The brothers Jacob (1785-1863) and Wilhelm Grimm (1786-1859) were linguists and folklorists who devoted their lives to the collection and preservation of popular culture. Among their works, individually and together, were collections of proverbs, mythology, and an enormous multi-volume dictionary of the German language, which was started by them but completed decades later by other scholars. The brothers Grimm are, of course, best known for their collection of fairy tales. The first item in this section is the preface to the second edition of their collection, which appeared in 1819. In this preface, the Grimms describe the characteristics of popular culture, sharply distinguishing it from elite, literary, and scholarly culture. Popular culture was traditional, largely unchanged across the ages, and was, indeed, a key to the original character of a nation. It was orally transmitted by the simple, almost childish, common people, especially the peasants. With the progress of education, urban life, and high culture – written, complex, changing, and the product of the educated classes – popular culture was in danger of being forgotten. The job of scholarly critics, such as the Grimm brothers themselves, was not to criticize popular culture, or even to investigate it more carefully (some of the stories they described as authentic German folk tales actually derived from seventeenth-century French writers), but to gather it, to keep it from being forgotten, and to celebrate it, rather in the fashion of the romantics' enthusiasm for nature and the Middle Ages.
The brothers Grimm thus drew a clear distinction between elite culture and popular culture, each having their separate characteristics and each their distinct validity. In this excerpt from his famous book Berlin (1846), author Ernst Dronke describes popular and elite theater. Dronke found the two all too similar, and was clearly dismayed by this. Moreover, he was disappointed that elite theater lacked the cultural and artistic excellence he felt it ought to have.
In Civil Society (1851), Wilhelm Heinrich Riehl expressed his doubts about whether educated, middle-class authors knew enough about peasant life and peasant culture to write realistic fiction about it.