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Preface to the Second Edition of the Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm (1819)

The brothers Jakob (1785-1863) and Wilhelm Grimm (1786-1859) collected proverbs and myths, and compiled an extensive dictionary of the German language. They are best known, however, for their famous collection of fairy tales. In the preface to the second edition of their collection, the brothers describe the various characteristics of folk culture.

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After a storm or another misfortune from the heavens has knocked an entire field of growing crops to the ground, it is possible that near some low hedges or bushes a small safe place can be found where a few growing spikes remain. If the sun shines again, they begin to grow, lonely and unnoticed. No hasty scythe harvests them for the great store houses. But in late summer, when they are ripe and full, poor hands come to search for them. Gleaned one by one, carefully bound together, and valued more than whole sheaves, they are carried home. They provide sustenance for the winter and are perhaps the only seeds for the future.

That is how it appeared to us when we saw how nothing more remained from all that had blossomed in earlier times. Even the memory of it all was almost completely lost among the people, but for a few songs, books, legends, and these innocent fairy tales. Gatherings around the oven, around the kitchen stove, on stair landings, holidays still celebrated, grazing pastures and forests in their silence, and above all the unspoiled imagination – these were the hedges that protected these seeds and passed them down from one age to another.

It was perhaps the right time to grab hold of these fairy tales, for those who preserved them were becoming ever rarer. Admittedly, those who still know them usually know quite a bit, because it is the people who die off, not the tales. But the custom itself is becoming less and less common, as are all the secret places in homes and gardens that live on from grandfather to grandson, giving way to the constant change of empty splendor, which is like the smile with which one speaks of fairy tales, a smile that appears distinguished but in reality costs very little. Where they still exist, they live, so that no one thinks about whether they are good or bad, if they are poetic or in poor taste for intelligent people. One knows them and loves them because that is the way they were learned, and one delights in them without any specific reason. So splendid is the living custom – indeed, poetry shares with all things enduring that one is drawn to it even against one's own will. One can easily note, by the way, that poetry can only be grasped when there is a vibrant receptivity for it, or where there is a capacity for fantasy that has not been extinguished by the wrongs of life. In the same way, we do not want to praise these fairy tales nor even defend them against other opinions. Their mere being is sufficient to protect them. Whatever delights again and again, whatever moves and instructs, carries its own necessity in itself and has certainly emerged from that eternal source which covers all living things with dew, and even if it were but a single drop caught by a small leaf it would nonetheless shine in the dawn's first light.

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