“NOW, what I want is, Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else. You can only form the minds of reasoning animals upon Facts: nothing else will ever be of any service to them." --Charles Dickens, Hard Times.
When Charles Dickens wrote this quote in 1853, he was reflecting and critiquing the industrial revolution and its soul-less privileging of utility and science. However, it might be possible to argue that this quote is telling of our own times, our own privileging of science, facts and logic. So is it true that facts are the only form of knowledge that will "service" the reader?
Charles Dickens would argue "no!" While his character, Mr. Gradgrind, expounds the importance of facts, he approaches Sissy, "Girl number twenty," whose father tends to the horses in a circus, and asks her to define a horse. Gradgrind rebukes Sissy for her inability to define a horse. However, Bitzer, Sissy's classmate, manages to provide a scientific definition: "Quadruped. Graminivorous. Forty teeth, namely twenty-four grinders, four eye-teeth, and twelve incisive. Sheds coat in the spring; in marshy countries, sheds hoofs, too. Hoofs hard, but requiring to be shod with iron. Age known by marks in mouth."
While Gradgrind seems happy with this definition, the reader is ironically aware that facts, in and of themselves, are not enough. Facts, which may or may not speak to a utilitarian or scientific perspective, do not provide an image that the reader can relate to. The facts, in other words, do not speak to the essence of the horse. A definition that allows the reader to see, feel, and understand the horse--not by the number of its teeth but by its strength, power, courage and beauty--is one that the reader can relate to.
Good writing, then, is not so much concerned with facts, as accurate as they may be, as it is with
fancy and fiction. Likewise, a good writer remembers that he or she is not only a "reasoning animal," but also, and maybe more importantly, a complex feeling, relational and creative being. Good writers don't only give the facts, telling us how it is, they show us how it is. In other words, they use description, examples, evidence, comparison and detail so that we not only know intellectually what they are trying to say, but that we see it and feel it too. Dickens' factual definition (as in the one of the horse), reveals, ironically, that facts are only a small part and by no means the main part of a story.