James Parton.

Famous Americans of Recent Times online

. (page 28 of 42)
Online LibraryJames PartonFamous Americans of Recent Times → online text (page 28 of 42)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


plodder, and by a man of great and well-controlled talent. If we were
forming a corps of twenty-five reporters, we should desire to have
five of them men of great and highly trained ability, and the rest
indefatigable, unimaginative, exact short-hand chroniclers, caring for
nothing but to get their fact and relate it in the plainest English.

There is one custom, a relic of the past, still in vogue in the
offices of daily papers, which is of an absurdity truly exquisite. It
is the practice of paying by the column, or, in other words, paying a
premium for verbosity, and imposing a fine upon conciseness. It will
often happen that information which cost three days to procure can be
well related in a paragraph, and which, if related in a paragraph,
would be of very great value to the newspaper printing it. But if the
reporter should compress his facts into that space, he would receive
for his three days' labor about what he expended in omnibus fare. Like
a wise man, therefore, he spreads them out into three columns, and
thus receives a compensation upon which life can be supported. If
matter must be paid for by the column, we would respectfully suggest
the following rates: For half a column, or less, twenty dollars; for
one column, ten dollars; for two columns, five dollars; for three
columns, nothing; for any amount beyond three columns, no insertion.

To conclude with a brief recapitulation: -

The commodity in which the publishers of daily newspapers deal is
news, i.e. information respecting recent events in which the public
take an interest, or in which an interest can be excited.

Newspapers, therefore, rank according to their excellence as
_newspapers_; and no other kind of excellence can make up for any
deficiency in the one thing for which they exist.

Consequently, the art of editorship consists in forming, handling, and
inspiring a corps of reporters; for inevitably that newspaper becomes
the chief and favorite journal which has the best corps of reporters,
and uses them best.

Editorial articles have their importance. They can be a powerful means
of advancing the civilization of a country, and of hastening the
triumph of good measures and good men; and upon the use an editor
makes of his opportunity of addressing the public in this way depends
his title to our esteem as a man and fellow-citizen. But, in a mere
business point of view, they are of inferior importance. The best
editorials cannot make, nor the worst editorials mar, the fortune of a
paper. Burke and Macaulay would not add a tenth part as many
subscribers to a daily paper as the addition to its corps of two
well-trained, ably-commanded reporters.

It is not law which ever renders the press free and independent.
Nothing is free or independent in this world which is not powerful.
Therefore, the editor who would conquer the opportunity of speaking
his mind freely, must do it by making his paper so excellent as a
vehicle of news that the public will buy it though it is a daily
disgust to them.

The Herald has thriven beyond all its competitors, because its
proprietor comprehended these simple but fundamental truths of his
vocation, and, upon the whole, has surpassed his rivals both in the
getting and in the display of intelligence. We must pronounce him the
best journalist and the worst editorialist this continent has ever
known; and accordingly his paper is generally read and its proprietor
universally disapproved.

And finally, this bad, good paper cannot be reduced to secondary rank
except by being outdone in pure journalism. The interests of
civilization and the honor of the United States require that this
should be done. There are three papers now existing - the Times, the
Tribune; and the World - which ought to do it; but if the conductors of
neither of these able and spirited papers choose to devote themselves
absolutely to this task, then we trust that soon another competitor
may enter the field, conducted by a journalist proud enough of his
profession to be satisfied with its honors. There were days last
winter on which it seemed as if the whole force of journalism in the
city of New York was expended in tingeing and perverting intelligence
on the greatest of all the topics of the time. We have read numbers of
the World (which has talent and youthful energy enough for a splendid
career) of which almost the entire contents - correspondence,
telegrams, and editorials - were spoiled for all useful purposes by the
determination of the whole corps of writers to make the news tell in
favor of a political party. We can truly aver, that journalism, pure
and simple, - journalism for its own sake, - journalism, the
dispassionate and single-eyed servant of the whole public, - does not
exist in New York during a session of Congress. It ought to exist.

[Footnote 1: We copy the following from Mr. Gowan's narrative:

"Dr. Benjamin Brandreth, of well and wide-spread reputation,
and who has made more happy and comfortable, for a longer or
shorter time, as the case may be, by his prescriptions than
any other son of Aesculapius, hailed me one day as I jumped
from a railroad car passing up and along the shores of the
Hudson River, and immediately commenced the following
narrative. He held in his hand a copy of the New York
Herald. 'Do you know,' said he, holding up the paper to my
face, 'that it was by and through your agency that this
paper ever became successful?' I replied in the negative.
'Then,' continued he, 'I will unfold the secret to you of
how you became instrumental in this matter. Shortly after my
arrival in America, I began looking about me how I was to
dispose of my pills by agents and other means. Among others,
I called upon you, then a bookseller in Chatham Street.
After some conversation on the subject of my errand, a
contract was soon entered into between us, - you to sell and
I to furnish the said pills; but,' continued he, 'these
pills will be of no use to me or any one else unless they
can be made known to the public, or rather the great herd of
the people; and that can only be done by advertising through
some paper which goes into the hands of the many. Can you
point out to me any such paper, published in the city?'
After a short pause I in substance said that there had
lately started a small penny paper, which had been making a
great noise during its existence; and I had reason to
believe it had obtained a very considerable circulation
among that class of people which he desired to reach by
advertising, and so concluded that it would be the best
paper in the city for his purpose, provided he could make
terms with the owner, who, I had no doubt, would be well
disposed, as in all probability he stood in need of
patronage of this kind. 'I immediately,' continued the
doctor, 'adopted your advice, went directly to Mr. Bennett,
made terms with him for advertising, and for a long time
paid him a very considerable sum weekly for the use of his
columns, which tended greatly to add to both his and my own
treasury. The editor of the Herald afterwards acknowledged
to me that but for his advertising patronage he would have
been compelled to collapse. Hence,' said he, 'had I never
called on you, in all probability I should not have had my
attention turned to the New York Herald; and, as a
consequence, that sheet would never have had my advertising;
and that paper would have been a thing of the past, and
perhaps entirely forgotten.'"]



CHARLES GOODYEAR.

The copy before us, of Mr. Goodyear's work upon "Gum-Elastic and its
Varieties," presents at least something unique in the art of
book-making. It is self-illustrating; inasmuch as, treating of
India-rubber, it is made of India-rubber. An unobservant reader,
however, would scarcely suspect the fact before reading the Preface,
for the India-rubber covers resemble highly polished ebony, and the
leaves have the appearance of ancient paper worn soft, thin, and dingy
by numberless perusals. The volume contains six hundred and twenty
pages; but it is not as thick as copies of the same work printed on
paper, though it is a little heavier. It is evident that the substance
of which this book is composed cannot be India-rubber in its natural
state. Those leaves, thinner than paper, can be stretched only by a
strong pull, and resume their shape perfectly when they are let go.
There is no smell of India-rubber about them. We first saw this book
in a cold room in January, but the leaves were then as flexible as old
paper; and when, since, we have handled it in warm weather, they had
grown no softer.

Some of our readers may have heard Daniel Webster relate the story of
the India-rubber cloak and hat which one of his New York friends sent
him at Marshfield in the infancy of the manufacture. He took the cloak
to the piazza one cold morning, when it instantly became as rigid as
sheet-iron. Finding that it stood alone, he placed the hat upon it,
and left the articles standing near the front door. Several of his
neighbors who passed, seeing a dark and portly figure there, took it
for the lord of the mansion, and gave it respectful salutation. The
same articles were liable to an objection still more serious. In the
sun, even in cool weather, they became sticky, while on a hot day they
would melt entirely away to the consistency of molasses. Every one
remembers the thick and ill-shaped India-rubber shoes of twenty years
ago, which had to be thawed out under the stove before they could be
put on, and which, if left under the stove too long, would dissolve
into gum that no household art could ever harden again. Some decorous
gentlemen among us can also remember that, in the nocturnal combats of
their college days, a flinty India-rubber shoe, in cold weather, was a
missive weapon of a highly effective character.

This curious volume, therefore, cannot be made of the unmanageable
stuff which Daniel Webster set up at his front door. So much is
evident at a glance. But the book itself tells us that it can be
subjected, without injury, to tests more severe than summer's sun and
winter's cold. It can be soaked six months in a pail of water, and
still be as good a book as ever. It can be boiled; it can be baked in
an oven hot enough to cook a turkey; it can be soaked in brine, lye,
camphene, turpentine, or oil; it can be dipped into oil of vitriol,
and still no harm done. To crown its merits, no rat, mouse, worm, or
moth has ever shown the slightest inclination to make acquaintance
with it. The office of a Review is not usually provided with the means
of subjecting literature to such critical tests as lye, vitriol,
boilers, and hot ovens. But we have seen enough elsewhere of the
ordeals to which India-rubber is now subjected to believe Mr.
Goodyear's statements. Remote posterity will enjoy the fruit of his
labors, unless some one takes particular pains to destroy this book;
for it seems that time itself produces no effect upon the India-rubber
which bears the familiar stamp, "GOODYEAR'S PATENT." In the dampest
corner of the dampest cellar, no mould gathers upon it, no decay
penetrates it. In the hottest garret, it never warps or cracks.

The principal object of the work is to relate how this remarkable
change was effected in the nature of the substance of which it treats.
It cost more than two millions of dollars to do it. It cost Charles
Goodyear eleven most laborious and painful years. His book is written
without art or skill, but also without guile.

He was evidently a laborious, conscientious, modest man, neither
learned nor highly gifted, but making no pretence to learning or
gifts, doing the work which fell to him with all his might, and with a
perseverance never surpassed in all the history of invention and
discovery. Who would have thought to find a romance in the history of
India-rubber? We are familiar with the stories of poor and friendless
men, possessed with an idea and pursuing their object, amid obloquy,
neglect, and suffering, to the final triumph; of which final triumph
other men reaped the substantial reward, leaving to the discoverer the
barren glory of his achievement, - and that glory obscured by
detraction. Columbus is the representative man of that illustrious
order. We trust to be able to show that Charles Goodyear is entitled
to a place in it. Whether we consider the prodigious and unforeseen
importance of his discovery, or his scarcely paralleled devotion to
his object, in the face of the most disheartening obstacles, we feel
it to be due to his memory, to his descendants, and to the public,
that his story should be told. Few persons will ever see his book, of
which only a small number of copies were printed for private
circulation. Still fewer will be at the pains to pick out the material
facts from the confused mass of matter in which they are hidden.
Happily for our purpose, no one now has an interest to call his merits
in question. He rests from his labors, and the patent, which was the
glory and misery of his life, has expired.

Our great-grandfathers knew India-rubber only as a curiosity, and our
grandfathers only as a means of erasing pencil-marks. The first
specimens were brought to Europe in 1730; and as late as 1770 it was
still so scarce an article, that in London it was only to be found in
one shop, where a piece containing half a cubic inch was sold for
three shillings. Dr. Priestley, in his work on perspective, published
in 1770, speaks of it as a new article, and recommends its use to
draughtsmen. This substance, however, being one of those of which
nature has provided an inexhaustible supply, greater quantities found
their way into the commerce of the world; until, in 1820, it was a
drug in all markets, and was frequently brought as ballast merely.
About this time it began to be subjected to experiments with
a view to rendering it available in the arts. It was found useful
as an ingredient of blacking and varnish. Its elasticity was
turned to account in France in the manufacture of suspenders and
garters, - threads of India-rubber being inserted in the web. In
England, Mackintosh invented his still celebrated water-proof coats,
which are made of two thin cloths with a paste of India-rubber between
them. In chemistry, the substance was used to some extent, and its
singular properties were much considered. In England and France, the
India-rubber manufacture had attained considerable importance before
the material had attracted the attention of American experimenters.
The Europeans succeeded in rendering it useful because they did not
attempt too much. The French cut the imported sheets of gum into
shreds, without ever attempting to produce the sheets themselves.
Mackintosh exposed no surface of India-rubber to the air, and brought
no surfaces of India-rubber into contact. No one had discovered any
process by which India-rubber once dissolved could be restored to its
original consistency. Some of our readers may have attempted, twenty
years ago, to fill up the holes in the sole of an India-rubber shoe.
Nothing was easier than to melt a piece of India-rubber for the
purpose; but, when applied to the shoe, it would not harden. There was
the grand difficulty, the complete removal of which cost so much money
and so many years.

The ruinous failure of the first American manufacturers arose from the
fact that they began their costly operations in ignorance of the
existence of this difficulty. They were too fast. They proceeded in
the manner of the inventor of the caloric engine, who began by placing
one in a ship of great magnitude, involving an expenditure which
ruined the owners.

It was in the year 1820 that a pair of India-rubber shoes was seen for
the first time in the United States. They were covered with gilding,
and resembled in shape the shoes of a Chinaman. They were handed about
in Boston only as a curiosity. Two or three years after, a ship from
South America brought to Boston five hundred pairs of shoes, thick,
heavy, and ill-shaped, which sold so readily as to invite further
importations. The business increased until the annual importation
reached half a million pairs, and India-rubber shoes had become an
article of general use. The manner in which these shoes were made by
the natives of South America was frequently described in the
newspapers, and seemed to present no difficulty. They were made much
as farmers' wives, made candles. The sap being collected from the
trees, clay lasts were dipped into the liquid twenty or thirty times,
each layer being smoked a little. The shoes were then hung up to
harden for a few days; after which the clay was removed, and the shoes
were stored for some months to harden them still more. Nothing was
more natural than to suppose that Yankees could do this as well as
Indians, if not far better. The raw India-rubber could then be bought
in Boston for five cents a pound, and a pair of shoes made of it
brought from three to five dollars. Surely here was a promising basis
for a new branch of manufacture in New England. It happened too, in
1830, that vast quantities of the raw gum reached the United States.
It came covered with hides, in masses, of which no use could be made
in America; and it remained unsold, or was sent to Europe.

Patent-leather suggested the first American attempt to turn
India-rubber to account. Mr. E.M. Chaffee, foreman of a Boston
patent-leather factory conceived the idea, in 1830, of spreading
India-rubber upon cloth, hoping to produce an article which should
possess the good qualities of patent-leather, with the additional one
of being water-proof. In the deepest secrecy he experimented for
several months. By dissolving a pound of India rubber in three quarts
of spirits of turpentine, and adding lampblack enough to give it the
desired color, he produced a composition which he supposed would
perfectly answer the purpose. He invented a machine for spreading it,
and made some specimens of cloth, which had every appearance of being
a very useful article. The surface, after being dried in the sun, was
firm and smooth; and Mr. Chaffee supposed, and his friends agreed with
him, that he had made an invention of the utmost value. At this point
he invited a few of the solid men of Roxbury to look at his specimens
and listen to his statements. He convinced them. The result of the
conference was the Roxbury India-rubber Company, incorporated in
February, 1833, with a capital of thirty thousand dollars.

The progress of this Company was amazing. Within a year its capital
was increased to two hundred and forty thousand dollars. Before
another year had expired, this was increased to three hundred
thousand; and in the year following, to four hundred thousand. The
Company manufactured the cloth invented by Mr. Chaffee, and many
articles made of that cloth, such as coats, caps, wagon-curtains and
coverings. Shoes, made without fibre, were soon introduced. Nothing
could be better than the appearance of these articles when they were
new. They were in the highest favor, and were sold more rapidly than
the Company could manufacture them. The astonishing prosperity of the
Roxbury Company had its natural effect in calling into existence
similar establishments in other towns. Manufactories were started at
Boston, Framingham, Salem, Lynn, Chelsea, Troy, and Staten Island,
with capitals ranging from one hundred thousand dollars to half a
million; and all of them appeared to prosper. There was an
India-rubber mania in those years similar to that of petroleum in
1864. Not to invest in India-rubber stock was regarded by some shrewd
men as indicative of inferior business talents and general dulness of
comprehension. The exterior facts were certainly well calculated to
lure even the most wary. Here was a material worth only a few cents a
pound, out of which shoes were quickly made, which brought two dollars
a pair! It was a plain case. Besides, there were the India-rubber
Companies, all working to their extreme capacity, and selling all they
could make.

It was when the business had reached this flourishing stage that
Charles Goodyear, a bankrupt hardware merchant of Philadelphia, first
had his attention directed to the material upon which it was founded.
In 1834, being in New York on business, he chanced to observe the sign
of the Roxbury Company, which then had a depot in that city. He had
been reading in the newspapers, not long before, descriptions of the
new life-preservers made of India-rubber, an application of the gum
that was much extolled. Curiosity induced him to enter the store to
examine the life-preservers. He bought one and took it home with him.
A native of Connecticut, he possessed in full measure the Yankee
propensity to look at a new contrivance, first with a view to
understand its principle, and next to see if it cannot be improved.
Already he had had some experience both of the difficulty of
introducing an improved implement, and of the profit to be derived
from its introduction. His father, the head of the firm of A. Goodyear
and Sons, of which he was a member, was the first to manufacture
hay-forks of spring steel, instead of the heavy, wrought-iron forks
made by the village blacksmith; and Charles Goodyear could remember
the time when his father reckoned it a happy day on which he had
persuaded a farmer to accept a few of the new forks as a gift, on the
condition of giving them a trial. But it was also very fresh in his
recollection that those same forks had made their way to almost
universal use, had yielded large profits to his firm, and were still a
leading article of its trade, when, in 1830, the failure of Southern
houses had compelled it to suspend. He was aware, too, that, if
anything could extricate the house of A. Goodyear and Sons from
embarrassment, it was their possession of superior methods of
manufacturing and their sale of articles improved by their own
ingenuity.

Upon examining his life-preserver, an improvement in the inflating
apparatus occurred to him. When he was next in New York he explained
his improvement to the agent of the Roxbury Company, and offered to
sell it. The agent, struck with the ingenuity displayed in the new
contrivance, took the inventor into his confidence, partly by way of
explaining why the Company could not then buy the improved tube, but
principally with a view to enlist the aid of an ingenious mind in
overcoming a difficulty that threatened the Company with ruin. He told
him that the prosperity of the India-rubber Companies in the United
States was wholly fallacious. The Roxbury Company had manufactured
vast quantities of shoes and fabrics in the cool months of 1833 and
1834, which had been readily sold at high prices; but during the
following summer, the greater part of them had melted. Twenty thousand
dollars' worth had been returned, reduced to the consistency of common
gum, and emitting an odor so offensive that they had been obliged to
bury it. New ingredients had been employed, new machinery applied, but
still the articles would dissolve. In some cases, shoes had borne the
heat of one summer, and melted the next. The wagon-covers became
sticky in the sun, and rigid in the cold. The directors were at their
wits' end; - since it required two years to test a new process, and
meanwhile they knew not whether the articles made by it were valuable
or worthless. If they stopped manufacturing, that was certain ruin. If
they went on, they might find the product of a whole winter dissolving
on their hands. The capital of the Company was already so far
exhausted, that, unless the true method were speedily discovered, it
would be compelled to wind up its affairs. The agent urged Mr.
Goodyear not to waste time upon minor improvements, but to direct all
his efforts to finding out the secret of successfully working the
material itself. The Company could not buy his improved inflator; but
let him learn how to make an India-rubber that would stand the
summer's heat, and there was scarcely any price which it would not
gladly give for the secret.

The worst apprehensions of the directors of this Company were
realized. The public soon became tired of buying India-rubber shoes
that could only be saved during the summer by putting them into a
refrigerator. In the third year of the mania, India-rubber stock began
to decline, and Roxbury itself finally fell to two dollars and a half.
Before the close of 1836, all the Companies had ceased to exist, their



Online LibraryJames PartonFamous Americans of Recent Times → online text (page 28 of 42)