by Preston MacDougall
February 13, 2006
In fact, chemistry and romance have a long history. A comparison of books on Western civilization, and the history of science, will reveal that physics became King of the sciences during the Enlightenment, while chemistry became their Queen with the inadvertent help of Romanticism.
I'm not sure, but it is certainly possible that this is the origin of a common description of two people who are in love: "the chemistry between them is magical."
Poets, such as Samuel Coleridge and Robert Southey, were known to frequent public lectures on chemistry, many by London chemist Humphry Davy, in search of their next sublime metaphor. Davy has even been described as Lord Byron of Chemistry. His lectures featured titillating demonstrations of chemistry, such as the jocular effects of inhaling nitrous oxide. (Kids, don't try this at home.) Coleridge wrote famously of this gas's tendency to make him want to laugh when he looked at people. Young women in London pined publicly outside his laboratory when Davy ailed gravely.
To revisit this long-lost sentimentality, I would like to chemically paraphrase John Lennon's famous theorem. First, however, I need to tell you that the most important thing about chemical reactions is that they try to reach equilibrium. Or, to put it in thermodynamic terms, when they occur in the open, they seek to minimize their Gibbs energy, which is universally given the symbol capital G. Graphically, and truthfully, one can say that reacting molecules spontaneously find the lowest spot on their G-curves. Getting back to the Beatles, perhaps the love you take is in equilibrium with the love you make?
Closer to home, children are both the product of love, and seemingly able to spontaneously generate it, even where none existed before. This is a feat that chemists are unable to rise to, as atoms are never created nor destroyed during chemical reactions.
"Good Night Moon" is probably the highest-charting of Margaret Wise Brown's children's books, and if I've read it once, I've read it a hundred times, each, to my three children. But my personal favorite of hers is "The Important Book". It teaches the staple lesson of its genre: that a child's parents love them for who they are.
It also teaches a second, very pragmatic lesson as well: to prioritize. For instance, one page has an illustration of a glass with daisies and water in it, and the caption is "The important thing about glass, is that you can see through it." That's it. Elsewhere in the book, there are busy illustrations, sometimes with poetic descriptions, but always a primary truth. The final page teaches the foremost lesson, and instead of a busy illustration, there is a mirror overwritten with the words "you are you."
What the book doesn't have is a page about love itself. I can see that this might be too existential for a two-year old. Perhaps the author wrote another book for wives to read to their husbands, which I have yet to find, or be given. If she did, I imagine that it would have a picture of a Valentine's Day card, and the caption would simply be "The important thing about love is that you show it."
Here's wishing you a lovely
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