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Our First Century/Unrivaled Performances by Paul Morphy

LXXVI

UNRIVALED PERFORMANCES BY PAUL MORPHY,

THE AMERICAN CHESS CHAMPION.—1858

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His Extreme Youth, Marvelous Gifts and Genius, and Astonishing Triumphs. — The Most Renowned Players in America and Europe Vanquished by Him. — His Wonderful Victories in Blindfold Games with the Veteran Masters of Chess. Morphy's Bust Crowned with Laurel in Paris — Honors and Testimonials at Home — Morphy's Personal History — Early Aptness for Chess. — Skill When Twelve Years Old — Introduction to the Public. — At the National Chess Congress. — Great Champions There. — Morphy Takes the First Prize. — Wins Eighty one out of Eighty-four Games Professional Visit Abroad. — Challenges the Chess Celebrities — His Boyish Appearance. — Modesty and Great Memory. — Aspect when at Play. — His Brilliant Combinations. — Feats Performed in Paris Long and Profound Games — Great Match Against Eight — Unparalleled Spectacle. — Victor over Every Rival. — Without a Peer in the World. — Banquets to Him in Europe. — America Proud of Her Son.

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"Mr. Morphy always plays, not merely the best, but the VERY best move; and if we play the move only approximately correct, we are sure to lose. Nobody can hope to gain more than a game, now and then, from him."— ANDERSSEN, THE CHESS CHAMPION IN GERMANY.

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ZEST and good humor possessed the public mind, from one end of the country to the other, as the triumphs of Paul Morphy, the chess champion of the world, though scarcely yet attained to manhood, were announced one after the other, in an almost unbroken series at home and abroad, and against such odds as no other person of similar years had ever before encountered. His name was a pleasant charm in every month, and great was the honor accorded to America when this New Orleans youth fought, and fairly beat on their own ground, and in the presence of thronging crowds, all the greatest professors, not only in England but in Europe, of the noble game of chess.

The history of this extraordinary young man, as given by his biographers at the period named, shows an astonishing natural adaption to and fondness of the game, combined with the most patient and enduring study. He was born in New Orleans, in June, 1837. His father, a lawyer, and judge of the supreme court of Louisiana, was fond of chess, and taught it to his son at a very early age. His inclination to it was very strong, and his assiduity in cultivating it enormous. At the age of ten years he was familiar with the moves of the game; and when he was only twelve, he played with the celebrated Herr Lowenthal—a European player of the first strength, who happened to be visiting the Crescent City,—and the result was that the veteran and world-famous player lost two games and drew one in contending with this little lad. From that time forth, the name of Paul Morphy was noised abroad in the chess circles of America with great commendation; few were to be found bold enough to cope with him, and when they did so, it was to meet with unvaried defeat. Such a phenomenon as Morphy was perfectly unaccountable.

On the assembling of the National Chess Congress in New York, in 1857, Mr. Morphy was for the first time introduced to the public. His youthful appearance and wonderful power soon made him the center of attraction, and as the labors of the Congress proceeded, it became apparent that he would be is champion—a position that he finally won by the remarkable force of his combinations and the marvelous skill and foresight of his designs, winning some eighty-one out of eighty-four games. Paulsen, Lichtenhein, Thompson, Montgomery, Hammond, and Stanley, all succumbed to his superior power, and he carried off the first Prize of the American Chess Congress.

Confident in his powers, Morphy now sent a challenge to Mr. Staunton, the champion of English chess, inviting him to play at a match, the stakes to be five thousand dollars. But Mr. Staunton declined, on account of the distance. Mr. Morphy's enthusiasm soon led him to visit England, and there the youthful hero was resolved with most distinguished attentions. His opponents at the chess-board were the very strongest in the English field, including such men as Lowenthal, Boden, and other celebrities. Mr. Morphy's appearance, during these great struggles, is described by the English press as exceedingly interesting—indeed, curious. His slight, even boyish frame, his puny limbs, small face (though redeemed by the high and massive brow towering above it), the almost infantine expression of his features, rendered it difficult for Englishmen to believe that this was the great mental phenomenon of whom all were talking and at whom all were marveling. His attitude was one of remarkable modesty, evidently quite unaffected,—not a sparkle of triumph in his eye, not a flash of half-concealed exultation on his cheek; nothing but a perfectly motionless and inscrutable impassibility, a gazing calmly and steadfastly onwards to the end in view, as if with a fixed determination to attain that end, and an utter disregard for any small triumph of conquest for doing what he as irresistibly compelled to do. And as he looked, so he was, invincible. Game after game was won with a precision truly marvelous, and that not so much by what is called steady play, as by a series of brilliant combinations involving sometimes many moves, and followed out with an unerring certainty that must have been as terrible to his opponent as it was admirable to all the spectators. During one day, he played and won eleven profound games, and, after returning to his lodgings at night, he recapitulated from memory, to a friend, every game, pointing out the variations minutely, and demonstrating the critical positions at which each was won or lost. This showed not only his superlative genius as a player, but also his astonishing power of memory. Among his antagonists in London was the renowned Mr. Lowenthal; fourteen games were played, of which Mr. Morphy won nine, Mr. Lowenthal three, and two were drawn. Indeed, Mr. Morphy was victorious over all who opposed him, in London, and on the Continent it was the same.

In Paris, he encountered such men as Harrwitz, Riviere, Laroche, Journoud, and Devinck; but the most celebrated rival with whom he was matched, while in Europe, was Adolph Anderssen, the acknowledged champion of German chess,—the result of this match being Morphy seven, Anderssen two, drawn two. Though deprived of his long-enjoyed supremacy as king among European chessmen, Anderssen magnanimously said: "Mr. Morphy always plays, not merely the best, but the very best move; and if we play the move only approximately correct, we are sure to lose. Nobody can hope to gain more than a game, now and then, from him." And again, this great master of chess said of his conqueror, "It is impossible to play chess better than Mr. Morphy: if there be any difference in the strength between him and Labourdonnais, it is in his favor." Another great player, after trying him, said: "It is of no use; it is uncertainty struggling against certainty."

Such astounding feats as those performed by Mr. Morphy, in Paris, brought the excitement in the chess-playing world of that city up to white heat; and the memorable occasion when he played against and beat, blindfolded, eight of the best players of Paris, at one time, led some to believe that he possessed almost supernatural faculties. The cafe de la regence, at which this extraordinary feat occurred, had two large rooms on the ground floor. In the first room, which was full of marble tables, were seated the eight adversaries of Mr. Morphy. In the second room, in which were two billiard tables, was seated the single player. A large portion of this room, including the billiard tables, was shut off from the crowd by a cord, and behind the tables, in a large armchair, sat Mr. Morphy, with his back to the crowd. Two gentlemen, reporting for the press, kept the game, and two other gentlemen, Messrs. Journoud and Riviere, cried out the moves, or carried them from one room to the other. The adversaries of Mr. Morphy were all either old or middle-aged men, and eminent as skillful players. The boards of the eight players were numbered 1,2,3,etc., and at half-past twelve o'clock the game commenced. Mr. Morphy playing first, and calling out the same move for all the right boards, KP 2. At seven o'clock, No. 7 was beaten with an unlooked-for check-mate. Soon after eight o'clock, No. 6 abandoned the game as hopeless; and, half an hour later, No. 5 played for and gained a draw game. Nos. 1, 2, and 3, were soon after beaten. At ten o'clock, No. 4 made the blind player accept a draw game, but it was half-past ten before M. Seguin, No. 8, a very old gentleman, who contended with great desperation, was beaten. Thus he beat six, while two, who acted on the defensive and only sought a draw game— equivalent to a defeat—effected their purpose.

During the entire game, which lasted just ten hours, Mr. Morphy sat with his knees and eyes against the bare walls, never once rising or looking toward the audience, nor even taking a particle of drink or other refreshment. His only movements were those of crossing his legs from side to side, and occasionally thumping a tune with his fingers on the arms of the chair. He cried out the moves without turning his head. Against 1,2,3,6, and 7, who were not up to the standard of the other three players, he frequently made his moves instantaneously after receiving theirs. He was calm throughout, and never made a mistake, nor did he call a move twice. And, as around each of the eight boards there was a large collection of superior chess players, who gave their advice freely, and who had eight times longer to study their play in than the single player, Mr. Morphy played certainly against fifty men, and they never ceased for a moment making supposed moves, and studying their game most thoroughly, during the long intervals that necessarily fell to each board. At the end of the game, a triumphant shout of applause went up from the three hundred throats present, many of them Englishmen and Americans (among the latter was Professor Morse, who took a deep interest in this extraordinary game), but the much larger number were French. Morphy did not seem at all fatigued, and appeared so modest that the frenzy of the French knew no bounds. He was shaken by the hand and complimented till he hung down his head in confusion. One gray-haired old man, an octogenarian chess-player, stroked Mr. Morphy's hair with his hands, as he would a child of his own, and showered him with terms of endearment. The waiters of the cafe had formed a pleasant conspiracy to carry Morphy in triumph on their shoulders, but the multitude was so compact and demonstrative that they could not get near him, and finally had to abandon the attempt. These blindfold games he also played with equal success in Birmingham.

No less a man than Mr. Mongredien, the president of the London chess club, went to Paris, still further to satisfy himself as to the real merit of Mr. Morphy's playing, and as to the rank he ought to occupy. Mr. Mongredien and Mr. Morphy played eight games, one of which, the first one, was drawn, and the others were gained by Mr. Morphy. In this trial of skill, two facts were remarked in regard to Mr. Morphy's playing—which were also almost universally remarked in his games when contesting with a first-rate player. These were, that he seldom won the first game, and that up to about the twentieth move he rarely showed any superiority over his competitor. It was only after that point in the game, that he commenced those extraordinary and unlooked-for moves which astonished the audience and crushed his antagonist beyond hope of recovery.

Previously to his departure from Paris, a splendid banquet was given him, on which occasion the most eminent French players did him the unprecedented honor of crowning his bust with a laurel.

Returning to America, the young Achilles of Chess was everywhere received with spontaneous demonstrations of enthusiasm, and in the great cities he was the recipient of splendid testimonials, worthy of his achievements and renown.

It was in New York, that Mr. Morphy was honored with such an ovation as rarely falls to the lot of earth's greatest heroes, and still more rarely in simple recognition of a peculiar talent or genius. About fifteen hundred ladies and gentlemen were in attendance on this occasion, and the presentation speech was made by John Van Buren, to which Mr. Morphy replied in a neat and graceful manner. The cadeaux which he received from the chess club were of dazzling magnificence,—chess men in gold, boards of equally costly material, wreaths of silver in imitation of laurel, costly watches, etc., etc.

To the tune of "See the Conquering Hero Comes," Mr. Morphy entered the thronged and magnificent hall. As the procession reached the platform, and the figure of Morphy became visible to the great body of the audience, the enthusiasm of the assemblage was intense. Amidst almost deafening applause, the youthful champion took a seat assigned to him by the side of Mr. Charles O'Conor, and calmly surveyed the exciting scene. To those who had not seen the victor before, his extreme youth, mild expression and unassuming manner, were matters of complete but most pleasurable surprise. The hero of the Cafe de Regence, the successful competitor of Harrwitz and Anderssen, the champion of the world in the profound game of chess, was but a lad in appearance and demeanor, and evidently without the least self-consciousness of his marvelous power.

Mr. Van Buren, in his eloquent presentation speech, gave a short review of the history of chess and of the eminent personages who had distinguished themselves as players; alluded to the rapid course and achievements of Mr. Morphy, who, in 1857, commenced his career in New Orleans, and, early in 1858, was the acknowledged victor, over all competitors, at New York, and had reached the culminating point in the halls of Paris and London; spoke of the thousand and more years in which chess had been known in various portions of the world—that it had been taught and valued on the banks of the Ganges, in the remote regions of Iceland—throughout Europe, Asia, and in many parts even of Africa; instanced Franklin, Charlemagne, Catherine de Medicis, Leo X., Voltaire, all of whom were lovers of the game, and Napoleon, who had played in the identical cafe where Mr. Morphy had won his victories. The orator then read a letter from Professor Morse, who mentioned being present at one of the games in Paris, where Mr. Morphy was received with great enthusiasm. A quotation was also read from Dr. Franklin's writings, in which he avowed himself the friend of the chess board, pointing out its representation of real life and inculcating foresight, circumspection, and principles of assault and defense.

After felicitously describing Mr. Morphy's position to be like one laying aside his weapons, and sighing, with Alexander, that there were no more worlds to conquer, Mr. Van Buren closed by saying: "Mr. Morphy—Your readiness to engage at all times, and with all comers, in chess contests—your refusal to make the condition of your health an excuse or a reason for declining—your utter rejection of all advantages that might be your due in a contest, and the intrepid spirit you manifested at Paris, induced Mons. St. Arnaut, one of the ablest and frankest of your adversaries, to name you "the chivalrous Bayard of Chess." But it is not for your qualities or conduct only as a chess player, that I have united in this proceeding. Your intercourse with your friends here, the accounts we have from New Orleans, the uniform representations from abroad, all concur in showing that in high-bred courtesy, true generosity and courage, innate modesty and strict integrity, you have illustrated at home and abroad the character of an American gentleman; and it is, therefore, with unaffected pride, that I have become the medium of conveying to you the sentiments that I have expressed, and that I again offer for your acceptance this appropriate token of the regard of your countrymen and of their recognition of your services." The orator concluded by asking the vast audience to unite with him "in welcoming, with all the honors, Paul Morphy, the Chess Champion of the World," and sat down amidst the wildest applause.

Mr. Morphy, on rising to respond, gracefully accepted the gift, and, in the course of his remarks, spoke of chess, "the kingly pastime," as a game that "never has been and never can be aught but a recreation. It should not be indulged in to the detriment of other and more serious avocations—should not absorb the mind or engross the thoughts of those who worship at its shrine; but should be kept in the background and restrained within its province. As a mere game, a relaxation from the severer pursuits of life, it is deserving of high commendation. It is not only the most delightful and scientific, but the most moral of amusements. Unlike other games, in which lucre is the end and aim of the contestants, it recommends itself to the wise, by the fact that its mimic battles are fought for no prize but honor. It is eminently and emphatically the philosopher's game. Let the chess-board supersede the card-table, and a great improvement will be visible in the morals of the community." Mr. Morphy's manner and matter won upon all hearts, and his pleasant speech was followed by deafening cheers.

Another grand ovation awaited Mr. Morphy at Boston, to which city he proceeded soon after the close of the elegant hospitalities extended him in New York. On arriving in Boston, Mr. Morphy gave a public reception, under the auspices of the Boston Chess Club, whose guest he was. A brilliant company of friends and admirers assembled at an early hour, and, on Mr. Morphy making his appearance, he was ushered into a reception room, where a large number of gentlemen crowded around him, eager to see and greet the youthful hero of numberless chess battles. After having been introduced to several of the most distinguished persons present, Mr. Morphy was conducted into a large and magnificent apartment of the club and seated himself at a chess table, which was surrounded by ladies of beauty and fashion.

Mr. Morphy quietly proceeded to arrange the chess-men, seemingly unconscious of the fact that he was the conspicuous mark of multitudes of bright and beautiful eyes. Mr. W. R. Broughton, who was considered one of the best players in the city, was selected as Mr. Morphy's opponent. In order to lessen the crowd, which was very large, arrangements were made to announce the moves in the opposite room, and the various tables therein were speedily surrounded by those interested in the game. The game and comments commenced simultaneously, Mr. Morphy giving his opponent the odds of the Queen's Knight. President Sparks, Professor Longfellow, Professor Pierce, R. H. Dana, Jr., Hon. Josiah Quincy, Jr., Mayor Lincoln, Professor Huntington, and other eminent men, were present, and exhibited deep interest in the progress of the game, at every successive step.

Mr. Morphy's moves were sudden—generally made on the instant. Mr. Broughton moved only after the most careful study. "Do you understand the game?" inquired one venerable and distinguished gentleman of another. "No; but I am deeply interested in Morphy; he seems so modest and self-possessed." "That's true; there is something extraordinary in his appearance, but I can't really make out what it is." People generally conversed in whispers, during the exciting joust, pronouncing his moves "fertile," "brilliant," "dashing," and one young gentleman declared in a low tone of voice, that the youthful champion was a "perfect stunner." Gentlemen of advanced years asserted, when the game was half-finished, that Mr. Broughton "didn't stand any sort of a chance." The game lasted until ten o'clock, when Mr. Broughton acknowledged that he was vanquished, and Mr. Morphy was then introduced to a large number of admirers, both ladies and gentlemen, the great majority of whom had remained standing during the entire evening, so great was their interest in the game.

For several successive days, Mr. Morphy was the recipient of the most flattering attentions in Boston,—feted in all sorts of ways, and waited upon by many of the most eminent men of the city and state,—in all of which he maintained the same modest and unassuming demeanor with which fame had so long stamped him. He won golden opinions from all who observed or came in contact with him.

But the most notable event in Mr. Morphy's reception at Boston, was the grand banquet given in his honor at the Revere House, May 31st, by the Boston Chess Club. All the arrangements for the evening were of the most superb and costly description, the tables were covered with the choicest viands, and the finest of music enlivened the occasion. Among the distinguished persons at the tables were Chief Justice Shaw, Professors Agassiz, Pierce, Huntington, and Sparks, Judge Parker, President Walker, of Harvard College, J. R. Lowell, E. P. Whipple, James T. Fields, Judge Thomas, Dr. O. W. Holmes, Hon. Josiah Quincy, Mayor Lincoln, Senator Wilson, and many others.

Dr. O. W. Holmes presided, and made a felicitous address of welcome to the guest of the evening, who, he declared, had honored all who glory in the name of Americans, as the hero of a long series of bloodless battles, won for the common country. Dr. Holmes concluded by giving, as a sentiment, "The health of Paul Morphy, the world's chess champion: His peaceful battles have helped to achieve a new revolution; his youthful triumphs have added a new clause to the Declaration of Independence." On rising to respond, Mr. Morphy was received with nine tumultuous cheers. He spoke of the unaffected diffidence with which he stood in the presence of such an intellectual audience, gracefully tendered his thanks for the cordial welcome extended him, and remarked upon chess as the best relaxation amidst the more serious pursuits of life, and, as such, afforded an excellent discipline for the mind. Mr. Morphy's appearance was exceedingly pre-possessing, and all hearts were united in his favor.

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1924. It may be copyrighted outside the U.S. (see Help:Public domain).