Saul Bellow’s speech at the Nobel Banquet, December 10, 1976
Your Majesties, Your Royal Highnesses, Ladies and Gentlemen,
There are not many things on which the world agrees but everyone I think acknowledges the importance of a Nobel Prize. I myself take most seriously the Nobel Committee’s recognition of the highest excellence in several fields and I accept the honor of this award with profound gratitude.
I have no very distinct sense of personal achievement. I loved books and I wrote some. For some reason they were taken seriously. I am glad of that, of course. No one can bear to be ignored. I would, however, have been satisfied with a smaller measure of attention and praise. For when I am praised on all sides I worry a bit. I remember the scriptural warning, “Woe unto you when all men shall speak well of you.” Universal agreement seems to open the door to dismissal. We know how often our contemporaries are mistaken. They are not invariably wrong, but it is not at all a bad idea to remember that they can’t confer immortality on you. Immortality – a chilling thought. I feel that I have scarcely begun to master my trade.
But I need not worry too much that all men will speak well of me. The civilized community agrees that there is no higher distinction than the Nobel Prize but it agrees on little else, so I need not fear that the doom of universal approval is hanging over me. When I publish a book I am often soundly walloped by reviewers – a disagreeable but necessary corrective to selfinflation.
When the Committee’s choice was announced and the press rushed at me (a terrifying phenomenon!) and asked how I felt about winning the Nobel Prize in literature, I said that the child in me (for despite appearances there is a child within) was delighted, the adult skeptical. Tonight is the child’s night entirely. On Sunday I will have some earnest things to say from the pulpit. Sunday is the best day for dark reflections but the child’s claim to this Friday night will not be disputed.