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C.D. Warner, et al., comp. The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes. 1917.

Critical and Biographical Introduction

By Herman Grimm (1828–1901)

IN the sense in which the English-speaking people use the phrase, Herman Grimm was for years the leading man of letters in Germany and chief representative of German culture. His style is the perfection of simplicity, purity, and beauty; his interests and sympathies are wide as humanity; his treatment of a subject is never pedantic, and his scholarship is always human. He is spiritually the descendant of Goethe, from whom he inherits his serenity of judgment and his sympathetic insight into the new, strange, and steadily changing life of his contemporaries. His essays and briefer articles form a running commentary upon the great currents of thought that influence our time; and without dwelling upon the surface except for purposes of illustration, they present the structure of our intellectual life and exhibit its essential features.

Herman Grimm was born at Cassel on January 6th, 1828. His father was Wilhelm Grimm; he was accustomed to call his uncle Jacob “Apapa” (with the Greek alpha privative: “not papa”). It was in the stimulating circle that gathered about the brothers Grimm that he grew up: the Arnims, Brentanos, and the group of eminent scholars that gave lustre to the universities of Göttingen and Berlin. In the social intercourse of the Prussian capital, it was to the house of Bettina von Arnim that Grimm was chiefly drawn. He subsequently married Giesela, Bettina’s youngest daughter.

Grimm’s earliest literary efforts were in dramatic form. His ‘Novellen,’ a series of short stories distinguished by great beauty of form and tenderness of feeling, were published in 1856, and have proved their vitality after forty years by a new edition in 1896. He was about thirty years of age when the first volume of his essays appeared. Up to this point, his life had been the irresponsible one of a highly gifted man of artistic temperament who has not yet found his special aptitude nor set himself a definite goal. The late Professor Brunn has told how, when he and Grimm were young men together in Rome, the latter finally came to see the necessity of winning a firm foothold in some special field and of accomplishing some well-defined task. It was in pursuance of this thought, and under the stimulating influence of his young wife’s genius, that Grimm wrote the famous ‘Life of Michael Angelo,’ and placed himself at one stroke in the front rank of German letters. This work is now universally recognized as one of the finest specimens of biographical writing that modern literature has produced. It also marked an epoch in the study of the Italian Renaissance.

In 1867 his ambitious novel ‘Unüberwindliche Mächte’ (Insuperable Powers) appeared, and was received with an enthusiasm which it has not been able to maintain. In 1873 he was made professor of art history, a chair which was created for him at the University of Berlin. The freshness of his ideas and the free grace of his delivery attracted thousands to his auditorium, and many Americans were always among his enthusiastic hearers.

Grimm was bound to America by many ties; first among these was his love for Emerson. He found a volume of Emerson’s essays upon the table at Bancroft’s house. He thought that his command of English was good, but this book presented difficulties; he took it home, and soon discovered that these difficulties grew out of the fact that the writer had original ideas and his own way of expressing them. He translated the essays on Goethe and Shakespeare into German; his own two essays on Emerson are finely appreciative both of the character of American life, and of Emerson as its interpreter and exponent. He was thus, with Julian Schmidt, the first to make the American philosopher known to the German public.

His ‘Life of Raphael,’ which first appeared in 1872, was the cause of much unrefreshing strife, in which however the author never deigned to take part. Bitter opposition to his views generally took the form of contemptuous silence on the part of specialists and the press. Meanwhile the ‘Raphael’ reached its fifth edition, and was translated into English.

Most popular among his works, after the ‘Michael Angelo,’ is the volume of lectures on Goethe. This fascinating work was the outgrowth of a series of public lectures delivered in 1876 at the University of Berlin. They do not attempt a systematic life of Goethe, but in them is presented the poet as he lived and wrought; and as in ‘Michael Angelo’ the splendid life in Rome and Florence is restored, so the golden age of German letters lives again in these lectures. The English translation, by Miss Sarah H. Adams, is dedicated to Emerson.

In 1889 he lost his wife. It was characteristic of the man that in these days of overwhelming bereavement he should seek consolation in the poetry of Homer. The result of these loving studies is now before the world in two stately volumes entitled ‘Homer’s Iliad.’ The Iliad is treated as if it had never before been read, and regard is paid only to its poetic contents, its marvelous composition, its delineation of character, its essential modernness. This book was a labor of love, and is an inspiring introduction to an unprejudiced and appreciative study of Homer.

Grimm continues to exert a wide and fine influence upon the intellectual life of his countrymen. In the forefront of every important movement, he was among the first to advocate the admission of women into the university; himself a thorough classical scholar, he nevertheless held liberal views on the great question of educational reform; and although rooted in the romanticism of the early part of the century, he displays the keenest understanding of the tumultuous life of the modern empire. In his biographies, lectures, and essays may be found a precipitate of all that is best in German culture during the second half of the nineteenth century. His ‘Beiträge zur deutschen Kulturgeschichte’ (Contributions to the History of German Civilization) appeared in 1897, and two volumes of ‘Fragmente’ in 1900–02.

To the ties which already bound him to this country there was added in 1896 another. He was elected to membership in the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, to succeed the late Sir John R. Seeley. His death occurred June 17, 1901.