1908 Nobel Prize in Literature
Rudolf Christoph Eucken
"in recognition of his earnest search for truth, his penetrating power of thought, his wide range of vision, and the warmth and strength in presentation with which in his numerous works he has vindicated and developed an idealistic philosophy of life."
  • 8 October 1908 (announcement)
  • 10 December 1908
LocationStockholm, Sweden
Presented bySwedish Academy
First awarded1901
WebsiteOfficial website
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The 1908 Nobel Prize in Literature was awarded to the German philosopher Rudolf Christoph Eucken (1846–1926) "in recognition of his earnest search for truth, his penetrating power of thought, his wide range of vision, and the warmth and strength in presentation with which in his numerous works he has vindicated and developed an idealistic philosophy of life."[1] He is the second German to be awarded the prize and the first philosopher to be a recipient.[1]


Main article: Rudolf Christoph Eucken

Rudolf Eucken centered his philosophy on the human experience. He maintained that man is the meeting place of nature and spirit and that it is man's duty to overcome his nonspiritual nature by actively striving after the spiritual life. Some of his major works are Die Einheit des Geisteslebens ("The Unity of the Spiritual Life", 1888), Geistige Strömungen der Gegenwart ("Main Currents of Modern Thoughts", 1908), Der Sinn und Wert des Lebens ("The Meaning and Value of Life", 1908), Können wir noch Christen sein? ("Can We Still Be Christians?", 1911), and Der Sozialismus und seine Lebensgestaltung ("Individual and Society", 1923).[2][3]



Eucken had never been nominated for the prize before, making him one of the 10 laureates who won on a rare occasion when they have been awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature the same year they were first nominated.[4] He received a single nomination from a member of the Swedish Academy.[5]

In total, the academy received 23 nominations for 16 writers. Among the nominees include Jaroslav Vrchlický, Selma Lagerlöf (awarded in 1909), John Morley, Algernon Charles Swinburne, and Antonio Fogazzaro. Six of the nominees were newly nominated such as the controversial Elisabeth Förster-Nietzsche, Adolf von Harnack, Julio Calcaño and Edmondo De Amicis.[5]

The authors Vicente Acosta, Anton Giulio Barrili, Wilhelm Busch, Julia Abigail Cartney, Karl Josef Rudolph Cornely, Manuel Curros Enríquez, Joaquim Machado de Assis, Alexander Ertel, Carl Ewald, Louis-Honoré Fréchette, Joel Chandler Harris, Ludovic Halévy, Bronson Howard, Jonas Lie, Aurora Ljungstedt, Jadwiga Łuszczewska, Otto Pfleiderer, Anthony Winkler Prins, Maria Louise Ramé (known as Ouida), Evgeny Salias De Tournemire, Victorien Sardou, Susan Marr Spalding, Edmund Clarence Stedman, and Aleksey Zhemchuzhnikov died in 1908 without having been nominated for the prize. Italian novelist Edmondo de Amicis died months before the announcement.

Official list of nominees and their nominators for the prize
No. Nominee Country Genre(s) Nominator(s)
1 Julio Calcaño[a] (1840–1918)  Venezuela poetry, literary criticism, novel José María Manrique (1846–1907)
2 Edmondo de Amicis (1846–1908)  Italy novel, short story, poetry
3 Rudolf Christoph Eucken (1846–1926)  Germany philosophy Vitalis Norström (1856–1916)
4 Antonio Fogazzaro (1842–1911)  Italy novel, poetry, short story
5 Elisabeth Förster-Nietzsche (1846–1935)  Germany essays, autobiography Hans Vaihinger (1852–1933)
6 Ángel Guimerá Jorge (1845–1924)  Spain drama, poetry 17 members of the Reial Acadèmia de Bones Lletres de Barcelona
and a professor from the University of Barcelona
7 Alfred Hutchinson[b] (1859–1930)  United States law, essays Luther Lamphere Wright (1856–1922)
8 Selma Lagerlöf (1858–1940)  Sweden novel, short story
9 John Morley (1838–1923)  Great Britain biography, literary criticism, essays 12 members of The Incorporated Society of Authors
10 George Lansing Raymond (1839–1929)  United States essays, philosophy Charles Needham (1848–1935)
11 Georgios Souris[c] (1853–1919)  Greece poetry, songwriting name ineligible
12 Algernon Charles Swinburne (1837–1909)  Great Britain poetry, drama, literary criticism, novel 25 members of The Incorporated Society of Authors
13 Adolf von Harnack (1851–1930)  Germany history, theology Lars Dahle (1843–1925)
14 Jaroslav Vrchlický (1853–1912)  Austria-Hungary
( Czechoslovakia)
poetry, drama, translation Arnošt Kraus (1859–1943)
15 Joseph Viktor Widmann (1842–1911)   Switzerland novel, short story, drama, literary criticism 19 members of the Austrian Academy of Sciences
16 Theodor Zahn (1838–1933)  Germany theology, essays Lars Dahle (1843–1925)

Prize decision

For the 1908 prize, the main candidates were English poet Algernon Swinburne and the Swedish writer Selma Lagerlöf.[7] Nobel Committee chair Carl David af Wirsén was against Lagerlöf for her radical styles and campaigned for Swinburne.[7] Being divided between Swinburne and Lagerlöf, the committee, as a compromise choice, launched the German philosopher Rudolf Eucken as an alternative candidate that could be agreed upon and a representative of the Academy's interpretation of Nobel's ideal direction.[8][9]


The choice of philosopher Rudolf Christoph Eucken as Nobel laureate in 1908 is widely considered to be one of the worst mistakes in the history of the Nobel Prize in Literature.[8] The Swedish Academy's handling of the prize decision was heavily criticized at the time.[7] Burton Feldman, author of The Nobel Prize: A History of Geniuses Controversy, and Prestige describes Eucken as a laureate "so forgotten that even philosophers are usually surprised he was a philosopher."[10] While journalist Stuart Reid of The Atlantic describes him as "a deservedly forgotten philosopher who was never important."[11]

Nobel lecture

Eucken delivered a Nobel lecture entitled Naturalism or Idealism? on 27 March 1909 at Stockholm.[12]


  1. ^ Calcaño: Tres poetas pesimistas del siglo XIX ("Three Pessimistic Nineteenth Century Poets", 1907)[6]
  2. ^ Hutchinson: The Limit of Wealth (1907)[6]
  3. ^ Souris: Conseiller pour l'instruction publique La Canée, île de Crète ("National Education Advisers in Canée, the Island of Crete")[6]


  1. ^ a b The Nobel Prize in Literature 1905 nobelprize.org
  2. ^ Rudolf Eucken – Facts nobelprize.org
  3. ^ Rudolf Christoph Eucken britannica.com
  4. ^ Facts on the Nobel Prize in Literature nobelprize.org
  5. ^ a b Nomination archive – 1908 nobelprize.org
  6. ^ a b c Svensén, Bo. "Nobelpriset i litteratur. Nomineringar och utlåtanden 1901–1950". Swedish Academy. Retrieved 11 November 2020.
  7. ^ a b c Gustav Källstrand Andens Olympiska Spel: Nobelprisets historia, Fri Tanke 2021, p. 192
  8. ^ a b Helmer Lång, 100 nobelpris i litteratur 1901–2001, Symposion 2001, pp. 25, 56.
  9. ^ Wilhelm Odelberg, Nobel: The Man and His Prizes, p. 97.
  10. ^ Burton Feldman, The Nobel Prize: A History of Geniuses Controversy, and Prestige, p. 52
  11. ^ Stuart Reid (December 2003). "Nobel Quibbles: When it comes to the Nobel Prize, controversy and debate have always been the name of the game". The Atlantic. Retrieved 21 May 2021.
  12. ^ Nobel lecture – Rudolf Eucken nobelprize.org