Famous Americans of Recent Times
by James Parton
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11  12     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

"There must be a thorough reformation and revolution in the American Catholic Church. Education must be more attended to. We never knew one priest who believed that he ate the Divinity when he took the Eucharist. If we must have a Pope, let us have a Pope of our own,—an American Pope, an intellectual, intelligent, and moral Pope,—not such a decrepit, licentious, stupid, Italian blockhead as the College of Cardinals at Rome condescends to give the Christian world of Europe."

This might be good advice; but no serious Protestant, at that day, could relish the tone in which it was given. Threatening letters were sent in from irate and illiterate Irishmen; the Herald was denounced from a Catholic pulpit; its carriers were assaulted on their rounds; but the paper won no friends from the side which it affected to espouse. Every one felt that to this man nothing was sacred, or August, or venerable, or even serious. He was like an unbeliever in a party composed of men of various sects. The Baptist could fairly attack an Episcopalian, because he had convictions of his own that could be assaulted; but this stranger, who believed nothing and respected nothing, could not be hit at all. The result would naturally be, that the whole company would turn upon him as upon a common foe.

So in politics. Perhaps the most serious and sincere article he ever wrote on a political subject was one that appeared in November, 1836, in which he recommended the subversion of republican institutions and the election of an emperor. If he ever had a political conviction, we believe he expressed it then. After a rigmarole of Roman history and Augustus Caesar, he proceeded thus:—-

"Shall we not profit by these examples of history? Let us, for the sake of science, art, and civilization, elect at this election General Jackson, General Harrison, Martin Yan Buren, Hugh White, or Anybody, we care not whom, the EMPEROR of this great REPUBLIC for life, and have done with this eternal turmoil and confusion. Perhaps Mr. Van Buren would be the best Augustus Caesar. He is sufficiently corrupt, selfish, and heartless for that dignity. He has a host of favorites that will easily form a Senate. He has a court in preparation, and the Praetorian bands in array. He can pick up a Livia anywhere. He has violated every pledge, adopted and abandoned every creed, been for and against every measure, is a believer in all religions by turns, and, like the first Caesar, has always been a republican and taken care of number one. He has called into action all the ragged adventurers from every class, and raised their lands, stocks, lots, and places without end. He is smooth, agreeable, oily, as Octavianus was. He has a couple of sons, also, who might succeed him and preserve the imperial line. We may be better off under an Emperor,—we could not be worse off as a nation than we are now. Besides, who knows but Van Buren is of the blood of the great Julius himself? That great man conquered all Gaul and Helvetia, which in those days comprised Holland. Caius Julius Caesar may thus have laid the foundation of a royal line to be transmitted to the West. There is a prophecy in Virgil's 'Pollio' evidently alluding to Van. But of this another day."

A man who writes in this way may have readers, but he can have no friends. An event occurred in his first year which revealed this fact to him in an extremely disagreeable manner. There was then upon the New York stage a notoriously dissolute actor, who, after outraging the feelings of his wife in all the usual modes, completed his infamy by denouncing her from the stage of a crowded theatre. The Herald took her part, which would naturally have been the popular side. But when the actor retorted by going to the office of the Herald and committing upon its proprietor a most violent and aggravated assault, accompanying his blows with acts of peculiar indecency, it plainly appeared, that the sympathies of the public were wholly with the actor,—not with the champion of an injured woman. His hand had been against every man, and in his hour of need, when he was greatly in the right, every heart was closed against him. Not the less, however, did the same public buy his paper, because it contained what the public wanted, i.e. the news of the day, vividly exhibited.

The course of this curious specimen of our kind during the late war was perfectly characteristic. During the first two years of the war he was inclined to think that the Rebels would be successful so far as to win over the Democratic party to their side, and thus constitute Jefferson Davis President of the United States. If he had any preference as to the result of the contest, it was probably this. If the flag of the United States had been trailed in the mud of Nassau Street, followed by hooting ruffians from the Sixth Ward, and the symbol of the Rebellion had floated in its stead from the cupola of the City Hall, saluted by Captain Rynders's gun, it would not have cost this isolated alien one pang,—unless, perchance, a rival newspaper had been the first to announce the fact. That indeed, would have cut him to the heart. Acting upon the impression that the Rebellion, in some way, would triumph, he gave it all the support possible, and continued to do so until it appeared certain that, whatever the issue of the strife, the South was lost for a long time as a patron of New York papers.

The key to most of the political vagaries of this paper is given in a single sentence of one of its first numbers: "We have never been in a minority, and we never shall be" In his endeavors to act upon this lofty principle, he was sadly puzzled during the war,—so difficult was it to determine which way the cat would finally jump. He held himself ready, however, to jump with it, whichever side the dubious animal might select. At the same time, he never for an instant relaxed his endeavors to obtain the earliest and fullest intelligence from the seat of war. Never perhaps did any journal in any country maintain so great an expenditure for news. Every man in the field representing that paper was more than authorized—he was encouraged and commanded—to incur any expense whatever that might be necessary either in getting or forwarding intelligence. There were no rigid or grudging scrutiny of reporters' drafts; no minute and insulting inquiries respecting the last moments of a horse ridden to death in the service; no grumbling about the precise terms of a steamboat charter, or a special locomotive. A reporter returning from the army laden with information, procured at a lavish expense, was received in the office like a conqueror coming home from a victorious campaign, and he went forth again full of courage and zeal, knowing well that every man employed on the Herald was advancing himself when he served the paper well. One great secret of success the proprietor of the Herald knows better than most;—he knows how to get out of those who serve him all there is in them; he knows how to reward good service; he knows a man's value to him. There is no newspaper office in the world where real journalistic efficiency is more certain to meet prompt recognition and just reward than in this. Not much may be said to a laborious reporter about the hits he is making; but, on some Saturday afternoon, when he draws his salary, he finds in his hands a larger amount than usual. He hands it back to have the mistake corrected, and he is informed that his salary is raised.

The Herald, too, systematically prepares the way for its reporters. Some of our readers may remember how lavishly this paper extolled General McClellan during the time of his glory, and indeed as long as he held the chief command. One of the results of this policy was, that, while the reporters of other papers were out in the cold, writing in circumstances the most inconvenient, those of the Herald, besides being supplied with the best information, were often writing in a warm apartment or commodious tent, not far from head-quarters or at head-quarters. As long as General Butler held a command which gave him control over one of the chief sources of news, the Herald hoarded its private grudge against him; but the instant he was removed from command, the Herald was after him in full cry. If, to-morrow, the same General should be placed in a position which should render his office a source of important intelligence, we should probably read in the Herald the most glowing eulogiums of his career and character.

What are we to think of a man who is at once so able and so false? It would be incorrect to call him a liar, because he is wanting in that sense of truth by violating which a man makes himself a liar. We cannot call him a traitor, for his heart knows no country; nor an infidel, for all the serious and high concerns of man are to him a jest. Defective is the word to apply to such as he. As far as he goes, he is good; and if the commodity in which he deals were cotton or sugar, we could commend his enterprise and tact. He is like the steeple of a church in New York, which was built up to a certain height, when the material gave out, and it was hastily roofed in, leaving the upper half of the architect's design unexecuted. That region of the mind where conviction, the sense of truth and honor, public spirit and patriotism have their sphere, is in this man mere vacancy. But, we repeat, as far as he is built up, he is very well constructed. Visit him: you see before you a quiet-mannered, courteous, and good-natured old gentleman, who is on excellent terms with himself and with the world. If you are a poor musician, about to give a concert, no editor is more likely than he to lend a favorable ear to your request for a few lines of preliminary notice. The persons about him have been very long in his employment, and to some of them he has been munificently liberal. The best of them appear to be really attached to his person, as well as devoted to his service, and they rely on him as sailors rely on a captain who has brought them safe through a thousand storms. He has the Celtic virtue of standing by those who stand by him developed to the uttermost degree. Many a slight favor bestowed upon him in his days of obscurity he has recompensed a thousand-fold since he has had the power to do so. We cannot assign a very exalted rank in the moral scale to a trait which some of the lowest races possess in an eminent degree, and which easily runs into narrowness and vice; nevertheless, it is akin to nobleness, and is the nearest approach to a true generosity that some strong natures can attain.

What are we to say of the public that has so resolutely sustained this paper, which the outside world so generally condemns? We say this. Every periodical that thrives supplies the public with a certain description of intellectual commodity, which the public is willing to pay for. The New York Ledger, for example, exists by furnishing stories and poetry adapted to the taste of the greatest number of the people. Our spirited friends of The Nation and Round Table supply criticism and that portion of the news which is of special interest to the intellectual class. The specialty of the daily newspaper is to give that part of the news of the day which interests the whole public. A complete newspaper contains more than this; but it ranks in the world of journalism exactly in the degree to which it does this. The grand object of the true journalist is to be fullest, promptest, and most correct on the one uppermost topic of the hour. That secured, he may neglect all else. The paper that does this oftenest is the paper that will find most purchasers; and no general excellence, no array of information on minor or special topics, will ever atone for a deficiency on the subject of most immediate and universal interest. During the war this fundamental truth of journalism was apparent to every mind. In time of peace, it is less apparent, but not less a truth. In the absence of an absorbing topic, general news rises in importance, until, in the dearth of the dogdays, the great cucumber gets into type; but the great point of competition is still the same,—to be fullest, quickest, and most correct upon the subject most interesting at the moment.

But every periodical, besides its specialty on which it lives, gives its readers something more. It need not, but it does. The universal Ledger favors its readers with many very excellent essays, written for it by distinguished clergymen, editors, and authors, and gives its readers a great deal of sound advice in other departments of the paper. It need not do this; these features do not materially affect the sale of the paper, as its proprietor well knows. The essays of such men as Mr. Everett and Mr. Bancroft do not increase the sale of the paper one hundred copies a week. Those essays are read and admired, and contribute their quota toward the education of the people, and reflect honor upon the liberal and enterprising man who publishes them; but scarcely any one buys the paper for their sake. People almost universally buy a periodical for the special thing which it has undertaken to furnish; and it is by supplying this special thing that an editor attains his glorious privilege and opportunity of addressing a portion of the people on other topics. This opportunity he may neglect; he may abuse it to the basest purposes, or improve it to the noblest, but whichever of these things he does, it does not materially affect the prosperity of his paper,—always supposing that his specialty is kept up with the requisite vigor. We have gone over the whole history of journalism, and we find this to be its Law of Nature, to which there are only apparent exceptions.

All points to this simple conclusion, which we firmly believe to be the golden rule of journalism:—that daily newspaper which has the best corps of reporters, and handles them best, necessarily takes the lead of all competitors.

There are journalists who say (we have often heard them in conversation) that this is a low view to take of their vocation. It is of no importance whether a view is high or low, provided it is correct. But we cannot agree with them that this is a low view. We think it the highest possible. Regarded as instructors of the people, they wield for our warning and rebuke, for our encouragement and reward, an instrument which is like the dread thunderbolt of Jove, at once the most terrible and the most beneficent,—publicity. Some years ago, a number of ill-favored and prurient women and a number of licentious men formed themselves into a kind of society for the purpose of devising and promulgating a theory to justify the gratification of unbridled lust. They were called Free-Lovers. To have assailed their nightly gatherings in thundering editorial articles would have only advertised them; but a detailed report of their proceedings in the Tribune scattered these assemblies in a few days, to meet no more except in secret haunts. Recently, we have seen the Fenian wind-bag first inflated, then burst, by mere publicity. The Strong Divorce Case, last year, was a nauseous dose, which we would have gladly kept out of the papers; but since it had to appear, it was a public benefit to have it given, Herald-fashion, with all its revolting particulars. What a punishment to the guilty! what a lesson to the innocent! what a warning to the undetected! How much beneficial reflection and conversation it excited! How necessary, in an age of sensation morals and free-love theories, to have self-indulgence occasionally exhibited in all its hideous nastiness, and without any of its fleeting, deceptive, imaginary charms! The instantaneous detection of the Otero murderers last autumn, and of the robbers of Adams's express-car last winter, as related in the daily papers, and the picture presented by them of young Ketchum seated at work in the shoe-shop of Sing-Sing Prison, were equivalent to the addition of a thousand men to the police force. Herein lies the power of such a slight person as the editor of the Herald. It is not merely that he impudently pulls your nose, but he pulls it in the view of a million people.

Nor less potent is publicity as a means of reward. How many brave hearts during the late war felt themselves far more than repaid for all their hardships in the field and their agony in the hospital by reading their names in despatches, or merely in the list of wounded, and thinking of the breakfast-tables far away at which that name had been spied out and read with mingled exultation and pity. "Those who love me know that I did my duty,—it is enough."

Our whole observation of the daily press convinces us that its power to do good arises chiefly from its giving the news of the day; and its power to do harm chiefly from its opportunity to comment upon the news. Viewed only as a vehicle of intelligence, the Herald has taught the journalists of the United States the greater part of all that they yet know of their profession; regarded as an organ of opinion, it has done all that it was ever possible for a newspaper to do in perverting public opinion, debauching public taste, offending public morals, and dishonoring the national character.

The question arises, Why has not this paper been long ago outdone in giving the news? It has always been possible to suppress it by surpassing it. Its errors have given its rivals an immense advantage over it; for it has always prospered, not in consequence of its badness, but of its goodness. We are acquainted with two foolish young patriots who were wrought up to such a frenzy of disgust by its traitorous course during the first half of our late war, that they seriously considered whether there was any way in which they could so well serve their country in its time of need, as by slaying that pernicious and insolent editor; but both of those amiable lunatics were compelled occasionally to buy the paper. Of late, too, we have seen vast audiences break forth into wild hootings at the mention of its name; but not the less did the hooters buy it the next morning. Nevertheless, as soon as there exists a paper which to the Herald's good points adds the other features of a complete newspaper, and avoids its faults, from that hour the Herald wanes and falls speedily to the second rank.

Two men have had it in their power to produce such a newspaper,—Horace Greeley and Henry J. Raymond. In 1841, when the Herald was six years old, the Tribune appeared, edited by Mr. Greeley, with Mr. Raymond as his chief assistant. Mr. Greeley was then, and is now, the best writer of editorials in the United States; that is, he can produce a greater quantity of telling editorial per annum than any other individual. There never lived a man capable of working more hours in a year than he. Strictly temperate in his habits, and absolutely devoted to his work, he threw himself into this enterprise with an ardor never surpassed since Adam first tasted the sweets of honorable toil. Mr. Raymond, then recently from college, very young, wholly inexperienced, was endowed with an admirable aptitude for the work of journalism, and a power of getting through its routine labors,—a sustained, calm, swift industry,—unsurpassed at that time in the American press. The business of the paper was also well managed by Mr. McElrath. In the hands of these able men, the new paper made such rapid advances, that, in the course of a few months, it was fairly established, and in a year or two it had reached a circulation equal to that of the Herald. One after another, excellent writers were added to its corps;—the vigorous, prompt, untiring Dana; George Ripley, possessing that blending of scholarship and tact, that wisdom of the cloister and knowledge of the world, which alone could fit a man of great learning and talent for the work of a daily newspaper; Margaret Fuller, whose memory is still green in so many hearts; Bayard Taylor, the versatile, and others, less universally known.

Why, then, did not this powerful combination supplant the Herald? If mere ability in the writing of a newspaper; if to have given an impulse to thought and enterprise; if to have won the admiration and gratitude of a host of the best men and women in America; if to have inspired many thousands of young men with better feelings and higher purposes than they would else have attained; if to have shaken the dominion of superstition, and made it easier for men to think freely, and freely utter their thought; if to have produced a newspaper more interesting than any other in the world to certain classes in the community;—if all these things had sufficed to give a daily paper the first position in the journalism of a country, then the Tribune would long ago have attained that position; for all these things, and many more, the Tribune did. But they do not suffice. Such things may be incidental to a great success: they cannot cause it. Great journalism—journalism pure and simple—alone can give a journal the first place. If Mr. Raymond had been ten years older, and had founded and conducted the paper, with Mr. Greeley as his chief writer of editorials,—that is, if the journalist had been the master of the journal, instead of the writer, the politician, and the philanthropist,—the Tribune might have won the splendid prize. Mr. Greeley is not a great journalist. He has regarded journalism rather as a disagreeable necessity of his vocation, and uniformly abandoned the care of it to others. An able man generally gets what he ardently seeks. Mr. Greeley produced just such a paper as he himself would have liked to take, but not such a paper as the public of the island of Manhattan prefers. He regards this as his glory. We cannot agree with him, because his course of management left the field to the Herald, the suppression of which was required by the interests of civilization.

The Tribune has done great and glorious things for us. Not free, of course, from the errors which mark all things human, it has been, and is, a civilizing power in this land. We hope to have the pleasure of reading it every day for the rest of our lives. One thing it has failed to do,—to reduce the Herald to insignificance by surpassing it in the particulars in which it is excellent. We have no right to complain. We only regret that the paper representing the civilization of the country should not yet have attained the position which would have given it the greatest power.

Mr. Raymond, also, has had it in his power to render this great service to the civilization and credit of the United States. The Daily Times, started in 1852, retarded for a while by a financial error, has made such progress toward the goal of its proprietors' ambition, that it is now on the home stretch, only a length or two behind. The editor of this paper is a journalist; he sees clearly the point of competition; he knows the great secret of his trade. The prize within his reach is splendid. The position of chief journalist gives power enough to satisfy any reasonable ambition, wealth enough to glut the grossest avarice, and opportunity of doing good sufficient for the most public-spirited citizen. What is there in political life equal to it? We have no right to remark upon any man's choice of a career; but this we may say,—that the man who wins the first place in the journalism of a free country must concentrate all his powers upon that one work, and, as an editor, owe no allegiance to party. He must stand above all parties, and serve all parties, by spreading before the public that full and exact information upon which sound legislation is based.

During the present (1865-6) session of Congress we have had daily illustration of this truth. The great question has been, What is the condition of the Southern States and the feeling of the Southern people? All the New York morning papers have expended money and labor, each according to its means and enterprise, in getting information from the South. This was well. But every one of these papers has had some party or personal bias, which has given it a powerful interest to make out a case. The World and News excluded everything which tended to show the South dissatisfied and disloyal. The Tribune, on the other hand, diligently sought testimony of that nature. The Times, also, being fully committed to a certain theory of reconstruction, naturally gave prominence to every fact which supported that theory, and was inclined to suppress information of the opposite tendency. The consequence was, that an inhabitant of the city of New York who simply desired to know the truth was compelled to keep an eye upon four or five papers, lest something material should escape him. This is pitiful. This is utterly beneath the journalism of 1866. The final pre-eminent newspaper of America will soar far above such needless limitations as these, and present the truth in all its aspects, regardless of its effects upon theories, parties, factions, and Presidential campaigns.

Presidential campaigns,—that is the real secret. The editors of most of these papers have selected their candidate for 1868; and, having done that, can no more help conducting their journals with a view to the success of that candidate, than the needle of a compass can help pointing awry when there is a magnet hidden in the binnacle. Here, again, we have no right to censure or complain. Yet we cannot help marvelling at the hallucination which can induce able men to prefer the brief and illusory honors of political station to the substantial and lasting power within the grasp of the successful journalist. He, if any one,—he more than any one else,—is the master in a free country. Have we not seen almost every man who has held or run for the Presidency during the last ten or fifteen years paying assiduous and servile court, directly or indirectly, or both, to the editor of the Herald? If it were proper to relate to the public what is known on this subject to a few individuals, the public would be exceedingly astonished. And yet this reality of power an editor is ready to jeopard for the sake of gratifying his family by exposing them in Paris! Jeopard, do we say? He has done more: he has thrown it away. He has a magnet in his binnacle. He has, for the time, sacrificed what it cost him thirty years of labor and audacity to gain. Strange weakness of human nature!

The daily press of the United States has prodigiously improved in every respect during the last twenty years. To the best of our recollection, the description given of it, twenty-three years ago, by Charles Dickens, in his American Notes, was not much exaggerated; although that great author did exaggerate its effects upon the morals of the country. His own amusing account of the rival editors in Pickwick might have instructed him on this latter point. It does not appear that the people of Eatanswill were seriously injured by the fierce language employed in "that false and scurrilous print, the Independent," and in "that vile and slanderous calumniator, the Gazette." Mr. Dickens, however, was too little conversant with our politics to take the atrocious language formerly so common in our newspapers "in a Pickwickian sense"; and we freely confess that in the alarming picture which he drew of our press there was only too much truth.

"The foul growth of America," wrote Mr. Dickens, "strikes its fibres deep in its licentious press.

"Schools may be erected, east, west, north, and south; pupils be taught, and masters reared, by scores upon scores of thousands; colleges may thrive, churches may be crammed, temperance may be diffused, and advancing knowledge in all other forms walk through the land with giant strides; but while the newspaper press of America is in or near its present abject state, high moral improvement in that country is hopeless. Year by year it must and will go back; year by year the tone of public feeling must sink lower down; year by year the Congress and the Senate must become of less account before all decent men; and, year by year, the memory of the great fathers of the Revolution must be outraged more and more in the bad life of their degenerate child.

"Among the herd of journals which are published in the States, there are some, the reader scarcely need be told, of character and credit. From personal intercourse with accomplished gentlemen connected with publications of this class I have derived both pleasure and profit. But the name of these is Few, and of the others Legion; and the influence of the good is powerless to counteract the mortal poison of the bad.

"Among the gentry of America, among the well-informed and moderate, in the learned professions, at the bar and on the bench, there is, as there can be, but one opinion in reference to the vicious character of these infamous journals. It is sometimes contended—I will not say strangely, for it is natural to seek excuses for such a disgrace—that their influence is not so great as a visitor would suppose. I must be pardoned for saying that there is no warrant for this plea, and that every fact and circumstance tends directly to the opposite conclusion.

"When any man, of any grade of desert in intellect or character, can climb to any public distinction, no matter what, in America, without first grovelling down upon the earth, and bending the knee before this monster of depravity; when any private excellence is safe from its attacks, and when any social confidence is left unbroken by it, or any tie of social decency and honor is held in the least regard; when any man in that free country has freedom of opinion, and presumes to think for himself, and speak for himself, without humble reference to a censorship which, for its rampant ignorance and base dishonesty, he utterly loathes and despises in his heart; when those who most acutely feel its infamy and the reproach it casts upon the nation, and who most denounce it to each other, dare to set their heels upon and crush it openly, in the sight of all men,—then I will believe that its influence is lessening, and men are returning to their manly senses. But while that Press has its evil eye in every house, and its black hand in every appointment in the state, from a President to a postman,—while, with ribald slander for its only stock in trade, it is the standard literature of an enormous class, who must find their reading in a newspaper, or they will not read at all,—so long must its odium be upon the country's head, and so long must the evil it works be plainly visible in the Republic.

"To those who are accustomed to the leading English journals, or to the respectable journals of the Continent of Europe, to those who are accustomed to anything else in print and paper, it would be impossible, without an amount of extract for which I have neither space nor inclination, to convey an adequate idea of this frightful engine in America. But if any man desire confirmation of my statement on this head, let him repair to any place in this city of London where scattered numbers of these publications are to be found, and there let him form his own opinion."

From a note appended to this passage, we infer that the newspaper which weighed upon the author's mind when he wrote it was the New York Herald. The direct cause, however, of the general license of the press at that time, was not the Herald's bad example, but Andrew Jackson's debauching influence. The same man who found the government pure, and left it corrupt, made the press the organ of his own malignant passions by bestowing high office upon the editors who lied most recklessly about his opponents. In 1843 the press had scarcely begun to recover from this hateful influence, and was still the merest tool of politicians. The Herald, in fact, by demonstrating that a newspaper can flourish in the United States without any aid from politicians, has brought us nearer the time when no newspaper of any importance will be subject to party, which has been the principal cause of the indecencies of the press.

The future is bright before the journalists of America. The close of the war, by increasing their income and reducing their expenses, has renewed the youth of several of our leading journals, and given them a better opportunity than they have ever had before. The great error of the publishers of profitable journals hitherto has been the wretched compensation paid to writers and reporters. To this hour there is but one individual connected with the daily press of New York, not a proprietor, who receives a salary sufficient to keep a tolerable house and bring up a family respectably and comfortably; and if any one would find that individual, he must look for him, alas! in the office of the Herald. To be plainer: decent average housekeeping in the city of New York now costs a hundred dollars a week; and there is but one salary of that amount paid in New York to a journalist who owns no property in his journal. The consequence is, that there is scarcely an individual connected with a daily paper who is not compelled or tempted to eke out his ridiculous salary by other writing, to the injury of his health and the constant deterioration of his work. Every morning the public comes fresh and eager to the newspaper: fresh and eager minds should alone minister to it. No work done on this earth consumes vitality so fast as carefully executed composition, and consequently one of the main conditions of a man's writing his best is that he should write little and rest often. A good writer, moreover, is one of Nature's peculiar and very rare products. There is a mystery about the art of composition. Who shall explain to us why Charles Dickens can write about a three-legged stool in such a manner that the whole civilized world reads with pleasure; while another man of a hundred times his knowledge and five times his quantity of mind cannot write on any subject so as to interest anybody? The laws of supply and demand do not apply to this rarity; for one man's writing cannot be compared with another's, there being no medium between valuable and worthless. How many over-worked, under-paid men have we known in New York, really gifted with this inexplicable knack at writing, who, well commanded and justly compensated, lifted high and dry out of the slough of poor-devilism in which their powers were obscured and impaired, could almost have made the fortune of a newspaper! Some of these Reporters of Genius are mere children in all the arts by which men prosper. A Journalist of Genius would know their value, understand their case, take care of their interest, secure their devotion, restrain their ardor, and turn their talent to rich account. We are ashamed to say, that for example of this kind of policy we should have to repair to the office named a moment since.

This subject, however, is beginning to be understood, and of late there has been some advance in the salaries of members of the press. Just as fast as the daily press advances in real independence and efficiency, the compensation of journalists will increase, until a great reporter will receive a reward in some slight degree proportioned to the rarity of the species and to the greatness of the services of which he is the medium. By reporters, we mean, of course, the entire corps of news-givers, from the youth who relates the burning of a stable, to the philosopher who chronicles the last vagary of a German metaphysician. These laborious men will be appreciated in due time. By them all the great hits of journalism have been made, and the whole future of journalism is theirs.

So difficult is the reporter's art, that we can call to mind only two series of triumphant efforts in this department,—Mr. Russell's letters from the Crimea to the London Times, and N.P. Willis's "Pencillings by the Way," addressed to the New York Mirror. Each of these masters chanced to have a subject perfectly adapted to his taste and talents, and each of them made the most of his opportunity. Charles Dickens has produced a few exquisite reports. Many ignorant and dull men employed on the New York Herald have written good reports because they were dull and ignorant. In fact, there are two kinds of good reporters,—those who know too little, and those who know too much, to wander from the point and evolve a report from the depths of their own consciousness. The worst possible reporter is one who has a little talent, and depends upon that to make up for the meagreness of his information. The best reporter is he whose sole object is to relate his event exactly as it occurred, and describe his scene just as it appeared; and this kind of excellence is attainable by an honest 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.'"]


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 fall involving many hundreds of families in heavy loss. The clumsy, shapeless shoes from South America were the only ones which the people would buy. It was generally supposed that the secret of their resisting heat was that they were smoked with the leaves of a certain tree, peculiar to South America, and that nothing else in nature would answer the purpose.

The two millions of dollars lost by these Companies had one result which has proved to be worth many times that sum; it led Charles Goodyear to undertake the investigation of India-rubber. That chance conversation with the agent of the Roxbury Company fixed his destiny. If he were alive to read these lines, he would, however, protest against the use of such a word as chance in this connection. He really appears to have felt himself "called" to study India-rubber. He says himself:—

"From the time that his attention was first given to the subject, a strong and abiding impression was made upon his mind, that an object so desirable and important, and so necessary to man's comfort, as the making of gum-elastic available to his use, was most certainly placed within his reach. Having this presentiment, of which he could not divest himself under the most trying adversity, he was stimulated with the hope of ultimately attaining this object.

"Beyond this he would refer the whole to the great Creator, who directs the operations of mind to the development of the properties of matter, in his own way, at the time when they are specially needed, influencing some mind for every work or calling.... Were he to refrain from expressing his views thus briefly, he would ever feel that he had done violence to his sentiments."

This is modestly said, but his friends assure us that he felt it earnestly and habitually. It was, indeed, this steadfast conviction of the possibility of attaining his object, and his religious devotion to it, that constituted his capital in his new business. He had little knowledge of chemistry, and an aversion to complicated calculations. He was a ruined man; for, after a long struggle with misfortune, the firm of A. Goodyear and Sons had surrendered their all to their creditors, and still owed thirty thousand dollars. He had a family, and his health was not robust. Upon returning home after conversing with the agent of the Roxbury Company, he was arrested for debt, and compelled to reside within the prison limits. He melted his first pound of India-rubber while he was living within those limits, and struggling to keep out of the jail itself. Thus he began his experiments in circumstances as little favorable as can be imagined. There were only two things in his favor. One was his conviction that India-rubber could be subjugated, and that he was the man destined to subjugate it. The other was, that, India-rubber having fallen to its old price, he could continue his labors as long as he could raise five cents and procure access to a fire. The very odium in which business-men held India-rubber, though it long retarded his final triumph, placed an abundance of the native gum within the means even of an inmate of the debtor's prison, in which he often was during the whole period of his experimenting. He was seldom out of jail a whole year from 1835 to 1841, and never out of danger of arrest.

In a small house in Philadelphia, in the winter of 1834—35, he began his investigations. He melted his gum by the domestic fire, kneaded it with his own hands, spread it upon a marble slab, and rolled it with a rolling-pin. A prospect of success flattered him from the first and lured him on. He was soon able to produce sheets of India-rubber which appeared as firm as those imported, and which tempted a friend to advance him a sum of money sufficient to enable him to manufacture several hundred pairs of shoes. He succeeded in embossing his shoes in various patterns, which gave them a novel and elegant appearance. Mindful, however, of the disasters of the Roxbury Company, he had the prudence to store his shoes until the summer. The hot days of June reduced them all to soft and stinking paste. His friend was discouraged, and refused him further aid. For his own part, such experiences as this, though they dashed his spirits for a while, stimulated him to new efforts.

It now occurred to him, that perhaps it was the turpentine used in dissolving the gum, or the lampblack employed to color it, that spoiled his product. He esteemed it a rare piece of luck to procure some barrels of the sap not smoked, and still liquid. On going to the shed where the precious sap was deposited, he was accosted by an Irishman in his employ, who, in high glee, informed him that he had discovered the secret, pointing to his overalls, which he had dipped into the sap, and which were nicely coated with firm India-rubber. For a moment he thought that Jerry might have blundered into the secret. The man, however, sat down on a barrel near the fire, and, on attempting, to rise, found himself glued to his seat and his legs stuck together. He had to be cut out of his overalls. The master proceeded to experiment with the sap, but soon discovered, that the handsome white cloth made of it bore the heat no better than that which was produced in the usual manner.

It is remarkable, that inventors seldom derive direct aid from the science of their day. James Watt modestly ascribes to Professor Black part of the glory of his improvements in the steam-engine; but it seems plain from his own narrative, that he made his great invention of the condenser without any assistance. Professor Black assisted to instruct and form him; but the flash of genius, which made the steam-engine what we now see it, was wholly his own. The science of Glasgow was diligently questioned by him upon the defects of the old engine, but it gave him no hint of the remedy. It was James Watt, mathematical-instrument maker, earning fourteen shillings a week, who brooded over his little model until the conception of the condenser burst upon him, as he was taking his Sunday afternoon stroll on Glasgow Green. Goodyear had a similar experience. Philadelphia has always been noted for its chemists and its chemical works, and that city still supplies the greater part of the country with manufactured drugs and chemists' materials. Nevertheless, though Goodyear explained his difficulties to professors, physicians, and chemists, none of them could give him valuable information; none suggested an experiment that produced a useful result. We know not, indeed, whether science has ever explained his final success.

Satisfied that nothing could be done with India-rubber pure and simple, he concluded that a compound of some substance with India-rubber could alone render the gum available. He was correct in this conjecture, but it remained to be discovered whether there was such a substance in nature. He tried everything he could think of. For a short time he was elated with the result of his experiments with magnesia, mixing half a pound of magnesia with a pound of gum. This compound had the advantage of being whiter than the pure sap. It was so firm that he used it as leather in the binding of a book. In a few weeks, however, he had the mortification of seeing his elegant white book-covers fermenting and softening. Afterwards, they grew as hard and brittle as shell, and so they remain to this day.

By this time, the patience of his friends and his own little fund of money were both exhausted; and, one by one, the relics of his former prosperity, even to his wife's trinkets, found their way to the pawnbroker. He was a sanguine man, as inventors need to be, always feeling that he was on the point of succeeding. The very confidence with which he announced a new conception served at length to close all ears to his solicitations. In the second year of his investigation he removed his family to the country, and went to New York, in quest of some one who had still a little faith in India-rubber. His credit was then at so low an ebb that he was obliged to deposit with the landlord a quantity of linen, spun by his excellent wife. It was never redeemed. It was sold at auction to pay the first quarter's rent; and his furniture also would have been seized, but that he had taken the precaution to sell it himself in Philadelphia, and had placed in his cottage articles of too little value to tempt the hardest creditor.

In New York,—the first resort of the enterprising and the last refuge of the unfortunate,—he found two old friends; one of whom lent him a room in Gold Street for a laboratory, and the other, a druggist, supplied him with materials on credit. Again his hopes were flattered by an apparent success. By boiling his compound of gum and magnesia in quicklime and water, an article was produced which seemed to be all that he could desire. Some sheets of India-rubber made by this process drew a medal at the fair of the American Institute in 1835, and were much commended in the newspapers. Nothing could exceed the smoothness and firmness of the surface of these sheets; nor have they to this day been surpassed in these particulars. He obtained a patent for the process, manufactured a considerable quantity, sold his product readily, and thought his difficulties were at an end. In a few weeks his hopes were dashed to the ground. He found that a drop of weak acid, such as apple-juice or vinegar and water, instantly annihilated the effect of the lime, and made the beautiful surface of his cloth sticky.

Undaunted, he next tried the experiment of mixing quicklime with pure gum. He tells us that, at this time, he used to prepare a gallon jug of quicklime at his room in Gold Street, and carry it on his shoulder to Greenwich Village, distant three miles, where he had access to horse-power for working his compound. This experiment, too, was a failure. The lime in a short time appeared to consume the gum with which it was mixed, leaving a substance that crumbled to pieces.

Accident suggested his next process, which, though he knew it not, was a step toward his final success. Except his almost unparalleled perseverance, the most marked trait in the character of this singular man was his love for beautiful forms and colors. An incongruous garment or decoration upon a member of his family, or anything tawdry or ill-arranged in a room, gave him positive distress. Accordingly, we always find him endeavoring to decorate his India-rubber fabrics. It was in bronzing the surface of some India-rubber drapery that the accident happened to which we have referred. Desiring to remove the bronze from a piece of the drapery, he applied aquafortis for the purpose, which did indeed have the effect desired, but it also discolored the fabric and appeared to spoil it. He threw away the piece as useless. Several days after, it occurred to him that he had not sufficiently examined the effect of the aquafortis, and, hurrying to his room, he was fortunate enough to find it again. A remarkable change appeared to have been made in the India-rubber. He does not seem to have been aware that aquafortis is two fifths sulphuric acid. Still less did he ever suspect that the surface of his drapery had really been "vulcanized." All he knew was, that India-rubber cloth "cured," as he termed it, by aquafortis, was incomparably superior to any previously made, and bore a degree of heat that rendered it available for many valuable purposes.

He was again a happy man. A partner, with ample capital, joined him. He went to Washington and patented his process. He showed his specimens to President Jackson, who expressed in writing his approval of them. Returning to New York, he prepared to manufacture on a great scale, hired the abandoned India-rubber works on Staten Island, and engaged a store in Broadway for the sale of his fabrics. In the midst of these grand preparations, his zeal in experimenting almost cost him his life. Having generated a large quantity of poisonous gas in his close room, he was so nearly suffocated that it was six weeks before he recovered his health. Before he had begun to produce his fabrics in any considerable quantity, the commercial storm of 1836 swept away the entire property of his partner, which put a complete stop to the operations in India-rubber, and reduced poor Goodyear to his normal condition of beggary. Beggary it literally was; for he was absolutely dependent upon others for the means of sustaining life. He mentions that, soon after this crushing blow, his family having previously joined him in New York, he awoke one morning to discover that he had neither an atom of food for them, nor a cent to buy it with. Putting in his pocket an article that he supposed a pawnbroker would value, he set out in the hope of procuring enough money to sustain them for one day. Before reaching the sign, so familiar to him, of the three Golden Balls, he met a terrible being to a man in his situation,—a creditor! Hungry and dejected, he prepared his mind for a torrent of bitter reproaches; for this gentleman was one whose patience he felt he had abused. What was his relief when his creditor accosted him gayly with, "Well, Mr. Goodyear, what can I do for you to-day?" His first thought was, that an insult was intended, so preposterous did it seem that this man could really desire to aid him further. Satisfied that the offer was well meant, he told his friend that he had come out that morning in search of food for his family, and that a loan of fifteen dollars would greatly oblige him. The money was instantly produced, which enabled him to postpone his visit to the pawnbroker for several days. The pawnbroker was still, however, his frequent resource all that year, until the few remains of his late brief prosperity had all disappeared.

But he never for a moment let go his hold upon India-rubber. A timely loan of a hundred dollars from an old friend enabled him to remove his family to Staten Island, near the abandoned India-rubber factory. Having free access to the works, he and his wife contrived to manufacture a few articles of his improved cloth, and to sell enough to provide daily bread. His great object there was to induce the directors of the suspended Company to recommence operations upon his new process. But so completely sickened were they of the very name of a material which had involved them in so much loss and discredit, that during the six months of his residence on the Island he never succeeded in persuading one man to do so much as come to the factory and look at his specimens. There were thousands of dollars' worth of machinery there, but not a single shareholder cared even to know the condition of the property. This was the more remarkable, since he was unusually endowed by nature with the power to inspire other men with his own confidence. The magnates of Staten Island, however, involved as they were in the general shipwreck of property and credit, were inexorably deaf to his eloquence.

As he had formerly exhausted Philadelphia, so now New York seemed exhausted. He became even an object of ridicule. He was regarded as an India-rubber monomaniac. One of his New York friends having been asked how Mr. Goodyear could be recognized in the street, replied: "If you see a man with an India-rubber coat on, India-rubber shoes, an India-rubber cap, and in his pocket an India-rubber purse, with not a cent in it, that is he." He was in the habit then of wearing his material in every form, with the twofold view of testing and advertising it.

In September, 1836, aided again by a small loan, he packed a few of his best specimens in his carpet-bag, and set out alone for the cradle of the India-rubber manufacture,—Roxbury. The ruin of the great Company there was then complete, and the factory was abandoned. All that part of Massachusetts was suffering from the total depreciation of the India-rubber stocks. There were still, however, two or three persons who could not quite give up India-rubber. Mr. Chaffee, the originator of the manufacture in America, welcomed warmly a brother experimenter, admired his specimens, encouraged him to persevere, procured him friends, and, what was more important, gave him the use of the enormous machinery standing idle in the factory. A brief, delusive prosperity again relieved the monotony of misfortune. By his new process, he made shoes, piano-covers, and carriage-cloths, so superior to any previously produced in the United States as to cause a temporary revival of the business, which enabled him to sell rights to manufacture under his patents. His profits in a single year amounted to four or five thousand dollars. Again he had his family around him, and felt a boundless confidence in the future.

An event upon which he had depended for the completeness of his triumph plunged him again into ruin. He received an order from the government for a hundred and fifty India-rubber mail-bags. Having perfect confidence in his ability to execute this order, he gave the greatest possible publicity to it. All the world should now see that Goodyear's India-rubber was all that Goodyear had represented it. The bags were finished; and beautiful bags they were,—smooth, firm, highly polished, well-shaped, and indubitably water-proof. He had them hung up all round the factory, and invited every one to come and inspect them. They were universally admired, and the maker was congratulated upon his success. It was in the summer that these fatal bags were finished. Having occasion to be absent for a month, he left them hanging in the factory. Judge of his consternation when, on his return, he found them softening, fermenting, and dropping off their handles. The aquafortis did indeed "cure" the surface of his India-rubber, but only the surface. Very thin cloth made by this process was a useful and somewhat durable article; but for any other purpose, it was valueless. The public and signal failure of the mail-bags, together with the imperfection of all his products except his thinnest cloth, suddenly and totally destroyed his rising business. Everything he possessed that was salable was sold at auction to pay his debts. He was again penniless and destitute, with an increased family and an aged father dependent upon him.

His friends, his brothers, and his wife now joined in dissuading him from further experiments. Were not four years of such vicissitude enough? Who had ever touched India-rubber without loss? Could he hope to succeed, when so many able and enterprising men had failed? Had he a right to keep his family in a condition so humiliating and painful? He had succeeded in the hardware business; why not return to it? There were those who would join him in any rational under-taking; but how could he expect that any one would be willing to throw more money into a bottomless pit that had already ingulfed millions without result? These arguments he could not answer, and we cannot; the friends of all the great inventors have had occasion to use the same. It seemed highly absurd to the friends of Fitch, Watt, Fulton, Wedgwood, Whitney, Arkwright, that they should forsake the beaten track of business to pursue a path that led through the wilderness to nothing but wilderness. Not one of these men, perhaps, could have made a reasonable reply to the remonstrances of their friends. They only felt, as poor Goodyear felt, that the steep and thorny path which they were treading was the path they must pursue. A power of which they could give no satisfactory account urged them on. And when we look closely into the lives of such men, we observe that, in their dark days, some trifling circumstance was always occurring that set them upon new inquiries and gave them new hopes. It might be an ignis fatuus that led them farther astray, or it might be genuine light which brought them into the true path.

Goodyear might have yielded to his friends on this occasion, for he was an affectionate man, devoted to his family, had not one of those trifling events occurred which inflamed his curiosity anew. During his late transient prosperity, he had employed a man, Nathaniel Hayward by name, who had been foreman of one of the extinct India-rubber companies. He found him in charge of the abandoned factory, and still making a few articles on his own account by a new process. To harden his India-rubber, he put a very small quantity of sulphur into it, or sprinkled sulphur upon the surface and dried it in the sun. Mr. Goodyear was surprised to observe that this process seemed to produce the same effect as the application of aquafortis. It does not appear to have occurred to him that Hayward's process and his own were essentially the same. A chemical dictionary would have informed him that sulphuric acid enters largely into the composition of aquafortis, from which he might have inferred that the only difference between the two methods was, that Hayward employed the sun, and Goodyear nitric acid, to give the sulphur effect. Hayward's goods, however, were liable to a serious objection: the smell of the sulphur, in warm weather, was intolerable. Hayward, it appears, was a very illiterate man; and the only account he could give of his invention was, that it was revealed to him in a dream. His process was of so little use to him, that Goodyear bought his patent for a small sum, and gave him employment at monthly wages until the mail-bag disaster deprived him of the means of doing so.

In combining sulphur with India-rubber, Goodyear had approached so near his final success that one step more brought him to it. He was certain that he was very close to the secret. He saw that sulphur had a mysterious power over India-rubber when a union could be effected between the two substances. True, there was an infinitesimal quantity of sulphur in his mail-bags, and they had melted in the shade; but the surface of his cloth, powdered with the sulphur and dried in the sun, bore the sun's heat. Here was a mystery. The problem was, how to produce in a mass of India-rubber the change effected on the surface by sulphur and sun? He made numberless experiments. He mixed with the gum large quantities of sulphur, and small quantities. He exposed his compound to the sun, and held it near a fire. He felt that he had the secret in his hands; but for many weary months it eluded him.

And, after all, it was an accident that revealed it; but an accident that no man in the world but Charles Goodyear could have interpreted, nor he, but for his five years' previous investigation. At Woburn one day, in the spring of 1839, he was standing with his brother and several other persons near a very hot stove. He held in his hand a mass of his compound of sulphur and gum, upon which he was expatiating in his usual vehement manner,—the company exhibiting the indifference to which he was accustomed. In the crisis of his argument he made a violent gesture, which brought the mass in contact with the stove, which was hot enough to melt India-rubber instantly; upon looking at it a moment after, he perceived that his compound had not melted in the least degree! It had charred as leather chars, but no part of the surface had dissolved. There was not a sticky place upon it. To say that he was astonished at this would but faintly express his ecstasy of amazement. The result was absolutely new to all experience, —India-rubber not melting in contact with red-hot iron! A man must have been five years absorbed in the pursuit of an object to comprehend his emotions. He felt as Columbus felt when he saw the land-bird alighting upon his ship, and the driftwood floating by. But, like Columbus, he was surrounded with an unbelieving crew. Eagerly he showed his charred India-rubber to his brother, and to the other bystanders, and dwelt upon the novelty and marvellousness of his fact. They regarded it with complete indifference. The good man had worn them all out. Fifty times before, he had run to them, exulting in some new discovery, and they supposed, of course, that this was another of his chimeras.

He followed the new clew with an enthusiasm which his friends would have been justified in calling frenzy, if success had not finally vindicated him. He soon discovered that his compound would not melt at any degree of heat. It next occurred to him to ascertain at how low a temperature it would char, and whether it was not possible to arrest the combustion at a point that would leave the India-rubber elastic, but deprived of its adhesiveness. A single experiment proved that this was possible. After toasting a piece of his compound before an open fire, he found that, while part of it was charred, a rim of India-rubber round the charred portion was elastic still, and even more elastic than pure gum. In a few days he had established three facts;—first, that this rim of India-rubber would bear a temperature of two hundred and seventy-eight degrees without charring; second, that it would not melt or soften at any heat; third, that, placed between blocks of ice and left out of doors all night, it would not stiffen in the least degree. He had triumphed, and he knew it. He tells us that he now "felt himself amply repaid for the past, and quite indifferent as to the trials of the future." It was well he was so, for his darkest days were before him, and he was still six years from a practicable success. He had, indeed, proved that a compound of sulphur and India-rubber, in proper proportions and in certain conditions, being subjected for a certain time to a certain degree of heat, undergoes a change which renders it perfectly available for all the uses to which he had before attempted in vain to apply it. But it remained to be ascertained what were those proper proportions, what were those conditions, what was that degree of heat, what was that certain time, and by what means the heat could be best applied.

The difficulty of all this may be inferred when we state that at the present time it takes an intelligent man a year to learn how to conduct the process with certainty, though he is provided, from the start, with the best implements and appliances which twenty years' experience has suggested. And poor Goodyear had now reduced himself, not merely to poverty, but to isolation. No friend of his could conceal his impatience when he heard him pronounce the word India-rubber. Business-men recoiled from the name of it. He tells us that two entire years passed, after he had made his discovery, before he had convinced one human being of its value. Now, too, his experiments could no longer be carried on with a few pounds of India-rubber, a quart of turpentine, a phial of aquafortis, and a little lampblack. He wanted the means of producing a high, uniform, and controllable degree of heat,—a matter of much greater difficulty than he anticipated. We catch brief glimpses of him at this time in the volumes of testimony. We see him waiting for his wife to draw the loaves from her oven, that he might put into it a batch of India-rubber to bake, and watching it all the evening, far into the night, to see what effect was produced by one hour's, two hours', three hours', six hours' baking. We see him boiling it in his wife's saucepans, suspending it before the nose of her teakettle, and hanging it from the handle of that vessel to within an inch of the boiling water. We see him roasting it in the ashes and in hot sand, toasting it before a slow fire and before a quick fire, cooking it for one hour and for twenty-four hours, changing the proportions of his compound and mixing them in different ways. No success rewarded him while he employed only domestic utensils. Occasionally, it is true, he produced a small piece of perfectly vulcanized India-rubber; but upon subjecting other pieces to precisely the same process, they would blister or char.

Then we see him resorting to the shops and factories in the neighborhood of Woburn, asking the privilege of using an oven after working hours, or of hanging a piece of India-rubber in the "man-hole" of the boiler. The foremen testify that he was a great plague to them, and smeared their works with his sticky compound; but, though they all regarded him as little better than a troublesome lunatic, they all appear to have helped him very willingly. He frankly confesses that he lived at this time on charity; for, although he felt confident of being able to repay the small sums which pity for his family enabled him to borrow, his neighbors who lent him the money were as far as possible from expecting payment. Pretending to lend, they meant to give. One would pay his butcher's bill or his milk bill; another would send in a barrel of flour; another would take in payment some articles of the old stock of India-rubber; and some of the farmers allowed his children to gather sticks in their fields to heat his hillocks of sand containing masses of sulphurized India-rubber. If the people of New England were not the most "neighborly" people in the world, his family must have starved, or he must have given up his experiments. But, with all the generosity of his neighbors, his children were often sick, hungry, and cold, without medicine, food, or fuel. One witness testifies: "I found (in 1839) that they had not fuel to burn nor food to eat, and did not know where to get a morsel of food from one day to another, unless it was sent in to them." We can neither justify nor condemn their father. Imagine Columbus within sight of the new world, and his obstinate crew declaring it was only a mirage, and refusing to row him ashore! Never was mortal man surer that he had a fortune in his hand, than Charles Goodyear was when he would take a piece of scorched and dingy India-rubber from his pocket and expound its marvellous properties to a group of incredulous villagers. Sure also was he that he was just upon the point of a practicable success. Give him but an oven, and would he not turn you out fire-proof and cold-proof India-rubber, as fast as a baker can produce loaves of bread? Nor was it merely the hope of deliverance from his pecuniary straits that urged him on. In all the records of his career, we perceive traces of something nobler than this. His health being always infirm, he was haunted with the dread of dying before he had reached a point in his discoveries where other men, influenced by ordinary motives, could render them available.

By the time that he had exhausted the patience of the foremen of the works near Woburn, he had come to the conclusion that an oven was the proper means of applying heat to his compound. An oven he forthwith determined to build. Having obtained the use of a corner of a factory yard, his aged father, two of his brothers, his little son, and himself sallied forth, with pickaxe and shovels, to begin the work: and when they had done all that unskilled labor could effect towards it, he induced a mason to complete it, and paid him in bricklayers' aprons made of aqua-fortized India-rubber. This first oven was a tantalizing failure. The heat was neither uniform nor controllable. Some of the pieces of India-rubber would come out so perfectly "cured" as to demonstrate the utility of his discovery; but others, prepared in precisely the same manner, as far as he could discern, were spoiled, either by blistering or charring. He was puzzled and distressed beyond description; and no single voice consoled or encouraged him. Out of the first piece of cloth which he succeeded in vulcanizing he had a coat made for himself, which was not an ornamental garment in its best estate; but, to prove to the unbelievers that it would stand fire, he brought it so often in contact with hot stoves, that at last it presented an exceedingly dingy appearance. His coat did not impress the public favorably, and it served to confirm the opinion that he was laboring under a mania.

In the midst of his first disheartening experiments with sulphur, he had an opportunity of escaping at once from his troubles. A house in Paris made him an advantageous offer for the use of his aquafortis process. From the abyss of his misery the honest man promptly replied, that that process, valuable as it was, was about to be superseded by a new method, which he was then perfecting, and as soon as he had developed it sufficiently he should be glad to close with their offers. Can we wonder that his neighbors thought him mad?

It was just after declining the French proposal that he endured his worst extremity of want and humiliation. It was in the winter of 1839—40. One of those long and terrible snow-storms for which New England is noted had been raging for many hours, and he awoke one morning to find his little cottage half buried in snow, the storm still continuing, and in his house not an atom of fuel nor a morsel of food. His children were very young, and he was himself sick and feeble. The charity of his neighbors was exhausted, and he had not the courage to face their reproaches. As he looked out of the window upon the dreary and tumultuous scene, "fit emblem of his condition," he remarks, he called to mind that, a few days before, an acquaintance, a mere acquaintance, who lived some miles off, had given him upon the road a more friendly greeting than he was then accustomed to receive. It had cheered his heart as he trudged sadly by, and it now returned vividly to his mind. To this gentleman he determined to apply for relief, if he could reach his house. Terrible was his struggle with the wind and the deep drifts. Often he was ready to faint with fatigue, sickness, and hunger, and he would be obliged to sit down upon a bank of snow to rest. He reached the house and told his story, not omitting the oft-told tale of his new discovery,—that mine of wealth, if only he could procure the means of working it! The eager eloquence of the inventor was seconded by the gaunt and yellow face of the man. His generous acquaintance entertained him cordially, and lent him a sum of money, which not only carried his family through the worst of the winter, but enabled him to continue his experiments on a small scale. O.B. Coolidge, of Woburn, was the name of this benefactor.

Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11  12     Next Part
Home - Random Browse