Henry Crabb Robinson (1775–1867) earned his place in literary history as a perceptive diarist from 1811 onwards. Drawing substantially on hitherto unpublished manuscript sources, this book discusses his formal and informal engagement with a wide variety of English and European literature prior to this point. Robinson emerges as a pioneering literary critic whose unique philosophical erudition underpinned his activity as a cross-cultural disseminator of literature during the early Romantic period.
A Dissenter barred from the English universities, Robinson educated himself thoroughly during his teenage years and began to publish in radical journals. Godwin’s philosophy subsequently inspired his first theory of literature. When in Germany from 1800 to 1805, he became the leading British scholar of Kant, whose philosophy informed his discussions of Goethe, Schiller, Lessing, and August Wilhelm Schlegel. After his return to London, Robinson aided Hazlitt’s understanding of Kant and, thus, Hazlitt’s early career as a writer. His distinctive comparative criticism further enabled him to draw compelling parallels between Wordsworth, Blake, and Herder, and to discern ‘moral excellence’ in Christian Leberecht Heyne’s Amathonte. This also prompted Robinson’s transmission of Friedrich Schlegel and Jean Paul in 1811, as well as a profound exchange of ideas with Coleridge. In this new study, Philipp Hunnekuhl finds that Robinson’s ingenious adaptation of Kantian aesthetic autonomy into a revolutionary theory of literature’s moral relevance anticipated the current ‘ethical turn’ in literary studies.
'The study of Romantic criticism has gained new dimension with Philipp Hunnekuhl’s stunning exposition of Henry Crabb Robinson’s early reviews, essays, and translations. Robinson wrote with profound insight into Kantian transcendentalism, attended Schelling’s lectures, and even met with Goethe. Hunnekuhl demonstrates how Robinson established himself as the first true comparatist among the Romantic critics.'
Frederick Burwick, Emeritus Professor at the University of California Los Angeles