Academic journal article Wordsworth Circle

Crabb Robinson's Correspondence with Mary Wordsworth

Academic journal article Wordsworth Circle

Crabb Robinson's Correspondence with Mary Wordsworth

Article excerpt

Henry Crabb Robinson (1775-1867), diarist, traveler, and friend of nearly every important literary figure in England and Germany during the first half of the 19th century, considered the Wordsworths of Rydal Mount and their relations and friends in the Lake District his most important social circle outside his own family. His friendship with Mary Wordsworth (1770-1859) spanned nearly fifty years, though initially William and Dorothy were his primary correspondents. More than 100 letters passed between Robinson and Wordsworth and Dorothy from 1810 to 1835.(1) As Dorothy's mind deteriorated in the mid-1830s, Robinson transferred his attentions to William and 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 chary. However, 129 letters composed between 1833 and 1858 have survived., eighty-three by Robinson and forty-six by Mary Wordsworth. The bulk of their correspondence belongs to the Robinson archive at Dr. Williams's Library, London, from which Edith Morley published the complete texts of Mary's letters an.d brief portions of Robinson's in The Correspondence of Henry Grubb Robinson with The Wordsworth Circle (2 vols, 1927). However, thirty-seven letters by Robinson to Mary Wordsworth, now in the Wordsworth Library, Grasine re, mostly addressed to her during the last ten years of her life are absent from Morley's Correspondence.(2)

How these letters became separated from the Robinson collection at Dr. Williams's Library and thus escaped Morley's notice is a mystery, but their contents have continued to elude scholars of the Wordsworth circle and Crabb Robinson. Though the publication of Mary Wordsworth's letters is now complete, scant attention has been accorded Robinson's letters to her.(3) Scholars have generally relied on Morley's published portions of Robinson's. letters to Mary Wordsworth, as well as excerpts pertaining to her from his manuscript Diary and Reminiscences that appeared in Thomas Sadler's Diary, Reminiscences, and Correspondence of Henry Crabb Robinson (3 vols, 1869) and later in Morley's Henry Crabb Robinson on Books and Their Writers (3 vols, 1938) and Derek Hudson's The Diary of Henry Crabb Robinson: An Abridgement (1967). These publications have resulted in a highly selective and, at times, distorted view of the relationship between Robinson and Mary Wordsworth. From Mor-ley's volumes one primarily learns about Robinson's assistance in various matters of business and legal affairs on behalf of Wordsworth, especially with publishers and the successive editions of his poetry, and, in a lighter vein, his frequent purchases .of candles, soaps, and wedding gifts for Mary Wordsworth and her children as well as her gifts to him of knitted stockings and news of the Wordsworth circle and local gossip at Grasmere and nearby Ambleside. Robinson's letters, however, more than Mary's, reveal the depth of their friendship and the breadth of their shared and, at times, varied interests in literature, religion and politics, as well as the activities and opinions (both good and bad) of their wide coterie of friends and family members. According to Morley, their correspondence "shows the writers setting clown their thoughts and feelings in unrestrained freedom of intercourse" (Correspondence 1: 27). This "unrestrained freedom" was apparent to Morley because of her access to their correspondence at Dr. Williams's Library. Despite knowing the full content of Robinson's letters, she nevertheless published truncated versions in her Correspondence. thus reducing him, as Sadler had largely done, to a compiler of literary anecdotes. Though Robinson understood the importance of recording incidents relating to Wordsworth and his literary. friends, his letters to Mary Wordsworth exceed brief encounters with literary history, as the following discussion of the letters in the Wordsworth Library will make clear.

Crabb Robinson became acquainted with the poetry of Wordsworth in the late 1790s through his former Bury friend and then resident of the Lakes, Catherine Buck Clarkson (1770-1856). …

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