When the Swedish Academy met in 1902 to decide who was to take the second Nobel Prize in Literature, there were, basically, two names on the short-list. Some members, of course, were keen to award the prize to Leo Tolstoy, but a majority in the Academy could not bring themselves to accept the Russian’s radical views. One of the Nobel judges criticized his “narrow-minded hostility to all forms of civilization.” Tolstoy died in 1910 without ever being recognised as a Nobel Laureate. In not receiving that accolade, Tolstoy remains in the distinguished company of many other writers who have been passed over – Graham Greene, Ibsen, Proust, Joyce, Strindberg, Conrad, Kafka, Virginia Woolf, DH Lawrence, Henry James, Zola, Hardy, Colette, Valery, Malraux, Nabokov and Rilke – to name but a few.
Instead the prize went to a German historian, Theodor Mommsen (1817-1903), best known for Römische Geschichte (A History of Rome).
Mommsen had published a volume of poems during his youth, but his main interest was in Roman law. During the revolution of 1848 he edited a liberal newspaper in Schleswig-Holstein. In 1854 he married Marie Reimer, the daughter of a bookseller, with whom he sired sixteen children.
In 1882 he was tried and acquitted on a charge of slandering chancellor Otto von Bismarck. He also attacked the anti-Semitism that he found among many of his colleagues.