Wilhelm and Jacob Grimm

Illustration of the two brothers Grimm

Wilhelm (left) and Jacob Grimm.

© Niedersächsische Staats- und Universitätsbibliothek Göttingen.


Jacob Grimm (1785-1863) and his brother Wilhelm (1786-1859) believed that the poetic soul of a nation emerges most clearly in the folk poetry of the common people.

Throughout their working lives they collected, translated and edited fairy tales and German (and other) legends.

In fact Wilhelm Grimm's first published book (1811) is a large collection of Old Danish heroic poems, ballads and fairy tales, which he translated into German.

Fairy tales and Walter Scott

In 1812, the brothers published the first volume of their 'Fairy tales' ­— 'Kinder- und Hausmärchen'.

In 1814, Jacob sent a copy of the book to Sir Walter Scott in Scotland. Jacob was keen to establish a relationship with the famous poet so that they could exchange scholarly observations on old English, Scottish, German and Scandinavian literature. Even before this, however, the Grimms had been interested in Scottish poetry.

German linguistics

In 1838, Jacob and Wilhelm started work on their German dictionary. The first volume was published in 1854, and on completion 123 years later, it consisted of 32 volumes.

Jacob Grimm published his monumental history of the German language in 1848, when he was a member of the Academy of Sciences at the Friedrich Wilhelm University in Berlin. In this bold work he tried to establish the relationship between German and other languages.

Volumes on display

On show in the 'Illustrating the Grimms' display, were Sir Walter Scott's copies of the German and English editions of the first volume of the fairy tales. Among other exhibits were some of the books the brothers published on legends of northern Europe and on German linguistics.

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