in publishing Mary Wordsworth’s letters (all known letters were in print by 1993), scholars have been content to rely almost exclusively on the brief portions of Robinson’s letters to Mary Wordsworth that were published by Morley in 1927, along with excerpts from his manuscript diary and reminiscences that appeared in Thomas Sadler’s Diary, Reminiscences, and Correspondence of Henry Crabb Robinson (3 vols, 1869) and Morley’s Henry Crabb Robinson on Books and Their Writers (3 vols, 1938). These publications, though providing most of what we know of Robinson’s relationship with the Wordsworths and their circle, have resulted in a highly selective and largely one-sided view of that relationship, especially Robinson’s friendship with Mary Wordsworth. Scholars have, for good reasons, privileged the letters of Wordsworth and his likeminded, exuberantly creative sister Dorothy over those of Mary, just as, for similar reasons, they have privileged Mary’s letters over Robinson’s. Yet it is Robinson’s letters, far more than Mary’s, that reveal the depth of their friendship; the breadth of their shared (and, at times, varied) interests in matters of literature, religion and politics; the careful chronicling of the activities and opinions (both good and bad) of their wide coterie of friends; and a genuine concern for their families, both immediate and extended. According to Morley, their correspondence ‘shows the writers setting down their thoughts and feelings in unrestrained freedom of intercourse’ (Correspondence, I. 27). This ‘unrestrained freedom’ was easy for Morley to see, since she had access to the complete texts of the letters at Dr Williams’s Library of both writers. Unfortunately, her truncated versions of Robinson’s letters essentially reduced his correspondence to a compilation of literary anecdotes. Morley clearly saw that the letters that passed between these two friends added much to our knowledge of literary history, for both writers were proficient in recording matters of importance related to Wordsworth and his literary friends. However, a proper accounting of their friendship, concerns, and opinions can only be ascertained through a careful reading and contextualizing of the complete texts of all the letters that passed between them, an accounting immeasurably enhanced by the hitherto unknown texts of the 37 letters by Robinson to Mary residing in the Wordsworth Library.
Overview of the Robinson Letters at the Wordsworth Library
This collection consists of 73 documents relating to Robinson, including one printed notice concerning the Wordsworth monument in Westminster Abbey; two copies of the itinerary of Robinson’s tour with Wordsworth of Italy in 1837 (one attached to the 1850 letter to Christopher Wordsworth, Jr.; three notes by HCR; HCR’s copy of a portion of a letter by Wordsworth to Dorothy, 1812; one letter from Catherine Clarkson to HCR, 1853, attached to a letter from HCR to Mary Wordsworth; an extract from Robinson’s will concerning the Wordsworth family; and 64 letters by HCR to various members of the Wordsworth family and circle. Morley did see the letters that passed between Robinson and the Rev. John Miller of Bockleton (included below), composed between 1850 and 1858, placing brief extracts from these letters in an appendix to volume 2 of her later publication, Henry Crabb Robinson on Books and their Writers, (3 vols, London, 1938), pp. 832-36. At that time the Robinson-Miller letters were in the private collection of Miss Emma Hutchinson.
37 letters by HCR to Mary Wordsworth, 1837-58
12 letters by HCR to Rev. John Miller of Bockleton, 1850-58
4 letters by HCR to William Wordsworth, Jr, 1846-59
10 letters by HCR, one each to Catherine Clarkson, 1837; Dora Wordsworth [later Quillinan], 1847; Dorothy Wordsworth, 1837; Edward Quillinan, 1848; Derwent Coleridge, 1853; Henry Thomas Lutwidge, 1843; Mrs Thomas Arnold, 1850; Christopher Wordsworth, Jr, 1850; Rev. George Armstrong, 1851; Thomas Carter, 1855
1 letter by HCR, undated, to an unknown correspondent
The transcriptions are simultaneously published in the large collection of searchable letters and manuscripts on the website of the Wordsworth Trust.
The materials on this site are intended for personal use only. Any commercial use or publication of these materials without permission is not permitted. Short quotation for the purposes of scholarship, comment, teaching or criticism is allowed as long as the source is clearly identified. All material on this site authored or edited by the editor is the copyright of Dr Timothy Whelan.
Citations should take the following form: The Letters of Henry Crabb Robinson, Wordsworth Library, Grasmere, ed. Timothy Whelan, Dr Williams’s Centre for Dissenting Studies (2013), https://www.qmul.ac.uk/sed/religionandliterature/online-publications/crabb-robinson-letters