Jacob Grimm Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Since the mid-nineteenth century, generations of children and adults have associated the name Grimm with the enchanted world of the fairy tale. Collections of Grimm’s Fairy Tales are surpassed only by the Bible in volumes sold and breadth of influence throughout Germany and many other countries. Among the most popular of the Grimms’ tales are “The Frog King,” “Rapunzel,” “Hansel and Gretel,” “Cinderella,” “Little Red Riding Hood,” “The Bremen Town Musicians,” “The Sleeping Beauty,” “Snow White,” and “Rumpelstiltskin.” Since fairy tales have been viewed primarily as children’s stories, many lovers of these tales are not aware that Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm were serious German scholars who devoted their lives to studying and preserving the language and lore of Germany, hoping to restore pride in their native folk culture.

Jacob and Wilhelm were born into a large middle-class family in their ancestral town of Hanau. Their harmonious and stable family life, Calvinist upbringing, and good schools prepared them for lives of arduous labor, unselfish collaboration, and public service. After their father’s sudden death in 1796, they worked especially hard at high school in Kassel and at the University of Marburg because they lacked the social advantages of wealthier students. Soon Jacob began supporting the family, while Wilhelm endured some years of ill health. They worked and lived together at school and throughout their lives, even after Wilhelm married a longtime family friend in 1825 and had three children.

Although the brothers followed their father’s example in studying law, by 1805 a law professor had influenced them to explore the roots of European law and society in ancient language, literature, and folklore. Romantic writers Clemens Brentano and Achim von Arnim encouraged the Grimms to help them collect folk literature. Then von Arnim urged them to publish their own folktales. Between 1812 and 1822, the Grimms produced three volumes of folktales and commentary,...

(The entire section is 833 words.)


(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Both of the Brothers Grimm devoted their lives to literary and philological scholarship. Following in their father’s footsteps, they studied law at Marburg, but, under the influence of Johann Gottfried Herder and Clemens Brentano, they turned from the law, and between 1806 and 1826, first at Marburg and later at the library of the Elector in Kassel, they collaborated in the study of folklore, producing not only the Märchen but also Deutsche Sagen (1816-1818; German Legends, 1981), on local historical legends and other works. In 1830, they left Kassel to become librarians and later professors at Göttingen. After a decade of largely independent work, the two collaborated again on a monumental lexicon of the German language, the Deutsches Wörterbuch (1854). The project was begun in 1838, was carried to Berlin when the brothers were appointed professors at the university in 1841, and was completed only in 1961—Wilhelm had died working on the letter D, Jacob at F).

Wilhelm Carl Grimm was in his own right an editor of medieval texts who did important work on runes and Germanic legend. Jacob Ludwig Carl Grimm was one of the greatest scholars in the history of a nation of scholars. His Deutsche Mythologie (1835; Teutonic Mythology, 1880-1888), attempted to establish a theoretical base for the Märchen collected earlier, viewing them as the detritus of a German mythology suppressed by Christianity. In thus laying the groundwork for all further speculation on the origins of folklore and myth, he has come to be acknowledged as the father of the scientific study of folklore. At the same time, he is the uncontested founder of the systematic study of the German language and indeed of historical linguistics itself; this assessment is based on the strength of his work that begins with the formulation of Grimm’s law in Deutsche Grammatik (1819-1837) and culminates in the Deutsches Wörtebuch.


(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Jacob Ludwig Carl Grimm was born on January 4, 1785, in Hanau, Hesse-Kassel, in what is now Germany. His brother, Wilhelm Carl Grimm, was born a year later on February 24, also in Hanau. Their parents were Philpp Wilhelm Grimm, a German official, and Dorthea Zimmer Grimm. Jacob and Wilhelm were close all of their lives, lived together, worked as a team on certain projects, held professorships at the same universities, and contributed enormously to Germanic studies. Jacob was the dominant force, disciplined, with an appetite for tedious research. Wilhelm was frailer, warmer, more sociable, drawn to music and literature. Yet each had the generous, even temper needed to sustain a lifetime of collaboration.

As law students at the University of Marburg, they were influenced by Professor Friedrich Karl von Savigny. At a time when Napoleon I was conquering all of Europe, Jacob had a revelation of his and Wilhelm’s life work while browsing in Savigny’s library. From that time forward, the Grimms devoted themselves to resurrecting the German past in scholarship. They were inspired by patriotism, but a kind that looks back wistfully.

The brothers began editing medieval manuscripts. Jacob Grimm’s first publication of note, Über den altdeutschen Meistergesang (1811), was a series of essays on medieval German poetry. At the same time, Jacob and Wilhelm began collecting folktales from friends and neighbors. Their joint publication, a large...

(The entire section is 599 words.)