|On a 22 October:|
| 1986 Death of the
1937 Nobel Medicine Prize laureate,
Albert von Szent-Györgyi Nagyrapolt, 93, bio-chemist.
Szent-Györgyi was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 1937 "for his discoveries in connection with the biological combustion processes, with special reference to vitamin C and the catalysis of fumaric acid"
The Staff of Professors of the Caroline Institute, pursuant to the task devolving upon them by the terms of the will of Alfred Nobel, have awarded the Prize for Physiology or Medicine for the year 1937 to Professor Albert von Szent-Györgyi, in recognition of his discoveries concerning the biological combustion processes with especial reference to vitamin C and to the fumaric acid catalyst. The wording of the above sentence indicates that the mechanism of biological oxidation has been investigated beyond the great discoveries in this field made by Otto Warburg, Heinrich Wieland, and their successors. Their systems of catalysts for oxidation have been shown to be dependent on Szent-Györgyi's new catalysts.
It was generally known before that combustion liberates energy in living cells which can be employed there without loss - directly for the building up of new substances - for storage or for the building of functioning cell structures. The building up of living organisms then is dependent in essential respects on combustion, which is guided by catalyst systems. Thus catalyst systems are conditional for the building up of living organisms. Consequently in the unknown period during which organic life originated, the formation of these and other catalyst systems must have preceded the completion of the living animal organisms.
Each one of the three has conquered new ground by intuitive daring and skill. Szent-Györgyi's greatest achievement has intimately linked up the accomplishments of the two others and of their successors, giving us for the first time a picture of a coherent oxidation process - of the interplay of three catalyst systems and the oxidation thereby in metabolism.
Warburg, who always stood alone with some few faithful co-workers, is the foremost pioneer, and he had to overcome the greatest difficulties. At this day there is none who can any longer throw doubt on his discoveries, but that was not so, when in 1931 underestimated by the majority, he was awarded the Nobel Prize by the Caroline Institute. He has shown that the inert oxygen, with which the red blood corpuscles are fully loaded, is taken up from them by a catalyst system to which many red pigments belong (for brevity's sake called «the red system»). These are related to the red blood pigment. They contain as active groups (for the most part) iron and specific proteins. In this system the oxygen combines with the iron during varying periods of time. In the case of the most rapid catalysts, it combines with the iron, is converted into a lively, reactively disposed form and is delivered - all at a speed that gives a flowing stream of active oxygen from the catalyst system. One thought that this active oxygen oxidized directly. That is not the way however. On the contrary, the active oxygen meets hydrogen - but that is another story, belonging to Szent-Györgyi's great discovery. The manner in which the life-giving active oxygen's dramatic encounter in the darkness of the cells ensues, had been unknown ever since the morning of time until, in 1933, Szent-Györgyi carried out some experiments which proved to be the prelude to the revelation of the secret.
For the moment I will leave oxygen, and direct the attention to the first, apparently unimportant, experiments carried out by Wieland. These led him to the conception of an idea, which was destined to carry him on to the disclosure of an extensive part of the mechanism of oxidation. A large number of investigators were soon attracted by Wieland's opinion. This seemed to be at variance with the oxygen activation - at any rate that was the view of a majority. This apparent inconsistency was never considered by Szent-Györgyi, nor by Warburg.
Wieland had observed that palladium is capable of absorbing hydrogen from certain organic compounds, which means their partial combustion or oxidation. Through the cooperation of many investigators the presence was revealed of extensive metal-free catalyst systems, the effect of which was shown to consist in the removal of hydrogen from metabolic substances, in agreement with Wieland's concept. These catalysts were given a name in common: dehydrogenases (hydrogen-removers, hydrogen-absorbers, or hydrogen-transporters) and the idea was held pretty generally that the hydrogen activated by this system would be capable of reacting directly with the inert oxygen molecules. Hydrogen superoxide was supposed to form an intermediate product. That is not the highway of oxidation however. On the contrary, the hydrogen first meets Szent-Györgyi's catalyst system from a different side to the one where the activated oxygen flows into it from the «red system». That again is another story, which also belongs to Szent-Györgyi's great discovery. From 1925 onwards he had been investigating a number of hydrogen-absorbers. Previously to anyone else he formed the view of these as members of a catalyst system in the service of oxidation (in other quarters loosely conceived of as being auxiliary catalysts of some kind for fermentation). He was also occupied with experiments on a yellow substance, termed flave by him, while his investigation regarding vitamin C was being completed, and conducted on to the isolation of that substance, enabling him later to insert it in the catalyst system of certain hydrogen-removers. Vitamin C and another substance, containing sulphur as a hydrogen-removing group and defined by Sir Frederick Gowland Hopkins and others, were however until 1934 the only substances belonging to the hydrogen-transporters in the oxidation-chain that had been isolated. The rank that they possess as catalysts is dependent on the velocity of the hydrogen-transportation and the degree of the activation of the hydrogen - problems that still await a satisfactory solution. On the other hand, Hugo Theorell succeeded in 1934 in isolating, in Warburg's laboratory, the first really rapid hydrogen-transporter, called «the yellow enzyme». He could also show that it was a phosphoric-acid ester of vitamin B2, linked to a specific protein. Warburg and Christian, in 1935, defined the nature of the active group in two other dehydrogenases, colourless and metal-free (co-ferment and co-zymase), which had long frustrated the attempts of other investigators. One of them was the catalyst that Szent-Györgyi had placed in this section of the oxidation-chain.
The magnificent series of Szent-Györgyi's discoveries commenced in 1933. They were carried out and pursued at Szeged with extraordinary rapidity and precision. His clear vision for essentials induced him, in spite of his isolation of ascorbic acid and of his identification of it with the so-termed vitamin C - a feat that was justly hailed with enthusiasm - to hand over to others for the time being the tempting pursuit of the further development of that discovery, and to devote the whole of his energy to the problem of combustion, notwithstanding the difficulties it presented. Many investigators had been working at the so-called plant acids in the muscular system, and had observed their capacity for intensifying oxidation in that tissue. The readiest explanation however of how that came about, viz. that they are easily combusted themselves, simply did not fit in with Szent-Györgyi's intuitive perception. By elaborating reliable methods of analysis for the substances in question, and by means of consistent experiments, he and his co-workers proved that the plant acids were not consumed by combustion, were not ordinary nutrient substances, but were on the contrary themselves active groups of catalysts which served to maintain the combustion without themselves suffering any diminution thereby. The process involves a peregrination of hydrogen more intricate than the adventurous journeys of Odysseus, though more rapid. Hydrogen is released out of the metabolic substances, probably through cooperation between Szent-Györgyi's and Warburg's co-ferment and Theorell's yellow enzyme, and encounters the plant acids, entering in that way Szent-Györgyi's's system. These acids transfer the system into the order: oxalacetic acid, malic acid, fumaric acid, and succinic acid, then, in the form of active hydrogen, to encounter the active oxygen from «the red system» and form water and free energy - a series of providentially subdued explosions which I alluded to before as a dramatic encounter. The plant acids act as catalysts by cooperation with specific proteins, and the effect of the yellow enzyme probably extends some way into this Szent-Györgyi's intermediate system.
Thus, the oxygen-activation in the red iron system and hydrogen-transfer from nutrients by the yellow metal-free system along with co-agents have been united by Szent-Györgyi through the discovery of this intermediate system. The interplay of «the red system»'s cytochrome-group and the yellow enzyme might probably also, according to Theorell, proceed directly. The flaws are numerous, but not of a character to constitute any essential breach in the highway of the oxidation-chain. Numerous ramifications of the latter however already begin to be discernible.
It is of especially great importance that at least two vitamins - C and B2, and possibly B1, and P - are in cooperation in the oxidation chain and are catalysts, illustrating the way in which these vitamins act in the organism. It may be that development in the near future will reveal the importance for our organism of copper concerning oxidation and of vitamin C with certain followers in plants, viz. oxidating enzyme, and oxidizable and reducible substances (Szent-Györgyi's flavonoles, termed vitamin P), which are capable of forming a sensitively attuned system with the vitamin, hydrogen-superoxide and proteins, or parts of them, with active and activating sulphur in the molecule. The sulphur of the alchemists of old, out of which everything was to radiate, is destined to experience a renaissance.
Szent-Györgyi never swerved from his unyielding purpose to study the primary and fundamental processes of biological oxidation. Entering upon this difficult field of biochemical research he soon became a pioneer by interpreting the position and real function of co-ferment as an important link in the chain of dehydrogenating catalysts. Not even his important discoveries regarding vitamin C could deter him from following a certain strain of thought. He was drawing distinctions in his mind at this occasion between his interesting discovery of ascorbic acid and the bare possibility of some other audacious plans of his coming true. At this early stage they must have involved the investigation of the fundamental mechanism of connecting hydrogen activation with that of oxygen activation. His intuitive mind decided in favour of the possibility of success, and he won through. In the year 1933 the first signs became visible for outsiders, and from then on the pace set by Szent-Györgyi and his co-workers at Szeged was astonishing, and his results were fundamentally new and highly important. In the midst of fervent research work with most promising aspects he is the discoverer and idealist to the mind of Alfred Nobel.
Birth of the 1933 Nobel Literature laureate.
Ivan Alekseyevich Bunin, poet and novelist, would receive the award for the strict artistry with which he has carried on the classical Russian traditions in prose writing.
Ivan Bunin's literary career has been clear and uncomplicated. He came from a family of country squires and grew up in the literary tradition of the times in which that social class dominated Russian culture, created a literature occupying a place of honour in contemporary Europe, and led to fatal political movements. «The lords of the scrupulous consciences» is what the following generation ironically called these men who, full of indignation and pity, set themselves up against the humiliation of the serfs. They deserved a better name, for they would soon have to pay with their own prosperity for the upheaval that they were going to cause.
Only the debris ofthe family possessions remained about the young Bunin; it was in the world of poetry that he could feel a strong rapport with the past generations. He lived in a world of illusions without any energy, rather than of national sentiment and hope for the future. Nonetheless he did not escape the influence of the reform movement; as a student, he was deeply struck by the appeal of Tolstoy's proclaiming fraternity with the humble and poor. Thus he learned like others to live by the toil of his hands, and for his part he chose the craft of cooper in the home of a co-religionist who greatly loved discussion. (He might well have tried a less difficult craft-the staves come apart easily, and it takes much skill to make a vessel that will hold its content.)
For a guide in more spiritual doctrines he had a man who fought with wavering energy against the temptations of the flesh in a very literal sense, and here vegetarianism entered his doctrine. During a voyage with him to Tolstoy's home to be presented to the master - Bunin was able to observe his victories and defeats. He was victorious over several refreshment stands in railroad stations but finally the temptation of the meat pâtés was too strong. Having finished chewing, he found ingenious excuses for his particular fall: «I know, however, that it is not the pâté that holds me in its power but I who hold it. I am not its slave; I eat when I want to; when I don't want to, I don't eat.» It goes without saying that the young student did not want to stay long in this company.
Tolstoy himself did not attach great importance to Bunin's religious zeal. «You wish to live a simple and industrious life? That is good, but don't be priggish about it. One can be an excellent man in all kinds of lives.» And of the profession of poet he said, «Oh well, write if you have a great fancy for it, but remember well that it can never be the goal of your life.» This warning was lost on Bunin; he was already a poet with all his being.
He quickly attracted attention for verses that followed austere classical models; their subject was often descriptions of melancholic beauty of past life in the old manors. At the same time he developed in prose poems his power to render nature with all the fullness and richness of his impressions, having exercised his faculties with an extraordinary subtlety to reproduce them faithfully. Thus he continued the art of the great realists while his contemporaries devoted themselves to the adventures of literary programs: symbolism, neo-naturalism, Adamism, futurism, and other names of such passing phenomena. He remained an isolated man in an extremely agitated era.
When Bunin was forty, his novel Derévnya (1910) [The Village] made him famous and indeed notorious, for the book provoked a violent discussion. He attacked the essential point of the Russian faith in the future, the Slavophiles' dream of the virtuous and able peasant, through whom the nation must someday cover the world with its shadow. Bunin replied to this thesis with an objective description of the real nature of the peasants' virtues. The result was one of the most sombre and cruel works even in Russian literature, where such works are by no means rare.
The author gives no historical explanation of the decadence of the muzhikí, except for the brief information that the grandfather of the two principal characters in the novel was deliberately tracked to death by his master's greyhounds. This deed expresses well, in fact, the imprint borne by the spirit of the suppressed. But Bunin shows them just as they are without hesitating before any horror, and it was easy for him to prove the truthfulness of his severe judgment. Violence of the most cruel kind had recently swept the province in the wake of the first revolution - a foreshadowing of a later one.
For lack of another name, the book is called a novel in the translations but it really bears little resemblance to that genre. It consists of a series of immensely tumultuous episodes from lower life; truth of detail has meant everything to the author. The critic questioned not so much the details but their disinterested selection - the foreigner cannot judge the validity of the criticism. Now the book has had a strong revival because of events since then, and it remains a classic work, the model of a solid, concentrated, and sure art, in the eyes of the Russian émigrés as well as of those in the homeland. The descriptions of villages were continued in many shorter essays, sometimes devoted to the religious element which, in the eyes of the enthusiastic national generation, made the muzhikí the people of promise. In the writer's pitiless analysis the redemptive piety of the world is reduced to anarchic instincts and to the taste for self-humiliation, essential traits of the Russian spirit according to him. He was indeed far from his youthful Tolstoyian faith. But he had retained one thing from it: his love of the Russian land. He has hardly ever painted his marvellous countryside with such great art as in some of these novellas. It is as if he had done it to preserve himself, to be able to breathe freely once more after all he had seen of the ugly and the false.
In a quite different spirit Sukhodól (1911-12), the short novel of a manor, was written as a counterpart to Derévnya. The book is not a portrayal of the present times, but of the heyday of the landed proprietors, as remembered by an old servant in the house where Bunin grew up. The author is not an optimist in this book, either; these masters have little vital force, they are as unworthy of being responsible for their own destinies and those of their subordinates as the severest accuser could have desired. In effect one finds here in large measure the materials for that defence of the people which Bunin silently passed over in Derévnya.
But nonetheless the picture appears now in a totally different light; it is filled with poetry. This is due in part to the kind of reconciliation that the past possesses, having paid its debt by death; but also to the sweet vision of the servant who gives charm to the confused and changing world in which, however, her youth was ruined. But the chief source of poetry is the author's imaginative power, his faculty for giving this book, with an intense concentration, the richness of life. Sukhodól is a literary work of very high order.
During the years which remained before the World War, Bunin made long trips through the Mediterranean countries and to the Far East. They provided him with the subjects of a series of exotic novellas, sometimes inspired by the world of Hindu ideas, with its peace in the abnegation of life, but more often by the strongly accentuated contrast between the dreaming Orient and the harsh and avid materialism of the West. When the war came, these studies in the spirit of the modern globe-trotters with the imprint created by the world tragedy were to result in the novella that came to be his most famous work: Gospodín iz San Francisco (1916).
As often elsewhere, Bunin here simplifies the subject extremely by restricting himself to developing the principal idea with types rather than complex characters. Here he seems to have a special reason for this method: it is as if the author were afraid to come too close to his figures because they awaken his indignation and his hate. The American multi-millionaire, who after a life of ceaseless thirst for money, sets out as an old man into the world to refresh the dry consciousness of his power, his blindness of soul, and his avidity for senile pleasure, interests the author only in so far as he can show in what a pitiable manner he succumbs, like a bursting bubble. It is as if a judgment of the pitiless world were pronounced against his character. In place of a portrait of this pitifully insignificant man, the novella gives by its singularly resolute art a portrait of destiny, the enemy of this man, without any mysticism but only with strictly objective description of the game of the forces of nature with human vanity. The mystical feeling, however, is awakened in the reader and becomes stronger and greater through the perfect command of language and tone. Gospodín iz San Francisco was immediately accepted as a literary masterpiece; but it was also something else: the portent of an increasing world twilight; the condemnation of the essential guilt in the tragedy; the distortion of human culture which pushed the world to the same fate.
The consequences of the war expelled the author from his country, so dear to him despite everything, and it seemed a duty to remain silent under the severe pressure of what he had suffered. But his lost country lived again doubly dear in his memory, and regret gave him more pity for men. Still, he sometimes, with stronger reason, painted his particular enemy, the muzhík, with a sombre clear-sightedness of all his vices and faults; but sometimes he looked forward. Under all repellent things, he saw something of indestructible humanity, which he represented not with moral stress but as a force of nature, full of the immense possibilities of life. «A tree of God», one of them calls himself, «I see thus that God provides it; where the wind goes, there I follow.» In this manner he has taken leave of them for the present.
From the inexhaustible treasures of his memories of the Russian nature, Bunin was later able to draw anew the joy and the desire to create. He gave colour and brilliance to new Russian destinies, conceived in the same austerity as in the era when he lived among them. In Mítina lyubóv (1924-25) [Mitya's Love], he analyzed young feelings with all the mastery of a psychology in which sense impressions and states of mind, marvellously rendered, are particularly essential. The book was very successful in his country, although it signalled the return to literary traditions which, with many other things' had seemed condemned to death. In what has been published of Zhizn Arsénieva (Part I, Istóki dnéy, 1930 [The Well of Days]), partially an autobiography he has reproduced Russian life in a manner broader than ever before. His old superiority as the incomparable painter of the vast and rich beauty of the Russian land remains fully confirmed here.
In the literary history of his country, the place of Ivan Bunin has been clearly defined and his importance recognized for a long time and almost without divergence of opinions. He has followed the great tradition of the brilliant era of the nineteenth century in stressing the line of development which can be continued. He perfected concentration and richness of expression - of a description of real life based on an almost unique precision of observation. With the most rigorous art he has well resisted all temptations to forget things for the charm of words; although by nature a lyric poet, he has never embellished what he has seen but has rendered it with the most exact fidelity. To his simple language he has added a charm which, according to the testimonies of his compatriots, has made of it a precious drink that one can often sense even in the translations. This ability is his eminent and secret talent, and it gives the imprint of the masterpiece to his literary work.