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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 Benjamin W. Wells (1856–1923)

By Jacob (1785–1863) and Wilhelm (1786–1859) Grimm

GRIMM, JACOB LUDWIG CARL (1785–1863), and WILHELM CARL (1786–1859), whose names are inseparably connected in the history of German antiquities, philology, and literature, were the oldest sons of a petty official then stationed at Hanau in Hesse-Cassel. Their father died in 1796; but though poor, they were able to study for the law at the University of Marburg, where Professor Savigny gave them their first inspiration and directed their minds to early German literature and institutions. After their graduation, Jacob occupied for a time subordinate civil and diplomatic positions, and after 1816 both were connected with the Library at Cassel; which they exchanged in 1828 for the University Library at Göttingen, where Jacob also lectured, though without popular success, until they were ejected from office for a manly protest (1837) against the broken pledges of the King of Hanover. “With no desire of applause, or fear of blame when he had acted as he must,”—words that show his whole character,—Jacob withdrew with his brother to Cassel, and thence in 1840 to Berlin, where they had been appointed professors and members of the Academy. Here they passed a life of tireless investigation, interrupted only by Jacob’s brief and not very happy share in the National Assembly at Frankfort in 1848. Here they died, and here they were buried, as they had lived, together. The brothers had passed their whole lives in common labor, of which the elder thus spoke in a memorial oration:—

  • “In the slow-gliding school years, one bed and one study held us. There we sat working at the same table, and afterward in our student years two beds and two tables stood in the same room; in later life, still two tables in the same room; and at last, to the very end, two rooms beside one another, always under one roof, in undisturbed and untroubled community of our money, and books except for a few that each must have immediately at hand, and which were therefore bought in duplicate; and so also our last beds will be laid, it seems, close by one another. Let one consider, then, whether in speaking of him I can avoid speaking of myself.” (‘Minor Writings,’ i. 166.)
  • The work may be treated as a unit, though Jacob’s was the most dominant spirit. He had an “iron industry,” a clear vision, an unfailing cheerfulness in labor. His style has a peculiar rugged earnestness. It is not unpolished, but picturesque and full of a woodland savor; while Wilhelm had a frailer constitution and a gentler nature, that showed itself in the graceful naïveté of those legends and tales to which he gave literary form.

    The genius of their common studies was a noble patriotism. One could say of both what Jacob said of himself, that nearly all their labors were “directed to the investigation of early German language, laws, and poetry”; labors which might seem useless to some, but were to them “inseparably connected with the Fatherland, and calculated to foster the love of it.” Again, he says, “I strove to penetrate into the wild forests of our ancestors, listening to their noble language, watching their pure customs,” recognizing their “ancient freedom and their rational and hearty faith.”

    These labors took the form of studies in early law (‘Rechtsalterthümer’ or Legal Antiquities: 1828), mythology (‘Deutsche Mythologie’: 1835), legends (‘Sagen’ or Legends: 1816; revised 1868), essays on old German poetry (‘Altdeutscher Meistergesang’: 1811), and numerous editions of old German, Danish, Norse, and English texts. Most important to the scientific world, however, were the ‘Deutsche Grammatik’ (1819, 1822–1840) and the still unfinished Dictionary, perhaps the most vast undertaking of modern philologists. But monumental as these works are, they belong only indirectly to literature, nor is there much of general interest in the eight volumes of Jacob Grimm’s ‘Minor Writings’ (1864–1890). On the other hand, all the world knows the brothers for their ‘Household Tales’ (1812–1815), and often for these alone. They were meant for a contribution to folk-lore, as may be seen from the volume of notes that accompany them, of which the extracts that follow contain two specimens. But in a single generation they became one of the most popular books of the world; they were translated into every civilized tongue, and may be found to-day tattered and worn in a million nurseries, but never outworn in the hearts of Nature’s children. Artists like Walter Crane have illustrated them, critics like Andrew Lang have introduced them to English readers, noteworthy German scholars and critics—Scherer, Curtius, Berndt—have bestowed on them the tribute of learning. But perhaps no one has spoken better of them than Wilhelm Grimm in his preface, a part of which is translated below; and none has paid a nobler tribute to the fraternal love of their authors than Jacob Grimm in the first volume of his ‘Minor Writings.’