Alfred Nobe1 - Alfred Nobel Born in Stockholm in 1833 of...

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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.
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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.
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