Johannes V. Jensen

Banquet speech

Johannes V. Jensen’s speech at the Nobel Banquet at the City Hall in Stockholm, December 10, 1945


I thank the venerable Swedish Academy and the Swedish nation for the honour they have bestowed upon me in awarding me the Nobel Prize in Literature. Present in all our thoughts today is the founder, Alfred Nobel, whose generosity has done so much good for science, literature, and peace throughout the world. This great Swedish scientist and humanist linked the name of Sweden with a broad vision that stretches far beyond the frontiers of one nation and serves to bring all nations closer to one another.

When one thinks of great Swedish minds of international fame, our thoughts turn to Alfred Nobel’s forerunner, that great genius of natural science, Linné, who gave animals their proper names and, long before anyone had ever dreamt of evolution, classified monkeys, apes, and man under the name of primates. Passion for nature, for all that stirred and breathed, was the driving force in Linné’s genius. Whenever one reads of the determination of the species, or opens a book on natural science and history, in whatever language, one inevitably comes across the name of Linné. There is something of the freshness of mind, of the lightness of spirit in Linné which for centuries has been linked in people’s minds with the mountains of Sweden and Swedish joy in nature.

I cannot talk of Linné without being reminded of Charles Darwin, remembering him not only as a man of science who has drawn a line between two epochs, but also as the most lovable, the kindest of human beings, the best of fathers; his distinguished name is now carried by the third and four generation of his descendants. To him, evolution was not only the subject of a life’s study but the very essence of life, proof of the inexhaustible richness and wonder of nature, revealed each day and taken to heart.

Were one to determine the degree of maturity of each nation according to its capacity for reasoning and comprehension, England would come out on top for her sense of realism, and the man who put forward these basically English ideas in a simple, unaffected manner was Charles Darwin.

Linné’s designation of species was the foundation which subsequently enabled Darwin to form his conclusions on their origin. This Anglo-Swedish sense of reality, derived from our common Nordic background, has established for all time the place of mankind in nature.

I should like to mention on this occasion another name in Danish literature which is linked with Swedish tradition, that of Adam Oehlenschläger. You will remember that when he met Sweden’s national poet, Esaias Tegnér, at Lund in 1829, he was hailed by him as the great poet and simple man that he was. A hundred years later, in 1929, it was my lot to receive in the same town a degree from the University of Lund. I am not Oehlenschläger’s successor, but I do count myself among his followers and admirers.

It is with a feeling of Scandinavian fellowship that I now wish to thank the great and free Swedish nation which once crowned my countryman Adam Oehlenschläger with laurels, and has on two occasions judged my literary efforts worthy of distinction.

From Nobel Lectures, Literature 1901-1967, Editor Horst Frenz, Elsevier Publishing Company, Amsterdam, 1969

Copyright © The Nobel Foundation 1944

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