Sir Frederick Hopkins’s speech at the Nobel Banquet in Stockholm, December 10, 1929
Your Royal Highnesses, Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
Nobel Laureates are greatly privileged. Their privileges, I venture to say, begin with the invitation to Stockholm, and with the circumstances which meet them there. Stockholm takes care that a fitting stage is provided for the conferment of honours which carry such lasting prestige.
A student of civilisation who visits this City for the first time realises that his education had till then been incomplete. It is not alone the great beauty of her situation, – nor even this combined with the thrilling successes of her modern architects and her to-day’s intensive enterprises, – which causes Stockholm to make so unique an impression. It is something that has yet deeper foundations. If I may give humble expression to a personal feeling, I would say that it is because, more than other Capitals, Stockholm expresses the genius of a race; the very spirit of the great northern race which has slowly created her.
For the Nobel Prize-winner the privileges of a visit to Stockholm receive a manifold increase. He ceases, indeed, for the time, to feel mortal! Surely nowhere, and at no time, have honours been conferred upon individuals with greater generosity of effort, or with ceremonies more full of artistic fitness, than Stockholm provides for these occasions. The treatment enjoyed by Laureates would surely have given pleasure to him whose testament was the origin of all such efforts, to him who was a man of imagination as well as a man of affairs.
Even Stockholm with all her distinctions must feel that she gains prestige from the circumstance that within her boundaries is administered, with meticulous care and with a justice which transcends all narrow national considerations, so great a trust as that created by the testament of Alfred Nobel. The administration of that Trust does more than reward individual efforts. Its magnificently generous policy stirs the imagination of all countries. Year by year it reminds a world too prone to be indifferent to such matters that the advance of knowledge, the glory of literature, and the advent of peace must depend upon individual efforts, and that rewards may be due, and are to be won, which are not those of the marketplace or the political arena.
In acknowledging my own great good fortune as a chosen Laureate I cannot refrain from referring to the circumstance that the subject I profess, the comparatively young science of Biochemistry, has this year, in effect if not by name, received no less than four Nobel prizes. Those allotted to Medicine, and no less those to Chemistry, have been awarded for researches all of which were essentially contributions to Biochemistry!
I have called it a young science; but it is after all not so young, though its phase of vigorous progress is recent. A century ago Stockholm was already seeing the beginnings of modern Biochemistry. A hundred years ago Berzelius, having attained to leisure by resigning – I think – his chief duties at the Caroline Institute (I must be careful in my statements since Professor Söderbaum is present), was seeing through the Press the proofs of his “Thierchemie”. Indeed, exactly one hundred years ago to the very day, Wöhler, who, as you know, had been Berzelius’s devoted pupil and assistant, wrote from Berlin to the great Swede in Stockholm a letter dated December 10th 1829 in which he acknowledges the receipt of proofs of part of the “Thierchemie”. To say the truth, Wöhler proceeds in this letter to sympathise with its author for having to deal with such a tangle of chemistry, anatomy, physiology and unproven data as the subject then comprised. One would like to know how Wöhler would appraise the subject to-day; and I wonder (as many must have wondered) what would have been the emotions of Berzelius could he have foreseen all the benefits that chemical science was to receive in these later days from the city of his own activities.
I have spoken as a biochemist, but I must remember that in the regretted absence of Professor Eijkman I am the sole representative of the Laureates for Medicine. The progress of Biochemistry, it must be admitted, has become one of the chief contributions to the progress of modern Medicine. Speaking for the moment on behalf of the latter, I should like to bear witness to the wide recognition in England of our debt to Sweden. It is recognised, to take but one instance, that in the technique of the curative use of radium Stockholm has led the world and taught lessons to all. When, this afternoon, I received from His Majesty the tokens of Laureateship, I realised afresh how little I had expected the honour, and I was led to ask myself, not for the first time, the perhaps debatable question: Are honours and rewards the more desirable in the days of full vigour or after most of one’s work is done? I am not sure that the more obvious answer is the right one. Youth, it is true, needs sustenance, but should need no tonic. The pulse of age may be quickened by the recognition of past efforts and unsuspected capacity for further effort thus revealed. I myself, at any rate, rejoice in the moment of my good fortune. The great gift from Sweden awakens my deepest gratitude.