Skip to main content Skip to Search Box
Summary Article: GRIMM, JAKOB LUDWIG CARL 1785-1863, AND WILHELM KARL 1786-1859
From Encyclopedia of the Romantic Era, 1760-1850

Jakob and Wilhelm Grimm have had an enormous impact on the development of modern German studies, in the areas of language, literature, and culture. Their work as researchers and editors in the fields of Germanic linguistics and philology, medieval literary texts, folklore, and mythology set the foundations for our understanding of German linguistic cultures. Their Deutsches Wörterbuch (German Dictionary) is recognized as the standard work on the historical development and the usage of the German language. Their well-known collection of German fairy tales, Kinder und Hausmärchen (Grimms’ Fairy Tales), has been translated into numerous languages and has become part of the literary canon of world culture.

The first edition of the collection of fairy tales was published in 1812 and contained eighty four tales. In the preface, the two Grimm brothers asserted their belief that the stories represent a Germanic oral folk tradition that had remained unchanged over centuries. Although this assertion is not really true—the stories they published had undergone numerous changes and transformations over the years and many had been previously printed—their work introduced important notions of ethnographic and anthropological research to both scholars and to the general public. The collection contains several story types, ranging from literary fairy and traditional morality tales, adaptations of creation or cosmological myths, to magic and burlesque tales. The figures in the stories are often portrayed in terms of binary oppositions such as good/bad, hardworking/lazy, or beautiful/ugly, a structure universally typical of such oral tales in a variety of world cultures. Some readers of the Grimm collection view the stories in Jungian archetypal terms—that is, as representative of universal human qualities and attitudes. Wilhelm Grimm, a more gifted storyteller than Jakob, was more involved in the editing of subsequent editions, and he attempted to include more genuine folk tales. Scholarly notes sought to examine the stories in an ethnographic mode—that is, the variant forms of the tales and their distribution throughout German speaking lands. He also put together ten smaller editions (with illustrations from the Grimms’ younger brother, Ludwig Emil) which were intended for children.

The two brothers also produced, from 1816 to 1818, a two-volume collection of Germanic legends, Deutsche Sagen (The German Legends of the Brothers Grimm). Both these scholarly works (on traditional fairy tales and legends) can be seen as key texts of the German Romantic movement. They supported the Romantic belief that the spirit of the common, rural people (das Volk) was closer to true nature and therefore more vital and real than the overly rationalized knowledge of sophisticated urban society that remained divorced from nature.

Jakob and Wilhelm also edited, in 1812, two important documents of older German literature: the heroic poem Das Lied von Hildebrandt und Hadubrand (The Song of Hildebrand und Hadubrand) and Das Weissenbrunner Gebet (The Weissenbrunner Prayer). Their editorial work contributed greatly to the beginnings of the academic study of medieval German literature and of the historical development of the German language. Their 1826 collection of Irish stories translated into German, Irische Elfenmärchen (Irish Folktales), was their last collaborative effort.

Jakob Grimm went on to produce further important works on the history of the German language and its culture. His volumes on a systematic historical grammar of the language, Deutsche Grammatik (German Grammar), published from 1819 to 1837, were a tremendous contribution to the history of the language. His 1835 work on Germanic mythology, Deutsche Mythologie (Teutonic Mythology), was also an important discussion of folklore theory. Jakob's 1848 Geschichte der deutschen Sprache (History of the German Language) continued his scholarly exploration of the historical development of German. Perhaps his greatest achievement as an editor, with the assistance of Wilhelm and many others, was his work on the first four volumes of the Deutsches Worterbuch (German Dictionary), published between 1854 and 1861, a project of monumental scale (finally completed in 1960), comparable in importance to the Oxford English Dictionary. Jakob Grimm considered the German language the single most important factor that culturally (and therefore also, politically) unified the disparate kingdoms and principalities that made up the lands of Germany, often speaking of it in connection with the naïve nationalistic ideas of the “German people” (das deutsche Volk) and the “fatherland” (das Vaterland). This simplistic nationalism inherent in much of nineteenth-century German Romanticism (in Johann Gottlieb Fichte, for example) would later come to be exploited by the fascist political ideologies of Adolph Hitler's National Socialism.

Wilhelm Grimm enjoyed translating foreign literature into German, and published in 1813 Drei altschottische Lieder (Three Old Scottish Songs). He also worked on older German literature, publishing in 1829 Die deutsche Heldensage (The German Hereic Epic). Like his brother Jakob, he also edited a number of medieval German texts, including Vridankes Bescheidenhcit (Freidank's Wisdom) in 1834 and Ruolandes liet (The Song of Roland) in 1838.

Both Jakob and Wilhelm had been granted professorships at Göttingen University in 1830. The decade of the 1830s was a politically turbulent and unstable period in European history as the liberal, revolutionary forces that had been awakened during the Napoleonic era were being vigorously suppressed by conservative, reactionary regimes. In June 1837, Ernst August II became ruler of Hannover and immediately invalidated the rather liberal constitution that had been approved by his predecessor Wilhelm IV. The faculty of Göttingen University protested vociferously and seven professors, including Jakob and Wilhelm Grimm, were dismissed. The “Göttingen Seven” became somewhat of a liberal cause célèbre throughout Germany.

Jakob Grimm

Born Jakob Ludwig Carl Grimm in Hanau, Hesse-Kassel (Germany), January 4, 1785. Son of Philipp Wilhelm Grimm, lawyer and town clerk in Hanau, later justiciary in Steinau. Educated at Kassel Lyceum; studied law at University of Marburg, 1802. Met writers Clemens Brentano and Friedrich Karl von Savigny. Traveled to Paris as researcher to Savigny, 1805. Secretary to War Office, Kassel, 1806-8; private librarian to King Jérôme Bonaparte of Westphalia, 1808-14; auditeur of the Conseil d'État, 1809. Traveled to Paris and took part in Congress of Vienna as secretary to Hessian delegation, 1814-15. Secretary to electoral library, Kassel, 1816. Collected folk songs with Wilhelm for the collection of Achim von Arnim and Clemens Brentano; co-editor, with brother Wilhelm, Altdeutsche Wälder, 1813-16. Published first edition of Kinder und Hausmäarchen (known as Grimms’ Fairy Tales) with brother Wilhelm, 1812. Published Deutsche Grammatik (German Grammar), 1819-37. Librarian and professor at University of Göttingen, 1829-37. Wrote Deutsche Mythologie, 1830s. Dismissed from university post for political reasons; exiled to Kassel, 1837-40. Moved to Berlin to lecture at the University as member of Berlin Royal Academy of Sciences on invitation of King of Prussia, Frederick William IV, 1841. Lived in Berlin with Wilhelm and his family until his death, writing and lecturing. President, Conferences of Germanists, Frankfurt am Main, 1846, Lubeck, 1847; elected to the Frankfurt parliament, 1848. Received Order of Merit, 1842. Traveled widely throughout Europe on scientific expeditions, 1840s-63. Collaborated with Wilhelm Grimm on the German dictionary Deutsches Wörterbuch, from 1854 on. Died in Berlin, September 20, 1863.

Wilhelm Grimm

Born Wilhelm Karl Grimm in Hanau, Hesse-Kassel (Germany), February 24, 1786. Son of Philipp Wilhelm Grimm, lawyer and town clerk in Hanau, later justiciary in Steinau. Educated at Kassel Lyceum; studied law at the University of Marburg, 1803-6. Published first edition of Kinder und Hausmärchen (known as Grimms’ Fairy Tales) with brother Jakob, 1812. Coeditor, with brother Jakob, of Altdeutsche Wälder, 1813-16. Assistant librarian, electoral library, Kassel, 1814-29. Married Henriette Dorothea Wild, 1825; they had one daughter, three sons. Professor at University of Göttingen, 1830-37; dismissed from post for political reasons. Lived in exile in Kassel, 1837-40. Moved to Berlin to lecture at the university as member of Berlin Royal Academy of Sciences on invitation of King of Prussia, Frederick William IV, 1841. Collaborated with Jakob Grimm on the German dictionary Deutsches Wörterbuch, from 1854 on. Died December 16, 1859.

Selected Works
  • GRIMM, JAKOB LUDWIG CARLGrimm, Jakob and Wilhelm. Kinder und Hausmärchen. 1812-15. Translated as German Popular Stories by Edgar Taylor. 1823-26. Translated as The Complete Grimms’ Fairy Tales by various translators. 1976, and as The Complete Grimms’ Fairy Tales by various translators. New York: Grammercy, 1993.
  • Grimm, Jakob and Wilhelm. Deutsche Sagen. 1816-18. Translated as The German Legends of the Brothers Grimm by Donald Ward. Philadelphia: Institute for Human Issues, 1981.
  • Grimm, Jakob. Deutsche Grammatik. 1819-37.
  • Grimm, Jakob. Deutsche Mythologie. 1835. Translated as Teutonic Mythology by James Steven Stallybrass. 1883-85.
  • Grimm, Jakob. Geschichte der deutschen Sprache. 1848.
  • Grimm, Wilhelm and Jakob, et al. Deutches Wörterbuch. 1854-61.
  • Grimm, Wilhelm and Jakob, eds. Die beiden ältesten deutschen Gedichte aus dem achten Jahrhundert: Das Lied von Hildebrandt und Hadubrand und das Weissenbrunner Gebet. 1812.
  • Grimm, Wilhelm and Jakob, eds. Altdeutsche Wälder. 1813-16.
  • Grimm, Wilhelm. Die deutsche Heldensage. 1829.
  • Bibliography
  • Bottigheimer, Ruth. Grimms' Bad Girls and Bold Boys: The Moral and Social Vision of the Tales. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1987.
  • Bottigheimer, Ruth.Jacob Grimm.” In German Writers in the Age of Goethe 1789-1832. Edited by Hardin, JamesSchweitzer, Christoph E.. Dictionary of Literary Biography. Vol. 90. Detroit: Gale Research, 1989: 100-107.
  • Bottigheimer, Ruth.Wilhelm Grimm.” In German Writers in the Age of Goethe 1789-1832. Edited by Hardin, JamesSchweitzer, Christoph E.. Dictionary of Literary Biography. Vol. 90. Detroit: Gale Research, 1989: 108-13.
  • Peppard, Murray B. Paths through the Forest: A Biography of the Brothers Grimm. New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1971.
  • Tatar, Maria. The Hard Facts of the Grimms' Fairy Tales. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1987.
  • Zipes, Jack. The Brothers Grimm. London: Routledge, 1988.
  • Thomas F. Barry

    Copyright © 2004 by Taylor & Francis Group

    Related Articles

    Full text Article Grimm, Brothers
    Britannica Concise Encyclopedia

    Jacob (right) and Wilhelm Grimm, oil portrait by Elisabeth Jerichau-Baumann, 1855; in the … Credit:Staatliche Museen zu Berlin—Preussischer Kultu

    Full text Article GRIMM BROTHERS
    Encyclopedia of Nationalism: Leaders, Movements, and Concepts

    Jacob (1785–1863) and Wilhelm (1786–1859) Grimm, brothers from Hanau, Germany, studied in Marburg to be librarians and went on to the University...

    Full text Article JACOB GRIMM
    Key Thinkers in Linguistics and the Philosophy of Language

    Grimm Jacob (Ludwig Carl) ( b. 1785, d . 1863; German), librarian in Kassel, professor and librarian at Göttingen University (1829–37),...

    See more from Credo