The Brothers Grimm on the German 1000 Mark banknote.

Jacob Ludwig Carl Grimm (January 4, 1785 - 1863) and Wilhelm Carl Grimm (February 24, 1786 - 1859), collectively known as the Brothers Grimm, were German scholars and authors best remembered for the collection of folk tales Children's and Household Tales (German: Kinder- und Hausmärchen). The collection, which is commonly called Grimms' Fairy Tales, has been translated into more than 160 languages, and many of the tales have been widely adapted.

In addition to collecting and analyzing texts and folklore, the Grimms wrote books on the German language, literature, mythology, and law.


Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm were born one year apart, in 1785 and 1786, in Hanau, Germany to Philipp Wilhelm Grimm and Dorothea Zimmer. They were the oldest of six children. The brothers spent a happy and comfortable early childhood in Hanau then in Steinau after their father became the district magistrate there in 1791.

In 1796, Philipp died suddenly of pneumonia at the age of 44. After his death, the family was required to move out of their residence which was part of the large government-owned courthouse building. With no pension or income of her own, Dorothea was forced to find modest accommodations for the family. Jacob and Wilhelm were sent, with financial assistance from Dorothea's sister Henriette Zimmer, to Kassel to attend the Lyceum Fridericianum high school. The brothers graduated at the head of their classes and were both given special dispensation to study law at the University of Marburg. Isolated from other students by their hardship and low social status, Jacob and Wilhelm dedicated themselves to their studies. Professor Friedrich Carl von Savigny, cofounder of the historical school of law, took notice and invited Jacob to peruse his extensive private library. Savigny taught the brothers the principles of scientific historical research and greatly influenced their scholastic development.

In 1805, Jacob went to Paris as a research assistant to Savigny. The following year, his fluency in French earned Jacob an employment offer from the Hessian War Ministry. Although he accepted the position to support his family, he found himself unfulfilled working in the legal field. His interest in literature grew in the mean time, and he decided to apply for a position in the public library in Kassel. He was finally offered the position of royal librarian by King Jérôme of Westphalia in 1808. Wilhelm, who was of fragile health, was too ill to work at the time. He was sent to a clinic in Halle for an expensive treatment. After six months, he returned to Kassel and joined Jacob at the library.

Their positions at the library gave Jacob and Wilhelm the resources and time needed to pursue their interests. They first began collecting folk tales in 1808 for their friend Clemens Brentano. When Brentano did not make use of the tales, Jacob and Wilhelm decided to publish the collection themselves. To the brothers, collecting folklore was more than just a scholarly endeavor. With Germany under Napoleonic French occupation, they worked with a sense of nationalism, driven by the desire to preserve the German cultural heritage. At the same time, the brothers also recognized the decline of the oral storytelling tradition and wanted to preserve the tales with accuracy. The first edition of Children's and Household Tales was published in 1812, and a second volume was added in 1815. Wilhelm continued to revise the tales, and six more editions were published between 1819 and 1857.

After the liberation of Germany in 1813, Jacob spent time in Paris and Vienna in diplomatic services. He then rejoined Wilhelm at the Royal Library. They published volumes on German legends, grammar, and law. Wilhelm married Dortchen Wild in 1825, but the brothers continued to live in the same household and work closely together. In 1829, Jacob and Wilhelm were both passed over for promotion when the head librarian died. They left the Royal Library and accepted positions as professors and librarians in Göttingen. In1837, when the new king of Hanover dissolved the parliament and repealed the constitution, seven professors including Jacob and Wilhelm wrote a letter of protest. The professors, who became known as the "Göttingen Seven", were all dismissed, and Jacob and two others were exiled. Jacob went to Kassel where he was later joined by Wilhelm and his family.

Despite financial difficulties, Jacob and Wilhelm continued to pursue their scholarly interests. In 1838, they began work on an ambitious and massive project to compile a German dictionary. In1840, the brothers were offered posts at the University of Berlin by the king of Prussia Frederick William IV. The generous stipend allowed them to continue their work on the dictionary. After the Revolution of 1848, the brothers, hoping for a democratic unified Germany, became active in politics. The reform movement failed, however, and they soon retired from politics. Jacob and Wilhelm both retired from the university in the following years but stayed in Berlin and devoted their late days to the dictionary project. They did not live to see the completion of the German dictionary or the unification of Germany. Wilhelm died at the age of 73 in 1859. Jacob, who became reclusive after his brother's death, died four years later.

Fairy tales

Hanau Bruder Grimm

Statue of the Brothers Grimm in Hanau, Germany.

Jacob and Wilhelm began collecting folktales at the request of a close friend, the poet Clemens Brentano. They sent him 53 tales, but Brentano failed to publish the collection. By the time the brothers decided to publish the material themselves, the collection had grown. The first volume of Children's and Household Tales, published in 1812, included 86 tales. The Grimms added a second volume of 70 stories in 1815.

Jacob and Wilhelm were scholars engaged in serious research of folklore and preservation efforts. The first edition of Children's and Household Tales was unillustrated and filled with scholarly footnotes. Many of the tales also contained violence and sexual references because they were uncensored, having faithfully been recorded from oral accounts. It was not until after the work was criticized as being unsuitable for children that the brothers recognized the potential entertainment value of their collection.

In the following years, Wilhelm revised and embellished the tales. New stories as well as illustrations were added while some tales which were deemed inappropriate were removed. The second edition of Children's and Household Tales was published in 1819, followed by five more in 1837, 1840, 1843, 1850, and 1857. In addition, a small children's edition of 50 tales was published in 1825. It was the first commercial success. By the final edition of 1857, which contained 211 tales, the stories had become more readable and tasteful, infused with morals and religious motifs, and suitable for children. The revised tales, however, had lost the authentic flavor of folklore.

Contrary to popular belief, the majority of the tales came to the Grimms not from peasants but from their middle-class family and friends. Also, in spite of the national pride with which they were collected, many of the stories were not unique to Germany. Variants existed in France and other European countries, and some of the stories had previously appeared in the 1697 anthology Histoires ou Contes du temps passé by Charles Perrault.[1]

Regardless of origins or sources, Grimms' fairy tales became very popular. They are still beloved worldwide today. The tales have inspired many writers, artists, composers, filmmakers, and others.

Selected works


Grimm's Kinder- und Hausmärchen, Erster Theil (1812).cover

Cover of the first edition of Childrens' and Household Tales (1812).

019 Title page

Title page of a 1909 English-language edition of Grimm's Fairy Tales.

Illustration at page v in Grimm's Household Tales (Edwardes, Bell)

Front cover of a 1912 English-language edition of Grimm's Household Tales.

Bracia Grimm - Baśnie (Niewiadomska)

Front cover of a 1943 Polish edition of the Brothers Grimm's fairy tales.

The Complete Grimm's Fairy Tales (Book Cover) Published September 1976

Front cover of a 1976 English-language edition of Grimms' tales.

  • Children's and Household Tales (Kinder- und Hausmärchen) (1812)
Some of the tales from the collection are:
  • "German Legends" (Deutsche Sagen) (1816-1818)
Includes a version of the Pied Piper story, a legend later made famous in the English-speaking world through the 1845 poem "The Pied Piper of Hamelin" by the British poet Robert Browning.

By Jacob Grimm

  • History of the German Language (Geschichte der deutschen Sprache) (1848)
  • Teutonic Mythology (Deutsche Mythologie) (1835)

By Wilhelm Grimm

  • On German Runes (Über deutsche Runen) (1821)
  • The German Heroic Legend (Die deutsche Heldensage) (1829)

See also


  1. Charles Perrault's versions of "Cinderella" and "Puss in Boots", for example, are better known in the English-speaking world today.

External links