Hans Bethe’s speech at the Nobel Banquet in Stockholm, December 10, 1967
Your Majesty, Your Royal Highnesses, Ladies and Gentlemen.
I am deeply grateful to you for bestowing on me the Nobel Prize. For many decades this Prize has been regarded as the highest honor which can be awarded to a scientist. I feel quite humble comparing myself with many of my predecessors who have made great and fundamental discoveries. You have given me the Prize I believe for a lifetime of quiet work in physics rather than for any spectacular single contribution. I am very proud and very happy with this distinction.
One of the happiest parts has been the response of so many of my friends. I have received many hundreds of letters and telegrams of congratulations, and it seems to me that all of them really shared my joy about the Prize. Many more, I suppose, were happy about it without telling me directly. And I suppose that the same is true for every Nobel Prize; it is enjoyed not only by the recipient, but by many others.
Mr. Nobel, when he started the Nobel Prize, can hardly have known how many people he would make happy. He probably thought of the future prize winners, and that he would make their scientific life easier and more pleasant. But he probably did not imagine that with each prize he would bring happiness to hundreds of others as well.
In our country we often try to persuade rich men to leave their money to universities. This is certainly a good cause and, if the same custom applies here in Sweden, Nobel might well have left his fortune to for instance the University of Uppsala. This would have been of great benefit to that university, and perhaps especially to the pursuit of science there. However, these benefits could not remotely compare to those which Nobel achieved by establishing the Prizes. They have stimulated science all over the world; they have stimulated governments and universities to give more support to science; and they have added prestige to science in the eyes of young students.
That the Prizes have acquired this prestige is of course mostly the merit of the Swedish Royal Academy. I have sat on committees to select the recipients for lesser prizes, and I know what a hard job it is. It must be enormously more troublesome for the Nobel Prizes. I have always admired the selections they have made, and I am not saying this because I am one of the lucky ones.
We are all unhappy that nobody today will receive the Peace Prize. Unfortunately it is not surprising in the present world that the Norwegian Parliament could not find anybody who has contributed sufficiently to peace to merit the Prize. I believe I express the hope of all of us that a Peace Prize can be given next year.