In today’s On the Square, Peter J. Leithart considers Wolfram Schmidgen’s new book, Exquisite Mixture: The Virtues of Impurity in Early Modern England.
The Enlightenment has a reputation for being “a movement of rationalization and simplification,” and thus prone to an obsession with purity. But is that reputation really true? Leithart and Schmidgen think not, considering examples from literature, philosophy, and even chemistry:
Robert Boyle combined ingredients in artificial compounds that had qualities not found in nature. Mixing “Corpuscles of Sand with . . . Saline ones” produced glass that is “more lasting and more unalterable” than many natural elements. Combine three ingredients and you can produce a “new Body, whose Operations are more powerful and prodigious, then those of almost any Body of Natures own compounding.” That powerful mixture was gunpowder.
Read the whole piece here.