Jacob Grimm

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Jacob Grimm bigraphy, stories - German philologist, jurist and mythologist

Jacob Grimm : biography

4 January 1785 – 20 September 1863

Jacob Ludwig Carl Grimm (also Karl; 4 January 1785 – 20 September 1863) was a German philologist, jurist and mythologist. He is best known as the discoverer of Grimm’s Law (linguistics), the author (with his brother) of the monumental Deutsches Wörterbuch, the author of Deutsche Mythologie and, more popularly, as one of the Brothers Grimm, as the editor of Grimm’s Fairy Tales.

Life

Grimm was born in Hanau, in Hesse-Kassel (or Hesse-Cassel). His father, who was a lawyer, died while he was a child, and his mother was left with very small means; but her sister, who was lady of the chamber to the Landgravine of Hesse, helped to support and educate her numerous family. Jacob, with his younger brother Wilhelm (born on 24 February 1786), was sent in 1798 to the public school at Kassel.

In 1802 he proceeded to the University of Marburg, where he studied law, a profession for which he had been destined by his father. His brother joined him at Marburg a year later, having just recovered from a long and severe illness, and likewise began the study of law.

Up to this time Jacob Grimm had been actuated only by a general thirst for knowledge and his energies had not found any aim beyond the practical one of making himself a position in life. The first definite impulse came from the lectures of Friedrich Karl von Savigny, the celebrated investigator of Roman law, who, as Wilhelm Grimm himself says in the preface to the Deutsche Grammatik (German Grammar), first taught him to realize what it meant to study any science. Savigny’s lectures also awakened in him a love for historical and antiquarian investigation, which forms the structure of all his work. The two men became personally acquainted, and it was in Savigny’s well-stocked library that Grimm first turned over the leaves of Bodmer’s edition of the Old German minnesingers and other early texts, and felt an eager desire to penetrate further into the obscurities and half-revealed mysteries of their language.

In the beginning of 1805 he received an invitation from Savigny, who had moved to Paris, to help him in his literary work. Grimm passed a very happy time in Paris, strengthening his taste for the literatures of the Middle Ages by his studies in the Paris libraries. Towards the close of the year he returned to Kassel, where his mother and Wilhelm had settled, the latter having finished his studies. The next year he obtained a position in the war office with the very small salary of 100 thalers. One of his grievances was that he had to exchange his stylish Paris suit for a stiff uniform and pigtail. But he had full leisure for the prosecution of his studies.

In 1808, soon after the death of his mother, he was appointed superintendent of the private library of Jérôme Bonaparte, King of Westphalia, into which Hesse-Kassel had been incorporated by Napoleon. Bonaparte appointed him an auditor to the state council, while Grimm retained his superintendent post. His salary was increased in a short period of time from 2000 to 4000 francs and his official duties were hardly more than nominal. After the expulsion of Bonaparte and the reinstatement of an elector, Grimm was appointed Secretary of Legation in 1813, accompanying the Hessian minister to the headquarters of the allied army. In 1814 he was sent to Paris to demand restitution of books carried off by the French, and he also attended the Congress of Vienna as Secretary of Legation, 1814–1815. Upon his return from Vienna he was sent to Paris a second time to secure book restitutions. Meanwhile, Wilhelm had received an appointment to the Kassel library, and in 1816 Jacob was made second librarian under Volkel. Upon the death of Volkel in 1828, the brothers expected to be advanced to the first and second librarianships respectively, and were dissatisfied when the first place was given to Rommel, the keeper of the archives. Consequently, they moved the following year to Göttingen, where Jacob received the appointment of professor and librarian, and Wilhelm that of under-librarian. Jacob Grimm lectured on legal antiquities, historical grammar, literary history, and diplomatics, explained Old German poems, and commented on the Germania of Tacitus.