12.4.11

Two Members of the "Gottingen Seven"

Tuesday, 18 April 1865 - Gottingen, Hanover

Original Gottingen University Library
Today I visited the Gottingen University Library. Built in 1734, it predates the opening of the University by three years. It quickly became one of the leading libraries of the world. Currently it’s ranking has dropped due to under-funding. Fortunately the Prussian will rectify that next year when Gottingen University becomes their responsibility. It will again become one of the leading research libraries.

Its most famous librarians were a couple of brothers named Grimm. Jacob and Wilhelm were also professors at the university. They began work here back in 1834.

Wilhelm and Jacob Grimm
 We think of the Brothers Grimm as children’s writers, like Hans Christian Andersen, but that was hardly the case. They were in fact anthropologists, what we would today call folklorists. Jacob, the more robust one, would go into the countryside collecting folk tales, before the oral traditions disappeared. Little brother Wilhelm, more the story teller, would record them.

They called their collection Kinder- und Hausmärchen (Children's and Household Tales). Although Wilhelm, being a devout Christian, cleaned up the earthier elements, many complained the stories were too violent for children. The first edition to render a selection of the tales into something more suitable for youngsters, were the Grimm Brothers themselves, so in essence, they did become children’s writers.

The Brothers also studied linguistics. One of their forgotten works was the first German Dictionary. Unfortunately the chaps never got the chance to finish it, only getting as far a “F” before the Grim Reaper took them. (No pun intended.)

The Göttingen Seven.
Top row: Wilhelm Grimm, Jacob Grimm.
Middle Row: Wilhelm Eduard Albrecht, Friedrich
Christoph Dahlmann, Georg Gottfried Gervinus.
Bottom Row: Wilhelm Eduard Weber,
Heinrich Georg August Ewald.
Here is something else you probably did not know about the Brothers. They were members of a radical group called the “Gottingen Seven.” As I explained in my last blog, Hanover finally got a king of their own in 1837. Not everyone was thrilled with having an interfering king now underfoot. When King Ernest Augustus I came to power, he decided to rewrite the constitution to reflect his own personal values.

Seven Gottingen University professors publicly protested and refused to swear allegiance to the new king. The king fired all of them. Two of them, the Grimm brothers, were given three days to leave the country!

The Gottingen Seven were lauded as heroes by the public. Generations of college students would follow their example, protesting wars and social evils. The Grimms were invited to Berlin, by the King of Prussia, where they lived happily ever after.

Twenty seven years ago was able to meet the Grimm Brothers in 1851 before they died--Wilhelm in 1859 and Jacob in 1863. I needn’t tell you how excited I was to meet these pioneers of anthropology. It was like a fairy tale come true. (Erm--again, no pun intended.)

Download an English translation of the Original Grimm’s Fairy Tales: Volume I and Volume II
(May not be suitable for children)

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The Walt Disney Company currently has a trademark application pending with the US Patent and Trademark Office, for the name "Snow White.” Open letter to Disney

Snow White is an old German tale recorded by the Grimm Brothers in 1812. If they were alive today, would Disney Studios sue them for publishing the fairytale that Walt borrowed? And would these two members of the Gottingen Seven take it lying down?

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