Hansel and Gretel by Jessie Wilcox Smith

Household Tales by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm translated by Margaret Hunt

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs by John Hassall

Grimm's Household Tales with the
Author's Notes
translated by Margaret Hunt

Return to
Household Tales:
Table of Contents

Previous Tale:
The Fox and the Geese

Next Tale:
The Singing, Springing Lark

About the Grimms

SurLaLune Fairy Tales Main Page


The Poor Man and the Rich Man

IN olden times, when the Lord himself still used to walk about on this earth amongst men, it once happened that he was tired and overtaken by the darkness before he could reach an inn. Now there stood on the road before him two houses facing each other; the one large and beautiful, the other small and poor. The large one belonged to a rich man, and the small one to a poor man.

Then the Lord thought, "I shall be no burden to the rich man, I will stay the night with him." When the rich man heard some one knocking at his door, he opened the window and asked the stranger what he wanted. The Lord answered, "I only ask for a night's lodging."

Then the rich man looked at the traveler from head to foot, and as the Lord was wearing common clothes, and did not look like one who had much money in his pocket, he shook his head, and said, "No, I cannot take you in, my rooms are full of herbs and seeds; and if I were to lodge everyone who knocked at my door, I might very soon go begging myself. Go somewhere else for a lodging," and with this he shut down the window and left the Lord standing there.

So the Lord turned his back on the rich man, and went across to the small house and knocked. He had hardly done so when the poor man opened the little door and bade the traveler come in. "Pass the night with me, it is already dark," said he; "you cannot go any further to-night." This pleased the Lord, and he went in. The poor man's wife shook hands with him, and welcomed him, and said he was to make himself at home and put up with what they had got; they had not much to offer him, but what they had they would give him with all their hearts. Then she put the potatoes on the fire, and while they were boiling, she milked the goat, that they might have a little milk with them. When the cloth was laid, the Lord sat down with the man and his wife, and he enjoyed their coarse food, for there were happy faces at the table. When they had had supper and it was bed-time, the woman called her husband apart and said, "Hark you, dear husband, let us make up a bed of straw for ourselves to-night, and then the poor traveler can sleep in our bed and have a good rest, for he has been walking the whole day through, and that makes one weary." "With all my heart," he answered, "I will go and offer it to him;" and he went to the stranger and invited him, if he had no objection, to sleep in their bed and rest his limbs properly. But the Lord was unwilling to take their bed from the two old folks; however, they would not be satisfied, until at length he did it and lay down in their bed, while they themselves lay on some straw on the ground.

Next morning they got up before daybreak, and made as good a breakfast as they could for the guest. When the sun shone in through the little window, and the Lord had got up, he again ate with them, and then prepared to set out on his journey.

But as he was standing at the door he turned round and said, "As you are so kind and good, you may wish three things for yourselves and I will grant them." Then the man said, "What else should I wish for but eternal happiness, and that we two, as long as we live, may be healthy and have every day our daily bread; for the third wish, I do not know what to have." And the Lord said to him, "Will you wish for a new house instead of this old one?" "Oh, yes," said the man; "if I can have that, too, I should like it very much." And the Lord fulfilled his wish, and changed their old house into a new one, again gave them his blessing, and went on.

The sun was high when the rich man got up and leaned out of his window and saw, on the opposite side of the way, a new clean-looking house with red tiles and bright windows where the old hut used to be. He was very much astonished, and called his wife and said to her, "Tell me, what can have happened? Last night there was a miserable little hut standing there, and to-day there is a beautiful new house. Run over and see how that has come to pass."

So his wife went and asked the poor man, and he said to her, "Yesterday evening a traveler came here and asked for a night's lodging, and this morning when he took leave of us he granted us three wishes -- eternal happiness, health during this life and our daily bread as well, and besides this, a beautiful new house instead of our old hut."

When the rich man's wife heard this, she ran back in haste and told her husband how it had happened. The man said, "I could tear myself to pieces! If I had but known that! That traveler came to our house too, and wanted to sleep here, and I sent him away." "Quick!" said his wife, "get on your horse. You can still catch the man up, and then you must ask to have three wishes granted to you."

The rich man followed the good counsel and galloped away on his horse, and soon came up with the Lord. He spoke to him softly and pleasantly, and begged him not to take it amiss that he had not let him in directly; he was looking for the front-door key, and in the meantime the stranger had gone away, if he returned the same way he must come and stay with him. "Yes," said the Lord; "if I ever come back again, I will do so." Then the rich man asked if might not wish for three things too, as his neighbor had done? "Yes," said the Lord, he might, but it would not be to his advantage, and he had better not wish for anything; but the rich man thought that he could easily ask for something which would add to his happiness, if he only knew that it would be granted. So the Lord said to him, "Ride home, then, and three wishes which you shall form, shall be fulfilled."

The rich man had now gained what he wanted, so he rode home, and began to consider what he should wish for. As he was thus thinking he let the bridle fall, and the horse began to caper about, so that he was continually disturbed in his meditations, and could not collect his thoughts at all. He patted its neck, and said, "Gently, Lisa," but the horse only began new tricks. Then at last he was angry, and cried quite impatiently, "I wish your neck was broken!" Directly he had said the words, down the horse fell on the ground, and there it lay dead and never moved again. And thus was his first wish fulfilled. As he was miserly by nature, he did not like to leave the harness lying there; so he cut it off, and put it on his back; and now he had to go on foot. "I have still two wishes left," said he, and comforted himself with that thought.

And now as he was walking slowly through the sand, and the sun was burning hot at noon-day, he grew quite hot-tempered and angry. The saddle hurt his back, and he had not yet any idea what to wish for. "If I were to wish for all the riches and treasures in the world," said he to himself, "I should still to think of all kinds of other things later on, I know that, beforehand. But I will manage so that there is nothing at all left me to wish for afterwards." Then he sighed and said, "Ah, if I were but that Bavarian peasant, who likewise had three wishes granted to him, and knew quite well what to do, and in the first place wished for a great deal of beer, and in the second for as much beer as he was able to drink, and in the third for a barrel of beer into the bargain."

Many a time he thought he had found it, but then it seemed to him to be, after all, too little. Then it came into his mind, what an easy life his wife had, for she stayed at home in a cool room and enjoyed herself. This really did vex him, and before he was aware, he said, "I just wish she was sitting there on this saddle, and could not get off it, instead of my having to drag it along on my back." And as the last word was spoken, the saddle disappeared from his back, and he saw that his second wish had been fulfilled. Then he really did feel warm. He began to run and wanted to be quite alone in his own room at home, to think of something really large for his last wish. But when he arrived there and opened the parlour-door, he saw his wife sitting in the middle of the room on the saddle, crying and complaining, and quite unable to get off it. So he said, "Do bear it, and I will wish for all the riches on earth for thee, only stay where thou art." She, however, called him a fool, and said, "What good will all the riches on earth do me, if I am to sit on this saddle? Thou hast wished me on it, so thou must help me off." So whether he would or not, he was forced to let his third wish be that she should be quit of the saddle, and able to get off it, and immediately the wish was fulfilled. So he got nothing by it but vexation, trouble, abuse, and the loss of his horse; but the poor people lived happily, quietly, and piously until their happy death.

Next Tale:
The Singing, Springing Lark

Grimm, Jacob and Wilhelm. Household Tales. Margaret Hunt, translator. London: George Bell, 1884, 1892. 2 volumes.


From the Schwalm district in Hesse. An old German poem (Hagen's Gesammtabenteuer, No. 37, and note 2. 253) tells the story in the following manner:-A man is living with his wife in great poverty, and they both make many prayers to God for worldly riches. At length God sends down an angel, who warns the man not to ask for anything, as God had just as much reason for refusing things to him, as he had for giving them to others. The man however will not desist, and says, "I shall pray until God shows favour to me, and does what I want." The angel answers, "As thou wilt neither believe the great God of all, nor me, tempt thy fate; but if after thou hast done it thou remainest poor, it will be thins own fault. Thou shalt be permitted to make three wishes" (habe drier wünsche gewalt). The man goes to his wife and takes counsel with her. "What shall I wish for? A mountain of gold, or a chest full of farthings which will never come to an end, however many I spend?" The wife wants to have one wish all to herself, and says, "Two are enough for thee, thou well know'st how I have bent my knees about this, and God has granted it because of my prayers as well as thine." "That is reasonable; one of the wishes shall be thine," replies the man. So the wife says, "Then I wish I had a dress on my back now of such good stuff as no woman in the world has ever yet worn." Hardly has she uttered the wish than it is fulfilled. The man is enraged at this, and cries, "I only wish the gown was inside you!" His wish is instantly fulfilled. The Woman begins to scream and screams louder and louder until the citizens hear her and run to her. They draw their knives and Swords and threaten him with death if he does not release the Woman from this torment. Then he says, "God grant that she may be tenderly freed from the discomfort she is in, and be as be as she was before." This third wish is now fulfilled, and the loan is as poor as ever, and although the woman has behaved badly, he is reproached and blamed for what has happened. He is indeed ridiculed and laughed at by every one, until he prays for death and dies of grief. A passage in Reinmar von Zweter (MS. 2. 145) undoubtedly refers to this, "unde het ich drier wünsche gewalt," as these very words appear in the story. Kirchhof gives the story in Wendunmut (1581, 1. 178, 179) as the Spinning-girls told it to him in his youth. In ancient times St. Peter and St. Paul arrived late one evening in a village, and begged for shelter at one of the houses. But the man was avaricious, and the woman still more so and they were roughly turned away. Hard by dwelt a poor with many children, who took compassion on the two strangers and sent word to them by his wife that they were to come to hi house, and make a shift with anything God might give them. So they went into the small house, and slept there. Next morning when they were about to journey onwards, St. Paul said to St. Peter, "This good man has been kind to us, and has entertained us according to his means; we ought to show our gratitude to him." So Peter called the man and the woman, and gave them the power of wishing three times for whatsoever they liked, and they should have it. When the two Saints were gone, the two poor folks began to consider what they should wish for, and agreed that they would, in the first place, request of God that their poor little house and all it contained should immediately be burnt. Secondly, that a new one should stand in its place, in which as long as they lived they should never fail to have everything that they were in need of, whether it was food, drink, money, or furniture. These two wishes were instantly granted. Thirdly, they begged that after this life they might for ever be with God in the kingdom of Heaven. Every one in the village, but the miser, was surprised and delighted with this sudden change from poverty to riches. His wife said, "It any wind blows those two old men this way again, they ought to come to our house; we deserve a new house quite as much as those beggars." The man wished it too, but would take no trouble to bring it about. Not long afterwards when the rich man had driven away into the wood betimes with his men, Peter and Paul again came to the village. The woman ran to them directly, and invited them into her house. The two Saints said that they did not want to pass the night there this time, so they did not need any lodging; but the woman pressed them to enter her house, and said that they must eat a mouthful with her, and then they would reach the end of their journey much more easily. They were obliged to accept her offer, for she let them have no peace. After the mid-day meal they thanked her, and said that if they came again they would recompense her for the two meals at the same time. The woman thought, "Those others only fed them once, and got a new house for doing it I am to feed them twice; that does not suit me!" So she said, "My dear friends, if you want to give anything, lye it. I like to have it now quite as well as at another time." t. Paul said, "Brother Peter, give her the power of making three wishes, as you gave the other woman, for after all that is what she wants." So Peter did this, and the two Saints departed. Scarcely were they out of sight, before she wished that her house and all her possessions might be burnt to the ground, which happened immediately. In the meantime her husband came driving across the fields, and when he saw that his house was in flames he ran up and cried, "Fire! fire! dear friends help to put it out "The woman, angry with him for wanting to put it out, cried, "Oh, call out that the fire is to go inside you." This was instantly fulfilled, and thus were two wishes used up. The poor man who had the fire inside him was suffering great pain: it was impossible to extinguish it, and no one could remove it. In order to save his life, his wife was forced to deliver him by means of her third and last wish. An Austrian story in which the three wishes of the poor man likewise turn out to his advantage, is to be found in Ziska, No. 3, under the title Tausendfache Vergeltung. Meier has divided it into two stories, Nos. 40 and 65. Lehmann mentions the saga in a somewhat rough manner in the Erneuerter Polit. Blumengarten (Frankf. 1640), p. 371. "It often happens that a man has good fortune but no blessing with it, like the woman whom St. Peter permitted to make three wishes for her own benefit; for in the first place she wished for beautiful golden hair, and then for a brush." And then because of the brush, the man made a bad wish, the consequences of which he had to remove again by a third. This presentation of the story in which the wishes turn out ill, comes rather near the story of Gambling Hansel (No. 82). Perrault (see Les Souhaits ridicules) and Beaumont (2. 74) only relate this part, and in their own fashion. The old French Fabliau Les quatre Souhaits de S. Martin (Méon, 4. 386), is quite of an ordinary kind; and so is the story in the [greek name], which Keller quotes in the introduction to Li romans des sept Sages, clxxxi. In Hebel's Schatzkästlein (p. 117), good as the story is, much of the saga itself has degenerated. While the woman is sitting by the fire with her husband, she, without thinking of the gifts, wishes that she had a fried sausage. It appears, and in over-haste, the man wishes the sausage was growing on the end of her nose, and then for his third wish has to wish that it may fall off.

The first part of our story, the modest wishes of the pious people with whom God has stayed, clearly contains the ancient saga of Philemon and Baucis (Ovid. Met. 8. 617: compare Notes by Vossius to his eighteenth Idyll, where other stories are mentioned). The Indians have it also in a peculiar form. The Brahmin Soodam and his wife live in the greatest poverty, but this does not lessen their trust in God. His occupation is prayer, and while engaged in it, he never observes that his wife's work is no longer sufficient to procure them their daily bread. One day she reminds him that Chrisna was his companion at school, and in learning, and advises him to go to Dwarka, as Chrisna, if aware of his misery, will certainly help him. Soodam at last resolves to do this, and takes with him as a gift all he has in his power to bestow, a little rice, which is with some difficulty tied up in his ragged garment. Chrisna, the man who has become God, receives the Brahmin with marks of respect, and like an old friend; and himself asks for the customary gift, receives the worthless one with satisfaction; nay even puts one grain of it into his mouth; the rest he distributes. Pleased with such a reception, the Brahmin after three days takes leave of Chrisna, but is much surprised at being allowed to depart without a token of his generosity. "Perhaps," he thinks to himself, "God wishes me to remain poor," and he readily submits to this, and goes quietly home. But how astonished he is when he arrives there. Chrisna had ordered his heavenly builders to build a magnificent house which is standing before him, with all that pertains to it, and is furnished with everything necessary for a comfortable existence. At first he fancies that he must have made some mistake, but his wife comes to meet him with a number of servants, and informs him of the god's generosity. Thus the story is related by Polier (Mythologie des Indous, 2. 66-79), and we cannot fail to recognize its similarity to ours; the man's poverty and piety, the contrast to this which is hinted at in the wife who wishes for wealth, and persuades him to make the journey to Dwarka; the meeting with the god Chrisna (though here, on the contrary, is the man who goes to him), who gladly receives his poor gift, and eats some of it, and lastly, the blessing which follows-to wit, the newly-built house. In a Chinese saga, however, the story is exactly the reverse, and the end is the same as in ours. Fo often came down to earth to prove men's hearts. It came to pass that at night-time, dressed in wretched garments, he reached a widow's hut, and begged for shelter as a poor man who had lost his way. The woman received him kindly, and made ready a bed for him. Fo went to bed early; she looked at the sleeping man with her lamp, and saw that he had no shirt, and that his coat was ragged. So she opened her chest, and cut a new shirt out of some coarse linen of her own spinning, sewed the whole night long, and early in the morning gave it to her guest, who thankfully received her gift, and said, "May God reward thee for what thou hast done for me; whatsoever thou beginnest to do when I am gone, shalt thou go on doing until the sun sets." When the guest was gone, she began to put the roll of linen back in the chest, and as she was considering how many yards of it she had left, she began to measure it with her arm, and the roll continually Opened itself out without getting smaller, and so she went on measuring until sunset, when the whole room was full of linen, and she had become a rich woman. Full of joy and gratitude, she told her neighbour of the luck which had fallen to her lot. The neighbour was covetous, and wanted to partake of it, so she who had never yet given anything to the poor, placed herself at the door of her house in order to invite the stranger to enter if he should pass by. Before long he came, and was received by her with open arms, daintily entertained, and in the morning, a fine shirt was offered to him instead of the coarse one which he was wearing. Fo thanked her, and left the house saying the same words as he bad sad to the first woman. She accompanied him a part of the way in a friendly manner, and was already counting up her never- ending wealth, when lost in thought, she stumbled against a pail which had been left standing. And as just at that moment her pig happened to grunt, she thought, "The animal won't get any food to-day, for I shall be measuring, so I might at least pour out some water for him." But she poured and was not able to stop, the pail never grew empty, and she had to pour out water alt day long until the sun set, when the whole district was flooded, and all the neighbours mocked her by requiring compensation for the injury she had done them. This Chinese story is beautifully amplified in Frau Naubert's Volksmärchen, 1. 201-209, and the beneficent measuring of linen is contrasted with the disastrous growth of a cobweb. Something of the same kind occurs in a story which we have heard in Hesse. A travelling apprentice is driven away by a rich woman of whom he has begged a gift, and in mockery sent to a poor neighbour. She takes him in, and is, on his departure, endowed by him with the gift, that the first thing she begins to do shall prosper so long as she is not disturbed in it. The poor woman measures some linen, and goes on measuring it until at last the rich one looks into the room and sees the large amount of linen, and the blessing comes to an end. She learns the cause of this, and begs the woman to point out the apprentice to her if he should come again. When a year has gone by, the traveller again comes to the village, and goes to the poor woman who is quite willing to take him in, but tells him that her rich neighbour wants to entertain l and that he will be more comfortable with her. He goes to her, and is treated with even too great consideration. The woman looks out her finest linen in order to have it ready instantly. On the traveller's departure she is endowed with the same gift as the poor woman had received. Full of covetousness, and anxious to be able to measure undisturbed, she shuts the door of her house, but her greediness is soon punished, and she is glad to be delivered from the consequences of the traveller's gift by the arrival of her poor neighbour who is alarmed by her cries for help. Aesopian fable (second Appendix to Phoedrus, No. 111). Mercurius et mulieres should also be named.

The saga specially belongs to the group which deals with the rambles and journeys of gods and saints on earth. Wherever they go they bring happiness to the good and pure, and horrible destruction on the wicked and greedy. The good fortune which has fallen to the lot of the former is stupidly demanded by the latter to their own undoing. Thus the gods try the human race, (compare Altd. Walder 2. 25, Note 60. Odyssey, 17. 485 and the Lay of Rigr in the Edda. Here, too, belong the stories of the Three Little Men in the Forest (No. 13); Frau Holle (No. 24); The Black Bride and the White One (No. 135.) For the end less increase of linen and water, compare the notes to Sweet Porridge (No. 103).

Available from Amazon.com

Complete Grimms translated by Jack Zipes

Complete Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm translated by Jack Zipes

Great Fairy Tale Tradition by Jack Zipes

The Annotated Brothers Grimm edited by Maria Tatar

Grimm's Grimmest

The Brothers Grimm: Two Lives, One Legacy  by Donald R. Hettinga


©Heidi Anne Heiner, SurLaLune Fairy Tales
E-mail: surlalune@aol.com
Page last updated October 15, 2006

Amazon.com Logo