Open main menu
A Literary Steinitz Gambit

Or

A Lecture on the Mental Derangement of

So-Called Chess Critics and their

Treatment

by Wilhelm Steinitz

Contents

Part 1Edit

"Something is rotten in the State" of Chess. That our glorious game which Diderot, endorsed by Goethe, calls "the test-stone of the human brain," should hardly be known to more than one out of five thousand people in countries where every man has a voice and a vote practically in framing the laws and in regulating the destinies of nations; that our noble pastime, which undoubtedly affords a splendid training of the intellectual faculties, should stand on a lower level in public estimation, if measured by the financial support accorded to the game, than some sports of questionable utility, shows a deplorable apathy among reasonable men toward an acknowledged healthy, mental exercise, and a want of appreciation of its enjoyments that is all the more remarkable under the circumstance, that great progress has already been made in the cultivation and popularity of the game during the last twenty years. Having myself during that long period made a study of the causes of the evil and a practice of remedying it as far as was in my own power, I now beg to report the result of my experiences, which no doubt will be interesting to the public, as they comprise some new autobiographical statements of considerable importance to the Chess historian, and some useful hints to future prominent players, to whom the public will assign the task of promoting and extending our scientific amusement. As for the causes of depression and stagnation in Chess matters, which sometimes degenerated for years in succession into partial decay of our noble pastime, I have distinctly traced it to a mental malady, which first affects some so-called Chess critics, and thence infects public opinion through the medium of newspapers which in our days, when almost every body is more or less of type-worshipper on matters that are not within his own personal knowledge, exercise an enormous influence on the minds of readers, who are not well acquainted with the subject. Like other mental afflictions the malady sometimes takes a turn dangerous to the patient as well to the public at large, and it is certainly the duty of the doctor who has such an unfortunate individual under treatment to prevent his doing any harm to himself and others. As a matter of course, a violent struggle sometimes takes place between the physician and his patient, and I merely allude to this in order to explain that my dissertation on the diagnosis of the intellectual derangements among so-called Chess critics and the mode of curing them, will be necessarily mixed up and involved with a historical description of some journalistic fights or literary gambits which I have had to contest with some of my patients and opponents.

Having traced the general Chess depression to its true source a brief preliminary reference to the cause of the disease among the Chess critics themselves, may not be out of place. It originates from a disorder called excessive egotism, and in some great measure this in turn may be due to the unhealthy state of the moral atmosphere outside of Chess, which fosters such abnormal philosophical growths as Mercenarism and Individualism on the one extreme, and Socialism or Anarchism on the other. But the investigation of those subjects would take us too far, and I merely allude to the deeper hidden causes of the prevailing distemper en passant of my having noticed that no less an authority than Professor Huxley attacks in a recent number of the 'Nineteenth Century' "Individualism" to which I cursorily referred in our number of December last as one of the evils of Chess in England. Proceeding, therefore, with the description of the first symptoms and the development of the literary dementia, I have to point out that generally the sufferers are some Chess ignoramuses or mediocrities at the utmost, who have taken it into their poor heads that they could and ought to be authorities on the game all at once without the least preparation. Once they have conceived this idea, they obtain the editorship of some more or less influential journal by some back-stairs means which would not be accessible to first-rate masters. However, after they are installed into power, and albeit, they either receive a salary or obtain some local influence in consideration for their services, they begin to find out that the greatness which they have all at once acquired has also its great drawbacks. For some inquisitive people will begin to inquire, "Who is he?" or "what is he among Chess players?" "If he were a real authority he would be able to show it over the board against first-class masters." And as often, the editor in chief will share the curiosity of the public and show signs of skepticism as regards the Chess status of his game editor, the latter becomes irritated, uncomfortable and depressed in spirits, and premonitory apoplectic symptoms develop themselves in his cranium. For in the effort of indirectly explaining his inability of competing over the board, he generally overstrains his imagination, which is always a dangerous process, insidiously the wild fancies of an unbalanced mind take possession of his logic. In the early stages of his malady, he will imagine that by some peculiar freak of nature the knowledge of Chess and the faculties for acquiring mastery in the game have to be cultivated in a manner wholly opposite to that which helps men to acquire proficiency in any other science or art. For it has been positively proved (so the critic fancies and proclaims to the public), that the talent for Chess playing grows quickest after a man's death in his grave, just like his hair and nails, and that some players who practically passed away 30 years ago could give the greatest living masters the odds of a Rook. It follows, therefore, that the least a man plays himself during his lifetime the greater a master he will be, and that at the utmost, "one game is as good as a thousand," and anyone who 20 years ago might have beaten some of the noted players of our time if he had only played enough, was sure to be fittest critic of our day, as sure as he will be immortalized after death as one of the greatest Chess lights of all ages.

This sort of delusion, though harmless in themselves and satisfactory to the critic and some of his readers for a time must, nevertheless be carefully watched as they mostly mark a near outbreak of a more serious Chess editorial brain fever which generally takes hold of the patient, when at last he discovers that however much he may deceive himself and his chief editor, the practical Chess masters of the day stand in his light among the majority of Chess players, especially when some great Match, Tournament or Congress is on the tapis. It is then that the critic begins to rave most incoherently and to shout out in a sort or waking dream that the game does not deserve any public support at all; that Chess patrons ought to practice the virtue of keeping their money in their pockets, for Chess masters are one and all professional beggars, cheats, hyppodromers, match-fixers, etc., and especially the champion of the day is a sort of moral monster who ought to be boycotted, ostracized, starved and ruined, and who has been or ought to have been kicked out and expelled from every respectable Chess society. At that stage the editorial distemper becomes contagious on the public mind, as I have frequently had occasion to observe, for a good number of amateurs who are already initiated in Chess, however wealthy they may be, are blessed "with more meanness than means" (if I may quote myself), and they think that the cheapest way of obtaining Chess amusements is to get it quite gratuitously. Others judge on the "six of one and half-a-dozen of the other" principle, and think there is a sort of quarrel in which there must be faults on both sides, and they do not wish to be involved in the fight. Again others give their verdict from moral elevation of the maxim, "It is no business of mine." There is, therefore, a great defection for a long time in the sympathies of amateurs who are already strongly interested in Chess, and the accession of new students of our delightful pastime is generally stopped by such public noise. For years I have noticed that similar obstacles were thrown into the way of every movement for the promotion of the game, and a perfect stagnation took place, which no doubt also reacted injuriously on the editorial patients who were the cause of it. But it was very little consolation for the Chess masters to quote Shakespeare, "He who filches my honest name takes that which does him no good, but leaves me very poor indeed." And the worst part of it is, that whilst the Chess masters remain poor in a pecuniary sense, the world at large is impoverished in intelligence. For many enthusiastic Chess players are, like myself, convinced that the general cultivation of Chess logic would help to cure our age from many political, economical and philosophical excrescences, and would also greatly diminish such baneful excesses and unhealthy habits as over- smoking, drinking, gambling, etc., which are incompatible with the acquisition of excellence in our mental gymnastics.

Part 2Edit

Such sincere friends of the game and admirers of its influence on human progress have from time to time requested me to study the subject and devise some surer remedies than those that had hitherto been in use for the purpose. Difficult as the task was, for I have had sometimes as many as half-a-dozen such editorial lunatics under treatment simultaneously, I have undertaken it empowered by my conscience and the right of natural selection, or, as Carlyle calls it, "the divine right of the strongest," which, either by merit or accident, as you like to judge, has chosen me as the only true champion of the world for the last 22 years. True to my general method of reasoning, which is of a deductive character (and which I hold by in Chess as in other matters, notwithstanding that Bacon, the advocate of inductive philosophy, is now alleged to be the real author of Shakespeare's works), I first investigated the old remedies on principle, and I found that they were based on the maxim of "silence and contempt." It took me little time to discard that idea altogether and to substitute the principle of "contempt without silence," for on general grounds I felt sure that the former compound effected in reality only a silent grudge for the editor and contempt for the public, while the maxims on which I applied my own remedies for the journalistic evil were based on real contempt for the critic and silent respect for his readers; and there is no doubt in my mind that the latter is the sounder principle.

Having once settled on the right general system, it was not so very difficult to master its details, and I hit on a literary Steinitz Gambit, or a journalistic game, in which I by means of contempt without silence have occasionally revived the perceptions of truth and right or wrong in the distorted brains of half-a-dozen editorial opponents at one time. As usual in that kind of play, I was often exposed to a lot of checks which my adversaries shouted out at the top of their voices, thus making the bystanders believe that I was bound to be checkmated, but very rarely was I in real danger, and I soon escaped all difficulties with an easily won game. As a matter of course, a great amount of moral courage is required in the conduct of this opening, which places the first player on the defense for the greater part of the time, but if on principle he never deceives himself by trying to deceive his opponents, he will train his mind to the perception of excellent moves, and will come out victorious, though he may not always have hit on the very best play. Or, in other words, in fighting this literary battle for the purpose of curing editorial vagaries of mind, it is necessary, first of all, not to show the least fear, however numerous the unfortunate patients may be, and however powerful they may fancy themselves in the eyes of the public. In the next place, it is one of the cardinal principles on which this literary gambit is based that the editor adopts for his journalistic weapons nothing but the plainest truths as regards facts and conclusions, to the best of his understanding, and he will then win his case even if he occasionally oversteps the boundaries of propriety.

On this subject a little explanation may be necessary in order to demonstrate the soundness of my variations by way of analysis without apology. No doubt all warfare among nations is a sort of organized murder, yet it would be criminal cowardice on the part of a general to neglect winning a battle in order to avoid bloodshed, and until the enemy lays down arms he is bound to do his best for the honor and interest of his country, though without unnecessary cruelty. Likewise editorial warfare is a breach of propriety in itself, but once it is forced on the editor-general, in defense of a good cause, he must make his campaign effective. As a matter of course, he can only win his battle if he skilfully employs the weapons of the strictest honesty and truthfulness, but as the Rubicon of decorum is already crossed as soon as the war begins, the line of demarcation must be left to his discretion in estimating the necessities of the situation according to precedent and established authority. Now if I were satisfied with the good opinions of my own regular readers, I would have no need for the editorial war at all. But since in the journalistic simultaneous exhibition I as the single performer naturally have an ambition to beat, before their own public, one and all of my editorial opponents who have some powerful journals at their disposal, I have had to resort to some drastic measures, and occasionally I have had to commit public operations of a private character on the brains of my adversaries, so as to make them all squeak and howl in a chorus by way of a gratuitous advertisement for this journal over what they call the "indecencies and obscenities and the perennial flow of filth" in this column. Thus I have frequently succeeded with a few hints in this journal to overshout with their own assistance all their combined screeching in the daily and weekly press, and the general effect of it was that their own readers, and often the chief editor, after due inquiry into the matter, gave them a gentle hint or kick in order to teach them that the first element of propriety and gentlemanliness is common honesty and truthfulness. It is unnecessary to say that the "indecencies," etc., of which my opponents complain when they are whipped in effigy in the editorial gambit, are only imaginary on their part. For the schoolmasters of the old and modern school, "you know," agree that it is often necessary to communicate the alphabet of honesty and propriety to the center of the brain by the application of the birch-rod to the center of the flesh. But as it has been alleged that there is no precedent for it in Chess, I may state that a British scholar and a gentleman, who now resides on this side of the ocean, has once before castigated the "Sitzfleisch" of a German Chess editor in the pages of the London Chess Monthly.

It is no wonder that when my moves as editor-general in the literary gambit are not well understood that some of the remedies which I have applied in my dual capacity as head physician of the Chess journalistic lunatic asylum should not be fully appreciated at once. Much opposition has been made, for instance, against a strong contempt without silence medicine, which in most urgent emergencies of danger to one or more patients I have tried with great success on the authority of Goethe, one of the greatest physicians of the human intellect who conveyed the remedy first to a German emperor through the medium of Götz von Berlichingen, in order to cure the former of his haughtiness, and it also had the effect of helping to cure the whole German nation of their idolatry of kings and princes. En passant, I may state that it is one of the editorial illusions of a patient from New Orleans, whom I shall bring before you as a living example that there is no precedent for it in Chess, for he will find some similar allusion in "The Era" during Staunton's editorship, in reference to the initials of the "Westminster Chess Papers," as they were at first called. Anyhow, I may say, to adapt a classical proverb: Quod licet the champion of the world, non licet the pettifogging editorial shyster and consorts. For no doubt such a remedy ought only to be applied in extreme cases by qualified hands, but then all squeamishness and prudery must be set aside. A most remarkable case which has occurred to me during my practice will illustrate my meaning, and you will find that it was a desperate one, in which no other remedies could have any effect, and I was therefore justified in trying my experiment, which almost completely cured the patient. Perhaps I would not have referred to it if I did not notice some signs of another editorial outbreak, but anyhow I shall mention no name, as this would be indelicate.

Some time ago I had under treatment for numerous editorial hallucinations in about half-a-dozen newspapers a $20 bunco-maniac who fancied that he was a greater man than Washington, because the latter could never tell a lie, while he could tell them by the dozens. On one occasion, the unfortunate patient suddenly pounced upon me with the object, as I discovered afterward, of changing the journalistic gambit into a club fight. In vain did I try to pacify him by offering him a draw, for he foolishly imagined that he could checkmate me by drawing a $20 check on an invisible ten-fold millionairy. Whereupon I had no other option than to expel him and his club from my society. Furious with rage, he then made violent efforts to "drop me off," for he found that his club did not give him sufficient assistance to expel me in turn. Blind with madness, he did not mind breaking the constitution, and his club split exactly into two halves of which he claimed the superior part of the duality as it was backed up by his chair. Seeing that there was no other hope for him to recover his senses I ordered for him a strong dose of contempt without silence as prescribed by Goethe and modified in German-Latin by Kladderadatsch, and it produced at once a more quieting effect than any bromide of potassium. A more congenial occupation having been assigned to his tongue which was getting foul, the violent editorial shrieks of his Chess press ceased all at once. The noise which the matter created attracted some chief editors who mounted the editorial mountebank and in order to give him some wholesome exercise made him perform a somersault after which they sent him home for rest in silence without contempt. Some time after he had to carry back on his back his club portion which was further reduced in size as some more pieces had fallen off, plus $20 at a distance of about one block per dollar from Second Avenue into the Bowery. Whereas, the other half grew and prospered and its success as well as his other experiences have, I believe, at any rate cured the patient's cravings for club fights and his mania for breaking constitutions.

In my next, I shall produce a patient from New Orleans in the flesh as a living illustration. This unfortunate individual suffers from the delusion that I am as bad as mad, and I feel sure I can cure him of his hallucinations.

Part 3Edit

The dejected looking subject whom you now see before you was the first of the journalistic native savages who imagined that my character was a convenient target for the exercise of his disturbed imagination. He is now virtually the last of the editorial Mohicans, for the others have been either cured to death by my contempt without silence medicine, or they have become half civilized. Though he has a little improved under my treatment, as I shall show you anon, his case is an obstinate one, and I shall have to exercise my utmost medical skill in order to liberate his mind from his most unfortunate decisions. The origin of his distressing malady is an inordinate self-worship which has taken possession of his senses, and an uncontrollable, malicious craving for spiteful revenge when he fancies that his own estimate of his worth and dignity has in any way been questioned. It will be necessary to give some brief history of the progress of his mental disorder for the purpose of verifying my diagnosis and of explaining the effect of my treatment.

In the beginning of 1886 I was engaged in a struggle for my past and future with a mighty opponent who, I deeply regret to say, died quite recently, as announced in another part of our present issue. In the first division of the contest I had much the worst of the fight, and our journalistic patient here, who had always shown some partiality for my adversary, manifested the first signs of editorial derangement. For in his eagerness to make his deepest bow to the party whom he fancied to be the ultimate victor, he rushed under the board and attempted what is called in journalistic parlance to "sit upon" me with a charge of mercenary and shabby conduct on my part. Though I tried my utmost to remove him from his perilous position with the most gentle persuasions addressed to himself and to his best friends, he obstinately refused to withdraw from his sitting posture with his imaginary charge, which he supported by quibbles and concealments of important facts. Until at last I lifted my foot and the seat of his deceit came into collision with the top of my boot, whereupon he jumped up in a terrified state and fled for protection among the members of the Committee of the New Orleans Chess Checker and Whist Club. In reality, however, he was more frightened than hurt, for when I fetched him out from his body-guard, I merely gave him a mild lesson in justice and equity to wit: That whereas any ordinary criminal in this country has a right to challenge 99 out of 100 jurymen in a panel, it may be no more than feasible for a claimant of the Championship of the world to ask for the removal of one obnoxious member from the Committee of Arrangement in a match to which each player is not alone a party for himself, but also a custodian of the rights and interests of his supporters.

Unfortunately for himself, his brain was no more in a fit condition for the perception of the fact that I had only acted on principle, and instead of accepting my remedy, he insisted on doctoring himself with that sort of malicious brooding which is called the silence and contempt or the boycotting policy. If I were not already convinced of the injurious effect of this treatment, the case of our patient would be sufficient proof of it, as there can be no doubt that the remedies he applied for himself only aggravated the disease of his intellect and his craving for the vendetta which he had sworn in silence broke out all the more fiercely. For the poor fellow imagined that he could not alone boycott and ruin me in the literary warfare, but that he could undermine and explode the Sixth American Chess Congress, an international enterprise which appealed chiefly for public support on the strength of public confidence in my ability and honesty for writing a proper book of its transactions. His idea was that the Congress could not succeed without New Orleans, and he fancied, perhaps with some show of reason, that he had the whole of New Orleans in his coat-tail pockets. For I understand that he is the commander of the whole regiments of proxies, literally by the hundred among the Checker and Whist players, who at the general meetings of the New Orleans Chess Checker and Whist Club are allowed a vote through a substitute, and his coat-tail pockets thus form a rear-guard for him when he is on his retreat or on the retirade, as the French call it, from his journalistic defeats.

Just as I had foreseen, he became at last furious when he discovered in October last that he and his proxies "got left," as they say here in America, for this was about the time when the subscriptions to the Congress had crossed the $3,000 line, and when, moreover, some of the most prominent and highly respected Chessists of New Orleans would not allow any longer their names to be made conspicuous by their absence from the subscription list for boycotting purposes. He then immediately declared journalistic war, and he opened his editorial gambit with an attack on the whole line, namely, first of all, on my supposed imaginary grievances and quarrelsomeness; next, on a new champion question which had then cropped up, but chiefly on the "weak spot" or "the hole" in my armor, which fancied he could successfully assail with his tongue. My answer was a Steinitz center counter gambit, and in November, after administering to him a sound licking, I ordered him to give one in turn to the center or the meridian of the passage in May, which seemed to be the object of his ambitious war cry.

This contempt without silence remedy is a distasteful one, which, as I told you, I only employ in very rare and extreme cases, but it produced a marvelous result in this instance.

All the morbid symptoms of malicious revenge and spite which I believe must have committed ravages in his internal organs during his boycotting experiments, came out at once on the surface of the "Times-Democrat" of the 27th of November in a famous hysterical and Chess historical outcry. He was still delirious, no doubt, for he mumbled something about "the vilifications and indecencies of the Personal and General department" ... "especially during the last six months," when, as a matter of fact, I had not written a single offensive word against my worst enemy during that period. But it was evidently a remarkable sign of improvement in his mental state of health that he forgot at once all about the champion question and the criminalities which, according to his fellow-sufferers whose cause he had espoused, I am supposed to have committed in this country, and his imagination wandered back to the history of my life in England, nearly twenty years before my arrival in America.

My next dose of the contempt without silence medicine was administered in January, at a time when I was myself suffering from a most fearful anxiety over a threatened private calamity which was afterward realized, before our patient, who was still dead to all human feeling, broke out in another violent fit, in which he actually imagined that all his hallucinations had been confirmed by my own confession. His contention was that I, his physician, who has been trying to correct his intellect and that of the Chess world for over 22 years, must have gone mad, not to see that he was in his sound senses. This is a common delusion among demented people, who generally fancy that the whole world around them, and especially the doctors and nurses who are trying to cure them, must have a screw loose, while they themselves are quite clear in their intellects; somewhat like the drunken man in the German song, who complains that the moon and the street lamps have all had too much too drink, while he alone has remained sober. In our March and April double number I have, however, promised to give an analysis of the latest ravings of our patient before you, and you will then after this introduction be ready to witness how I shall apply my contempt without silence remedies in order to cure him of his wild fancies. It is now high time to proceed with our operations, for our patient may have become impatient, as he has kept his suspenders in suspense for a month longer than I had anticipated.

Part 4Edit

As you notice from the Times Democrat of the 27th of February, this unfortunate editorial lunatic still labors under the fixed idea that I am "at once dishonored and dishonorable," and he actually imagines that I have made a full "confession" of all the enormities of which I am charged in the very number of Turf, Field and Farm in which, as I stated in January last, I had completely refuted them. Now in order to introduce some order into his disordered brains, I shall apply a remedy which ought to make the bottom of his heart glow if he has any sense of shame left, or as Mr. Sanders suggests the reverse of that, if he has not. Wherefore, I shall strike with my editorial birch-rod at the fundament of his aberrations, which is now exposed, and then open his mind to the perception of the true facts in reference to the first item of his charge, namely, that I "was compelled to resign from the Westminster Chess Club in 1866." There, take that.

"I did not mean what I said, sir, booh whoo! I did not say what I meant, sir, booh whoo!" Thus an Irish politician was made to exclaim on a cartoon of London Punch, where he was represented in a similar situation as you are now, my poor patient, while Gladstone was standing before him with a birch-rod in hand. As you are aware, Gladstone and the Irish have since made good friends, and though I neither expect nor desire such a consummation between us, I merely beg to remind you that I have some respectable authorities who cannot be charged with "obscenities and indecencies," besides Goethe and Kladderadatsch, for my public operations of a private character, and you ought not therefore to bear me any grudge.

Now please to take Turf, Field and Farm of Oct. 26th, 1883, in hand, and you will find that besides the two words "strong language," which you correctly quote from that journal with a note of astonishment of your own, I had also stated that the late Mr. Staunton (to whom I addressed the "strong language" and whom you describe as the "most honored member" of the Westminster Chess Club), "had treated me no better than he did poor Morphy." "Fie! For shame!" I would call out if I did not know you were out of your senses. For apart from such a pettifogging trick (as no doubt even men of your own trade, if they are respectable, would consider it) of telling half the truth, which proverbially is a terrible lie, your mind must be oblivious to all conception of right and wrong in Chess matters, when you, the townsman and professed worshipper of the glorious Morphy, make an endeavor of extolling the very man who stands connected in Chess history with one of the dirtiest literary outrages on the good name and fame of the American hero.

When you are in your sound state of mind you are probably better versed in Chess history than any living editor, and as the custodian of a library which is probably the best that any Chess Club possesses, you have every facility for refreshing your memory. Don't you see, therefore, that there must be something wrong in your upper-floor when you have all at once forgotten that this very Mr. Staunton had made himself notorious as the literary persecutor of Harrwitz, Löwenthal and Anderssen, whom he assailed with personal hostilities in his various writings including actually the annotations of games? But now I must really ask your kind permission for applying another stroke of the birch-rod to the seat of your deceit in order to revive your recollection about the manner in which this "most honored member," Mr. Staunton, tortured poor Morphy.

There! Take that, but don't howl. You see that this had a good effect.

For no doubt you remember now clearly that Staunton tried to represent Morphy as a humbug and in support of the insinuation, he issued the statement in the Illustrated London News that the stakes in the proposed match between him and Morphy had been reduced from 1000 pounds to 500 pounds at the latter's (Morphy's) request, and that Morphy had issued the challenge without being provided with funds. You also remember now, of course, that Morphy wrote a full denial to Mr. Staunton and forwarded copies to four newspapers besides the Illustrated London News. You are also aware, that a fortnight after the other four newspapers had published Morphy's letter in full, Staunton only reproduced a portion of it. You will surely recognize Morphy's own words which I quote from his letter dated the 26th of October, 1858, and addressed to the Right Honorable Lord Lyttleton, namely: "The most 'important portion' of my letter, Mr. Staunton has 'dared' to suppress." (The italics are mine)..."The course pursued by that gentleman (Staunton) cannot do otherwise than to justify me in ascribing to him the very 'worst of motives' (the italics are mine) in publishing what he knew to be incorrect, in denying me common justice and in giving a the whole of my letter 'what he knew to be only a part of it.' (The italics are those of Mr. Morphy). You know also that Lord Lyttleton replied with his own italics: "I am not aware how far Mr. Staunton is responsible for what appears in the Illustrated London News. But whoever is responsible for that suppression I must say, that I cannot see how it is possible to justify or excuse it." (Compare the well-known book, entitled Paul Morphy, The Chess Champion, by an Englishman, pp. 114 and 115.)

And since your mind is now open to the perception of such facts, you will, perhaps, without any further application of the birch-rod as far as this item is concerned, agree with my conclusion, that you ought to have quoted my reference in Turf, Field and Farm to my having received similar treatment at the hands of this Mr. Staunton. But pray do not forget it, when I now tell you the true facts about that affair. This Mr. Staunton was one of my first opponents in the Literary Steinitz Gambit and an editorial patient whom I had to cure (like yourself) from his journalistic delusions which were caused in the first place: 'Owing to my having in private conversation expressed myself in the strongest terms about his (Staunton's) conduct against Morphy,' though I had never seen the great American Chess hero at that date in 1866; in the second place: Owing to my having committed the crime of defeating in a match the late Professor Anderssen, then undoubtedly the strongest player next to Morphy. At that very time this Mr. Staunton was again the almighty ruler of public opinion in the Chess world and his performance against Morphy was remembered only by very few. In his usual manner he commenced attacking my play; a mode of warfare which, I can assure you, always left me indifferent. But finding this did not draw sufficiently, he made during my match with Bird an assault on my private character by means of what I may call at least a combination of suppressio veri and suggestio falsi which it would take too long to explain. My first step, thereupon, was to write to him privately, as well as officially, perfectly polite letters calling his attention to misstatements of facts. In a personal conversation on the subject in which I had asked him whether the letter I had sent for publication in the Illustrated London News would be inserted in that journal, he gave an evasive and even a threatening answer.

Part 5Edit

Now please to bear in mind, that I was neither as popular nor as wealthy as Morphy, and I was only a poor struggling man who was all the more likely to be hurt by the falsifications in the "Illustrated London News" and still less likely to obtain redress in the ordinary way from its editor than Morphy had been. But also do not forget in future, that in adopting my own contempt without silence Gambit for the first time I was not playing my game editorially, for I had no newspaper at my command, but it was a mere skittle affair which developed itself in the private rooms of a club as far as I was concerned, while my opponent had the most powerful batteries of the "Illustrated London News" and the "Chess World," his own paper, at his disposal. Let me also tell you, that judging from the effect which the first shots from these journalistic batteries had on myself, I have always suspected, that Morphy's subsequent apathy and hatred for Chess, which was, I believe, not alone the first symptom but also the cause of decay of his powerful genius, must have originated from the treatment which he received from that Mr. Staunton, whom you call as a witness against me. Now please to keep calm and do not explode when I tell you that I am still proud of the courage which enabled me to make such a move in the Gambit of life as to address "strong language" to this almighty editorial Staunton in a club room.

For you are laboring under one of your journalistic delusions, my poor patient, when you imagine that I was defeated in that campaign. On the contrary I scored a good victory, though the battle lasted a little longer and my triumph might have been more complete but for the treacherous perfidy of a London fellow of your own craft, a miserable shyster who deliberately gave me false advice professedly as a friend and a gentleman, and afterward cynically admitted that he had laid me a trap, as he thought that the money he had invested in the Club would be safer by throwing me overboard in order to gratify the almighty editor of the "Illustrated London News." You will find almost all, whatsoever I tell you on the subject, verified in some manner in the papers of the time, and if you do not take my word for the rest you ought to find easily some respectable gentleman (none of your anonymous press-gang) who will give his full signature and address to any contradiction of any of my statements. My move turned out a very good one. I can assure you, for its first effect was that this very Mr. Staunton, who had the audacity of mutilating one of Morphy's letters and of refusing to publish the latter's correction of false statements until a Right Honorable Lord interfered on his (Morphy's appeal); this very Staunton felt compelled to publish my letter in full the very next week, though with an alteration of the date in order to make it appear to some innocent people that I had used the "strong language" before writing the letter. No doubt he also attached some remarks to throw doubt on my statements, but I had gained my point, for I had placed the true facts before his own public, and everybody who knew me or knew Staunton well enough believed me in preference.

The result of the publication of the letter was that though Staunton with his satellites and suckers tried with might and main to expel me, as I had of course anticipated, he soon discovered that he would not find the usual two-thirds quorum for such a purpose. You know something similar happened here in New York, twenty years afterward, for there are gentlemen still in England, as well as in American, who will give strength to right against might. As a matter of fact, I believe I had the actual majority on my side, if only on the ground that by some omission in the verbiage of the rules the expulsion would have been illegal according to English law, as I have since been fully assured. Yet you know very well that experience is indispensable in he gambit of life as well as in Chess, and as I was 22 years younger and was not aware at the time how crafty and treacherous some persuasive, shystering advocates can be. "I fell into the trap," as I said in "Turf, Field and Farm," of sending in my resignation under the kind of advice of such an individual. But I discovered that I had been sold before it was legally too late, if I could have afforded to go to law, and in order not to weary your patience, my poor deluded patient, with details, I shall only tell you for the rest that I withdrew my resignation immediately and before the next Committee meeting took place, in a letter addressed to every Committee-man and to the Secretary, thus challenging the Committee to bring the matter before the general meeting. Of course Staunton and his shystering advocate, as well as other satellites comprising your virtuous Wormald and Duffy, were glad enough to make their escape from the dilemma by ignoring my letters of withdrawal and accepting my resignation with a vote of censure of their own, over which Staunton was of course jubilant.

But, as usual, the game is not over with the first check, and though I naturally felt sore over nearly losing the game by over-confidence when I had a clear win in hand, my opponent did not long enjoy his delusion that he had constructed a mating position. On the contrary, within a fortnight, a previously called general meeting took lace for the purpose of electing a president, for which office Mr. Staunton was the only candidate. The roll of membership numbered over 80, if I recollect right, but Mr. Staunton, who appeared in gala dress, found exactly three more people in the room, and no more during the whole evening, the other habitues having by common consent agreed to abstain from visiting the Club room on that date. And within a short time it was this very Mr. Staunton not I, as you assume, who was by some means or other "compelled to resign from the Westminster Chess Club." He then started another Club, the name of which I have forgotten, but which broke into pieces in a few weeks. The Westminster Chess Club degenerated into a gambling hell, and in order to keep up appearances according to its name and to escape a police raid (as I afterward learned) this society was glad enough to invite me and Zukertort to play a portion of our first match of 1872 in their rooms. They broke up as a Chess Club some time after, and amalgamated with some Whist society.

This is my analysis of my first Club fight or contempt without silence gambit, which was a victory for me and not a defeat, as you imagine in your wild dreams, my poor patient. Proof of my statement is that with the exception of two or three growling articles just after the time when this Westminster Chess Club tragedy occurred I enjoyed complete literary peace for the rest of his life, about seven years long, from this very Mr. Staunton, who had always fancied that he could aggrandize himself by assailing his rivals with the grossest falsehoods. Or in other words, I cured my first editorial patient as completely from all his delusions as I hope you will be cured now from your unfortunate imaginations in reference to that affair.

But in order to remove all doubts on your mind on that subject, and to prove that at least in England, I was considered neither "dishonorable" nor "dishonored" in that club fight, I may inform you that I was subsequently elected honorary member of the City of London Chess Club, the West-end Chess Club, the St. George's Chess Club, the two University Chess Clubs of Oxford and Cambridge, and numerous other societies all over the country. And now as a preparation for my next lesson, take another stroke of the birch-rod and don't whine. You may cover your rear with the New Orleans proxies for another month, when I shall enlighten you on other items of my history. In the mean while, you are allowed to tell the Checker and Whist players of your city that you regard the Personal and General columns of this journal "with contemptuous indifference."

Part 6Edit

Since my last lecture, one of my patients has had a relapse which requires my first attention. In trying to "hedge-off," as a contemporary suggests, he has strained his imagination, and he blubbers some assurance that the forthcoming program of the Sixth American Chess Congress "will eliminate some of its hippodroming features," or words to that effect. This is serious, and the poor fellow might be troubled with fantastic dreams that the Congress has at some time or other been tainted with dishonorable intentions; therefore, I shall immediately subject him to proper treatment.

Stand up, my $20 bunco-maniac, and apport like a poodle on the hind-legs of your $20 dignity.

In spite of your bunco-brag, everybody who knows you, knows of course that you want to make a living out of Chess. Bon! if you behave yourself with common decency. You cannot, however, expect to be allowed to befoul with you putrid tongue honorable names, such as those of the members of the Committee of the Sixth American Chess Congress, and at the same time to suck out pecuniary benefits for yourself from their disinterested and generous efforts for the great cause of the game.

You remember, no doubt, how you had to perform a somersault in the "Telegram" somewhat like the wild animals in Barnum's show which are taught such tricks as well as the principle of "live and let live" by means of small doses of starvation and the application of a whip similar to the editorial cat-o'-nine-tails that is now employed on your back. Therefore, let me tell you that if you ever again allow such an expression, hint or suggestion as "hippodroming" to escape your foul-mouthed imagination in connection with any action of the Sixth American Chess Congress, I shall take the following course, namely:

Not you, but the proprietor of the "New York Star" and its chief editor, as well as the proprietor and chief editor of the "New York Commercial Advertiser" whose names I shall ascertain, shall be held personally responsible in this journal for your utterances, and I shall denounce them as fools and idiots, (you know some of these bosses dislike that far more than to be accused of criminality) if without proper and thorough investigation, they allow their editorial bunco-hireling to use the columns of their newspapers as a catapult for his lying and libellous personal animus. As you are aware, this journal is read at the "Press Club" of New York, and the matter is sure to come to the ears of your bosses. (You better run at once to the rooms of that society and confiscate the current number of this journal for your $20 pocket). And this might lead, in the first place, to inquiries about the integrity and honorable standing of one and all of the members of the Committee of the forthcoming Congress, since its purification from your own company by your retirement from that body on the hind-legs of your $20 dignity. In the next place, curiosity might be excited again about the address of the ten-fold millionaire Bauderman, and the $10,000 house in Brooklyn, etc. and Mr. Morris, the chief editor of the "New York Evening Telegram" (you see I have a knack of mentioning names) might again be interviewed in order to ascertain who paid for the cablegram reports of the Chess News during the London Tournament of 1886. All this might be unpleasant, you know, but as I like to play with open cards, I shall tell you, moreover:

That a rule will be introduced in the Committee of the forthcoming Chess Congress which will empower a selected jury of 12 independent and honorable gentlemen to disqualify for the proper reasons by a three-fourths majority vote any person from being allowed to enter as a spectator the hall where the tournaments are played; or respectively, by a unanimous vote, even from competition in the tournament. In order to show that no injustice is intended, I may mention that I, myself, shall propose that no one who has ever played in a public tournament, therefore, no so-called professional or half-professional, shall be eligible for the jury. But if I mistake not, you have already enough to answer for, and you will have to go down on your knees and swallow a good many of your own foul-mouthed words before you will be admitted as a reporter to the rooms of the Congress. Therefore, let me advise you not to aggravate your case.

And now, my $20 bunco-money monomaniac, lay down on all-fours and keep still.

Part 7Edit

Since the above was in type, I learn that this patient has performed another somersault which may be a symptom of recovery or one of those sporadic jumpings from one extreme to another, peculiar to sufferers from such Chess editorial derangements. It seems, though I have not seen or hear it directly, that he is singing a regular hallelujah for the forthcoming Congress. Bon! If his conversion be sincere and permanent, he shall be discharged as cured from our Chess editorial lunatic asylum. But in the case of this subject, I have some reason to distrust such sudden signs of repentance, which at least on a former occasion were only spurred and stimulated from chief editorial headquarters. Therefore, and as prevention is better than cure, I do not think that a dose of the above contempt without silence medicine can do any harm by way of prevention and as a warning against future relapses.

Here is our poor patient from New Orleans again with his "Sitzfleisch" on public exhibition, showing that the coagulation of revengeful blood to his head has been somewhat relieved. To take his index of my criminalities in his own order or disorder, I shall postpone my treatment of his delusion in reference to the City of London Chess Club affair in 1875, and apply myself to the cure of his fixed idea about the manner in which as he fancies, I was made "dishonorable and dishonored" two years later. It is only noteworthy, that our poor editorial patient even in his dream fancies about the atrocities which I am supposed to have committed, admits at least tacitly, that I must have been on my good behavior fully nine years and perhaps for eleven. To students of such mental editorial derangements, it may be instructive to notice the chronological order in which my alleged defeats in the gambit of life follow the serious mistakes which I no doubt committed over the Chess board. For it supports my theory that the Westminster Chess Club tragedy and my club fight with Staunton, may be traced to my error in winning a champion match against Anderssen, when I inform you that my next serious Steinitz gambit of life occurred within about a year after I had blundered to win every one of seven games in my match with Blackburne in 1876. Our poor deluded patient who takes up the arms which were thrown away by my defeated editorial long ago, does not perceive that these weapons were originally forged by such malicious spite and jealousy as he, himself, is suffering from at present.

Now to proceed with the second item of the charges against me in the black list of our editorial patient, he says in the "Times-Democrat" of February 5th: "His (my) exclusion from Simpson's Divan is admitted (the italics are those of our poor patient, and of course by implication at least, it means my being at once 'dishonorable and dishonored') and he further confesses that it, (also) was due to his (my) use of 'unparliamentary (?) language' against a highly esteemed gentleman (the italics are mine) of the Chess and reading room of that popular resort." And then follows a rigmarole of his own constructions on that theme. But you will notice soon how deluded the poor fellow must be, when he only thought it necessary to quote no more than two words, viz: "unparliamentary language" in support of the "historical fact" that I have in "Turf, Field and Farm" "confessed" to all the charges against me. One of my usual remedies will no doubt relieve him from such hallucinations. Wherefore, I beg leave to push aside all the proxies among the Checker and Whist players of New Orleans who usually form his rear-guard, but who may now stand in a ring in order to see that everything is fair and square while I apply my birch-rod to the center of his flesh, which apparently is the true seat of his editorial errors. There!

Part 8Edit

Oh! oh! No! no! oh! no! oh!

Let me inform you in the first place, that the spelling of the above words was impressed in a wood-cut of the London "Figaro" in 1877 to a little school-boy, represented as laying "hands down" across the knees of his spectacled grandmother, who supports her teachings by the same means as I have employed to you now. This may be mentioned as another respectable reference for my private operations of a public character. But it may amuse you to learn, (of course I do not grudge you any amusement at intervals), as it caused the greatest merriment to me and to those who noticed it at the time, that this spelling lesson occurred by a most extraordinary, ludicrous accident, for which I was in no way responsible, in the identical number of the above quoted journal in which I administered elementary instructions of the Alpha and Omega of editorial manners and the journalistic notions of truth and right or wrong, not alone to the individual whom you describe as "a most esteemed gentleman," but also to two of his "coadjutors."

Now please to take again "Turf, Field and Farm" of October 26th, 1883 in hand,and to read aloud the portion of my letter in reference from which you quoted only two words. But kindly oblige me by laying a little stress on some of the passages which I have marked with new italics:

"Thirdly, the Divan, 1877. There is something essentially wrong about the description of the ground on which one of the sanguine battles in the campaign under the board was fought. The Divan is not a club and has no elected "members" as is led to believe. It is what is called in England a licensed house for the sale of liquors in connection with a dining room, a cigar shop and a smoking or reading room devoted also to Chess. All parts are open to the public, with the slight restriction in reference to the chess room, which is reserved for customers who dine in the establishment or who pay a small entrance or subscription varying according to its term. The rule is not rigorously enforced, and all the professionals in London as well as some so-called amateurs are on the free list.

Such was in reality the stage where the shocking drama was enacted of which I can only give you the bare outlines, for the plot is too complicated with details. In a private conversation I was "drawn out," to use some unparliamentary language about an individual who had persecuted me for years in four different newspapers. I regret to say that I used the language in his absence, for I certainly ought to have used it to his face, but I amended matters in that respect some months later on another part of the stage, namely, the cigar shop of that establishment. There was a hubbub and a war cry naturally. The outraged individual was co-proprietor of a monthly chess and gambling journal, of which, by the way, Mr. Zukertort was the innocent game editor. By the same sort of accident the other proprietor of that monthly chesspool happened to be the solicitor of the Divan Company and horribile dictu to use the expression of the "Chess Monthly," I was "not admitted," which practically meant that I was to be removed from the free-list never to enter again the happy institution with an empty stomach, for I was either bound to dine at or to offer a subscription to the establishment before I could establish for myself a legal claim of admittance.

Mirabile dictu "some members" (perhaps there were more than "some") "petitioned," I certainly did not, but refused to set my foot into the place until the matter was, strange to say, settled in a perfectly honorable manner through the intervention of the chief editor of the "Field." But why was he (Steinitz) not immediately expelled from the St. Georges, the University Chess Club of Oxford and Cambridge and several other chess clubs in England of which he was an honorary member? Why was he not at once discharged from the "Field" and "Figaro" and the future "doctor champion" or some other member of the Literary Long firm, appointed in his place? The history of the "Chess Monthly" does not answer. Perhaps that was never intended, and the appointment on the "Field" was generously allowed to be kept warm by Steinitz for Mr. Zukertort's partner until the former resigned six years later. But why, on the contrary, was there an editorial crisis at the "Sporting and Dramatic News" and "Land and Water" within a few months after the curtain had fallen over the Divan tragedy? Why did the victorious hero of that drama, in spite of his partnership with the solicitor of the company, withdraw on the hind legs of his dignity from the attendance at the ancient Chess sanctuary for six years to follow? Read the answer in the "London Figaro" of October and November 1877."

This was well read, and perhaps you will see now for yourself without any further stimulation from my birch-rod that more than the two words which you quoted in the "Times-Democrat" from the portion of my letter to "Turf" were required in order to give your proxies among the Checker and Whist players who are now surrounding us some correct idea of the miserable salon or public-house intrigue and conspiracy in which one of your virtuous heroes, my shady, irreverent fou and foe was the prime mover,and which was concocted by a jealous, semi-professional, sandwich clique for the purpose of throwing some dirt on my good name. And now let me explain to you why I wished you to emphasize some of those italicized passages.

Part 9Edit

The individual whom you describe as "a most esteemed gentleman of the London press" is dead now, but some of his "coadjutors" are still alive, and they at least, if not many others (were it true as you allege, that he had all but friends) ought to defend his memory, and their own names which are involved, with their signatures in full, (none of the swindling press aliases of "Mars," or anonymous newspaper diatribes) when I state, that he was nothing more than a raw, blackguardly, scurrilous Chess impostor, whose writings have left hardly more than an indelible blot on English Chess literature. His name is not worth mentioning, for he was neither distinguished as a player nor as a composer, but he was all the more malignant for this very reason of his manifest inferiority. It was he, who first attempted the role among English Chess players of passing himself off as an amateur among professionals and as a professional among amateurs (just like the bunco-maniac and consorts here). It was he, who after obtaining the editorship of several influential newspapers through his connection with theatrical and journalistic circles, assailed the best masters of the day with the coarsest invectives and with downright false statements of facts. It was he, who inaugurated a sort of patriotic crusade especially against the non-English Chess magnates to whom he constantly applied such expressions as the "foreign shilling-hunters," "hirelings," "mercenaries," "loafers," etc. It was he, (now mark that) who vulgarly defiled the grave of an illustrious Chess hero, whose memory his own nation honored with a statuette at the Paris Opera House. It was he, who about thirty years after the death of LaBourdonnais, mocked the lamentable poverty of the greatest Chess master of his time, whom he described as the "greasy LaBourdonnais" in a vile article in the "Westminster Papers" which accompanied a beastly caricature of myself just after, and as a sort of reward for my victory over Blackburne in 1876. By the way, I may tell you, that it will never stand to the credit of British amateurs that there was not a single public remonstrance raised at the time against such editorial rowdyism.

Before dismissing you for another month, which holiday-time you may spend on your retirade accompanied by your proxies, I really must ask your kind leave to apply another stroke of the birch-rod. There! But don't faint. For you spoke "the thing that is not," as the noble equines in "Gulliver's Travels" would call it, when you so positively asserted quite recently, that the individual we were just talking about, had no other enemy but myself. When your faculties will revive, you will no doubt remember to have read (for of course you have read everything appertaining to Chess history) that he was at loggerheads with Staunton for years, and in fact he started the "Westminster Chess Papers" with the pronounced object of counteracting the old man's influence. You must have known that he, the part proprietor of a gambling journal, in the most scurrilous manner attacked the dead and the living professionals whom he grudged playing for shillings, while the playing of hazard games for fortunes was openly advocated in his journal. And taking it for granted that I was such a monster as you describe and had no friends at all, at least the dead LaBourdonnais and some other professionals who were living at the time must have had a great many friends who would view with contempt the miserable poltroonery of this so-called critic. You will perhaps also remember after this stroke with the birch-rod, that in an infamous article in the "Sporting and Dramatic News" in 1876 or 1877 in which I believe he had a hand, but which at any rate emanated from the clique to which he belonged, he was described as the terror of all the professionals of whom were "a question whether they hated him or feared him most." Also please to recollect how he worried and insulted Lowenthal into whose place on "Land and Water" this impostor wormed himself during the former's life time. And finally the centre of your flesh may communicate to the centre of your brain the well known fact, that I opened my first Literary Steinitz Gambit on this personage in the London "Figaro" at the complaint by public letter of the late Mr. Zukertort, whom this individual began to insult, to villify and to persecute immediately after his (Zukertort's) resignation as game editor of the "Westminster Papers," and by the way, I may express the opinion which I always held, that it is no credit to the memory of the departed master that he held this post so long.

And when the smartings of your grinning negative will have relieved your positive spite, you will probably become cognizant of the fact that I was neither "dishonorable nor dishonored" about that affair in England where, as already pointed out in the short bulletin of this campaign under the board, published in "Turf," I remained editor of two papers and honorary member of all the clubs to which I then belonged up to my first departure for America five years later. You will also remember that I was honorary umpire of the Inter-University Chess matches between Oxford and Cambridge, of which I was one of the founders, for nine years from the time of its having been started up to that when I left England. And you may also recollect that the very next year after this terrible Divan tragedy, I was elected one of the three judges and umpires in the Grand International Chess Congress during the Paris Exhibition of 1878.

 

This work was published before January 1, 1924, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.