Archibald V. Hill

Banquet speech

Archibald V. Hill’s speech at the Nobel Banquet in Stockholm, December 10, 1923

The pursuit of natural knowledge, the investigation of the world – mental and material – in which we live, is not a dull and spiritless affair: rather is it a voyage of adventure of the human mind, a holiday for reckless and imaginative souls. It is natural, therefore, that a people such as yours, descended from soldiers and adventurers, should wish to rejoice with those who return from the deep waters and the distant lands of discovery. I reflected, however, on first thoughts, that you go too far, you are too generous, in your rejoicing with them. Those whose lives are so filled with the romance of discovery, whose years are a holiday of exploration, do not need, do not deserve, payment for their toil. Their work itself is adequate reward, they have more happiness already than their share; and here you come – undemocratically in a democratic world – exaggerating the unevenness of its distribution. Many luckless people imagine that romance is dead: some, overcivilised, fondly suppose that there never was romance: a poet tells us that romance is unrecognised though really present: but scientists can meet him daily, walking at large and undisguised in the world. Perhaps therefore – on second thoughts – you are right, in aiding those who wish to devote themselves to discovery, in rewarding those who assure the world of the reality of romance. Perhaps the spirit of adventure, be it mental or material adventure, is a factor so essential in human progress, that no emphasis of it is undue. It is not for us at any rate, the recipients of your generosity, to quarrel with your decision: indeed no satisfaction could be greater than that afforded by the gift and the honour which you, and your country, have lavished upon us.

As the spiritual disciple of your great physiologist Blix, of Lund, I recognise that there are other essentials factors in scientific progress: namely cooperation between men and brotherhood between nations. But for an international meeting where Professor Langley of Cambridge obtained a certain delicate instrument from Prof. Blix of Lund, I should not be here today. Kindliness and sympathy, fellowship and understanding, are always good, but best when they come from a distant corner of the world. There is something complete and universal about an international kindness, an international compliment, a Nobel Prize: they bring men together, they take no account of race or creed: the old and the young, the little and great are alike, so that knowledge be promoted. The War tore asunder two parts of the world as essential to one another as man and wife. Physiology, I am glad to know, was the first science to forget the hatreds and follies of the War and to revive a truly international Congress: my own country, I am proud to boast, was happy to be its meeting-ground. For a while, my friend Meyerhof was an enemy: today he is again a colleague and a friend. Only three months ago, little suspecting the occasion of our next meeting, we were walking for several days together in the Donauthal, after another Congress, discussing occasionally the neutralisation of the Rhine, but generally the neutralisation of acid in frog’s muscle. We are glad to feel that your joint award to us, however unworthy we may know ourselves to be, is a seal of your approval, the approval of a people friendly to my nation and to his nation, of a brotherhood in Science between a German and an Englishman.

Two things, therefore, are emphasised by our presence here today, the romance and adventure of discovery, and the brotherhood of Science. I may be unworthy of your praise: I am not ungrateful for your generosity: and from my heart I thank you, not only for the honour and happiness you have given me, but for your emphasis of these two essential human factors in the progress of human knowledge.

From Les Prix Nobel en 1921-1922, Editor Carl Gustaf Santesson, [Nobel Foundation], Stockholm, 1923

Copyright © The Nobel Foundation 1922

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