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101
CHESS

of it in the classical writings of the Brahmans. He lays it down that chess, under the Sanskrit name chaturanga, was exported from India into Persia in the 6th century of our era; that by a natural corruption the old Persians changed the name into chatrang, but when their country was soon afterwards taken possession of by the Arabs, who had neither the initial nor final letter of the word in their alphabet, they altered it further into shatranj, which name found its way presently into modern Persian and ultimately into the dialects of India.

Capt. Hiram Cox, in a letter upon Burmese chess, written in 1799 and published in the 7th vol. of Asiatic Researches, refers to the above essay, and considers the four-handed game described in the Sanskrit manuscript to be the most ancient form of chess, the Burmese and Persian games being second and third in order of precedence. Later, in the 11th and 24th vols. of the Archaeologia, Mr Francis Douce and Sir Frederick Madden expressed themselves in favour of the views held by Hyde and his followers.

In Professor Duncan Forbes’s History of Chess (1860) Capt. Cox’s views, as founded upon Sir William Jones’s Sanskrit manuscript, are upheld and are developed into an elaborate theory. Professor Forbes holds that the four-handed game of chaturanga described in the Bhawishya Purana was the primeval form of chess; that it was invented by a people whose language was Sanskrit (the Hindus); and that it was known and practised in India from a time lost in the depths of a remote antiquity, but for a period the duration of which may have been from 3000 to 4000 years before the 6th century of the Christian era. He endeavours to show, but adduces no proof, how the four armies commanded by four kings in Sir William Jones’s manuscript became converted into two opposing armies, and how two of the kings were reduced to a subordinate position, and became “monitors” or “counsellors,” one standing by the side of the White and the other of the Black king, these counsellors being the farzins from which we derive our “queens.” Among other points he argues, apparently with justice, that chaturanga was evidently the root of shatranj, the latter word being a mere exotic in the language of the inhabitants of Persia.

Van der Linde, in his exhaustive work, Geschichte und Litteratur des Schachspiels (Berlin, 1874), has much to say of the origin-theories, nearly all of which he treats as so many myths. He agrees with those who consider that the Persians received the game from the Hindus; but the elaborate chaturanga theories of Forbes receive but scant mercy. Van der Linde argues that chaturanga is always used by the old Indian poets of an army and never of a game, that all Sanskrit scholars are agreed that chess is not mentioned in really ancient Hindu records; that the Puranas generally, though formerly considered to be extremely old, are held in the light of modern research to reach no farther back than the 10th century—while the copies of the Bhawishya Purana in the British Museum and the Berlin Library do not contain the extract relied upon by Forbes, though it is to be found in the Raghunandana, which was translated by Weber in 1872, and is stated by Bühler to date from the 16th century. The outcome of van der Linde’s studies appears to be that chess certainly existed in Hindustan in the 8th century, and that probably that country is the land of its birth. He inclines to the idea that the game originated among the Buddhists, whose religion was prevalent in India from the 3rd to the 9th century. According to their ideas, war and the slaying of one’s fellow-men, for any purposes whatever, is criminal, and the punishment of the warrior in the next world will be much worse than that of the simple murderer; hence chess was invented as a substitute for war. In opposition to Forbes, therefore, and in agreement with Sir William Jones, van der Linde takes the view that the four-handed game of the original manuscript is a comparatively modern adaptation of the Hindu chess, and he altogether denies that there is any proof that any form of the game has the antiquity attributed to it. Internal evidence certainly seems to contradict the theory that Sir William Jones’s manuscript is very ancient testimony; for it mentions two great sages, Vyasa and Gotama, the former as teaching chaturanga to Prince Yudhishthira, and the other as giving an opinion upon certain principles of the game; but this could not well be, seeing that it was played with dice, and that all games of hazard were positively forbidden by Manu. It would appear also that Indian manuscripts are not absolutely trustworthy as evidence of the antiquity of their contents; for the climate has the effect of destroying such writings in a period of 300 or 400 years. They must, therefore, be recopied from time to time and in this way later interpolations may easily creep in.

Von der Lasa, who had, in an article prefixed to the Handbuch in 1864, accepted Forbes’s views, withdrew his support in a review of the work just noticed, published in the September and November numbers of the Deutsche Schachzeitung, 1874, and expressed his adherence to the opinions of van der Linde.

Altogether, therefore, we find the best authorities agreeing that chess existed in India before it is known to have been played anywhere else. In this supposition they are strengthened by the names of the game and of some of the pieces. Shatranj, as Forbes has pointed out, is a foreign word among the Persians and Arabians, whereas its natural derivation from the term chaturanga is obvious. Again al-fil, the Arabic name of the bishop, means the elephant, otherwise alephhind, the Indian ox. Our earliest authority on chess is Masudi, an Arabic author who wrote about A.D. 950. According to him, shatranj had existed long before his time; and though he may speak not only for his own generation but for a couple of centuries before, that will give to chess an existence of over a thousand years.

Early and Medieval Times.—The dimness which shrouds the origin of chess naturally obscures also its early history. We have seen that chess crossed over from India into Persia, and became known in the latter country by the name of shatranj. Some have understood that word to mean “the play of the king”; but undoubtedly Sir William Jones’s derivation carries with it the most plausibility. How and when the game was introduced into Persia we have no means of knowing. The Persian poet Firdusi, in his historical poem, the Shahnama, gives an account of the introduction of shatranj into Persia in the reign of Chosroes I. Anushirwan, to whom came ambassadors from the sovereign of Hind (India), with a chessboard and men asking him to solve the secrets of the game, if he could, or pay tribute. Chosroes I. was the contemporary of Justinian, and reigned in the 6th century A.D. Professor Forbes seems to think that this poem may be looked upon as an authentic history. This appears, however, to be somewhat dangerous, especially as Firdusi lived some 450 years after the supposed event took place; but since other Persian and Arabian writers state that shatranj came into Persia from India, there appears to be a consensus of opinion that may be considered to settle the question. Thus we have the game passing from the Hindus to the Persians and thence to the Arabians, after the capture of Persia by the Caliphs in the 7th century, and from them, directly or indirectly, to various parts of Europe, at a time which cannot be definitely fixed, but either in or before the 11th century. That the source of the European game is Arabic is clear enough, not merely from the words “check” and “mate,” which are evidently from Shah mat (“the king is dead”), but also from the names of some of the pieces. There are various chess legends having reference to the 7th and 8th centuries, but these may be neglected as historically useless; and equally useless appear the many oriental and occidental romances which revolve around those two great central figures, Harun al-Rashid and Charlemagne. There is no proof that either of them knew anything of chess or, so far as the latter is concerned, that it had been introduced into Europe in his time. True, there is an account given in Gustavus Selenus, taken from various old chronicles, as to the son of Prince Okar or Otkar of Bavaria having been killed by a blow on the temple, struck by a son of Pippin after a game of chess; and there is another well-known tradition as to the magnificent chess-board and set of men said to have been sent over as a present by the empress Irene to Charlemagne. But both tales are not less mythical than the romance which relates how the great Frankish monarch lost his kingdom over a game of chess to Guérin de Montglave; for van der Linde shows that there was no Bavarian prince of the name of Okar or Otkar at the period alluded to, and as ruthlessly shatters the