Home  »  Household Tales  »  Introductory Note

Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm. Household Tales.
The Harvard Classics. 1909–14.

Introductory Note

THE “Kinder- und Hausmärchen” of the brothers Grimm was the first deliberate attempt to preserve in their pure form the traditional domestic tales of the German people. The stories published in their volumes of 1812 and 1815, and revised and added to in successive editions, were collected by them chiefly from the mouths of the peasantry in their native county of Hanau in Prussia and in Hesse, but the other provinces of Germany, as well as German, Austria and Switzerland, also contributed. It was the aim of the collectors, carried out with great fidelity and a remarkable instinct for the truly popular, to avoid all additions, logical or artistic; to retain as far as possible the actual language of the peasants, and to eliminate all foreign and sophisticated elements.

The result of their labors, extending through a long stretch of years, was twofold: they produced one of the most delightful story books in the world, and they preserved for the scientific student of mythology and folk-lore a mass of invaluable material which was even then beginning to disappear. Further, in the discussion and classification of variant forms of these tales, gathered in different parts of the world, they advanced notably the science of comparative mythology.

Wilhelm Grimm, the younger brother, who did the greater part of the work of collecting and revising, was born at Hanau on February 24, 1786. Together with Jakob, he acted as librarian at Cassel, and professor at Göttingen and at Berlin, where he died, December 16, 1859. Besides the works in which he collaborated with his brother, he produced an important book on the German Heroic Legend.

The elder brother, Jakob, was born in 1785, also at Hanau, and died in Berlin in 1863. He is chiefly distinguished for his work in Germanic philology, his German Grammar being practically the foundation work of this branch of learning. The brothers lived in the closest intimacy, occupying the same house and often working on the same subjects, and both the great German Dictionary known by their name and the collection of “Märchen” from which the following stories are taken were the result of this collaboration.