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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
A Word to the Reader
By Jacob (1785–1863) and Wilhelm (1786–1859) Grimm
 
From the Preface to the ‘Household Tales

WE sometimes find, when a whole cornfield has been beaten down by a storm, that a little place has sheltered itself by the low hedges or bushes, and a few ears remain upright. Then, if the sun shines kindly again, they grow alone and unnoticed. No early sickle cuts them for the great granaries; but late in summer, when they are ripe and full, come poor hands that glean them and carry them home, laid ear to ear, bound carefully, and more highly treasured than whole sheaves; and they are food all winter long,—perhaps also the only seed for the future.  1
  So it seemed to us, when we saw how nothing was left of so much that had bloomed in old times; how even the memory of it was almost lost, except among the people in songs, a few books, legends, and these innocent Household Tales. The fireside, the hearth, the attic stairs, ancient holidays, mountain paths and forests in their silence, but above all an untroubled fantasy, have been the hedges that have guarded them and transmitted them from one age to another.  2
  It was high time to seize these tales, for their guardians grow ever rarer. To be sure, those who know them usually know many; for it is men who are dead to them, not they to men. That which has given such manifold and repeated joy and emotion and instruction bears in it its own excuse for being, and has surely come from that eternal spring that bedews all life; and though it were only a single drop that has caught on a little crumpled leaf, yet it sparkles in the first blush of dawn.  3
  Hence it is, that all these fancies are pervaded with that purity by which children seem to us so wonderful and blessed. They have the same blue-white, immaculate, bright eyes…. And so by our collection we thought to serve not only the study of poetry and mythology, but also to let the poetry itself that palpitates in it touch and delight whomsoever it can delight, so that it may serve also as a book of education. For this we seek not such purity as is obtained by an anxious exclusion of all that bears on certain conditions and relations, such as occur daily and cannot possibly be hidden, which also produces the deception that what is possible in a book can be practiced in real life. We seek purity in the truth of a straightforward narration…. Nothing defends us better than Nature herself, who has let these plants grow in just this color and form. He whose special needs they may not suit has no right to ask that they should be differently cut and colored. Or again: rain and dew fall to benefit all that grows; if any one does not dare to put his plants under the rain and dew because they are too delicate and might be hurt, if he prefers to give them lukewarm water in the house, yet he must not demand that there shall be no rain and dew. All that is natural may be helpful, and it is at this that we ought to aim.  4
  We have been collecting these stories from oral tradition for about thirteen years. If one is accustomed to heed such things, one has more chances than one would suppose…. But it was a piece of special good fortune that we made the acquaintance of a peasant woman of Niederzwehrn, a village near Cassel, who told us most of the tales in the second volume, and the most beautiful of these. Frau Viehmännin was still active, and not much over fifty years old. Her features were firm, sensible, and agreeable, and she cast clear keen glances from her great eyes. She remembered the old stories exactly, and said herself that this gift was not granted to all, and that many a one could keep nothing in its proper connection. She told her stories deliberately, confidently, with much life and self-satisfaction: first, quite naturally; then, if you wished, slowly, so that with a little practice you could take them down. A good deal has been preserved verbally in this way, and will be unmistakable in its truth to nature. One who believes in the easy alteration of tradition, in negligence in guarding it, and hence as a rule in the impossibility of its long continuance, should have heard how exact she always was in her story, and how eager for its accuracy. In repeating she never changed anything in the substance, and corrected an oversight as soon as she observed it, while she was speaking.  5
  As for the way in which we have collected, our first care was for faithfulness and truth. So we have added nothing of our own, have embellished no circumstance or trait in the story, but have rendered its contents just as we received it. That the style and development of detail are largely ours is a matter of course; but we have tried to preserve every peculiarity that we noticed, so as to leave in our collection, in this regard also, the endless variety of nature.  6
  In this sense there is, so far as we know, no collection of legends in Germany. Either a few, preserved by chance, have been printed, or they are looked at as raw material from which to form longer stories. Against such treatment we declare ourselves absolutely. The practiced hand in such reconstructions is like that unhappily gifted hand that turned all it touched, even meat and drink, to gold, and cannot for all its wealth still our hunger or quench our thirst. For when mythology with all its pictures is to be conjured out of mere imagination, how bare, how empty, how formless does all seem, in spite of the best and strongest words! However, this is said only of such so-called reconstructions as pretend to beautify and poetize the legends, not toward a free appropriation of them for modern and individual purposes; for who would seek to set limits to poetry?  7
  We commit these tales to gracious hands, and think the while of the kindly power that lies in them, and wish that our book may be forever hidden from those who grudge these crumbs of poetry to the poor and simple.
CASSEL, July 3d, 1819.    
  8
 
 
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