Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair, so that I may climb the golden stair.
- from Children's and Household Tales by the Brothers Grimm, 1812
Among the best known and loved folk and fairy tales are those
told by Wilhelm and Jacob Grimm, The Brothers Grimm as they are usually referred to. They were great storytellers of their time -- the collections of stories they published are still loved and read today.
Jacob Ludwig Karl Grimm was born January 4, 1785 and his brother, Wilhelm Karl, was born February 24, 1786. They were both born in the Wolfgang section of Hanau, Germany. They had seven siblings. Jacob was the eldest. When Jacob was fifteen years old, their father died and the family had to move to a smaller residence in the urban area. Their grandfather died two years later.
With the loss of her husband and father, the mother struggled to support her nine children with what little she had. Jacob and Wilhelm were educated at the Friedrichs-Gymnasium in Kassel. Later, both brothers studied at the Philipps University of Marburg. It was here that the brothers were greatly influenced by Professor Friedrich von Savigny. At the time, the brothers were in their early twenties. Savigny sparked an interest in the past for both Jacob and Wilhelm. This is when they began the linguistic and philological studies that would lead them to their future fame.
Their main study and research was focused on linguistic research. Grimm's Law, named for Jacob, is a collection of statements regarding European as related to Germanic language and linguistics. Out of this time also came editions of their collection of fairy and folk tales, which became extremely popular.
In 1808 their first volume of fairy tales was published. Tales of Children and the Home were stories collected from peasants and villagers of their own area, and sources from other cultures.
Jacob did most of the research and Wilhelm, more frail of health, set the stories to their literary format, which gave the childlike style to the tales.
"To-day do I bake, to-morrow I brew,
The day after that the queen's child comes in;
And oh! I am glad that nobody knew
That the name I am called is Rumpelstiltskin!"
The first volumes of these tales were not regarded by the public as suitable for children due to sexual references such as pregnancy, which was at the time a very private issue -- so the title referring to "Children's Tales" was criticized. This led to versions of tales more suitable for children.
The influence of the tales portrayed lessons or morals that helped parents to educate children. This had always been one of the purposes of fairy tales. The tale of Red Riding Hood for example has a very strong moral, or lesson to be learned. As Charles Perrault (1628 - 1703), a French author who laid foundations for a new literary genre, the fairy tale, had written a century earlier than the Brothers Grimm's time:
From this story one learns that children, especially young lasses, pretty, courteous and well-bred, do very wrong to listen to strangers, And it is not an unheard thing if the Wolf is thereby provided with his dinner. I say Wolf, for all wolves are not of the same sort; there is one kind with an amenable disposition — neither noisy, nor hateful, nor angry, but tame, obliging and gentle, following the young maids in the streets, even into their homes. Alas! Who does not know that these gentle wolves are of all such creatures the most dangerous!
Folklore and primitive literature was another interest for the brothers. When they were both employed at a library in Kassel, they published two volumes of German legends and one of early literary history.
By 1810 the brothers produced a manuscript collection of several dozen tales. They had invited storytellers, mostly peasants, to their home and recorded the age old tales they told. Some of the "storytellers" were middle-class or aristocratic, and related tales they had heard from their servants.
In 1825, Wilhelm married Henriette Wild. Jacob, remaining a bachelor, lived with them and their children. Wilhelm died in 1859 and Jacob died in 1863. Jacob was buried beside his brother in the St. Matthäus Kirchhof Cemetery in Schöneberg, Berlin. As in life, they remain together -- two brothrs who left us one legacy.
Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, 1855
Artist: Elisabeth Jerichau Baumann (1819–1881)
Wikipedia, Public Domain
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