Human concerns – Jacob (Ludwig Carl) Grimm (1785-1863)

See on this site – Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm – famous for their classical collections of folk songs and folktales, especially for KINDER- UND HAUSMÄRCHEN (Children’s and Household Tales); generally known as Grimm’s Fairy Tales, which helped to establish the science of folklore. Stories such as ‘Snow White’ and ‘Sleeping Beauty’ have been retold countless times, but they were first written down by the Brothers Grimm. In their collaboration Wilhelm selected and arranged the stories, while Jacob, who was more interested in language and philology, was responsible for the scholarly work. The English writer Ford Madox Ford sees in his masterly guide The March of the Literature (1938) that their tales were more than a mere reflection of German romanticism:

“But the real apotheosis of this side of the Teutonic cosmos came into its own through the labors of the brothers Ludwig Karl, and Wilhelm Karl Grimm for whom the measure of our administration may well be marked by the fact that there is nothing in the world left to say about their collection of fairy tales. It is, on the whole, wrong to concede the brothers Grimm to the romantics. They belonged to the earth movement and are known wherever the sky covers the land. That is the real German Empire.”

Jacob Grimm was born in Hanau. His father, who was educated in law and served as a town clerk, died when Jacob was young. His mother Dorothea struggled to pay the education of the children. With financial help of Dorothea’s sister, Jacob and Wilhelm were sent to Kasel to attend the Lyzeum. Jacob then studied law at Marburg. He worked from 1816 to 1829 as a librarian at Kasel, where his brother served as a secretary. Between 1821 and 1822 the brothers raised extra money by collecting three volumes of folktales. With these publications they wanted to show, that Germans shared a similar culture and advocate the unification process of the small independent kingdoms and principalities.

Altogether some 40 persons delivered tales to the Grimms. Their the most important informants included Dorothea Viehmann, the daughter of an innkeeper, Johann Friedrich Krause, an old dragoon, and Marie Hassenpflug, a 20-year-old friend of their sister, Charlotte, from a well-bred, French-speaking family. Marie’s stories blended motifs from the oral tradition and Perrault’s Tales of My Mother Goose (1697).

The brothers moved in 1830 Göttingen, Wilhelm becoming assistant librarian and Jacob librarian. In 1835 Wilhelm was appointed professor, but they were dismissed two years later for protesting against the abrogation of the Hannover constitution by King Ernest Augustus. In 1841 they became professors at the University of Berlin, and worked with DEUTSCHES WÖRTERBUCH. Its first volume appeared in 1854. The work, 16 volumes, was finished in the 1960s.

The Grimms made major contributions in many fields, notably in the studies of heroic myth and the ancient religion and law. They worked very close, even after Wilhelm married in 1825. Jacob remained unmarried. Wilhelm died in Berlin on December 16, 1859 and Jacob four years later on September 20, 1863. He had just finished writing the dictionary definition for Frucht.

The Grimms came over a century after Madame d’Aulnoy and Charles Perrault, who between them first created and popularized the literary fairy tale. Grimms were more intent on capturing the genuine oral tradition – earlier Ludwig Tieck and Johann-Karl Musaeus relied more on the gothic tradition than folklore.

Kinder- und Hausmärchen was published in two volumes (1812-1815) – the final edition was published in 1857 and contained 211 tales; a further 28 had been dropped from earlier editions, making 239 in total. The Grimms wrote down most of the tales from oral narrations, collecting the material mainly from peasants in Hesse. The first edition included stories in 10 dialects as well as High German. Among the best-known stories are ‘Hansel and Gretel,’ ‘Cinderella,’ ‘Rumpelstiltskin,’ ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,’ and ‘The Golden Goose.’ The stories include magic, communication between animals and men, and moral values, teachings of social wright and wrong.- “What a tender young creature! what a nice plump mouthful – she will be better to eat than the old woman.” (from ‘Little Red-Cap’)

The brothers are generally treated as a team, though Jacob concentrated on linguistic studies and Wilhelm was primarily a literary scholar. The brothers were affected by German Romanticism and its interest in mythology, folklore and dreams. Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm argued that folktales should be collected from oral sources, which aimed at genuine reproduction of the original story. Their method became also model for other scholars. However, in practice the tales were modified, and in later editions of the fairytales Wilhelm’s editing and literary aspiration were more prominent.

From his first book, ÜBER DEN ALTEDEUTSCHEN MEISTERGESANG (1811) Jacob Grimm supported the theory about the unique relationship between the ‘original’ German language and the folktales, whose origins were coeval with the origins of German culture.

While collaborating with Wilhelm Jakob turned to study of philology, producing the DEUTSCHE GRAMMATIK. Jakob’s views on grammar influenced deeply the contemporary study of linguistics, Germanic, Romance, and Slavic. The work is in use even now. In 1822 Jacob devised the principle of consonantal shifts in pronunciation known as Grimm’s Law. He illustrated the changes in Germanic by citing contrasting cognates in Latin, Greek, or Sanskrit.

In Jacob Grimm’s DEUTSCHE MYTHOLOGIE fairy tales are traced in the pre-Christian era, in ancient faith and superstitions of the Germanic peoples. The archaic pre-medieval Germany was seen representing a Golden Age, a period of comparative harmony and happiness before it was lost. This romantic view of the history owed much to Bible’s tale of Eden or perhaps also Arthurian legends.

Both brothers argued that folktales should be recorded and presented in print in a form as close as possible to the original mode. It also meant that some of the stories contained unpleasant details. Doves peck out the eyes of Cinderella’s stepsisters, and in ‘The Juniper Tree’ a woman decapitates her stepson. A witch kills her own daughter in ‘Darling Roland.’ “These stories are suffused with the same purity that makes children so marvelous and blessed,” wrote Wilhelm Grimm in the preface to the Nursery and Household Tales. In practice the brothers modified folktales in varying ways, sometimes even intensifying violent episodes. Especially references to sexuality embarrassed the Grimms’. In ‘The Snow White’ the violence was toned down by later editions: at the end of the story the wicked Queen is forced to put on red-hot iron slippers and dance till she dies. In ‘Hansel and Gretel’ the witch ends up in the oven and is baked alive. At the end of World War II, allied commanders banned the publication of the Grimm tales in Germany in the belief that they had contributed to Nazi savagery. (Read more here).

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