Hesse: Banquet Speech
Hesse: Banquet Speech
Introductory remarks by Sigurd Curman, President of the Royal Academy of Sciences, at the Nobel Banquet at the City Hall in Stockholm, 10 December 1946:
Hermann Hesse has carried on his battle against these microbes of the soul in the field of literature. He has endeavoured, in his stylistically exquisite poems and stories, to show us the way to rise out of this slough. He shouts to all of us the motto of young Joseph Knecht in Das Glasperlenspiel: “Tran-szendieren!” Advance, mount higher, conquer yourself! For to be human is to suffer an incurable duality, to be drawn toward both good and evil. And we can achieve harmony and peace only when we have killed the selfishness within us. This is Hesse’s message to the people of a ravaged age, resounding with screams of self-vindication from East and West. It is principally as a profound philosopher and bold critic of the contemporary period in his stories that Hesse deserves the Nobel Prize.
As Hesse was unable to be present, the speech was read by Henry Vallotton, Swiss Minister (Translation):
We deeply regret that illness keeps Hermann Hesse in Switzerland. But his thoughts are with us, and his gratitude speaks through this message which he asked me to read to you:
In sending cordial and respectful greetings to your festive gathering, I should like above all to express my regrets at not being able to be your guest in person, to greet and to thank you. My health has always been delicate, and I have been left a permanent invalid by the afflictions of the years since 1933 that have destroyed my life’s work and have again and again burdened me with heavy duties. But my mind has not been broken, and I feel akin to you and to the idea that inspired the Nobel Foundation, the idea that the mind is international and supra-national, that it ought to serve not war and annihilation, but peace and reconciliation.
My ideal, however, is not the blurring of national characteristics, such as would lead to an intellectually uniform humanity. On the contrary, may diversity in all shapes and colours live long on this dear earth of ours. What a wonderful thing is the existence of many races, many peoples, many languages, and many varieties of attitude and outlook! If I feel hatred and irreconcilable enmity toward wars, conquests, and annexations, I do so for many reasons, but also because so many organically grown, highly individual, and richly differentiated achievements of human civilization have fallen victim to these dark powers. I hate the grands simplificateurs, and I love the sense of quality, of inimitable craftsmanship and uniqueness. As your grateful guest and colleague I therefore extend my greetings to Sweden, your country, to her language and civilization, her rich and proud history, and her perseverance in maintaining and shaping her individual nature. I have never been to Sweden, but for decades many a good and kind thing has come to me from your country since that first present which I received from it: it is now forty years ago and it was a Swedish book, a copy of the first edition of Christ Legends with a personal dedication by Selma Lagerlöf. In the course of years there has been many a valuable exchange with your country until you have now surprised me with the final great present. Let me express to you my profound gratitude.
[© The Nobel Foundation, 1946. Hermann Hesse is the sole author of his speech.]