Staunton, Howard (DNB00)

STAUNTON, HOWARD (1810–1874), chess-player and editor of Shakespeare, born in 1810, was reputed to be the natural son of Frederick Howard, fifth earl of Carlisle [q. v.] He was neglected in youth, and received little or no education. He is said to have spent some time at Oxford, but was never a member of the university. On coming of age he received a few thousand pounds under his father's will. This money he rapidly spent. He was devoted to the stage, and claimed to have acted in his early days Lorenzo to the Shylock of Edmund Kean. When thrown upon his own resources, he sought a livelihood from his pen. The main subjects of his literary labours were chess and the Shakespearean drama.

Staunton played chess from an early age, and soon acquired a skill in the game which has not been equalled by any British-born player. Alexander Macdonnell (1798–1835) [q. v.], who could alone be regarded as his rival, is now regarded as his inferior by competent critics. For some twenty years a great part of Staunton's time was spent in playing the game and in writing upon it. From 1836 he frequented the Divan, Huttmann's, and other public chess resorts. Four years later he first became known as a player of distinction, and between 1840 and 1851 he made his reputation. During 1841 and 1842 he engaged in a long series of matches with Cochrane, and in the majority was victorious. A match at Paris with the champion of Europe, St. Amant, followed in 1843, and Staunton's victory gave him a world-wide fame as a chess-player. Carl Meier, among others, published an account of this engagement (Zurich, 1843). In 1846 Staunton defeated the German players Horwitz and Harrwitz. An account of his match with Mr. Lowe in 1848 was published by T. Beeby. In 1851 his powers showed signs of decay, and in the great international tournament of that year he was beaten by Anderssen and by Williams; to the latter he had given odds not long before. In 1852 he met one of the greatest players of any period, Baron von Heydebrand und der Lasa of Berlin, and was defeated by a small number of games. He rarely played in public matches again. George Walker, a rigorous critic, credited Staunton's play with ‘brilliancy of imagination, thirst for invention, judgment for position, eminent view of the board, and untiring patience.’

Meanwhile Staunton was energetically turning his knowledge of the game to account as a journalist. In 1840, the year in which his supremacy as a player was first recognised, he projected the monthly periodical, ‘The Chess Player's Chronicle,’ which he owned and edited till he sold it in August 1854. About 1844 he took charge of the chess column in the ‘Illustrated London News,’ which had been commenced two years earlier, and he conducted it till his death. For some time he also edited a chess column in the ‘Era’ newspaper.

Staunton compiled for Bohn's ‘Scientific Series’ some valuable manuals on the game. Of these ‘The Chess Player's Handbook’ (1847; 2nd edit. 1848) long deserved, and still longer retained, the reputation of being the best English treatise on its subject. ‘The Chess Player's Companion’ (1849) included a treatise on games at odds, and so far was supplementary to the ‘Handbook,’ but it was mainly devoted to the record of his own games. ‘This still remains a work of the highest interest, and a noble monument for any chess-player to have raised for himself. The notes are in general as much distinguished by their good taste as by their literary talent and critical value.’ ‘The Chess Tournament’ (1852) contains the games of the international tournament of 1851 and some others; of this a German rendering appeared at Berlin. A defence of the London Chess Club (by ‘a member’) from the strictures passed on it by Staunton in this volume was issued in 1852. ‘The Chess Praxis’ (1860) was another supplement to the ‘Handbook,’ carrying on chess theory for some twelve years later, and containing many well-selected games.

Staunton's name was conferred on the set of chessmen which are recognised as the standard type among English-speaking peoples. His ‘Chess Player's Text-book’ was issued in 1849, without date, to be sold with the Staunton chessmen.

Staunton's ‘Chess: Theory and Practice’ was left in manuscript at his death, and was edited in 1876 by R. B. Wormald, who succeeded him as editor of the chess column of the ‘Illustrated London News.’

From 1854 Staunton largely devoted his attention to the study of Shakespeare, of whose works he had been from youth an enthusiastic admirer. Between November 1857 and May 1860 he issued, with Messrs. Routledge, a new edition of Shakespeare in monthly parts, with 824 illustrations by Sir John Gilbert. The parts were bound up in three volumes. A reissue without the illustrations followed in 1864 in 4 vols. Staunton's text was based on a collation of the folio editions with the early quartos and with the texts of modern editors from Rowe to Dyce. The conjectural emendations, which were usually sensible, were kept within narrow limits, and showed much familiarity with Elizabethan literature and modes of speech. The general notes combined common-sense with exhaustive research. In 1864 Staunton issued a photo-lithographic facsimile of the 1600 quarto of ‘Much Ado about Nothing’ from the copy in the Ellesmere collection. In 1866 he edited a photo-lithographic facsimile of the first folio edition of Shakespeare's works of 1623. Subsequently, between October 1872 and his death, he contributed a series of nineteen articles on ‘Unsuspected Corruptions of Shakespeare's Text’ to the ‘Athenæum’ (cf. Notes and Queries, 6th ser. iv. 264). His only other literary undertaking was a carefully compiled account of the ‘Great Schools of England’ (1865; 2nd edit. 1869).

Staunton was a brilliant talker in congenial society, prolific in anecdote and in apt quotation from Shakespeare. He died suddenly from heart disease at his house in London on 22 June 1874. He married, about 1854, Frances, widow of W. D. Nethersole, a solicitor, who was some years his senior. She died about 1882.

The St. George's Chess Club possesses a medallion-portrait, as well as a lithograph depicting the match in 1843 between Staunton and St. Amant.

[Information kindly furnished by the Rev. W. Wayte; Chess Player's Chronicle, 1874–5, pp. 117, 161–2; Bilguer's Handbuch des Schachspiel, 1891, pp. 59–60; Athenæum, 1874, i. 862; Illustrated London News, 4 July 1874, with portrait.]

S. L.