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Bloomsbury Project

Bloomsbury and the Bloomsbury Project

Bloomsbury People

What is the Bloomsbury Project?

The Leverhulme-funded UCL Bloomsbury Project was established to investigate 19th-century Bloomsbury’s development from swampy rubbish-dump to centre of intellectual life

Led by Professor Rosemary Ashton, with Dr Deborah Colville as Researcher, the Project has traced the origins, Bloomsbury locations, and reforming significance of hundreds of progressive and innovative institutions

Many of the extensive archival resources relating to these institutions have also been identified and examined by the Project, and Bloomsbury’s developing streets and squares have been mapped and described

This website is a gateway to the information gathered and edited by Project members during the Project’s lifetime, 1 October 2007–30 April 2011, with the co-operation of Bloomsbury’s institutions, societies, and local residents

Henry Crabb Robinson (1775–1867)

a summary of his Bloomsbury connections

He was a lawyer, journalist, and diarist, who lived in comfortable bachelor quarters at 30 Russell Square from 1839 until his death in 1867

Being a Nonconformist, he had not been able to study at either of the ancient English universities, and so took an interest in the founding of the University of London (later University College London) in 1826 for students of all faiths and none

He bought a share in the University in May 1828 “as a sort of debt to the cause of civil and religious liberty” (Diary, Reminiscences, and Correspondence of Henry Crabb Robinson, ed. Thomas Sadler, 1869)

In February 1835 he was elected to the Council of the University; in 1838 he became a member of the Committee of Management, and in 1842 Vice-President of the Senate (H. Hale Bellot, University College London 1826–1926, 1929)

Crabb Robinson was an active member of the UCL community, not only attending meetings regularly and thus taking part in the appointment of Professors and other important matters, but also inviting both Professors and students to his famous breakfasts, where he would talk about the great writers he had known in his youth, including Wordsworth, Coleridge, Southey, Blake, and Goethe (Oxford Dictionary of National Biography)

It was thanks to the patient efforts of Crabb Robinson that the collection of the famous sculptor John Flaxman came to University College and that a special space was designed to exhibit them, the Flaxman Gallery, which was built under the dome by Thomas Donaldson, Professor of Architecture at University College, and opened in April 1851 (Flaxman Gallery material, UCL Special Collections)

Crabb Robinson was a friend of Flaxman’s surviving executor, his sister-in-law and adopted daughter, Maria Denman, whom he encouraged to give the Flaxman casts and drawings to University College on the understanding that they would be kept together, a condition on which she insisted (Diaries of Henry Crabb Robinson, 1847–1851, MSS Dr Williams’s Library)

He was also a friend and supporter of Elisabeth Jesser Reid, the wealthy Unitarian widow of a Bloomsbury doctor, who founded and funded the Ladies’ College in Bedford Square in 1849

His diaries, kept daily from 1811 to 1867, give insights into the life of University College and its neighbour University Hall, built in 1849 in Gordon Square as a Hall of Residence for University College students

Selections from the diaries were published by Thomas Sadler, Diary, Reminiscences, and Correspondence of Henry Crabb Robinson (3 vols), 1869, and by Edith J. Morley, Henry Crabb Robinson on Books and their Writers (3 vols), 1938, but the vast bulk remain unpublished in MS volumes in Dr Williams’s Library

Crabb Robinson was a member of the founding committee of University Hall; he helped raise the subscriptions for the building, also designed by Thomas Donaldson, and, as a member of University College committees at the same period, proved a useful go-between in negotiations with Donaldson and with University College over the use of the site adjoining College land at the back of University Hall (University Hall Minute Book, 1847–1848, vol. I, MS 12.82, Dr Williams’s Library)

In 1860 Crabb Robinson donated £1000 anonymously for the erection of a racquets court to be shared by students of University College and University Hall, and on his death in 1867 he left a fund of over £3000 to be used for “promoting the comfort of the students of the Hall” (article in University College Gazette, vol. I, 22 October 1886, UCL Special Collections; Council Minutes, 23 March 1867, University Hall Minute Book, vol. V, MS 12.86, Dr Williams’s Library)

One of his frequent breakfast guests, Walter Bagehot, a member of University Hall Council and ex-student of University College London, who lived in lodgings in Great Coram Street, remembered breakfasts with “old Crabb”, when Arthur Hugh Clough, Principal of University Hall from 1849 to the end of 1851, was also a guest

According to Bagehot, writing in 1869, Crabb Robinson would talk for too long about Goethe and Schiller, Wordsworth and Coleridge, and often forgot to feed his guests

But Bagehot acknowledged that “he had known nearly every literary man worth knowing in England and Germany for fifty years and more. He had studied at Jena in ‘the great time’, when Goethe, and Schiller, and Wieland were all at their zenith; he had lived with Charles Lamb and his set…; he had taught Madame de Staël German philosophy in Germany…; he was the real friend of Wordsworth… And he was not a mere literary man. He had been a Times corespondent in the days of Napoleon’s early battles…” (Walter Bagehot, Collected Works, ed. Norman St John-Stevas, 1965–1986, vol. IV)

A typical day’s business in 1850 for the seventy-five-year-old Crabb Robinson would consist of him giving breakfast to professors, students, and literary friends, then walking from his home in Russell Square to visit Mrs Reid at her Ladies’ College in Bedford Square, thence to a meeting of University College in Gower Street, and finally to the Russell Institution in Great Coram Street to read The Times and write letters, before completing his tour of Bloomsbury by returning home to Russell Square

He was commemorated in University Hall by a bust done by G. E. Ewing c. 1831, still visible in Dr Williams’s Library, and by an elaborate fresco painting (which is no longer visible) by Edward Armitage depicting Crabb Robinson sitting, pen in hand, surrounded by thirty-four life-size figures of his most distinguished friends, including Flaxman, Blake, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Madame de Staël, Goethe, and Schiller (fresco reproduced in Edith J. Morley, The Life and Times of Henry Crabb Robinson, 1935)

Almost 100 volumes of Crabb Robinson’s MS letters and diaries are kept in the original University Hall building, now Dr Williams’s Library, at 14 Gordon Square

For more general biographical information about Henry Crabb Robinson, see his entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

This page last modified 13 April, 2011 by Deborah Colville


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