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.