Philip S. Hench

Banquet speech

Philip S. Hench’s speech at the Nobel Banquet in Stockholm, December 10, 1950

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen: The generous manner in which the Nobel Foundation, the Karolinska Institutet and you have expressed approval of the efforts of Dr. Reichstein, Dr. Kendall, our associates and myself elicits an emotional response which perhaps I am physician enough to understand but which I am not artist enough to describe. I am particularly fortunate because this is not the first, but the second time I have experienced the warmth of your gracious hospitality.

Two years ago Mrs. Hench and I made our first visit to Sweden. We came as strangers but you welcomed us as friends. We spent evenings of delight in your homes and in your opera house. We saw the excellent work of your hospitals and laboratories. We visited the (then) new research laboratory of the Karolinska Sjukhuset which serves as one of the living memorials and symbols of the royal compassion which your late great sovereign, King Gustaf V, had for his fellow man.

And now Mrs. Hench and I again receive of your kindness, measure upon measure. Hoping that you will not consider it presumptuous, We have brought with us our entire family, Mrs. Hench’s mother and our four children, not only that they may have indelible memories of this evening but that they too may know of the friendship, traditions and culture of Sweden, and that our children may be even prouder of that small portion of Swedish blood which they inherited from one of my forebears.

I, a physician, am delighted to stand here with two distinguished chemists, Drs. Reichstein and Kendall. Perhaps the ratio of one physician to two chemists is symbolic, since medicine is so firmly linked to chemistry by a double bond. For medicine, especially during the past twenty-five years, has been receiving its finest weapons from the hands of the chemists, and the chemist finds his richest reward as the fruits of his labor rescue countless thousands from the long shadows of the sickroom.

Several years ago a ringing cry reached my country. The appeal was from an immortal Englishman who said, “Give us the tools and we will finish the job.”

The chemical tools, of whose potential usefulness you have given recognition today, were fashioned by several hands. If these tools had not been provided, twenty years of thought might have eventuated only in frustrated hopes for the patients of rheumatologists such as my associates, Drs. Charles Slocumb and Howard Polley, and myself.

These agents came, first in minute amounts from the research laboratories of Drs. Kendall, Reichstein, Sarett and their associates, later, in ever growing quantities from the factory of a great chemical company. The perseverance and genius of the chemical pioneers were thus happily combined with the determined courage and dedicated vision of the industrial chemist so that together they are now making these materials available to the world.

So infinite is the wisdom of nature, so profound are her secrets that even with these powerful new weapons we cannot finish the job. We can only make a modest and imperfect beginning.

The expression “noblesse oblige” is difficult to define but its implications are precise and clear. On this occasion may I modify the expression and speak of the spirit of “Nobelesse oblige” which fosters international co-operation and brotherly love, the ideals of Alfred Nobel and of you, his countrymen.

The Laureates who have heretofore born this proud responsibility have expressed it by service and humility. We whom you honor today will try to live worthily in that honorable tradition.

Prior to the speech, Robin FĂ„hraeus, member of the Royal Academy of Sciences, addressed the laureate: “Doctor Philip Hench, Professor Edward Kendall and Professor Tadeus Reichstein. Together your researches have contributed to the enlightenment of the extremely complicated physiological chemistry of the suprarenal glands which since their discovery for a long time have been assumed to play no other part than to fill up the vacuum between the kidneys and the diaphragm. Your contributions have already fulfilled the hopes of therapeutic successes in a field hitherto almost inaccessible.”

From Les Prix Nobel en 1950, Editor Arne Holmberg, [Nobel Foundation], Stockholm, 1951

Copyright © The Nobel Foundation 1950

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