Anatole France’s speech at the Nobel Banquet at Grand Hôtel, Stockholm, December 10, 1921
I have cherished the prospect of visiting in the evening of my life your beautiful country which has brought forth brave men and beautiful women. With gratitude I receive the prize that crowns my literary career. I consider it an incomparable honour to have received this Prize established by a man of noble sentiment and awarded to me by judges so just and competent. Invited by you as a member of the French Academy to give advice on the Nobel Prize in Literature, I have several times had the pleasure of directing your choice. It happened in the case of Maeterlinck, who combines a brilliant style with thought of great independence; it also happened in the case of Romain Rolland, in whom you have acknowledged a lover of justice and peace and who has been able to defy unpopularity in order to remain a good man.
Perhaps I am overstepping the limits of my competence, if I now talk about the peace Prize of the Norwegian Storting. If I do it, nonetheless, it is to praise the choice that the Storting has made. I may perhaps be permitted to say that in my view you have honoured in Branting a statesman impassioned for justice. Would that the destinies of peoples could be guided by such men! The most horrible of wars has been followed by a peace treaty that is not a treaty of peace but a continuation of war. Unless common sense finally finds its place in the council chambers of ministers, Europe will perish. If one cannot with good reason hope for the triumph of union and harmony, among the countries of Europe, I wish at least to believe, gentlemen, that I under the influence of brave, just, and loyal men like you the good will sometimes prevail.
In the official record, the following event is reported: After Anatole France had received his Prize from the hands of the King, there occurred an incident which left a strong impression on all present. When the venerable had gone up to the rostrum again, he turned to Professor Walther Nernst, Prize winner in Chemistry, and exchanged a long and cordial handshake with him. The Frenchman, the «last classic», and the German, the great scientist and representative of intellectual sobriety, the citizens of two countries which had for a long time been enemies, were united in a handshake – a profoundly symbolic gesture. The audience applauded, feeling that the two nations, which for years had fought against one another, had just met in reconciliation.