Fairy tale collectors, linguists and much more besides
The brothers Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm are invariably associated with their collection of “Children’s and Household Tales” and the creation of the “German Dictionary”, but their life also reflects Germany’s national history and Biedermeier society in the early 1800s.
This warrants taking a closer look at the Brothers Grimm, their family environment, the places where they worked and their circle of friends.
Although Jacob and Wilhelm could hardly have been more different, they were nevertheless connected by a strong bond of unity which ultimately contributed to the brothers’ fame.
Born in Hanau a year apart, in 1785 and 1786, the brothers grew up in the idyllic pastoral surroundings of Steinau an der Straße and journeyed to Kassel after their father’s untimely death. Here they attended the prestigious Lyceum Fridericianum in order to rapidly gain their qualifications to go to university. No sooner said than done – after four years at school in Kassel, Jacob went up to Marburg University in 1802 to study law, with Wilhelm following him a year later. This rhythm was to set the pace for the rest of their lives. Jacob went first and Wilhelm followed – to Kassel, to Göttingen, to Berlin.
As different as the Brothers were from one another in character, they nevertheless had a close bond and devoted their whole lives to one object of research – the German language.
Jacob was a resolute, unconventional but reticent man who even felt uncomfortable when he had to laugh aloud. He felt compelled to order and arrange everything he saw. He only felt really at ease when he was alone among his beloved books. Wilhelm, by contrast, was a friendly, sociable man who loved music. In the end it was he who married Dorothea Wild, known affectionately as “Dortchen” [“Dotty”], who then took over the running of the entire Grimm household after many years of male-only management. Wilhelm was an emotional, patient man, while the determined Jacob was the undisputed head of the family.
The life story of the world-famous brothers Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm was inextricably linked with that of their siblings. Their brother Carl was the only member of the family to have a commercial education, but he did not particularly successful in his chosen career. He was eventually able to earn a living as a language teacher and editor of a treatise on double-entry bookkeeping. The brothers Ferdinand and Ludwig Emil were allowed to attend the grammar school [“Gymnasium”]. Ferdinand, who was a talented poet, became a proof-reader in in a Berlin bookshop at the family’s behest, while Ludwig Emil went to the Academy of Arts in Kassel. Ferdinand was the first of the five brothers to die, without having achieved much fame as a poet. Ludwig Emil become a renowned painter, draughtsman and illustrator, who also documented valuable information about the Grimm family. Sister Charlotte, or “Lotte”, was a late arrival who was only three when her father died. Following the death of their mother, Lotte ran the Grimm family household for 14 years until her marriage.