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I am trying to understand a sentence from Nernst's Nobel Lecture in Chemistry. He was a German however, his lecture is in English. It is a very nice introduction however the last part is difficult for me as a non-native English user. The quote is as follows "But the fact that a prize is awarded to an individual who, as a child of his time and equipped with the logical and experimental methods of his time, is really only able, by climbing on the shoulders of his predecessors, perhaps to see a little further in some direction than anybody else before him - does not this fact lead to such strong individualization that his personality must obtrude more than usual into his grateful reply?"

What does the part in italics (my own) mean? The part which confuses me is the meaning of "...personality must obtrude more than usual into his grateful reply?"

Thanks.

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The quote appears near the beginning of Nernst's lecture. Its full context reads:

Thus, my lecture will take on a highly personal note, and generally speaking it is better, where possible in natural science, to study objects of research independently of the accidents of their historical development. But the fact that a prize is awarded to an individual who, as a child of his time and equipped with the logical and experimental methods of his time, is really only able, by climbing on the shoulders of his predecessors, perhaps to see a little further in some direction than anybody else before him - does not this fact lead to such strong individualization that his personality must obtrude more than usual into his grateful reply?

Thus, Nernst declares that his lecture will be of a highly personal nature. He then gives his reasoning for delivering a lecture of a more personal nature than is "usual" in Nobel lectures; concluding the sentence by emphasizing his reasoning for justifying a personal approach by stating "does not this fact lead to such strong individualization that his personality must obtrude more than usual into his grateful reply?" In other words, my lecture may be of a more personal nature than one would expect for the reasons just given - i.e., my personality obtrudes into my lecture material.

It is also worth mentioning that Einstein commented on Nernst's "child-like vanity", so this is more likely the reason his personality obtruded into his lecture.

  • Thanks for input. So his "grateful reply" is the lecture itself. I was confused by his "grateful reply". – M. Farooq Feb 25 at 2:06
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    @M.Farooq Indeed, his grateful reply is to the honour of giving the lecture. Sorry if I misunderstood the question. – Nick Feb 25 at 2:08
  • Makes sense now thanks. I really like his quote specially the part on climbing on the shoulders... I was wondering about it for several years. Asked a native speaker as well but he could not explain it well. – M. Farooq Feb 25 at 2:11
  • @M.Farooq I'm sure you are already aware that Nernst's use of "climbing on the shoulders" is a reference to Newton's comment "standing on the shoulders of giants". – Nick Feb 25 at 2:15
  • Interesting. No I wasn't aware of Newton's quote. Wikipedia has a whole article on it. Thanks for the pointer. – M. Farooq Feb 25 at 2:19

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