He was born in Bury St. Edmunds, England. He was articled to an attorney in Colchester. Between 1800 and 1805, Robinson studied at various places in Germany, meeting men of letters there, including Goethe, Schiller, Johann Gottfried Herder, and Christoph Martin Wieland. He then became correspondent for The Times in Altona in 1807. Later on he was sent to Galicia, in Spain, as a war correspondent in the Peninsular War.
On his return to London in 1809, he decided to quit journalism and studied for the Bar, to which he was called in 1813, and became leader of the Eastern Circuit. Fifteen years later he retired, and by virtue of his conversation and qualities, became a leader in society.
He was one of the founders of London University and traveled several times to Italy, as many of his contemporaries did. He died unmarried, aged 91. He was buried in a vault in Highgate Cemetery alongside his friend Edwin Wilkins Field. A bust of Crabb Robinson was made, and a portrait by Edward Armitage.
His Diary, Reminiscences and Correspondence was published in 1869. It contains reminiscences of central figures of the English romantic movement: including Coleridge, Charles Lamb, William Blake, William Wordsworth, and others. They are documents on the daily lives of London writers, artists, political figures and socialites. In his essay on Blake, Swinburne says, “Of all the records of these his latter years, the most valuable, perhaps, are those furnished by Mr. Crabb Robinson, whose cautious and vivid transcription of Blake’s actual speech is worth more than much vague remark, or than any commentary now possible to give.”
In 1829 Robinson was made a fellow of the Society of Antiquaries (F.S.A.), and contributed a paper to Archæologia entitled “The Etymology of the Mass.”
His diaries were bequeathed to Dr Williams’s Library, because Robinson had been a member of the Essex Street Chapel, the first avowedly Unitarian congregation in England.