HENRY CRABB ROBINSON

SARNICO ON LAKE ISEO, ITALY

HENRY CRABB ROBINSON

We had a few days by Lake Iseo in northern Italy in August 2004. We had a lakeside flatlet with a pool on the outskirts of Sarnico. One or two things were less than perfect; there was no footpath on the road into Sarnico, which made the journey a bit hazardous. Also the lake was full of grass snakes (at least I told myself they were harmless grass snakes). That said it was a lovely holiday.

My interest in Lake Iseo extends back into the first part of the nineteenth century, and to the poet Wordsworth and his travelling companion Henry Crabb Robinson (b. 13 May 1775). Crabb Robinson came from a long line of Suffolk tanners. He was an early example of a celebrity groupie – a rather unfair description of him which nonethelesss has an element of truth. He was an avid diarist but had few pretensions to being a great writer himself. He was constantly in touch with the famous writers and artists of the day however. His friends among the Romantics read like a literary encyclopaedia.  He knew Coleridge (whom he enjoyed listening to but found unintelligible for most of the time), Wordsworth, Lamb and particularly Blake of whom we would know much less without his diary entries. His diary was published in 1869. He was a barrister by training (at Colchester), and because of his religious nonconformity he was unable to study at Oxford or Cambridge. Consequently he attended Universities in Germany, graduating from the University of Jena in 1802. He was the only Englishman at the University, and was asked all sorts of biographical questions on Locke and Hume. There he also made literary acquaintances including Schiller, Hegel and Goethe. Subsequently he was employed for several years as a correspondent for The Times, in which capacity he reported on the Peninsular War from Spain.

The view from or flat on Lake Iseo.

The trip to Italy that he made with Wordsworth was not written up by the poet; all our information comes from Robinson. Wordsworth had made a previous trip to Italy when he thought he had written all there was to say on the country. They had pleasant visit to Lake Iseo, and even took the opportunity to bathe in a secluded corner of the lake – nothing is said about grass snakes, so presumably they did not meet any.

Crabb Robinson was an East Anglian and he was born in in Bury St Edmunds. In those days before railway transport, if you wished to go from Bury St Edmunds to Norwich, for instance, and you were not well off enough to go by coach, you had to walk. (He made his first railway journey in 1833.) As a young man Robinson walked all over East Anglia. Norwich then was a particularly attractive destination because of the lively literary life that went on there.

AMELIA OPIE

AMELIA OPIE

His first publication was in the Norwich journal “The Cabinet”. One of Crabb Robinson’s early supporters when he began to write journalism was Amelia Opie  (or Amelia Alderson as she was).

Later in life he was very much involved in the newly created University of London (later to be UCL) from its inception in 1826. He was made Vice President of the Senate in 1842. He died a confirmed bachelor in 1867, at a great age for the time. He was an East Anglian of many parts.

JOSEPH MASON

joemasonspage@gmail.com

THE BLOG FOR EAST ANGLIAN HISTORY

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