Alfred Nobel


Born in Stockholm in 1833 of Swedish parents, Alfred Nobel moved with his family
to St. Petersburg, then the capital of Russia, at the age of nine. There his
energetic and inventive father soon acquired a strong and respected position as
an inventor and industrialist. Nobel subsequently lived in several countries and
ultimately came to regard himself as a citizen of the world. Even so, he never
gave up his Swedish citizenship.

By virtue of the education he received in many countries, Nobel read, spoke and
wrote fluently in five European languages: Swedish, Russian, English, French and
German. His numerous handwritten letters demonstrate his remarkable proficiency
in all of them. He perfected his French when sent to Paris by his father in his
late teens to study chemistry. His letters in French are particularly elegant.
Those in English sometimes bear traces of the early nineteenth-century style
generally associated with Byron and Shelley (his two favourite poets) and are
remarkably free of grammatical and idiomatic errors. To his mother he always
wrote in Swedish, which is also the language of the will he composed in Paris.
The fields embraced by the prizes stipulated by the will reflect Nobel\'s
personal interests. While he provided no prizes for architects, artists,
composers or social scientists, he was generous to those working in physics,
chemistry, physiology and medicine—the subjects he knew best himself, and in
which he expected the greatest advances.

Throughout his life he suffered from poor health and often took cures at
watering places, “less to drink the water than to rest.” But he expected great
improvements in medicine, and the profession has since realized many of them.
Once he employed a young Swedish physiologist in Paris to test his own theories
on blood transfusions. Although these efforts were not successful, problems
related to transfusions were later solved by an Austrian, Karl Landsteiner, who
won the 1930 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.

The Nobel Prize in Literature, too, reflects the donor\'s personal predilections.
From his early youth he had been a writer as well as an avid reader, but he
later destroyed many of his adolescent poems written in Swedish. He did, however,
save a long autobiographical poem in English and occasionally gave copies of it
to intimate friends. He was always an omnivorous reader of books in all the
languages he knew. What he meant by the stipulation in his will of an “
idealistic tendency” is shown by the books and authors he liked best. At the
very time he composed his final will in 1895, he wrote enthusiastic letters
about authors, among them Sweden\'s Selma Lagerlöf, who in 1909 was to become the
first woman to receive the Prize in Literature.

Nobel\'s award for peace workers was just as personally motivated. His special
recommendation of “organizers and promoters of peace congresses” shows that he
had in mind his friend Baroness Bertha von Suttner of Austria, whose peace
congresses in Rome and Berne he had supported financially. While he had been
concerned about the peace problem long before he met her, she undoubtedly
stimulated his interest in it still further. In 1905 Baroness von Suttner won
the Peace Prize.

A question often asked is, “Why was Norway picked to award the Peace Prize?”
Nobel himself gave no reason. It should be remembered, however, that during his
lifetime, Sweden and Norway were still joined in a union; this was peacefully
dissolved in 1905. When Nobel drew up his will, it may have been only natural
for him to divide the prize- awarding responsibilities between the two parts of
his homeland. A contributing reason may also have been his admiration for the
great Norwegian writer and patriot Bjørnstierne Bjørnson, winner of the Prize in
Literature in 1903.

The selection of Peace Prize winners was entrusted to a committee appointed by
the Storting, or Norwegian Parliament. As a member of the Royal Swedish Academy
of Sciences in Stockholm, Nobel thought this the appropriate body for the
selection of laureates in physics and chemistry. Selection of winners of the
Prize in Physiology or Medicine was delegated to the Karolinska Institute in
Stockholm, of which he had heard good reports. As for the Swedish Academy, which
he put in charge of the Prize in Literature, Nobel may not have been so familiar
with it, but he undoubtedly assumed that as a counterpart of the French Academy
it was best qualified for the difficult task of selecting the laureates in
literature.

Nobel\'s fortune Alfred Nobel\'s great wealth can be attributed to his ability to
combine the qualities of astute scientist and inventor with those of the far-
sighted and dynamic