9Fourteen years later I am still teaching, and I am here to tell you that the business of the college is not only to train you, but to put you in touch with what the best human minds have thought. If you have no time for Shakespeare, for a basic look at philosophy, for the continuity of the fine arts, for that lesson of mans development we call history — then you have no business being in college. You are on your way to being that new species of mechanized savage, the push-button Neanderthal. Our colleges inevitably graduate a number of such life forms, but it cannot be said that they went to college; rather the college went through them — without making contact.
10No one gets to be a human being unaided. There is not time enough in a single lifetime to invent for oneself everything one needs to know in order to be a civilized human.
Assume, for example, that you want to be a physicist. You pass the great stone halls of, say, M. I. T., and there cut into the stone are the names of the scientists. The chances are that few, if any, of you will leave your names to be cut into those stones. Yet any of you who managed to stay awake through part of a high school course in physics, knows more about physics than did many of those great scholars of the past. You know more because they left you what they knew, because you can start from what the past learned for you.
12And as this is true of the techniques of mankind, so it is true of mankinds spiritual resources. Most of these resources, both technical and spiritual, are stored in books. Books are mans peculiar accomplishment. When you have read a book, you have added to your human experience. Read Homer and your mind includes a piece of Homers mind. Through books you can acquire at least fragments of the mind and experience of Virgil, Dante, Shakespeare — the list is endless. For a great book is necessarily a gift; it offers you a life you have not the time to live yourself, and it takes you into a world you have not the time to travel in literal time. A civilized mind is, in essence, one that contains many such lives and many such worlds. If you are too much in a hurry, or too arrogantly proud of your own limitations, to accept as a gift to your humanity some pieces of the minds of Aristotle, or Chaucer, or Einstein, you are neither a developed human nor a useful citizen of a democracy.
13I think it was La Rochefoucauld who said that most people would never fall in love if they hadnt read about it. He might have said that no one would ever manage to become human if they hadnt read about it.
14I speak, Im sure, for the faculty of the liberal arts college and for the faculties of the specialized schools as well, when I say that a university has no real existence and no real purpose except as it succeeds in putting you in touch, both as specialists and as humans, with those human minds your human mind needs to include. The faculty, by its very existence, says implicitly: We have been aided by many people, and by many books, in our attempt to make ourselves some sort of storehouse of human experience. We are here to make available to you, as best we can, that expertise.