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The presentation to the chess-playing public of more than one hundred and fifty games contested by Paul Morphy against the best players of Europe and America would scarcely be complete unless accompanied by a Memoir, however brief, of the young genius who has so suddenly risen up in our midst, and fairly fought his way, through a host of formidable competitors, to the chess throne of the world. If, in the composition of such Memoir, we were to confine ourselves simply to the chess life of Paul Morphy the record might be a very brief one—almost as brief as the celebrated “Veni, vidi, vici” of the Roman conqueror, and much to the same effect. We might write “ Paul Morphy is in his twenty-second year, has played chess from his childhood, and has beaten alí who have ventured to enter the lists with him," and then we might resign our pen. But in every life there is more than one element, however much that one may prevail over the rest. The web of each human existence may be compared to a woven fabric, in which one material predominates in weft and warp, but blended threads of many hues wind in and out, checkering the prevailing uniform tint and giving variety to its general aspect. Curiosity is a constant element in the action of the human mind. The public scrutinize a man brought prominently before them as a dealer or buyer examines manufactured goods. When an individual becomes great in any department of life, those who walk in the same path wish to know something more of him than relates to that common pursuit with which they are already acquainted, and which has in the first instance called their attention to him and stimulated their curiosity. They ask to be told of the general as well as the special man. They inquire from what race he has sprung; what his home has been; how he has been educated; what he is outside the arena in which he has become great. They seek for some signs of character in the sense in which it has been defined by a countryman of Paul Morphy's—Emerson, who tells us that character is that subtle force which impresses us with the idea of what a man is capable of, rather than leads us to think of what he has done.
The outer life with which the biographer deals consists of actions. The superstructure of inference must bear its due proportion to the basis of facts, which in the present case is but a narrow one. Paul Morphy is as yet too young to have played his part on the great stage of life. He has yet to take his place in the world of men,
-a chart upon which the chess-world is but a speck—a microscopic intellectual island amid oceans and continents. If he were taken from among us on the morrow, his name would descend to posterity in company with those of the greatest of the chess masters of the past; if he live out the “ three score years and ten,” those qualities which have thus early rendered him great in chess may signalize his name in one or more of the many fields on which the battle of life remains to be fought.
In person the subject of our Memoir is short and slight, with a graceful and dignified, though unpretending, bearing. He has black hair, dark brilliant eyes,
small expressive features, and a firmly set jaw, the latter lending an aspect of determination to the whole countenance. Over the chess-board he is cool, collected, and concentrated; and so easily are his greatest and most prolonged efforts made, he seldom or never exhibits any traces of fatigue. In his intercourse with the world he is courteous and unassuming, and exhibits a tact surprising in one so young, and manifests that appreciation of motive and character which generally mark those who are distinguished in any walk of life.
Of Paul Morphy, except as a chess player, we know but little. He comes on the father's side of a Spanish family long settled in Louisiana. The name Morphy ” certainly does not sound like a Spanish patronymic, it rather reminds
an Englishman of a name not at all unusual in the sister isle; and we should not be surprised if some enthusiastic Hibernian chess-player were to propound the theory that Paul Morphy is descended from ancestors of Irish birth. This of course is mere speculation, but it is a fact that many sons of Erin have emblazoned their names on the page of continental history, risen to high rank in the military service of Spain, and founded powerful families. However, Paul Morphy's father was of reputed Spanish descent, and of his mother's family there is no question. She was of French descent, and her family had long been resident in one of the West Indian Islands.
Morphy's father, during the latter years of his life filled the office of supreme judge of the State of Louisiana. Paul was born in the city of New Orleans, on the 22nd of June, 1837, so that he is now in his twenty-third year. We have not any information which would lead us to believe that in his earlier years he was unlike most other children, except that when exceedingly young he played at chess. His father was a chess player of considerable skill, and his uncle, Mr. Ernest Morphy, was generally considered the chess king of New Orleans.
From a recently published Memoir we learn that in 1847, when the boy had completed his first decade, his father taught him the moves, and his uncle gave him a lesson in the art of play. Paul was an apt pupil: in a few months he was able to contest a game with either of his relatives, and soon entered the lists against the stoutest opponents he could meet. In 1849, 1850, and 1851, Mr. Morphy achieved a series of triumphs over the strongest players in the Union, among whom were Messrs. Ernest Morphy, Stanley, and Rosseau. It is said that out of above fifty games fought during these years with Mr. Ernest Rosseau, his young antagonist won fully nine-tenths.
We are told that even at that time the boy gave evidence of genius and originality: He did not rest upon precedent, nor pay any great regard to established forms of openings, but used to get rid of his pawns as quickly as possible, regarding them as incumbrances which prevented the free action of his pieces. A very short experience combined with his rapid insight into the principles of the game, soon corrected that habit without impairing the boldness and decision from which it sprung. When only thirteen years
of age he was a really good player. At that early age he was a victorious in one or two games with the Editor of this work, who was then paying a short visit to New Orleans, and though a the latter was at that time depressed in mind and suffering in body, and was also prostrated by the climate, yet the achievement of the young Paul argues a degree of skill to which it is wonderful that a child could have attained. This circumstance was not known in Europe, where the name of Paul Morphy had not been heard of, till a short time before the assembling of the American Chess Congress on the 5th of October, 1857, when, as if to shadow forth his coming greatness, the fact was stated in a London newspaper.
Paul Morphy's boyhood was profitably employed, for he enjoyed the incalculable advantage of a systematic education. He was sent at an early age to the Jefferson Academy in his native city, where he received an elementary education befitting the son of a gentleman; and in 1850, he proceeded to a college near Mobile, in Alabama, where he distinguished himself in several departments of study. In 1854, he graduated at this college; but remained another year, during which time we are told that mathematics and law almost entirely engrossed his attention. At length, having chosen the legal profession, he concentrated his uncommon mental powers upon those studies necessary for the career of a barrister.
We need scarcely enter into the details of the American Chess Congress, with which our readers may be already familiar; but, connected as that event is with the chess fame of our hero, we may notice some of its principal results. The power of American chess players had been but lightly regarded in the Old World. Those who were considered the best were estimated as far inferior to the first rank of Europeans, and if any one had predicted a chess champion from America he would have been laughed to scorn. The Congress, however, showed that the traditional names were not the names of power; that the unknown were superior to the known; that there was unsuspected latent chess talent in the mind of Young America. The grey-beards were fairly pushed from their pedestals. Youth and genius proved far more than a
match for age and experience. All went down almost without a struggle before the conqueror from New Orleans, and second in the contest stood Paulssen of Iowa, till then never heard of beyond his own locality, and who was only a few years older than Paul Morphy.
The triumph of the young master did not produce any feeling of jealousy. His superiority was so evident that all idea of rivalry wis at once felt to be absurd. It was clear, not merely that he beat those to whom he was opposed, but that he beat them so decisively that they never had a chance of turning the tide of conquest. Whoever sat on the other side of the board the result was from the first certain, and the proportion of games he won over those he lost enormous. Out of about one hundred games with the strongest players of the States only three were decided against him. The Americans were in ecstasies at the brilliancy of the star which had arisen in their midst. They at once placed the victor of their tournament in the same rank with the greatest of the great masters. The American chess players regarded bim as invincible. They challenged the world to produce his equal, and backed their defiance by money worthy in amount to accompany the transfer of the Chess Crown.
It was now time for Europe to revise its notions of American chess play; but Europe did this rather slowly. The Old World clung to its traditional prestige, and in most quarters the idea
of the sceptre being wrested from its veterans by so young a hand was freely ridiculed. That Paul Morphy was a good player there was no attempt to deny. The published games which found their way across the Atlantic forbade the committal of any absurdity of that kind, but that he was the peer of Deschappelles, of Labourdonnais, or Philidor, none would without proof admit. That his triumph had been an easy one was granted, but then he had only been opposed to second-rate men-and it was not difficult to maneuvre brilliantly in the presence of a weak enemy. Besides, said some of the analysts, his combinations were not sound, and Paul Morphy would find himself in a very different position when brought in contact with the great players of another hemisphere. The enthusiasm of the Americans was considered natural, characteristic, and excus