The Northern Way

Grimm Centenary: Sigfred-Arminivs and Other Papers


There are no Germans, save perhaps Luther and Goethe, so well known and so well beloved among English-speaking peoples as the Brothers Grimm. On the little child's nursery-shelf their well-thumbed 'Household Stories' stand side by side with those dear old favourites, 'Robinson Crusoe,' 'Gulliver,' 'The Arabian Nights,' and 'Poor Jack.' One cannot help feeling differently toward such books to what one does towards all others. They are the good-natured friends who would talk to us pleasantly, when other folks were too busy to attend to us. They were never tired of telling us the same stories over and over agin in the same familiar and welcome words, and we were never tired of listening to their quiet voices. Hans and Klaus, and the master thief, and the magic fiddler, and the valiant tailor, and the too hilarious bean are and have been part and parcel of the dream world of millions of English children. And if to have devoted and delighted readers everywhere is the author's meed, surely the Brothers Grimm have their reward.

It must have come as a great surprise to many others, as it came to me, when I found out, after I had known the Brothers Grimm for years as well as I knew the gardener, and the gardener's boy, and the children who came and played with us in the garden, that these old friends were great people, known and honoured by the wisest and greatest of grown-up folk; that they were Wise Men who had written learned books and made wonderful discoveries; that they had even busied themselves with composing grammars and dictionaries, books which it must surely need the most deadly perseverance and the most abstruse knowledge to compose, judging from the infinite pains, both physical and mental, it cost most of us to master our daily portions of the 'Accidence' and 'Syntex' of the Classic Tongues. When one grew older still and came to have some acquaintance for oneself with these bigger books of Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, one's love and reverence for them did not at all grow less. It surprised one indeed at times, that one felt the same fascination in listening to their wondrous tale of Teutonic Grammar and Old-time Laws and Faiths and Customs, as one had felt in hearkening to the 'Household Stories' long before. And when one came to know that these charming books --- in which every fact seemed to stand in its natural place and in which by the most minute study principles of the widest range were fixed and laid down so surely and steadily --- were the first and earliest of their kind, and that their authors had been Pioneers working in the Wood of Error, bringing Order out of Chaos, timbering houses and barns, and tilling the ground to good purpose, where before all was dark overhead and clogged and slippery underfoot, a mighty maze without a plan, a forest wild and vast as that where Sigfred fought and Varus fell --- one marvelled more and more.

Englishmen are clumsy in the way they show gratitude and affection, but they are sincere; a grip of the hand says more than an Illuminated Address, and a silent look of admiration is really more flattering than all the applause of the Claque. But I do not know that foreigners ought to be expected to understand this, and indeed I find that sometimes they set us down as cold and ungrateful, because we prefer, like so many Red Indians, to conceal our emotions, and have no better words of thanks than the 'Ugh' of a Mohican or a Sioux.

If it were not for this national characteristic of ours, the love and reverence that are felt among us all both here and in the Colonies and States, for the Brothers Grimm, would have been manifested abundantly enough. The little child and the grey-bearded scholar are equally their debtors and would have taken appropriate part in their Centenary Celebration. But such demonstrations, natural and proper as they seem to foreigners, do not come naturally to us now-a-days. Our public statues and tasteless state ceremonies show how ackwardly our feelings are apt to express themselves. And I think it is better that no celebration of the Grimms' Centenary was attempted in England. Perhaps ere the next we may have learned to conduct such a festival with grace and dignity --- we cannot do so now.

After all, the best plan to honour such men is to try and walk in their ways, though certainly it is not the easiest. For these Brothers led an upright, manly, industrious scholar's life, in word and deed, holding nothing too childish for their notice, but ever aiming at great things, and by no means contented, as others use, to bombast it about bigly over trifles, and to shrink abashed and helpless before the very notion of a great task. The example is not one we can afford to neglect now-a-days, hard though it be to copy.

To conclude, this little Pamphlet must not be taken as more than the mere personal expression of our own gratitude, though like the floating thistle-down it may perhaps serve to show which way the wind is blowing, and so to bear witness that neither the Brothers Grimm nor their favourite Studies are forgotten in Oxford.

The poet shall have the last word ---
                Call it by what you will, the Day is Theirs,
                And here, I hope, is none that envies it.
                In framing an Artist, Art hath thus decreed
                To make some good, but others to exceed,
                And these are her labour'd Scholars ---
                Their presence glads our Days: Honour we love;
                For who hates Honour hates the Gods above.

                                                                                F. Y. P.
Oxford, July 1885.

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