Winston Churchill

Banquet speech

As the Laureate was unable to be present at the Nobel Banquet at the City Hall in Stockholm, December 10, 1953, the speech was read by Lady Churchill

«The Nobel Prize in Literature is an honour for me alike unique and unexpected and I grieve that my duties have not allowed me to receive it myself here in Stockholm from the hands of His Majesty your beloved and justly respected Sovereign. I am grateful that I am allowed to confide this task to my wife.

The roll on which my name has been inscribed represents much that is outstanding in the world’s literature of the twentieth century. The judgment of the Swedish Academy is accepted as impartial, authoritative, and sincere throughout the civilized world. I am proud but also, I must admit, awestruck at your decision to include me. I do hope you are right. I feel we are both running a considerable risk and that I do not deserve it. But I shall have no misgivings if you have none.

Since Alfred Nobel died in 1896 we have entered an age of storm and tragedy. The power of man has grown in every sphere except over himself. Never in the field of action have events seemed so harshly to dwarf personalities. Rarely in history have brutal facts so dominated thought or has such a widespread, individual virtue found so dim a collective focus. The fearful question confronts us; have our problems got beyond our control? Undoubtedly we are passing through a phase where this may be so. Well may we humble ourselves, and seek for guidance and mercy.

We in Europe and the Western world, who have planned for health and social security, who have marvelled at the triumphs of medicine and science, and who have aimed at justice and freedom for all, have nevertheless been witnesses of famine, misery, cruelty, and destruction before which pale the deeds of Attila and Genghis Khan. And we who, first in the League of Nations, and now in the United Nations, have attempted to give an abiding foundation to the peace of which men have dreamed so long, have lived to see a world marred by cleavages and threatened by discords even graver and more violent than those which convulsed Europe after the fall of the Roman Empire.

It is upon this dark background that we can appreciate the majesty and hope which inspired the conception of Alfred Nobel. He has left behind him a bright and enduring beam of culture, of purpose, and of inspiration to a generation which stands in sore need. This world-famous institution points a true path for us to follow. Let us therefore confront the clatter and rigidity we see around us with tolerance, variety, and calm.

The world looks with admiration and indeed with comfort to Scandinavia, where three countries, without sacrificing their sovereignty, live united in their thought, in their economic practice, and in their healthy way of life. From such fountains new and brighter opportunities may come to all mankind. These are, I believe, the sentiments which may animate those whom the Nobel Foundation elects to honour, in the sure knowledge that they will thus be respecting the ideals and wishes of its illustrious founder.»

Prior to the speech, G. Liljestrand, Member of the Royal Academy of Sciences, made the following remarks: «In the past, several prime ministers and ministers of foreign affairs and even two Presidents of the United States have been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Now, for the first time, a great statesman has received the Prize in Literature. But Sir Winston Churchill is a recognized master of the English language, that wonderful and flexible instrument of human thought. His monumental biographies are already classics, and his works on contemporary history are an outflow of deep and intimate first-hand knowledge, of lucidity of style as well as of humour and generosity. But to Sir Winston the English language has also provided an important tool, with the aid of which part of his job has been finished. His words, accompanied by corresponding deeds, have inspired hope and confidence in millions from all parts of the world during times of darkness. With a slight alteration we might use his own words: Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to one man. We would like to ask Lady Churchill to convey to her husband our respectful and sincere admiration and reverence for what he has given us in his writings and his speeches.»

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

Copyright © The Nobel Foundation 1953

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