This Day In Writing History
On January 4th, 1785, the legendary German writer, folklorist, and lexicographer Jacob Grimm was born in Hanau, Germany. His younger brother, Wilhelm Grimm, with whom he would collaborate on numerous projects, including the series of fairy tale collections for which they would become most famous, would be born about a year later, in February of 1786.
Jacob Grimm's father had intended for him to enter the legal profession, so in 1802, he began studying law at the University of Marburg. However, during his time at university, Grimm attended lectures by the legendary German historian Friedrich Karl von Savigny, who would awaken in him a passion for classical philology. The two men became good friends, and Grimm enjoyed delving through the Old German texts contained in Savigny's immense library.
Three years later, Savigny invited Grimm to work with him in Paris. Grimm eagerly accepted and came to love Paris - especially the city's libraries, where he continued his studies in the languages and literature of the Middle Ages.
After returning home to Germany, where his mother and brother Wilhelm had settled in Kassel, the only work he was able to find was a small-salaried position in the war office. He hated the job and having to wear a uniform instead of the stylish suit he'd bought in Paris.
By 1808, Grimm's mother had died, but his personal fortunes improved when Jérôme Bonaparte, the King of Westphalia, (and Napoleon's youngest brother) appointed him as the superintendent of his private library, and later, as an auditor to the state council.
After Jérôme was ousted as the ruler of Westphalia in 1813, Grimm was appointed as secretary of legation by the new government. In his official capacity, he would accompany the Hessian minister to the headquarters of the allied army, be dispatched to Paris to demand the return of valuable books looted by French soldiers, and attend the Congress of Vienna.
When he wasn't conducting official business as secretary of legation, Jacob Grimm worked with his brother Wilhelm, who had become a librarian, on various literary projects. Jacob would eventually become a librarian himself.
The first volume of the Grimm brothers' most famous literary collaboration, Kinder und Hausmärchen, (Children's and Household Tales) best known by the title of its English translation, Grimms' Fairy Tales, would be published in 1812. It contained 86 stories.
The Grimm brothers, both of them avid folklorists, would invite storytellers to tell their tales, which they then transcribed and edited, adding their own distinctive touches to the stories. A second volume, containing 70 tales, was published in 1814.
During the Grimm brothers' lifetime, five more editions of their story collections would be released, some containing new stories. Since then, all 211 stories would be published in one volume as Grimms' Fairy Tales.
Some scholars believe that the Grimm brothers removed salacious elements from the stories they collected, as they were both devout Christians. They did not, however, tone down the dark and violent elements of the stories, which led to complaints that the stories were inappropriate for children. Thus, over the years, since their initial publication, the Grimms' Fairy Tales have been softened and changed considerably by publishers.
The original, unaltered Grimms' Fairy Tales are still published, and parents who buy the book for their children are quite shocked by the content, as are other readers who remember the Disneyfied versions of such famous stories as Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, and Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. As in all the Grimms' original stories, the endings are different, and the villains are often tortured horribly and / or put to death.
Little Red Riding Hood (her original name was Little Red-Cap) and her grandmother are saved when a huntsman cuts open the wolf's stomach. He later skins the dead wolf and keeps the skin as a souvenir.
In Cinderella, (Cinderella was her nickname; her real name was Ashputtel) the nasty stepsisters mutilate their feet to try and fit into the glass slipper. Later, they get their eyes pecked out by doves as punishment for their cruelty and vanity.
And, in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, after Snow White is saved by her Prince, she marries him, and the Wicked Queen is lured to their wedding - where she is forced to wear hot iron shoes and dance until she dies.
Despite their dark and sometimes gruesome nature, the Grimms' Fairy Tales remain an all-time classic work of literature, inspiring generations of writers. In addition to their fairy tale collections, the Grimm brothers also published collections of Old German poetry, ballads, and song lyrics.
Jacob Grimm would also become famous for his own work as a linguist and lexicographer, publishing the classic works Deutsche Grammatik (German Grammar) in 1819, Geschichte der deutschen Sprache, (History of the German Language) in 1848, and Deutsches Wörterbuch (German Dictionary) in 1854. The Deutsches Wörterbuch would be his last collaboration with his brother Wilhelm.
In 1848, following the German Revolution, Jacob Grimm was elected to the Frankfurt National Parliament. He had become something of a folk hero because of his actions while teaching at the University of Goettingen in 1837.
Grimm was one of seven professors who drafted and signed a letter of protest against the King of Hanover's abrogation of the constitution. His brother Wilhelm was another of the seven. For doing this, the King had terminated all of their professorships and banished them from Hanover.
Jacob Grimm died in 1863 at the age of 78.
Quote Of The Day
"How often when we are comfortable, we begin to long for something new!" - Jacob Grimm
Today's video features a two-part reading of the classic Brothers Grimm fairy tale, Hansel and Gretel. Enjoy!