The Vetlesen Prize

Acceptance Speech

Professor Arthur Holmes

Mr. President, Professor Ewing, Mr. Barrett Brown, and my good friends, old and new, American and British:

First of all, Mr. Barrett Brown and Professor Ewing, I must thank you both most warmly for the graceful and highly complimentary terms in which you have referred to my work and presented this great Prize and Medal.

Next, I must express to you and your colleagues of the Vetlesen Trustees my very deep regret that unstable health makes it impossible for me to undertake the journey to New York. I have such very happy memories of my last visit to the States that it would have been a great delight to come and to bring my wife. Instead, however, you have had the generous impulse to come here, and for that courtesy and consideration I am most deeply grateful.

Now I must thank you all for your warm response and especially you, Mr. President, for allowing this happy celebration to take place in these time-honoured Rooms of the Royal Society.

I need hardly tell any of you what an overwhelming surprise it was to find I had been selected for a Vetlesen Award. It was a genuine surprise, because I did not even know that there was a Vetlesen Prize until I received the intimation three months ago that this very high honour had been conferred upon me. To follow my old friend Harold Jeffreys, our most distinguished mathematical geophysicist, as the second Englishman to receive this supreme international recognition is indeed something to be proud of. It is a curious coincidence that we were both born in the early months of 1890 within five or six miles of each other in the north of England. I hope I may be forgiven if, for the moment, you have made me feel like the finest tiger in the geological jungle. But when I remember some of the older geologists whose friendship I have had the privilege of enjoying: men like Sederholm and Daly, Backlund and Lapworth, I can only wish I had been more worthy of such distinction,

You have referred, Professor Ewing, to my pioneer work in isotope geology. It was rather a struggle in the early days, when I had to endure a good deal of opposition. I well remember being violently attacked by the reader of a paper given at the Geological Society next door some fifty years ago. He insisted that the age of the Earth must be less than a hundred million years. In the discussion that followed I had occasion to refer to the isotopes of lead, then newly discovered. But isotopes did not seem to have been heard of in that audience. The reader of the paper insisted that all atoms of load must have the same atomic weight, and I found myself in an exasperated minority of one. However, I was later relieved to find that the paper was not accepted for publication.

Looking back, it is a slight consolation for the disabilities of growing old to notice that the Earth has grown older much more rapidly than I have -- from about 6,000 years when I was ten to about 4,000 or 5,000 million years by the time I had reached sixty. But it is a greater consolation to find that one's work has not gone unappreciated. I have had my share of honours and this glittering Prize is the culmination of them all.

I have not deserved these rewards unaided. My wife has been a daily and never-failing source of inspiration and encouragement. Many of you know that as Dr Doris Reynolds she has made unique and outstanding discoveries in granitisation, basic fronts and the applications of fluidisation to geology -- to mention only three of her fields of activity. Her critical judgment of my own work over the years has always been invaluable.

I must tell you that in a few weeks we shall be celebrating our silver wedding anniversary. Had I met Doris 25 years earlier it might have been a golden wedding, though I fear that at that time she would have been regarded as too young, and I should have had to wait. However, you, Professor Ewing and your colleagues of the Vetlesen Trustees, have turned this year quite literally into a golden anniversary. I can assure you all we shall both enjoy it with the delight and zest of a renewed honeymoon.

Once again, Mr. Barrett Brown and Professor Ewing, I thank you and all concerned with all my heart.

Arthur Holmes.


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