Max F. Perutz’ speech at the Nobel Banquet in Stockholm, December 10, 1962
Your Majesties, Your Royal Highnesses, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen.
I was deeply moved by the Royal Swedish Academy’s decision to elevate me, a man of modest gifts, to the Olympian heights of a Nobel Laureate. On hearing the news, a friend who knows me only too well, sent me this laconic message: “‘Blood, toil, sweat and tears always were a good mixture”. Unravelling the anatomy of the haemoglobin molecule may have needed much perseverance and hard work, but comparatively little of the imaginative power which made the giants of the scientific revolution create the world we live in today. I stand in awe of the company which I am now supposed to join.
There is another thought. Scientists like myself merely use their gifts to show up that which already exists, and we look small compared to the artists who create works of beauty out of themselves. If a good fairy came and offered me back my youth, asking me which gifts I would rather have, those to make visible a thing which exists but which no man has ever seen before, or the genius needed to create, in a style of architecture never imagined before, the great Town Hall in which we are dining tonight, I might be tempted to choose the latter.
Finally I want to remind you that despite the 25 years for which I have been at it, the task which I have set myself has only just begun. This is not meant as a reproach to the Academy for having awarded me the Nobel Prize too soon, but to hope that I shall reach my ultimate goal and explain the physiology of breathing in terms of the architecture of the haemoglobin molecule. For, as Sir Francis Drake said in a prayer well-known to English schoolboys: “When Thou givest to Thy servants to endeavour any great matter, grant us also to know that it is not the beginning, but the continuing of the same, until it is thoroughly finished, which yieldeth the true glory.”
Once again, thank you for bestowing this supreme recognition, both on me personally, and on the whole great adventure of molecular biology which my friends here, and those who are not here, and I initiated and brought to fruition together.