Henry Crabb Robinson on Books and Their Writers

Henry Crabb Robinson on Books and Their Writers

Henry Crabb Robinson on Books and Their Writers

Henry Crabb Robinson on Books and Their Writers

Excerpt

These volumes contain, in chronological order, the references to contemporary English books and their writers in Crabb Robinson's diary, travel journals and reminiscences. My intention has been to include every mention of both books and authors, but the manuscripts are voluminous and I am only too conscious of my fallibility. Thus, in spite of repeated readings and checkings it is probable that there may be unintentional omissions: I can but hope that nothing of importance has escaped notice. The sole intentional exceptions to the rule of printing everything found are (1) mentions of purely theological or (rarely) scientific works which have no claim to be literary; (2) summaries of well-known novels which are mere accounts of the plot and devoid of any attempt at criticism; (3) repeated entries such as 'Called on Lamb: Not at home.' A good many entries of the kind are included, when these help to establish the fact of Crabb Robinson's intimacy with particular individuals, but no purpose would be served by multiplying them unduly; (4) with few exceptions, references to books not written in English and to their writers.

The subject matter of these volumes is then not a selection of what I think important, but a comprehensive publication of everything that Crabb Robinson had to say about the books he read and the writers he met--and he read everything, good and bad, that fell in his way and met every one of note in the world of letters. Thus, in a very real sense the volumes reveal the state and development of contemporary opinion on books and their writers. For instance the nature-treatment of Waverley is, on its first appearance, unfavourably contrasted with that of the Gothic romances; John Wilson is shown as the rival of Wordsworth, and Joanna Baillie or Jane Porter appears as a star of greater magnitude. It takes time before reputations are established in their just proportions and it is not uninstructive to see the mistaken opinions of even enlightened critics. Crabb Robinson's judgments, when he is not misled by prejudice, as e.g. in his estimate of Mrs. Beecher Stowe Dred, stand the test of time unusually well, but it is not chiefly on this account that what he wrote is of value to us. It is rather because he represents the intelligent reader of his long day (1775-1867) and because, unlike most readers, he faithfully chronicles his impressions, good, bad, or indifferent, and notes in what respects they are peculiar to himself.

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