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Anyone acquainted with the voluminous works of the Brothers Grimm, is most likely aware of Wilhelm Grimm's interest in proverbs and proverbial expressions which is particularly evident in his different publications on the medieval Bescheidenheit of Freidank. In his own edition of this collection of gnomic verses entitled Vridankes Bescheidenheit (1834) he listed numerous Middle High German proverbs as parallels and also expressed the desire to assemble a medieval proverb collection. Although this plan unfortunately never materialized, Wilhelm Grimm often utilized proverbial materials in his writings as explanatory annotations. It also was primarily Wilhelm's interest in all expressions of folk speech which led him to incorporate new proverbial texts into later editions of the Kinder- und Hausmärchen. Yet his brother Jacob Grimm also showed a considerable scholarly interest in proverbs in his philological and historical studies where they served him as early and convincing references of folk wisdom.

The two brothers knew or possessed such significant proverb collections as Johann Agricola, Sybenhundert und fünfftzig Teütscher Sprichwörter (1534), Sebastian Frank, Sprichwörter, Aschöne, Weise, Herrliche Klugreden und Hoffsprüch (1541), Eucharius Eyering, Proverbiorum Copia (1601-1603), Friedrich Petri, Der Teutschen Weißheit (1604-1605), Christoph Lehmann, Florilegium Politicum (1630), Johann Michael Sailer, Die Weisheit auf der Gasse (1810), etc. These works were repeatedly cited as references, and of course Jacob Grimm also used Johann Friedrich Eisenhart's Grundsätze der deutschen Rechte in Sprüchwörtern (1759 and 1792) for his publications on legal history. It should be no surprise then that proverbs, proverbial expressions, proverbial comparisons and twin formulas play a major role in the entire corpus of the Brothers Grimm.

They frequently used such expressions in their many letters and at times they also appear as part of their scholarly style in their articles and books. In their editions of Middle and Early New High German literary works they often comment on the meaning of old proverbs in their annotations which help to decode difficult passages. In the many volumes of the so-caled Kleinere Schriften both brothers repeatedly cite proverbial materials. Jacob Grimm's seminal essay "Von der Poesie im Recht" (1815) and Wilhelm's article on "Die mythische Bedeutung des Wolfes" (1856) contain so many proverbs and proverbial expressions that we can consider them significant paremiological studies in themselves. Other essays exhibit similar preoccupations with proverbial language, clearly showing that the Grimms considered the traditional folk speech of great value for their etymological, philological, historical, cultural, folkloric and literary studies.

If Wilhelm Grimm was without doubt the expert on medieval proverbs, his brother Jacob was extremely knowledgeable in legal proverbs. In his famous Deutsche Rechtsaltertümer (1828) he gives detailed explanations of dozens of such legal proverbs, and he also finds much use for proverbial materials in his Deutsche Mythologie (1835). Often these small proverb studies within larger chapters are so enlightening that Lutz Röhrich, for example, in his well-known Lexikon der Sprichwörtlichen Redensarten (1973) has quoted liberally from these works. But the brothers also made great use of proverbs and proverbial expressions in their more philological and linguistic publications. Jacob's large Deutsche Grammatik (1819-1837) contains in a scattered fashion an early stylistic study of the proverb, and the first four volumes of the Deutsches Wörterbuch (1854-1863) are a rich storehouse of proverbs and other folk expressions. Wilhelm especially amassed proverbial texts to such a degree that we can locate small "proverb collections" under some of the entries. But this unsurpassed dictionary does not only list proverbial texts; the Grimms also cite them for etymological, semantic and cultural-historical explanations. Obviously this is done in a much more compact fashion than in the works already mentioned and in Jacob's Geschichte der deutschen Sprache (1848). Yet the four volumes alone, which the Grimms edited themselves, doubtlessly contain one of the largest proverb collections of the German language.1

Of special interest is, however, how Wilhelm Grimm has incorporated ever more proverbs and proverbial expressions in the successive editions of the Kinder- und Hausmärchen. Even though some references have been made by scholars to the proverbial content of the fairy tales, no systematic study of all fairy tale texts of the seven editions between 1812/1815 and 1857 exists, and this task is also not possible for us to accomplish in this article. Heinz Rölleke rightfully emphasizes in his magnificent three-volume reissue of the 7th edition (1857) of the Kinder- und Hausmärchen (1980) that a complete critical historical edition definitely should bring the "Nachweis von sprichwörtlichen Redensarten und Zitaten."2 The call for such an investigation is not new. Already in 1939 Archer Taylor pointed out that a

...collection of the proverbs in the Household Tales of the Brothers Grimm might be made. In this particular case there are two questions to be answered. Will the comparison of several texts of a tale show that the proverb appearing in the tale really forms part of the tale? In other words, what, if any, is the rôle of the proverb in traditional narrative? A second question is: In what editions of the Household Tales do the proverbs appear? That is to say, can we show that Wilhelm Grimm added to the number of proverbs in the Tales during the many revisions which they underwent?3

A few proverbial texts were indeed culled from the Grimm collection by Johannes Bolte and Georg Polivka in the fourth volume of their valuable Anmerkungen zu den Kinder- und Hausmärchen (1930) in order to show elements of folk speech in the fairy tales:

Der Redeschmuck besteht nicht in Bildern der poetischen Kunstsprache, sondern in den sinnlichen Ausdrücken des Volkes, die statt der Abstrakta eintreten. [...] Alliterierende Verbindungen (Haus und Hof, Kisten und Kasten, schlecht und recht), Klangmalereien (ritsch ratsch), volkstümliche Vergleiche (vergnügt wie eine Heidlerche, ein Gesicht wie drei Tage Regenwetter), Redensarten (der machte nicht langes Federlesen, ich muß euch über den grünen Klee loben) und Sprichwörter (Aller guten Dinge sind drei, Frisch gewagt ist halb gewonnen, Gleich und gleich gesellt sich gern) verbreiten eine behagliche Stimmung.4

Such short remarks have also been made by Kurt Schmidt and Friedrich Panzer,5 but of particular interest are Lutz Röhrich's comments of how certain fairy tale titles, names and motifs have become proverbial due to the great popularity of the Grimm tales. As examples he cites "Ein Aschenputteldasein fristen" (KHM 21), "Ein Schlaraffenleben führen" (KHM 158), "Sich die gebratenen Tauben in den Mund fliegen lassen" (KHM 158), "Tischlein deck dich" (KHM 36), etc.6

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The full text of this article is published in De Proverbio - Issue 11:2000 & Issue 12:2000, an electronic book, available from amazon.com and other leading Internet booksellers.

With our second example of the fairy tale "Die goldene Gans" (KHM 64), which has survived in its original wording in Jacob Grimm's handwriting form 1810, we can show that his brother added proverbial materials primarily starting with the second edition of 1819. Here we deal with the well-known proverb "Aus Schaden wird man klug" and the equally current proverbial expression "Das ist ja nur ein Tropfen auf den heißen Stein" which both appear for the first time in the 1819 edition. This should not be too surprising for the two brothers still worked more together for the 1812 edition and it is known that Jacob insisted more rigorously on textual authenticity. Notice, though, that some changes were nevertheless made from the 1810 manuscript to its first printing in 1812. There is no doubt that Jacob also sanctioned authorial intrusions on the texts:

Nun geht der dritte [Sohn] in Wald u. gibt dem Männchen seinen Kuchen.

Endlich ging der Dummling hinaus, das Männchen sprach ihn, wie die andern, um ein Stück Kuchen an.

Da sagte der Dummling auch: "Vater, ich will hinausgehen und Holz hauen." Antwortete der Vater: "Deine Brüder haben sich Schaden gethan, laß du's gar bleiben, du verstehst nichts davon." Der Dummling aber bat, daß ers erlauben möchte, da sagte er endlich: "Geh nur hin, durch Schaden wirst du klug werden." Die Mutter aber gab ihm einen Kuchen, der war mit Wasser in der Asche gebacken und eine Flasche saures Bier. Als er in den Wald kam, begegnete ihm gleichfalls das alte, graue Männchen und grüßte ihn und sprach: "Gib mir ein Stück von deinem Kuchen und einen Trunk aus deiner Flasche, ich bin so hungrig und durstig."

Da sagte der Dummling: "Vater, laß mich einmal hinausgehen und Holz hauen." Antwortete der Vater: "Deine Brüder haben sich Schaden dabei getan, laß dich davon, du verstehst nichts davon." Der Dummling aber bat so lange, bis er endlich sagte: "Geh nur hin, durch Schaden wirst du klug werden." Die Mutter gab ihm einen Kuchen, der war mit Wasser in der Asche gebacken, und dazu eine Flasche saueres Bier. Als er in den Wald kam, begegnete ihm gleichfalls das alte graue Männchen, grüßte ihn und sprach: "Gib mir ein Stück von deinem Kuchen und einen Trunk aus deiner Falsche, ich bin so hungrig und durstig."24

What also becomes clear from contrasting these four parallel texts is that Wilhelm Grimm definitely got carried away in expanding the concise original narrative. Once he talks of "Schaden" (damage) which the two brothers of the fairy tale have experienced the proverb "Durch Schaden wird man klug" is added almost automatically by association. The same associative phenomenon probably took place in the additional integration of the proverbial expression "Das ist nur ein Tropfen auf den heißen Stein" later in this fairy tale. Notice, however, that this expression is already included in the first edition (1812) and that this change might well have had Jacob's approval as well:

Und er fragte ihn [den Mann]: warum bist du so traurig - ei, ich bin so durstig u. kann nie genug zu trinken kriegen -.

[...] der Dummling fragte, was er sich so sehr zu Herzen nähme? "Ei! ich bin so durstig, und kann nicht genug zu trinken kriegen, ein Faß Wein hab ich zwar ausgeleert, aber was ist ein Tropfen auf einen heißen Stein?"

Der Dummling fragte: was er sich so sehr zu Herzen nähme? "Ei!" antwortete er, "ich bin so durstig, und kann nicht genug zu trinken kriegen, ein Faß Wein hab ich zwar ausgeleert, aber was ist ein Tropfen auf einem heißen Stein?"

Der Dummling fragte, was er sich so sehr zu Herzen nähme. Da antwortete er: "Ich habe so großen Durst und kann ihn nicht löschen, das kalte Wasser vertrage ich nicht, ein Faß Wein habe ich zwar ausgeleert, aber was ist ein Tropfen auf einem heißen Stein?"25

Some small editorial changes were still performed even for the 1857 edition, but this text basically has remained the same since 1812. But what we see from the two proverbial examples of this fairy tale is that once they have been integrated they will stubbornly be maintained in all subsequent editions. This is another indication for how strongly Wilhelm Grimm felt that proverbial materials belong to the traditional fairy tale style.

The full text of this article is published in De Proverbio - Issue 11:2000 & Issue 12:2000, an electronic book, available from amazon.com and other leading Internet booksellers.

In regard to the style of those fairy tales to which Wilhelm Grimm did not add proverbial expressions, twin formulas or proverbs we can judge his proverbial additions as positive. For him they were attempts at conforming certain fairy tales to a style which reflects folk speech and they most certainly were not conscious falsifications of the texts. We take resolute issue with John Ellis who recently accused the Brothers Grimm because of their textual changes of "deliberate deception",32 arguing that "the Grimms appear to have been guilty of a pervasive habit of tinkering idly and uninhibitedly with the language of the texts."33 As far as Wilhelm Grimm's proverbial additions to the fairy tales are concerned, we can certainly state that according to our research he had no intentions to deceive anybody. Nor did he undertake such changes without thought or in a lighthearted fashion but rather always with the deliberate care and desire to recreate the traditional fairy tale style. Especially in the case of those fairy tales which had to be consolidated from a number of variants into a composite tale by the Grimm (primarily again by Wilhelm Grimm) this work method was perfectly reasonable. That such fairy tales belong today to some of the most popular tales of the Kinder- und Hausmärchen is, after all, undeniable proof of how successful Wilhelm Grimm was with this process. And we repeat one more time Wilhelm's perfectly honest statement concerning his integration of proverbs and proverbial expression sin the introduction to the sixth edition of 1850, which expresses his conviction of the appropriateness of his proverbial alterations and which is certainly free of any deception: "Auch die sechste Ausgabe hat durch neue Märchen Zuwachs erhalten und ist im einzelnen verbessert worden. Fortwährend bin ich bemüht gewesen, Sprüche und eigentliche Redensarten des Volks, auf die ich immer horche, einzutragen und will ein Beispiel anführen [...]."34 Can one really state this any clearer or more honestly? Hardly, and we conclude that Wilhelm Grimm can not be accused of a conscious deception as far as his proverbial additions to the fairy tales are concerned. Proverbs and proverbial expressions belong intrinsically to the fairy tale style35 and it was not due solely to Wilhelm Grimm that they have become a stylistic characteristic of the fairy tales in the Kinder- und Hausmärchen.


Previously published in Proverbium 3 (1986), pp. 59-83.
Permission to publish this article granted by Proverbium (Editor: Prof. Wolfgang Mieder, University of Vermont, USA). 

1 For much more detail concerning these introductory comments see Wolfgang Mieder, "Findet, so werdet ihr suchen!" Die Brüdr Grimm und das Sprichwort. Bern: Peter Lang, 1986. The present article is a shortened English version of chapter 12, pp. 115-141, of this book entitled "'Das muß ich über den grünen Klee loben'. Wilhelm Grimms Sprichwörter und Redensarten in den Märchen".

2 See Heinz Rölleke (ed.) Brüder Grimm. Kinder- und Hausmärchen. Ausgabe letzter Hand [7 1857] mit den Originalanmerkungen der Brüder Grimm. Stuttgart: Philipp Reclam, 1980, vol. 3, p. 441.

3 Archer Taylor (together with Bartlett Jere Whiting, Francis W. Bradley, Richard Jente and Morris Palmer Tilley), "The Study of Proverbs," Modern Language Forum, 24 (1939), 82; also in Wolfgang Mieder (ed.), Selected Writings on Proverbs by Archer Taylor. Helsinky: Suomalainen Tiedeakatemia, 1975, p. 66.

4 Johannes Bolte and Georg Polivka, Anmerkungen zu den Kinder- und Hausmärchen der Brüder Grimm. Leipzig: Dieterich, 1930; rpt. Hildesheim: Georg Olms, 1963, vol. 4, p. 25 (see also p. 39).

5 See Kurt Schmidt, Die Entwicklung der Grimmschen Kinder- und Hausmärchen seit der Urhandschrift nebst einem kritischen Texte der in die Drucke übergegangenen Stücke. Halle: Max Niemeyer, 1932; rpt. Walluf/Wiesbaden: Martin Sändig, 1973, pp. 70-72; and Friedrich Panzer (ed.), Kinder- und Hausmärchen der Brüder Grimm. Vollständige Ausgabe in der Urfassung [1812/1815]. Wiesbaden: Emil Vollmer, n.d. [c. 1948], p. 43.

6 Lutz Röhrich, "Sprichwörtliche Redensarten aus Volkserzählungen," in Volk, Sprache, Dichtung. Festgabe für Kurt Wagner, ed. by Karl Bischoff and L. Röhrich. Gießen: Wilhelm Schmitz, 1960, pp. 267-269; rpt. In Wolfgang Mieder (ed.), Ergebnisse der Sprichwörterforschung. Bern: Peter Lang, 1978, pp. 131-132.

7 Ibid., p. 275 (in Mieder's reprint p. 135).

8 Kinder- und Hausmärchen, gesammelt durch die Brüder Grimm. Göttingen: Dieterich, 31856, p. 196; now reprinted by Rölleke (note 2), vol. 3, p. 196 [208]. The page number in square brackets refers to the pagination of the reprint.

9 Ibid., pp. 254-255 [266] - [267].

10 Ibid., pp. 37-38 [49] - [50]. See also Karl Friedrich Wilhelm Wander, Deutsches Sprichwörterlexikon. Leipzig: F. A. Brockhaus, 1867; rpt. Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1964, vol. 1, col. 155, Aschenputtel, no. 1.

11 Ibid., p. 113 [125], 131 [143], 145-146 [157] - [158].

12 Ibid., p. 607.

13 See Bolte and Polivka (note 4), vol. 4, p. 454.

14 See Briefe der Brüder Grimm an Savigny, ed. by Wilhelm Schoof. Berlin: Erich Schmidt, 1983, p. 188.

15 Wilhelm Grimm, Kleinere Schriften. Gütersloh: C. Bertelsmann, 1882, vol. 2, pp. 370-371.

16 Bolte and Polivka (note 4), vol. 4, p. 454.

17 See several letters attesting to this in Die Grimms und die Simrocks in Briefen 1830 bis 1864, ed. by Walther Ottendorff-Simrock. Bonn: Ferdinand Dümmler, 1966, pp. 73,78,107-108, 117.

18 Reprinted in Rölleke (note 2), vol. 1, p. 27. See also Hermann Schrader, "Etwas über den grünen Klee loben," Zeitschrift für deutsche Sprache (Hamburg), 8 (1894-1895), 263-264.

19 Heinz Rölleke (ed.), Brüder Grimm. Kinder- und Hausmärchen, nach der zweiten vermehrten und verbesserten Auflage von 1819, textkritisch revidiert und mit einer Biographie der Grimmschen Märchen versehen. Köln: Eugen Diederichs, 1982, vol. 2, p. 452.

20 Rölleke (note 2), vol. 2, p. 204.

21 In his article "Vridankes Bescheidenheit" (1835) Wilhelm Grimm speaks of proverbs as "Popularphilosophie". See Grimm (note 15), vol. 2 (1882), p. 450.

22 For the entire text of the fairy tale "Die beiden Wanderer" (KHM 107) see Rölleke (note 2), vol. 2, pp. 106-117. See also Josef Prestel, Märchen als Lebensdichtung. Das Werk der Brüder Grimm. München: Max Hueber, 1938, p. 80. There is also the extensive tale type study by R. Christiansen, The Tale of the Two Travellers or the Blinded Man. Helsinki: Suomalainen Tiedeakatemia, 1916.

23 Panzer (note 5), p. 155; Rölleke (note 19), vol. 1, pp. 134-135; and Rölleke (note 2), vol. 1, p. 203. This example is also cited by Bolte and Polivka (note 4), vol. 4, pp. 454-455.

24 Heinz Rölleke (ed.), Die älteste Märchensammlung der Brüder Grimm. Synopse der handschriftlichen Urfassung, von 1810 und der Erstdrucke von 1812. Cologny-Genève: Fondation Martin Bodmer, 1975, p. 160; Panzer (note 5), p. 232; Rölleke (note 19), vol. 1, p. 245; and Rölleke (note 2), vol. 1, p. 347.

25 Rölleke (note 24), p. 162; Panzer (note 5), p. 234; Rölleke (note 19), vol. 1, p. 246; and Rölleke (note 2), vol. 1, p. 349.

26 Rölleke (note 2), vol. 1, pp. 161-164.

27 Rölleke (note 2), vol. 1, p. 161.

28 Rölleke (note 2), vol. 3, pp. 47-54 [59]-[66] and p. 454. See also Bolte and Polivka (note 4), vol. 1, pp. 237-259.

29 Rölleke (note 2), pp. 49-50 [61]-[62].

30 Rölleke (note 19), vol. 2, p. 408; and Rölleke (note 2), vol. 2, p. 147.

31 For the five texts of the "Hänsel und Gretel" fairy tale see Rölleke (note 24), p. 72; Panzer (note 5), pp. 91-92; Rölleke (note 19), vol. 1, p. 64; John Ellis, One Fairy Story too Many. The Brothers Grimm and Their Tales. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1983, p. 171 (for the text of the 5th edition from 1843); and Rölleke (note 2), vol., 1, p. 102.

32 Ellis (note 31), p. 26. See also Heinz Rölleke's negative review of this book by John Ellis in Fabula, 25 (1984), 330-332.

33 Ibid., p. 85.

34 Rölleke (note 2), vol. 1, p. 27.

35 For the relationship of proverbs and fairy tales see also Otto Crusius, "Märchenreminiscenzen im antiken Sprichwort," Verhandlungen der deutschen Philologen und Schulmänner, 40 (1889), 31-47; Heinrich Lessmann, Der deutsche Volksmund im Lichte der Sage. Berlin: Herbert Stubenrauch, 1922, 21937; Démétrios Loukatos, "Le proverbe dans le conte," in IV. International Congress for Folk-Narrative Research in Athens 1964, Lectures and Reports, ed. by Georgios A. Megas. Athens: Laographia, 1965, pp. 229-233; Julian Krzyzanowski, "Sprichwort und Märchen in der polnischen Volkserzählung," in Volksüberlieferung. Festschrift für Kurt Ranke zur Vollendung des 60. Lebensjahres, ed. by Fritz Harkort, Karel C. Peeters and Robert Wildhaber. Göttingen: Otto Schwartz, 1968, pp. 151-158; Lutz Röhrich and Wolfgang Mieder, Sprichwort. Stuttgart: Metzler, 1977, pp. 83-88; Burckhard Garbe, "Vogel und Schlange. Variation eines Motivs in Redensart, Fabel, Märchen und Mythos," Zeitschrift für Volkskunde, 75 (1979), 52-56.

Wolfgang Mieder
Department of German and Russian
University of Vermont
Burlington, Vermont 05405

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