AT A TIME WHEN a towering personality like Mme. Curie has come to the end of her life, let us not merely rest content with recalling what she has given to mankind in the fruits of her work. It is the moral qualities of its leading personalities that are perhaps of even greater significance for a generation and for the course of history than purely intellectual accomplishments. Even these latter are, to a far greater degree than is commonly credited, dependent on the stature of character.
It was my good fortune to be linked with Mme. Curie through twenty years of sublime and unclouded friendship. I came to admire her human grandeur to an ever growing degree. Her strength, her purity of will, her austerity toward herself, her objectivity, her incorruptible judgment—all these were of a kind seldom found joined in a single individual. She felt herself at every moment to be a servant of society and her profound modesty never left any room for complacency. She was oppressed by an abiding sense for the asperities and inequities of society. This is what gave her that severe outward aspect, so easily misinterpreted by those who were not close to her—a curious severity unrelieved by any artistic strain. Once she had recognized a certain way as the right one, she pursued it without compromise and with extreme tenacity.
The greatest scientific deed of her life—proving the existence of radioactive elements and isolating them—owes its accomplishment not merely to bold intuition but to a devotion and tenacity in execution under the most extreme hardships imaginable, such as the history of experimental science has not often witnessed.
If but a small part of Mme. Curie’s strength of character and devotion were alive in Europe’s intellectuals, Europe would face a brighter future.