Obrázky na stránke

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 victorious in one or two games with the Editor of this work, who was then paying a short visit to New Orleans, and though 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 excusable; but it was deemed simply enthusiasm, which would have to be corrected by fact. A great voice answered to the American defiance, that if Mr. Morphy would make the voyage to England, he would find antagonists worthy to lift his glove, and enter the lists against him.

Shortly afterwards it was stated that Mr. Staunton would defend the chess reputation of ancient Albion against the young champion of the West.

It was at length agreed that the great contest which was to decide the question of supremacy between the Old World and the New, should take place in England. This was only fitting. The onus of making the necessary advances lay with the young and aspiring, not with the veteran and celebrated. The age of chivalry had not yet passed; chess bad its knights-errant, and Paul Morphy decided to leave his transatlantic home — to make the voyage to Europe, in order to meet his new antagonists upon the checkered field on which, in the great continent of the West, he could find no compeer.

The occasion was propitious; the Birmingham meeting would take place shortly after his arrival; the prospect presented an opportunity of contest with players of great fame; but, above all, he looked forward to a struggle with that famous representative of English chess, whose name was known and whose reputation was established wherever the votaries of Caissa dwelt.

Paul Morphy arrived in London in June, 1858, and his reception was, as it deserved to be, of the most cordial character. At the great clubs—the St. George's and the London—he met with that courteous hospitality which English gentlemen know so well how to render; but, for awhile an impression obtained that he would not repeat his American triumphs in Europe. The fatigues of the voyage had doubtless told upon him. The strangeness of the new stage, on which he was called to play so prominent a part, no doubt produced an unfavourable effect, and his first games did not alter the pre-judgment of English chess players, namely, that within the four seas of Britain he would find antagonists more than his match.

That delusion however was presently dispelled. With whomsoever he played it was found that he came off victorious; and a formal match was soon arranged, the result

[ocr errors]

It was

of which showed that the Americans had not overrated their young champion. The arrangements for the contest with Mr. Staunton progressed but slowly; and pending their completion, the Editor of this work put forward a challenge to play a match, for which the stakes were immediately supplied.

The result was that Paul Morphy added another laure. to his wreath: at the conclusion of the contest the score stood thus-Morphy 9, Löwenthal 3, drawn 2. a saying of Napoleon's, that he is the best general who in war makes the fewest mistakes, and Paul Morphy's play is perhaps even more remarkable for its correctness than for its power and brilliancy: even into his blindfold play an error scarcely ever creeps.

During the excitement of the above-named match, the placidity and courtesy of Mr. Morphy occasioned as much admiration as his skill. The utmost good-feeling prevailed between the combatants and their friends throughout.

This decisive victory conclusively settled Paul Morphy's position in the highest order of chess players, and justified ** Alter” in accepting the odds of Pawn and move from the youthful victor. The results of this combat were still more marked. Seven games in all were played, of which “ Alter" did not score a single game. Paul Morphy won 5, and 2 were drawn.

At the Birmingham tournament Mr. Morphy did not enter the lists, but he displayed his extraordinary proficiency in blindfold play by conducting eight games simultaneously against strong players, without seeing the boards. We have already observed that remarkable correctness is a characteristic of Paul Morphy's play, and these blindfold games indicate the same absence of errors already referred to.

While mentioning the subject of blindfold play, we may remark that Paul Morphy's opinion of it is similar to that entertained by Labourdonnais and other great masters. He regards it as a tour de force, the requisites for which are the habit of playing chess, memory, and imagination. To these essentials we should add the faculty of abstraction, and the power of picturing on the retina a representation of the chess board and the pieces, as their position alters at every successive move. This last qualification is the one whicb will be the least frequently found among men. The power of photographing a picture in the mind—not in vague, dim, shadowy outline, but in all its minute details—is extremely uncommon, and where it exists goes far to constitute what is called genius.

After the Birmingham tournament there was only one object which detained Paul Morphy in England. That object was to play with Mr. Staunton. The chess-playing public are already aware of the circumstances which

prevented that match from taking place. The facts are briefly these. Soon after Paul Morphy arrived in this country, the money for the stakes of the English champion was subscribed by various members of the English chess circle. It only remained to name a day and arrange the preliminaries. From time to time the fixing of the period was postponed, Mr. Staunton alleging that urgent literary occupations prevented him from practising chess, and that he was unable to afford the time necessary for the match. During the Birmingham meeting, however, a promise was given to appoint a day, but matters remained in statu quo till Paul Morphy had departed for France, and then Mr. Staunton, for the same reasons which he had given for the delay, declined to play at all. Upon this there ensued a controversy into which we do not intend to enter.

At the conclusion of the Birmingham festival Mr. Morphy proceeded to Paris, and among our Gallic neighbours added to the laurels he had gathered in England. His arrival caused great excitement in the Café de la Régence. The habitués of the place and the chess players of Paris hung over the board on which he played with the most profound attention, and his blindfold play excited the highest admiration. A match was at once arranged between Mr. Morphy and Herr Harrwitz, the winner of the first seven games to be the victor. This match however was not played out, though it went far enough to place the result beyond doubt. Victory waited for the American. Eight games were played, of which Paul Morphy scored 5, Herr Harrwitz 2, and 1 was drawn. At that point Herr Harrwitz was compelled by illness to resign. Only two European players were left who could be expected to measure themselves against the young American-ILerr von der Lasa, the accomplished chess

[ocr errors]
« PredošláPokračovať »