|On a 05 November:|
The Nobel Physics Prize is announced to go to Townes, Basov, and Prokhorov
fundamental work in the field of quantum electronics, which has led to
the construction of oscillators and amplifiers based on the maser-laser
It is announced that the 1964 Nobel Prize for physics will be awarded for the invention of the maser and the laser. "Maser" stands for "microwave amplification by stimulated emission of radiation", and the word "laser" is obtained by replacing "microwave" by "light". The key to the invention is the concept of stimulated emission which was introduced by Einstein already in 1917. By a theoretical analysis of the Planck radiation formula he found that the well-known process of absorption must be accompanied by a complementary process implying that received radiation can stimulate the atoms to emit the same kind of radiation. In this process lies a potential means for amplification. However, the stimulated emission was long regarded as a purely theoretical concept which never could be put to work or even be observed, because the absorption would be the completely dominating process under all normal conditions. An amplification can occur only if the stimulated emission is larger than the absorption, and this in turn requires that there should be more atoms in a high energy state than in a lower one. Such an unstable energy condition in matter is called an inverted population. An essential moment in the invention of the maser and the laser was, therefore, to create an inverted population under such circumstances that the stimulated emission could be used for amplification. The first papers about the maser were published 10 years ago as a result of investigations carried out simultaneously and independently by Townes and co-workers at Columbia University in New York and by Basov and Prochorov at the Lebedev Institute in Moscow. In the following years there were designed a number of masers of widely different types, and many people made important contributions to this development. In the type that is now being mostly used the maser effect is obtained by means of the ions of certain metals imbedded in a suitable crystal.These masers work as extremely sensitive receivers for short radiowaves. They are of great importance in radio astronomy and are being used in space research for recording the radio signals from satellites. The optical maser, that is, the laser, dates from 1958, when the possibilities of applying the maser principle in the optical region were analysed by Schawlow and Townes as well as in the Lebedev Institute. Two years later the first laser was operating. The step from the microwaves to visible light means a 100000-fold increase in frequency and causes such changes in the operation conditions that the laser may be regarded as an essentially new invention. In order to achieve the high radiation density required for the stimulated emission to become dominating, the radiating matter is enclosed between two mirrors that force the light to traverse the matter many times. During this process the stimulated radiation grows like an avalanche until all the atoms have given up their energy to the radiation. The fact that the stimulated and stimulating radiation have exactly the same phase and frequency is essential for the result of the process. By virtue of resonance all parts of the active medium combine their forces to give one strong wave. The laser emits what is called coherent light, and this is the decisive difference between the laser and an ordinary light source where the atoms radiate quite independent of each other. Lasers have now been made in many different shapes. The first, and still most frequently used, type consists of a ruby rod, a few inches long, with the polished and silvered end faces serving as mirrors. The radiation leaves eventually the crystal through one of the end faces which is made slightly transparent. The ruby consists of aluminium oxide with a small admixture of chromium. The chromium ions give to the ruby its red colour, and they are also responsible for the laser effect. The inverted population is produced by the light from a xenon flash lamp. This is absorbed by the ions, putting them in such a condition that they can be stimulated to emit a red light with a welldefined wavelength. Normally, a large number of successive pulses of laser light is emitted during the time of one flash from the lamp, but by retarding the release until the stored energy has reached a maximum all the energy can be put into one big pulse. The power of the emitted light can then reach more than a hundred million watts. Since, moreover, the emerging ray bundle is strictly parallel, the whole energy can be concentrated by means of a lens on a very small area, producing an enormous power per unit area. From a scientific point of view it is especially interesting that the electrical field strength produced in the light wave may amount to some hundred million volts/cm and thus surpass the forces that keep the electron shells of the atoms together. The high photon density opens up quite new possibilities for studying the interaction of radiation and matter. Another type of laser, in which the light is emitted from a gas excited by an electric discharge, produces continuously a radiation with a very sharply defined wavelength. This radiation can be used for measurements of lengths and velocities with a previously unattainable precision. The invention of the laser has provided us with a powerful new tool for research in many fields, the exploitation of which has only just started. Its potential technical applications have been much publicised and are therefore well known. Regarding, especially, the extreme power concentration obtainable with a laser, it should be noted that this effect is limited to short time intervals and very small volumes and therefore attains its main importance for micro-scale operations. It should be emphasized, finally, that the use of a laser beam for destructive purposes over large distances is wholly unrealistic. The "death ray" is and remains a myth. Dr.Townes, Dr.Basov and Dr.Prochorov. By your ingenious studies of fundamental aspects of the interaction between matter and radiation you have made the atoms work for us in a new and most remarkable way. These magic devices called maser and laser have opened up vast new fields for research and applications which are being exploited with increasing intensity in many laboratories all over the world. On behalf of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences I extend to you our warm congratulations and now ask you to receive the Nobel prize from the hands of His Majesty the King.
Charles Hard Townes was born in Greenville, South Carolina, on 28 July 1915, the son of Henry Keith Townes, an attorney, and Ellen (Hard) Townes. He attended the Greenville public schools and then Furman University in Greenville, where he completed the requirements for the Bachelor of Science degree in physics and the Bachelor of Arts degree in Modern Languages, graduating summa cum laude in 1935, at the age of 19. Physics had fascinated him since his first course in the subject during his sophomore year in college because of its "beautifully logical structure". He was also interested in natural history while at Furman, serving as curator of the museum, and working during the summers as collector for Furman's biology camp. In addition,he was busy with other activities, including the swimming team, the college newspaper and the football band. Townes completed work for the Master of Arts degree in Physics at Duke University in 1936, and then entered graduate school at the California Institute of Technology, where he received the Ph.D. degree in 1939 with a thesis on isotope separation and nuclear spins. A member ofthe technical staff of Bell Telephone Laboratories from 1933 to 1947, Dr.Townes worked extensively during World War II in designing radar bombing systems and has a number of patents in related technology. From this he turned his attention to applying the microwave technique of wartime radar research to spectroscopy, which he foresaw as providing a powerful new tool for the study of the structure of atoms and molecules and as a potential new basis for controlling electromagnetic waves. At Columbia University, where he was appointed to the faculty in 1948, he continued research in microwave physics, particularly studying the interactions between microwaves and molecules, and using microwave spectra for the study of the structure of molecules, atoms, and nuclei. In 1951, Dr. Townes conceived the idea of the maser, and a few months later he and his associates began working on a device using ammonia gas as the active medium. In early 1954, the first amplification and generation of electromagnetic waves by stimulated emission were obtained. Dr.Townes and his students coined the word "maser" for this device, which is an acronym for microwave amplification by stimulated emission of radiation. In 1958, Dr. Townes and his brother-in-law, Dr. A. L. Schavlow, now of Stanford University, showed theoretically that masers could be made to operate in the optical and infrared region and proposed how this could be accomplished in particular systems. This work resulted in their joint paper on optical and infrared masers, or lasers (light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation). Other research has been in the fields of radio astronomy and nonlinear optics. Having joined the faculty at Columbia University as Associate Professor of Physics in 1948, Townes was appointed Professor in 1950. He served as Executive Director of the Columbia Radiation Laboratory from 1950 to 1952 and was Chairman of the Physics Department from 1952 to 1955. From 1959 to 1961, he was on leave of absence from Columbia University to serve as Vice President and Director of Research of the Institute for Defense Analyses in Washington, D. C., a nonprofit organization operated by eleven universities. In 1961, Dr. Townes was appointed Provost and Professor of Physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. As Provost he shared with the President responsibility for general supervision of the educational and research programs of the Institute. In 1966, he became Institute Professor at M. I. T., and later in the same year resigned from the position of Provost in order to return to more intensive research, particularly in the fields of quantum electronics and astronomy. He was appointed University Professor at the University of California in 1967. In this position Dr. Townes is participating in teaching, research, and other activities on several campuses of the University, although he is located at the Berkeley campus. During 1955 and 1956, Townes was a Guggenheim Fellow and a Fulbright Lecturer, first at the University of Paris and then at the University of Tokyo. He was National Lecturer for Sigma Xi and also taught during summer sessions at the University of Michigan and at the Enrico Fermi International School of Physics in Italy, serving as Director for a session in 1963 on coherent light. In the fall of 1963, he was Scott Lecture at the University of Toronto. Dr. Townes has served on a number of scientific committees advising governmental agencies and has been active in professional societies. He and his wife (the former Frances H.Brown; they married in 1941) live at 1988 San Antonio Avenue, Berkeley, California. They have four daughters, Linda Rosenwein, Ellen Anderson, Carla Lumsden, and Holly.
Nikolai Gennadievich Basov was born on 14 December 1922 in the small town of Usman near Voronezh, the son of Gennady Fedorovich Basov and Zinaida Andreevna Molchanova. His father was a professor of the Voronezh Forest Institute and devoted his life to investigation of the influence of forest belts on underground waters and on surface drainage. After finishing secondary school in 1941 in Voronezh, Basov was called up for military service and directed to the Kuibyshev Military Medical Academy. In 1943 he left the Academy with the qualification of a military doctor's assistant. He served in the Soviet Army and took part in the Second World War in the area ofthe First Ukranian Front.
In December 1945, Basov was demobilized and entered the Moscow Institute of Physical Engineers where he studied theoretical and experimental physics. From 1950 to 1953 he was a postgraduate student of the Moscow Institute of Physical Engineers. At that time, Basov was working on his thesis at the P. N. Lebedev Physical Institute of the Academy of Sciences, U.S.S.R., under the guidance of Professor M. A. Leontovich and Professor A. M. Prochorov. In 1950 Basov joined the P. N. Lebedev Physical Institute, where at present he is vicedirector and head of the laboratory of quantum radiophysics. He is also a professor of the department of solid-state physics at the Moscow Institute of Physical Engineers. In 1952 Dr. Basov began to work in the field of quantum radiophysics. He made various attempts (firstly, theoretical and then experimental) to design and build oscillators (together with A.M.Prochorov). In 1956 he defended his doctoral thesis on the theme "A Molecular Oscillator", which summed up the theoretical and experimental works on creation of a molecular oscillator utilizing an ammonia beam. In 1955 Basov organized a group for the investigation of the frequency stability of molecular oscillators. Together with his pupils and collaborators A. N. Oraevsky, V. V. Nikitin, G. M. Strakhovsky, V. S. Zuev and others, Dr Basov studied the dependence of the oscillator frequency on different parameters for a series of ammonia spectral lines, proposed methods of increasing the frequency stability by means of slowing down molecules, proposed methods of producing slow molecules, investigated the operation of oscillators with resonators in series, realized phase stabilization of klystron frequency by means of molecular oscillators, studied transition processes in molecular oscillators, and designed an oscillator utilizing a beam of deuterium ammonia. In the result of these investigations the oscillators with a frequency stability of 10-11 have been realized in 1962. In 1957 Basov started to work on the design and construction of quantum oscillators in the optical range. A group of theorists and research workers began to study the possibilities for realization of quantum oscillators by means of semiconductors, and after A. Javan's proposal, the possibility of their realization in the gas media was also investigated. In 1958 together with B. M. Vul and Yu.M.Popov he investigated the conditions for production of states with a negative temperature in semiconductors, and suggested utilization of a pulse breakdown for that purpose. In 1961 together with O. N. Krokhin and Yu. M. Popov, Basov proposed three different methods for the obtaining of a negative temperature state in semiconductors in the presence of direct and indirect transitions (optical excitation, utilization of a beam of fast electrons and injection of carriers through a degenerated p-n junction). As a result of a cooperative effort with B. M. Vul and collaborators the injection semiconductor lasers utilizing crystals of gallium arsenide were made at the beginning of 1963. In 1964 semiconductor lasers with electronic excitation have been made (together with O. V. Bogdankevich and A. N. Devyatkov); and somewhat later, lasers with optical excitation were constructed (together with A. Z. Grasiuk and V. A. Katulin). For these achievements a group of scientists of Lebedev Physical Institute was awarded the Lenin Prize for 1964. Beginning from 1961 Dr. Basov (together with V. S. Zuev, P. G. Krinkov, V. S. Lctokhov et al.) carried out theoretical and experimental research in the field of powerful lasers. There have been found the ways of obtaining powerful short laser pulses. The nature of appearance of such pulses in quantum oscillators and their propagation in quantum amplifiers have been investigated. Tllis work resulted in the development of high-power single-pulse Nd-glass lasers with 30 J energy and 2*10-11 sec pulse duration (in 1968 together with P. G. Krinkov, Yu. V. Senatsky et al.) and multichannel lasers with energy 103 J within 10-9 sec (in 1971 in collaboration with G. V. Sklizkov et al.). In 1962 N.Basov and O.N.Krokhin investigated the possibility of laser radiation usage for the obtaining of thermonuclear plasmas. In 1968 Basov and his associates (P. G. Kriukov, Yu. V. Senatsky, S. D. Zakharov) have succeeded in observing for the first time neutron emission in the laser-produced deuterium plasmas. The spectra of multicharged ions CaXVI, FeXXIII, K XIX and others have also been observed (together with O. N. Krokhin, S. L. Mandelshtam, G. V. Sklizkov). There has been developed a theory of picosecond pulse formation (together with V.S.Letokhov). In the same year Basov and his associate A. N. Oraevsky proposed a method of the thermal laser excitation. Further theoretical considerations of this method by Basov, A. N. Oraevsky and V. A. Sheglov encouraged the development of the socalled gasdynamic lasers. In 1963 Dr. Basov and his colleagues (V. V. Nikitin, Yu. M. Popov, V. N. Morozov) began to work in the field of optoelectronics. They developed in 1967 a number of fast-operating logic elements on the basis of diode lasers. At present a logic structure of the multichannel optoelectronic systems producing 1010 operations per second for the optical data processing is under the development. The studies of the radiation of the condensed rare gases under the action of a powerful electron beam have been initiated in 1966 by Basov and his collaborators (V. A. Danilychev, Yu. M. Popov), and they were the first to obtain in 1970 the laser emission in the vacuum ultraviolet range. In 1968 Basov ( in cooperation with O. V. Bogdankevich and A. S. Nasibov) made a proposal for a laser projection TV. About the same time Dr. Basov (together with V. V. Nikitin) began the studies of the frequency standard in the optical range (on the basis of gas lasers). In 1970 they succeeded in realizing a gas laser stabilized in the methane absorption line with frequency stability 10-11. In 1969 Basov (together with E.M.Belenov and V.V.Nikitin) hypothe sized that to obtain the frequency standard with the stability 10-12-10-13 a ring laser can be used with a nonlinear absorption cell. A large contribution has been made by Dr. Basov to the field of chemical lasers. In 1970 under his guidance an original chemical laser was achieved which operates on a mixture of deuterium, F and CO2 at the atmospheric pressure. In the same year Basov (in cooperation with E. M. Belenov, V.A. Danilychev and A. F. Suchkov) proposed and developed experimentally an elion (electrical pumping of ionized compressed gases) method of gaslaser excitation. Using this method for a CO2 and N2 mixture compressed to 25 atm., they achieved a great increase of power of the gas laser volume unit compared to the typical low pressure CO2 lasers. In the end of 1970 Basov (together with E. P. Markin, A. N. Oraevsky, A.V. Pankratov) presented experimental evidence for the stimulation of chemical reactions by the infrared laser radiation. In 1959 Dr. Basov was awarded the Lenin Prize together with A. M. Prochorov for the investigation leading to the creation of molecular oscillators and paramagnetic amplifiers. In 1962 Dr. Basov was elected a corresponding member of the Academy of Sciences of the U.S.S.R.; in 1966, a member of the Academy; in 1967, a member of the Presidium of the Academy of Sciences of the U.S.S.R., and a foreign member of the German Academy of Sciences in Berlin; and in 1971, a foreign member of the German Academy "Leopoldina". Dr.Basov is Editor-in-chief of the Soviet scientific journals Priroda. (Nature) and "Kvantovaya Elektornika" (Quantum Electronics); he is also a member ofthe Editorial Board of"Il Nuovo Cimento". In 1970 Dr. Basov was awarded the rank of Hero of Socialist Labour. Dr. Basov is a member of the Soviet Committee of the Defence of Peace and a member of the World Peace Council. Nikolai Basov married in 1950. His wife, Ksenia Tikhonovna Basova, is also a physicist and is with the Department of General Physics ofthe Moscow Institute of Physical Engineers. They have two sons: Gennady (born 1954) and Dmitry (born 1963).
Alexander Mikhailovich Prochorov was born on 11 July 1916, in Australia. He went in 1923 with his parents to the Soviet Union. In 1934 Alexander Prochorov entered the Physics Department of the Leningrad State University. He attended lectures of Prof. V. A. Fock (quantum mechanics, theory of relativity), Prof.S. E. Frish (general physics, spectroscopy), and Prof. E. K.Gross (molecular physics). After graduating in 1939 he became a postgraduate student of the P. N. Lebedev Physical Institute in Moscow, in the laboratory of oscillations headed by Academician N.D. Papaleksi. There he started to study the problems of propagation of radio waves. In June 1941, he was mobilized in the Red Army. He took part in the Second World War and was wounded twice. After his second injury in 1944, he was demobilized and went back to the laboratory of oscillations of the P. N. Lebedev Physical Institute. There he began to investigate nonlinear oscillations under the guidance of Prof. S. M. Rytov. In 1946 he defended his thesis on the theme Theory of Stabilization of Frequency of a Tube Oscillator in the Theory of a Small Parameter.. Starting in 1947, upon the suggestion of Academician V. I. Veksler, Prochorov carried out a study of the coherent radiation of electrons in the synchotron in the region of centimetre waves. As a result of these investigations he wrote and defended in 1951 his Ph.D. thesis a "Coherent Radiation of Electrons in the Synchotron Accelerator". After the death of Academician I. D. Papaleksi in 1946, the laboratory of oscillations was headed by Academician M. A. Leontovich. Starting from 1950 being assistant chief of the laboratory, Prochorov began to investigate on a wide scale the question of radiospectroscopy and, somewhat later, of quantum electronics. He organized a group of young scientists interested in the subjects. In 1954, when Academician M. A. Leontovich started to work in the Institute of Atomic Energy, Prochorov became head of the laboratory of oscillations, which position he still holds. In 1959 the laboratory of radio astronomy headed by Prof. V. V. Vitkevitch) was organized from one ofthe departments of the laboratory of oscillations, and in 1962 another department was separated as the laboratory of quantum radiophysics (headed by Prof. N. G. Basov). Academician D. V. Skobeltzyn, director of the Institute, and Academician M. A. Leontovich as well, rendered great assistance in the development of the research on radiospectroscopy and quantum electronics. The investigations carried out by Basov and Prochorov in the field of microwave spectroscopy resulted in the idea of a molecular oscillator. They developed theoretical grounds for creation of a molecular oscillator and also constructed a molecular oscillator operating on ammonia. In 1955, Basov and Prochorov proposed a method for the production of a negative absorption which was called the pumping method. From 1950 to 1955, Prochorov and his collaborators carried out research on molecular structures by the methods of microwave spectroscopy. In 1955 Professor Prochorov began to develop the research on electronic paramagnetic resonance (EPR). A cycle of investigations of EPR spectra and relaxation times in various crystals was carried out, in particular investigations on ions of the iron group elements in the lattice of Al2O3. In 1955, Prochorov studied with A. A. Manenkov the EPR spectra of ruby that made it possible to suggest it as a material for lasers in 1957. They designed and constructed masers using various materials and studied characteristics of the masers as well. This research was done in cooperation with the laboratory of radiospectroscopy of the Institute of Nuclear Physics of the Moscow University; this laboratory was organized by Prochorov in 1957. One of the masers constructed for a wavelength of 21 cm is used in the investigations of the radioastronomical station of the Physical Institute in Pushino. The EPR methods were also utilized for the study of free radicals. In particular, the transition of a free radical of DPPH from a paramagnetic state into an antiferromagnetic state at 0.3K was observed. In 1958 Prochorov suggested a laser for generation offer-infrared waves. As a resonator it was proposed to use a new type of cavity which was later called "the cavity of an open type". Practically speaking, it is Fabri-Pero's interferometer. Similar cavities are widely used in lasers. At present Prochorov's principal scientific interests lie in the field of solid lasers and their utilization for physical purposes, in particular for studies of multiquantum processes. In 1963, he suggested together with A. S. Selivanenko, a laser using two-quantum transitions. Alexander Prochorov is Professor at the Moscow State University and Vice-President of URSI. He married in I941; his wife, G. A. Shelepina, is a geographer. They have one son.
The Nobel Literature Prize is announced to go to Lewis for
his vigorous and graphic art of description and his ability to create,
with wit and humor, new types of characters.
1930 Sinclair Lewis is awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature for "for his vigorous and graphic art of description and his ability to create, with wit and humor, new types of characters." Lewis, born in 1885 in Sauk Center, Minnesota, is the first American to win the distinguished award. Lewis established his literary reputation in the 1920s with a series of satirical novels about small-town life in the U.S., including Main Street (1920), Babbitt (1922), Arrowsmith (1925), and Elmer Gantry (1927). In these novels, his central characters strive to escape their emotionally and intellectually repressive environments, with varying degrees of success. In 1926, he turned down the Pulitzer Prize awarded him for Arrowsmith, but in 1930 decided to accept the prestigious Nobel Prize, determined by the Swedish Academy. Lewis died in 1951.
LEWIS ONLINE: Babbitt, Babbitt, Babbitt, Main Street, Main Street, Our Mr. Wrenn, Our Mr. Wrenn
| The winner of the 1930 Nobel Prize in Literature was born
at Sauk Centre, a place of about two or three thousand inhabitants in
the great cornland of Minnesota. He describes the place in his novel
Main Street (1920), though there it is called Gopher Prairie.
It is the great prairie, an undulating land with lakes and oak groves, which has produced that little town and many others exactly like it. The pioneers have need of places to sell their grain, shops to purchase their supplies, banks for their mortgage loans, doctors for their bodies, and clergymen for their souls. There is cooperation between the country and the town, but at the same time there is conflict. Does the town exist for the sake of the country, or the country for the town?
The prairie makes its power felt. During the winters, long and cold as ours, terrific storms dump their snow in the wide streets, between low and shabby houses. The summer scorches with an intense heat and the town smells, because it lacks both sewers and street cleaning. Yet the town naturally feels its superiority; it is the flower of the prairie. It has the economic threads in its hands, and it is the focus of civilization - a concentrated, proud America amidst these earth-bound thralls of foreign origin, Germans and Scandinavians.
Thus the town lives happily in its self-confidence and its belief in true democracy, which does not exclude a proper stratification of the people, its faith in a sound business morality, and the blessings of being motorized; for there are many Fords in Main Street.
To this town comes a young woman filled with rebellious emotions. She wants to reform the town, inside and out, but fails completely, almost going under in the attempt.
As a description of life in a small town, Main Street is certainly one of the best ever written. To be sure, the town is first and foremost American, but it could, as a spiritual milieu, be situated just as well in Europe. Like Mr. Lewis, many of us have suffered from its ugliness and bigotry. The strong satire has aroused local protests, but one need not be keensighted to see the tolerant strain in Lewis's sketch of his native town and its people.
Behind the puffed-up complacency of Gopher Prairie, however, lurks jealousy. At the edge of the plain stand cities like St. Paul and Minneapolis, already little metropolitan centres with their skyscraper windows gleaming in the sunlight or the evening's electricity. Gopher Prairie wants to be like them and finds the time ripe for a campaign of progress, based on the rising war price of wheat.
A stump orator is imported, a real rabble-rouser of the peppiest kind, and with blatant eloquence he demonstrates that nothing will be easier than for Gopher Prairie to take the lead and reach the 200,000 class.
Mr. Babbitt - George Follansbee Babbitt - is the happy citizen of such a city (Babbitt, 1922). It is called Zenith, but probably it cannot be found on the map under that name. This city with its enlarged horizons hereafter ecomes the starting point for Mr. Lewis's critical raids into the territories of Americanism. The city is a hundred times larger than Gopher Prairie and, therefore, a hundred times richer in one hundred per cent Americanism and one hundred times as satisfied with itself, and the enchantment of its optimism and progressive spirit is embodied in George F. Babbitt.
As a matter of fact, Babbitt probably approaches the ideal of an American popular hero of the middle class. The relativity of business morals as well as private rules of conduct is for him an accepted article of faith, and without hesitation he considers it God's purpose that man should work, increase is income, and enjoy modern improvements. He feels that he obeys these commandments and therefore lives in complete harmony with himself and society.
His profession, real estate, is the highest in existence, and his house near the city, with its trees and lawn, is standard, inside and out. The make of his car corresponds to his position, and in it he whizzes through he streets, proud as a young hero amidst the perils of the traffic. His family life also corresponds to the bourgeois average. His wife has become used to his masculine rumblings at home, and the children are impertinent, but that is what one expects.
He enjoys excellent health, is well-fed and thriving, alert and good-natured. His daily lunches at the club are feasts of instructive business conversation and stimulating anecdotes; he is sociable and winning. Babbitt is furthermore man with the gift of speech. He has learned all the national slogans and whirls them about with his flowing tongue in his popular talks before clubs and mass meetings. Not even for the most elevated spirituality does he lack sympathy. He basks in the company of the noted poet, Cholmondeley Frink, who concentrates his genius on the composition of striking, rhymed advertisements for various firms and thereby earns a good annual income.
Thus Babbitt lives the life of the irreproachable citizen conscious of his respectability. But the jealousy of the gods broods over a mortal whose happiness grows too great. A soul such as Babbitt's is, of course, incapable of growth; it is a ready-made article from the start. Then Babbitt discovers that he has tendencies toward vice which he has neglected - although not wholly, one ought to add. As he approaches fifty, he hastens to make up for the neglect. He enters into an irregular relationship and joins a frivolous gang of youths, in which he plays the role of a generous sugar daddy. But his deeds find him out. His lunches at the club become more and more painful through the silence and aloofness of his friends. They hint that he is spoiling this chance of future membership in the committee of progress. Here it is naturally New York and Chicago that loom before him. He succeeds in recovering his better self, and it is edifying to see him kneel in his pastor's study, where he receives absolution. And then Babbitt can once more devote himself to the Sunday school and other socially useful activities. is story ends as it began.
That it is institutions as representatives of false ideas, and not individuals, that Mr. Lewis wants to attack with his satire, he has himself indicated. t is then a triumph for his art, a triumph almost unique in literature, that he has been able to make this Babbitt, who fatalistically lives within the borders of an earth-bound but at the same time pompous utilitarianism, an almost lovable individual.
Babbitt is naive, and a believer who speaks up for his faith. At bottom there is nothing wrong with the man, and he is so festively refreshing that he almost serves as a recommendation for American snap and vitality. There are bouncers and Philistines in all countries, and one can only wish that half of them were half as amusing as Babbitt.
To the splendour of the figure, as well as to other speaking characters in the book, Mr. Lewis has added his unparalleled gift of words. Listen, for example, to the conversation of a few commercial travellers, sitting together in a compartment of the New York express. An unsuspected halo falls over the profession of selling. «To them, the Romantic Hero was no longer the knight, the wandering poet, the cowpuncher, the aviator, nor the brave young district attorney, but the great sales manager, who had an Analysis of Merchandizing Problems on his glass-topped desk, whose title of nobility was Go-getter and who devoted himself and all his young samurai to the cosmic purpose of Selling - not of selling anything in particular, for or to anybody in particular, but pure Selling.» Arrowsmith (1925) is a work of a more serious nature. Lewis has there attempted to represent the medical profession and science in all its manifestations. As is well known, American research in the natural sciences, physics, chemistry, and medicine ranks with the best of our age, and it has several times been recognized as such from this very platform. Tremendous resources have been placed at its command. Richly endowed institutions work unceasingly on its development.
That even here some speculative persons want to take advantage of their opportunities may be regarded as inevitable. Private industries are on the alert for scientific discoveries and want to profit from them before they have been tested and finally established. The bacteriologist, for instance, searches with infinite care for vaccines to cure widespread diseases, and the manufacturing chemist wants to snatch them prematurely from his hand for mass production.
Under the guidance of a gifted and conscientious teacher, Martin Arrowsmith develops into one of the idealists of science. The tragedy of his life as research worker is that, after making an important discovery, he delays its announcement for constantly renewed tests until he is anticipated by a Frenchman in the Pasteur Institute.
The book contains a rich gallery of different medical types. We have the hum of the medical schools with their quarrelling and intriguing professors. Then there is the unpretentious country doctor, recalled from Main Street, who regards it as an honour to merge with his clientele and become their support and solace. Then we have the shrewd organizer of public health and general welfare, who works himself into popular favour and political power. Next we have the large institutes with their apparently royally independent investigators, under a management which to a certain extent must take into consideration the commercial interests of the donors and drive the staff to forced work for the honour of the institutes.
Above these types rises Arrowsmith's teacher, the exiled German Jew, Gottlieb, who is drawn with a warmth and admiration that seem to suggest a living model. He is an incorruptibly honest servant of science, but at the same time a resentful anarchist and a stand-offish misanthrope, who doubts whether the humanity whose benefactor he is amounts to as much as the animals he kills with his experiments. Further we meet the Swedish doctor, Gustaf Sondelius, radiant Titan, who with singing and courage pursues pests in their lairs throughout the world, exterminates poisonous rats and burns infected villages, drinks and preaches his gospel that hygiene is destined to kill the medical art.
Alongside all of this runs the personal history of Martin Arrowsmith. Lewis is much too clever to make his characters without blemish, and Martin suffers from faults which at times seem obstructive to his development, both as a man and as a scientist. As a restless and irresolute young man he gets his best help from a little woman he encountered at a hospital where she was an insignificant nurse. When he begins to drift about the country as an unsuccessful medical student, he looks her up in a little village in the Far West, and there she becomes his wife. She is a devoted and simple soul, who demands nothing and who patiently waits in her solitude when, bewitched by the siren of science, her husband loses himself in the labyrinths of his work.
Later she accompanies him and Sondelius to the plague-infected island where Arrowsmith wants to test his serum. Her death in the abandoned hut, while her husband listens distractedly to another and more earthy siren than that of science, seems like a poetically crowning final act to a life of primitive self-sacrificing femininity.
The book is full of admirable learning, certified by experts as being accurate. Though a master of light-winged words, Lewis is never superficial when it comes to the foundations of his art. His study of details is always as careful and thorough as that of such a scientist as Arrowsmith or Gottlieb. In this work he has built a monument to the profession of his own father, that of the physician, which certainly is not represented by a charlatan or a faker.
His big novel Elmer Gantry (1927) is like a surgical operation on one of the most delicate parts of the social body. Presumably it would not pay to search anywhere in the world for the old Puritanical virtues, but possibly one might find in some of the oldest corners of America a remnant of the sect which regarded it as a sin to remarry, once it had pleased God to make one a widower or widow, and wicked to lend money at interest. But otherwise America has no doubt had to moderate its religious rigidity. To what extent a pulpiteer like Elmer Gantry is common over there, we cannot here have the slightest idea. Neither his slapdash style of preaching with his cocky pugilistic manners («Hello, Mr. Devil») nor his successful collecting of money and men inside the gates of the church can hide the sad fact that he is an unusually foul fish. Mr. Lewis has been neither willing nor able to give him any attractive traits. But as description the book is a feat of strength, genuine and powerful, and its full-flavoured, sombre satire has a devastating effect. It is unnecessary to point out that hypocrisy thrives a little everywhere and that any one who attacks it at such a close range places himself before a hydra with many dangerous heads.
Sinclair Lewis's latest work is called Dodsworth (1929). In his books we have previously caught glimpses of the family as one of the most artistocratic in Zenith - a circle where no Babbitt ever gains admission. «Most aristocratic» probably often means in America «richest», but Sam Dodsworth is both aristocratic and rich. Even after 300 years he notices the English blood in his veins and wants to know the land of his ancestors. He is an American, but not a jingo. With him travels his wife, Fran. She is already over forty, while he is fifty. She is a cool beauty, «virginal as the winter wind», though she has grown children. In the European atmosphere she blossoms as a brilliant flower of luxury, revelling in vanity, pleasure, and selfishness. She goes so far that the quiet man who loves her has to leave her to her fate.
Once alone he meditates on the problem «Europe-America», and as a real business man he wants to clear up his accounts with both. He thinks of many things, honestly and without prejudice. One of his observations is that the very soil of Europe has some of the old-time quiet, which is scorned by America, the land of restless record-hunters. But America is the land of youth and daring experiments. And when he returns there, we understand that the heart of Sinclair Lewis follows him.
Yes, Sinclair Lewis is an American. He writes the new language - American - as one of the representatives of 120,000,000 souls. He asks us to consider that this nation is not yet finished or melted down; that it is still in the turbulent years of adolescence.
The new great American literature has started with national self-criticism. It is a sign of health. Sinclair Lewis has the blessed gift of wielding his landclearing implement not only with a firm hand but with a smile on his lips and youth in his heart. He has the manners of a new settler, who akes new land into cultivation. He is a pioneer.
Sinclair Lewis is one of the strong, young chieftains of the great new American literature.
| Sinclair Lewis
To recount my life for the Nobel Foundation, I would like to present it as possessing some romantic quality, some unique character, like Kipling's early adventures in India, or Bernard Shaw's leadership in the criticism of British arts and economics. But my life, aside from such youthful pranks as sailing on cattleships from America to England during university vacations, trying to find work in Panama during the building of the Canal, and serving for two months as janitor of Upton Sinclair's abortive co-operative colony, Helicon Hall, has been a rather humdrum chronicle of much reading, constant writing, undistinguished travel à la tripper, and several years of comfortable servitude as an editor.
I was born in a prairie village in that most Scandinavian part of America, Minnesota, the son of a country doctor, in 1885. Until I went East to Yale University I attended the ordinary public school, along with many Madsens, Olesons, Nelsons, Hedins, Larsons. Doubtless it was because of this that I made the hero of my second book, The Trail of the Hawk, a Norwegian, and Gustaf Sondelius, of Arrowsmith, a Swede - and to me, Dr. Sondelius is the favorite among all my characters.
Of Carl Ericson of The Trail of the Hawk, I wrote -back in 1914, when I was working all day as editor for the George H. Doran Publishing Company, and all evening trying to write novels - as follows:
«His carpenter father had come from Norway, by way of steerage and a farm in Wisconsin, changing his name (to Americanize it) from Ericsen... Carl was second-generation Norwegian; American-born, American in speech, American in appearance, save for his flaxen hair and china-blue eyes... When he was born the typical Americans of earlier stocks had moved to city palaces or were marooned on run-down farms. It was Carl Ericson, not a Trowbridge or a Stuyvesant or a Lee or a Grant, who was the typical American of his period. It was for him to carry on the American destiny of extending the Western horizon; his to restore the wintry Pilgrim virtues and the exuberant October, partridge-drumming days of Daniel Boone; then to add, in his own or another generation, new American aspirations for beauty.»
My university days at Yale were undistinguished save for contributions to the Yale Literary Magazine. It may be interesting to say that these contributions were most of them reeking with a banal romanticism; that an author who was later to try to present ordinary pavements trod by real boots should through university days have written nearly always of Guinevere and Lancelot - of weary bitterns among sad Irish reeds - of story-book castles with troubadours vastly indulging in wine, a commodity of which the author was singularly ignorant. What the moral is, I do not know. Whether imaginary castles at nineteen lead always to the sidewalks of Main Street at thirty-five, and whether the process might be reversed, and whether either of them is desirable, I leave to psychologists.
I drifted for two years after college as a journalist, as a newspaper reporter in Iowa and in San Francisco, as - incredibly - a junior editor on a magazine for teachers of the deaf, in Washington, D.C. The magazine was supported by Alexander Graham Bell, inventor of the telephone. What I did not know about teaching the deaf would have included the entire subject, but that did not vastly matter, as my position was so insignificant that it included typing hundreds of letters every week begging for funds for the magazine and, on days when the Negro janitress did not appear, sweeping out the office.
Doubtless this shows the advantages of a university education, and it was further shown when at the age of twenty-five I managed to get a position in a New York publishing house at all of fifteen dollars a week. This was my authentic value on the labor market, and I have always uncomfortably suspected that it would never have been much higher had I not, accidentally, possessed the gift of writing books which so acutely annoyed American smugness that some thousands of my fellow citizens felt they must read these scandalous documents, whether they liked them or not.
From that New York position till the time five years later when I was selling enough short stories to the magazines to be able to live by free-lancing, I had a series of typical white-collar, unromantic, office literary jobs with two publishing houses, a magazine (Adventure), and a newspaper syndicate, reading manuscripts, writing book advertising, writing catalogues, writing uninspired book reviews - all the carpentry and plumbing of the city of letters. Nor did my first five novels rouse the slightest whispers: Our Mr. Wrenn, The Trail of the Hawk, The Job, The Innocents, and Free Air they were called, published between 1914 and 1919, and all of them dead before the ink was dry. I lacked sense enough to see that, after five failures, I was foolish to continue writing.
Main Street, published late in 1920, was my first novel to rouse the embattled peasantry and, as I have already hinted, it had really a success of scandal. One of the most treasured American myths had been that all American villages were peculiarly noble and happy, and here an American attacked that myth. Scandalous. Some hundreds of thousands read the book with the same masochistic pleasure that one has in sucking an aching tooth.
Since Main Street, the novels have been Babbitt (1922); Arrowsmith (1925); Mantrap (1926); Elmer Gantry (1927); The Man Who Knew Coolidge (1928); and Dodsworth (1929). The next novel, yet unnamed, will concern idealism in America through three generations, from 1818 till 1930-an idealism which the outlanders who call Americans «dollar-chasers» do not understand. It will presumably be published in the autumn of 1932, and the author's chief difficulty in composing it is that, after having received the Nobel Prize, he longs to write better than he can.
I was married, in England, in 1928, to Dorothy Thompson, an American who ad been the Central European correspondent and chef de bureau of the New York Evening Post. My first marriage, to Grace Hegger, in New York, in 1914, had been dissolved.
During these years of novelwriting since 1915, I have lived a quite unromantic and unstirring life. I have travelled much; on the surface it would seem that one who during these fifteen years had been in forty states of the United States, in Canada, Mexico, England, Scotland, France, Italy, Sweden, Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia, Jugoslavia, Greece, Switzerland, Spain, the West Indies, Venezuela, Colombia, Panama, Poland, and Russia must have been adventurous. That, however, would be a typical error of biography. The fact is that my foreign travelling has been a quite uninspired recreation, a flight from reality. My real travelling has been sitting in Pullman smoking cars, in a Minnesota village, on a Vermont farm, in a hotel in Kansas City or Savannah, listening to the normal daily drone of what are to me the most fascinating and exotic people in the world - the Average Citizens of the United States, with their friendliness to strangers and their rough teasing, their passion for material advancement and their shy idealism, their interest in all the world and their boastful provincialism - the intricate complexities which an American novelist is privileged to portray.
And nowadays, at forty-six, with my first authentic home - a farm in the pastoral state of Vermont - and a baby born in June 1930, I am settled down to what I hope to be the beginning of a novelist's career. I hope the awkward apprenticeship with all its errors is nearly done.
Biographical note on Sinclair Lewis
Sinclair Lewis (1885-1951) continued to be a prolific writer, but none of his later writings equalled the success or stature of his chiefworks of the twenties. After his divorce from his second wife in 1942, Sinclair Lewis lived chiefly in Europe. His later novels include Ann Vickers (I933), It Can't Happen Here (1935), The Prodigal Parents (1938), Gideon Planish (1943), Cass Timberlane (1945), Kingsblood Royal ( 1947), The God-Seeker (1949), and World So Wide (1951). From Main Street to Stockholm: Letters of Sinclair Lewis 1919-1930 was published in 1952, one year after his death in Rome.
Sinclair Lewis died in 1951.