Joshua Lederberg

Banquet speech

Joshua Lederberg’s speech at the Nobel Banquet in Stockholm, December 10, 1958

Your Majesties, Your Royal Highnesses, Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen.

Pride is humbled as humility is exalted in the dignity and splendor of this occasion.

Who would deny his pride in the appreciation of his fellows and to join therein with George W. Beadle and Edward L. Tatum whose exploration and teaching have inspired a generation of discovery. Here pride must merge with humility in the same contemplation of the webs of interdependence of each investigator in the global community of scientific research, of each elusive fact in the continuum of human knowledge.

But formal eclat and public attention are so unaccustomed a distinction that a scholar may ask by what lasting motive he is elevated from the simpler satisfactions of academic life. We must concede that some aspects of Nobel’s dedication have been deflected by the force of history. His contrition for chemical inhumanity is shaded in the gloom of cosmic insecurity. Many sciences, and genetics in particular, have germinated and flowered only since his time. The growing complexity of science and the reticulation of its advances must make the task of singular choice ever more difficult and arbitrary.

But if Nobel’s honors are celebrated in Stockholm his passion is enacted in Oslo. His zeal for peace and international understanding is further expressed in his testamentary “wish that in awarding the prizes no consideration whatever shall be given to the nationality of the candidates”. The merit the prizes have won is in the faith and courage of this trust.

The illumination of human aspirations in intellect and in charity which transcend nationality is then the enduring warrant of Nobel’s legacy. Our presence honors his hopes for the fraternity of mankind.

My greatest pride and humblest gratitude is to join in this dedication.

From Les Prix Nobel en 1958, Editor Göran Liljestrand, [Nobel Foundation], Stockholm, 1959

Copyright © The Nobel Foundation 1958


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