Biography of Jakob Ludwig Grimm (1785-1863)

Philologist, historian and German writer, born in Hanau (Hesse-Kassel), and died in Berlin.

Along with his brother Carl Wilhelm (1786-1859), was one of the most important intellectual figures of German romanticism. Collections and studies of the German folk tales that both were in his youth provided them world famous, and became two of the most classic and popular throughout world literature authors.

Jakob Ludwig and Wilhelm Carl were the two older brothers of a large family consisting of altogether five brothers and a sister. The family was characterized by its deep Calvinist religiosity, and several of the more direct ancestors and relatives were Protestant pastors. The father of the family, Philipp Wilhelm, was a lawyer who enjoyed an accommodated position of official in Hanau, before moving to Steinau, another small town in the State of Hesse.

The premature death of the father, in 1796, left the family in a precarious economic situation. The death of the mother years later, in 1808, left the young Jakob, had then 23 years, as head of a family with four brothers and a sister minor. Very together throughout his life with his brother Wilhelm, both had studied Middle School in Kassel, and then studied law at the University of Marburg between 1802 and 1806, with the intention of continuing the path of civil servant of his father. A decisive fact redirected, however, his vocation: the have met in Marburg to the romantic poet Clemens Brentano, who discovered them the world and transmitted them to his passion for folk poetry. The Brothers Grimm were working as scavengers in the famous collection of German folk songs, which, under the title Des Knaben Wunderhorn (the youth magic Horn) Brentano and Achim von Arnim published between 1805 and 1808. And also began to pick up, in those years, the tales that years later would be part of his famous collection of Kinder - und Hausmärchen (children and household Tales). Among the lessons learned from this work were his typically romantic belief that the "Naturpoesie" or "natural poetry" or "of the people" was earlier and higher than the "Kunstpoesie" or "artistic poetry" or "gimmicky" educated writers. Around the same time, the Brothers Grimm came in contact also with Friedrich Karl von Savigny, illustrious jurist, who discovered them the world of the ancient legal texts and greatly contributed to its rigorous scientific training. Less direct but equally important was the influence that around the same time were the writings of philosopher Johann Gottfried Herder (1744-1803), authentic precursor-fundador of German, and vindicating, romanticism as Brentano, of popular culture as the truest expression of the spirit and history of the German people.

In 1805, Jakob accompanied Savigny to Paris to study legal texts of the middle ages, and a year later won a civil servant post in Kassel. His brother Wilhelm, very delicate health, not would be able to work steadily until 1814. The outbreak of the war against Napoleon, and French expansionism, which soon overtook the State of Hesse, forced Jakob to escape and become librarian private King of Westphalia in 1808. There was where he wrote some of his early major studies, like the one devoted to über den altdeutschen Meistergesang (on the master singers of the old Germany, 1811). A year later also became auditor of the Council of State, but in 1813, when the French threat was cleared completely, chose to return to his old set of official in Hesse. Shortly after had to travel twice to Paris (in 1814 and 1815) as a member of a delegation responsible for recovering works of art stolen by Napoleon's army in Prussia and Hesse in previous years. He also participated in the Congress of Vienna in 1814 and 1815, and in all his travels always found time to continue looking for ancient manuscripts and deepening his studies on literature and law in the middle ages.

From 1816, Jakob returned to meet with his brother Wilhelm, and both decided to reorient their legal research into the field of ancient and traditional literature. The resignation to the stability of their jobs of officials involved that they live in precarious conditions, but was that the time in which traced the broad lines of its scientific production, which settled on two very well defined bases: the comparative study of ancient tradition and modern, through research and ethnographic fieldwork filein order to reveal its continuity and relations in time; the comparative study of the German tradition with other European traditions, such as the Scandinavian, Slavic, English, Scottish, Dutch, Spanish and Italian, in order to reveal the multicultural contacts and try to draw maps and theories about their sources and pan-European developments.

Few years earlier, in 1812, the two brothers had published the first edition of their Kinder - und Hausmärchen (children's and household Tales), which had achieved a great popularity and dissemination, and in 1816 decided to publish the Second Edition, revised and amended. Collection brought together two hundred tales, most collected of the peasant oral tradition. One of the major merits of the Brothers Grimm was the of have known to respect the simplicity and spontaneity of the natural speech of these stories, rather than transform them with the cultists artifices and other previous digests moralists. Although they had no choice but to intervene occasionally in some of the texts, to resolve ambiguity or confusion, the collection of Tales by the Brothers Grimm is considered to be the first carried out in history with truly rigorous and scientific criteria, very close to that used by modern Ethnography. Both brothers were passionately defend their method against who scolded them have not decorated or have gotten more literary party of those stories. Jakob argued that the uncontaminated beauty of the "Naturliteratur" or "natural literature" was pure, transcendental, and more divine than the "Kunstliteratur" or "artistic literature", and Wilhelm joined the second edition of the tales a foreword titled über das Wesen des Marchens ("on the nature of the story") in which he defended the contemporary folk tales are direct descendants of the ancient religious myths, and its literary and historical importance are far above what had traditionally been considered until then. Some of the ideas of the two brothers have finished revealing it later as false, naive and overly romantic idealism. For example, all your theory about the divine origin of the culture and the progressive decline that had accompanied it throughout its historical evolution, was contradicted by generations of anthropologists later. Despite this, the progress made by both brothers in the field of literary and cultural analysis constituted progress gigantic in the panorama of the Human Sciences of the modern age, especially if compared with the preceding epochs.

Between 1816 and 1818, the Brothers Grimm published several volumes of Deutsche Sagen (German legends), who remained in the land of the leyendistica, started work and methods tested in the earlier collection of short stories. Although this new work never reached the celebrity and the dissemination of the above, consolidated its reputation as genuine forerunners of modern folk collection. The interest of both brothers continued focused for much longer in popular literature. 1826 is his translation of Fairy Legends and Traditions of the South of Ireland (legends and traditions of fairy in the South of Ireland), Thomas Crofton Croker, for which he wrote an extraordinary prologue summarizing his ideas on pan-European fairy tales. Also in those years, the two brothers Grimm dealt intensively with the study of archaic literary texts with a strong presence of the popular, and carried out important work on the Nibelungenlied (song of the Nibelungen), or on the work Der arme Heinrich (poor Heinrich) of the beginning of the 13th century Hartmann von Auewriter.

At the end of the Decade of 1820, each brother chose to follow most distinct intellectual paths, but never ceased to be United in personally and academically. As Wilhelm prepared his work on Die deutsche Heldensage (the German heroic legends) of the middle ages, Jakob returned to focus on philological studies, and especially in the grammar. While still published important literary works, the dedicated in 1834 to the medieval cuentistico of Reinhart Fuchs (Fox Reinhart) cycle (see Renard), intensified the work of his monumental Deutsche Grammatik (German grammar), which had begun to publish in 1819 and would culminate in 1837. This is a colossal historical grammar Treaty not only of the German language, but of all the Germanic languages, which laid the foundations of modern Comparative Linguistics. Their contributions to the formulation of General etymological and phonetic laws, or the analysis of the relationship between the history of the language and the meaning changes, were momentous in the scientific landscape of his time. In this work he formulated the first call Grimm's law, showing the beginning of correspondence in the evolution of the consonants in languages belonging to the Indo-European stem, which reinforced observations and previous studies carried out by the Danish linguist Rasmus Rask. The second call Grimm's law revealed the process of transformation of certain consonants in deaf in the Germanic languages from the V century AD. Their findings not only exerted a great influence in all of the Germanic historical linguistics, but also in the Romanesque and the Slav. On the other hand, in 1824, Jakob Grimm translated into German from his friend Vuk Stefanovic Karadzic Serbian grammar, and enormous depth know-how and interests left patent in his introduction on the Slavic literatures and languages.

Extraordinary and influential was the great work of Jakob on the Deutsche Rechtsaltertümer (German ancient customary law), published in 1828, which served as a model to other works of the same kind published in the subsequent decades in France, Holland, Russia and Slavic countries, and even in Spain (in charge, for example, of Joaquín Costa).

In 1829, the two brothers Grimm withdrew them the favour of the elector of Hessen-Kassel, so were forced to relocate to the nearby University of Göttingen, where for years he developed work of librarians and professors. This was the era in which Jakob composed his monumental Deutsche Mythologie (Germanic mythology), ambitious comparative study of myths, legends, beliefs and superstitions of the Germanic peoples, ancient and modern of the Graeco-Roman tradition and the Christian. That work was also followed as a model for several generations of Mythographers Germans (Mannhardt, Müller) and later.

But political instability returned soon to disrupt the tranquility of both brothers, when the newly crowned King of Hanover in 1833 abolished a moderate Constitution that he considered excessively liberal. The strong protest of the Grimm, together with other five teachers, resulted in fulminating dismissal, as well as the forced expulsion of Jakob from the Kingdom of Hanover. The next three years had to pass them in Kassel, but never came to suffer serious economic problems, its prestige was already by then so extraordinary that many universities and institutions in Germany and across Europe disputed its presence.

In 1840, the lives of both brothers suffered a final twist when both accepted the invitation of the King of Prussia, Federico Guillermo IV, to teach at the University of Berlin. Stability and tranquility that offered them his new situation allowed them to begin the most ambitious undertaking of few were proposed: the Deutsches Wörterbuch (German dictionary), gigantic cast of all German voices with annotation of etymologies, variants throughout history, semantic developments, miscellaneous, dialectalismos, colloquialisms, and quotes sayings and proverbs. So giant could not be completed by the two brothers. Wilhelm died when the drafting of the dictionary had advanced to the letter D, and Jakob when it reached the letter F, and had to be generations of scholars later which succeeded in concluding its ambitious efforts, which, in addition, served as a model to many other historical dictionaries that were projected elsewhere in Europe.

In that same comfortable and quiet Berlin stage, Jakob, who, unlike his brother, never contracted marriage, made another monumental work more: an extensive Geschichte der deutschen Sprache (history of the German language). Both brothers were by then also a very wide range of articles, forewords, etc., which would end up being gathered at his Kleinere Schriften.

The death of his brother Wilhelm in 1859, four years before his own left Jakob plunged into a State of spiritual prostration in which only the passionate delivery to your work could provide relief.


BOLTE, j., and POLIVKA, g., zur Praxis zu den Kinder - und Hausmärchen der Brüder Grimm, 5 vols. (Leipzig, 1913-1932).

ERLACHER, C., Grimm und Andersen. Eine Studie über Marchendichtung (Langensalza, 1929).

GERSTNER, H., Die Brüder Grimm (Berlin, 1952).

FAIVRE, a., "Les contes de Grimm." "Mythe et initiation", Cahiers de Recherche sur L'imaginaire 10-11 (1978).

José Manuel Pedrosa