Lost books from Grimm’s private library

Simplicissimus

First edition of “Simplicissimus” from the library of the Brothers Grimm with their handwritten annotations. © Adam Mickiewicz University of Poznań

The brothers Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm are known worldwide for their fairy tales. Now historians in Poznań, Poland, have discovered 27 lost books from the private library of the two linguists and fairy tale creators. The works, including a first edition of “Simplicissimus”, have handwritten annotations by the Brothers Grimm on their covers – and thus provide valuable information about their working methods.

Whether it’s Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, Snow White or the Frog Prince: The Brothers Grimm’s fairy tales are world-famous today. The two linguists Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm originally collected and wrote it from 1806 onwards, not for children, but as a folklore collection for adults, including scientific commentaries. But their lively and memorable narrative style makes the Brothers Grimm’s fairy tales so well known and popular that they were soon published without the commentaries. However, only a few of the original versions of Grimm’s fairy tales have survived.

Insight into the “workshop” of the fairy tale makers

It is all the more exciting to take a look “behind the scenes” of the two famous fairy tale authors and linguists: into their private library. In it, the Brothers Grimm collected thousands of historical and contemporary works that they needed for their work as folklorists and linguists and some of which also served as a source for their fairy tales. This is evidenced by, among other things, handwritten notes on the cover pages and underlining of the texts. Jacob usually underlined with ink, while Wilhelm underlined finely and later often with pencil.

The Grimm’sche Private Library is still considered one of the most important humanities private libraries of the 19th century. The largest part of it, around 6,200 volumes, was acquired by the Prussian state after the death of the two brothers and made it part of the university library of the Humboldt University in Berlin. This inventory is currently being gradually evaluated and processed. But there are also some works from Grimm’s private library that were considered lost since the Second World War. Researchers led by Wiesław Wydra from the Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznan, Poland, had already tracked down six of them in the inventory of the Poznań University Library in 2002.

27 lost volumes tracked down

Based on these finds, a research team led by Eliza Pieciul-Karmińska and Renata Wilgosiewicz-Skutecka set out in 2023 to search for possible additional lost volumes from the Brothers Grimm’s private library. The historians spent almost six months rummaging through the holdings, archives and directories of the university collections. In fact, they found what they were looking for: the researchers came across 27 additional volumes from Grimm’s private library. Among these is also a first edition of the baroque picaresque novel “The Abentheuerliche Simplicissimus” from 1669 – a valuable and rare find in itself.

“The works from the private library of the Brothers Grimm found in the University Library of Poznań can make a significant contribution to modern Grimm research,” explain the historians. The 27 volumes that have now been rediscovered also contain handwritten notes by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm. For example, the two researchers noted legend motifs that were interesting to them on the inside covers of the books. These notes can now help you understand the thoughts of the famous fairy tale writers. “At the same time, these finds give reason to hope that the university collection contains additional volumes from the Grimm Library that are considered lost,” said the researchers.

Source: Adam Mickiewicz University of Poznań

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