Pierre Charles Fournier de Saint Amant
(also written: Pierre Charles-Fournié de Saint-Amant)
After the death of La Bourdonnais, the mantle of
leading chess player of France fell upon the shoulders
of Pierre Charles Fournier de Saint Amant.
Saint Amant was born in Château Latour in the
Bordeaux region of France on September 9, 1802.
During his life he was a wine merchant, a clerk, an actor,
an explorer, a diplomat and the French chess champion.
He learned chess from his mentor Wilhelm Schlumberger.
Saint Amant became a regular at the Café de la Régence. Theodor Tilton wrote in his article "The Café de la Régence" in the "Chess-monthly," Sept. 1886, "The elegant St. Amant was a dandy, almost a " dude." He was quite too awfully exquisite. There is an amusing tradition in the Cafe, that his customary seat was near a front window, where his handsome features might be seen in the best light. He played every afternoon until he heard the sharp rat-a-tat of his wife's parasol on the outside of the window-pane, summoning him home to dinner. Always, as soon as he heard the signal, he jauntily rose, genteelly abandoned the Chess-board, airily bowed to his opponent, and skipped away on tiptoe after the imperious parasol, as it flitted around the corner."
A sidenote: Theodor Tilton was an American editor and aboltionist who once
engaged his fellow-abolitionist and friend, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and editor of
Susan B. Anthony's paper, "The Revolution," to a chess match between the sexes.
which he won 2-1. Tilton'sinvolvement in chess with Stanton took some very
bizarre twists which resulted in his self-imposedexile to Europe, mainly in Paris.
Morphy's old co-editor, W.J.A. Fuller got Tilton somework as a foreign chess
correspondant. An excellent summary of the Tilton Affair,examining all those
bizarre twists can, and should be, read HERE.
In 1836, Saint Amant went to England, where he often traveled as a wine merchant, and beat George Walker soundly in a match (+5-3=1). He also beat Fraser and others. Saint Amant was a notoriously slow player, but ironically, he was the first player to ever suggest a time limit.
Saint Amant is described in this 1840 article from "Fraser's Magazine." It's interesting to note that three years prior to the famous St. Amant-Staunton match, that St. Amant is said to all but abandonned the game:
from The Café de la Régence by George Walker
At one time spoken of confidently as the successor to Deschapelles and De la Bourdonnais, St. Amant may still be styled the favourite of the Café de la Régence. Certainly, no other player in the world is more agreeable to look over. It is matter of universal regret that St. Amant has in a measure fallen away from his allegiance to the chequered flag he once followed, by night and day, through France and England, and now confines his chess to Sunday evenings.
St. Amant's game unites the dashing style of Greco, with the ingenuity and steadiness of a veteran chief. Young in years, he is aged in chess. Quick as lightning in commonplace situations, St. Amant takes a full measure of contemplation in positions of difficulty. In play with me, I once timed him three quarters of an hour on a single move! None of the French players approach St. Amant for courteousness of demeanour and readiness to oblige. He never sneers at a bad player; never taunts the unfortunate, nor insults the conquered. St. Amant visited England upon the occasion of bearing Deschapelles' proud challenge, a few years back, and had a decided advantage in chess over our best practitioners. He has beaten, in fact, every player but Deschapelles, De la Bourdonnais, and Boncourt. Rather a stickler for reputation, St. Amant declined risking his laurels upon the occasion of Szén, the Hungarian, visiting Paris in 1835, and refused to accept the challenge. This fact excited some surprise; but the feeling is unfortunately but too common among fine players. St. Amant and Boncourt have played in all about thirty-five games; and Boncourt stands at present, I believe, with a majority of three. Signor Calvi is spoken of latterly as the equal of these two heroes, but does not play at the Régence.
According to Paul Metzner in "Crescendo of the Virtuoso," "He always had diverse occupations, including governor of Guyana, journalist, actor, wine dealer, captain of the national guard, governor of Tuileies Palace, French consul in California, and author of several nonfiction books, none of them chess." Metzner goes on to speculate that St. Amant, with his many positions and interests, wasn't so personally invested in chess as other players of his time.
During his farewell dinner in Paris, Paul Morphy proposed this toast to St. Amant: "To Saint Amant, so long devoted to the Chess cause, and who has always so well served it with the triple talent of his briliant play, his spoken word and his written word."
In 1841 Saint Amant revived the periodical started by Bourdonnais (from 1836-1840), "Le Palemède." It lasted six years this time, until 1847.
Although Saint Amant was widely considered the best player from France, he refused a match with Szén, possibly at least his equal. Petrov was also untried.
He lost a match to John Cochrane in 1842 (+4-6=1).
In 1843 Howard Staunton was considered the strongest player in England. A match between Staunton and St. Amant was arranged in July in London. Saint Amant won the match (+3-2=1). His winning was 1 guinea.
A second match between them was arranged for them on November 14 at the Café de la Régence. When it concluded on December 20, Staunton had won decisively (+11-6=4) earning 100 pounds and the popular opinion of being the strongest player in the world .
Several firsts occurred during these two matches. Saint Amant played the first Benoni and introduced, ironically, the Staunton Gambit. Staunton introduced the positional English Opening.
George Walker wrote a fascinating essay on this match published in "The Chess Player's Chronicle," Feb. 1844
The "Chess Player's Chronicle" published the following peculiar five-game match in 1844:
From Le Palamede we learn that the celebrated Des Chappelles has reappeared as a Champion in the Parisian lists, having lately played five games with M. St. Amant, upon the following terms, viz.—
In the first game M. des Chappelles gave his Queen's Rook in exchange
for two Pawns and the first move.
In the second game, M. St. Amant gave the Queen's Rook in exchange
for five Pawns and the move.
In the third game, M. des Chappelles gave the Pawn and two moves.
In the fourth game, M. des Chappelles gave his Queen in exchange
for six Pawns and the move.
And in the fifth, M. St. Amant gave the Queen, receiving nine Pawns
and the move in exchange.
These parties occupied three sittings of about two hours each, and ended to the advantage of M. des Chappelles, who was a winner of three of the five games. From the peculiar nature of the odds, this contest is not calculated to afford anything like a satisfactory indication of the players' strength, nor to impart much of amusement or instruction to amateurs in general, and we have therefore the less to regret at finding that one only of the garnet has been preserved. It is to be hoped, however, that the nineteen games which are reported to have been played by MM. Calvi and Kieseritzki, and which are doubtless legitimate Chess, have not been consigned to oblivion with the less interesting eccentricities of M. des Chappelles.
According to G. H. Diggle, writing in "The British Chess Magazine" in 1938:
"... In I..L.N. [Illustrated London News], September 7, 1950, Staunton says: "It is we fear too true that M. St.-Amant is about to leave Europe for some years on an expedition to California." And in Bell's Life, April 27, 1951, we read: "St.-Amant has been appointed French Consul for California. Success to the true man!" St.-Amant, however, did not cross the Atlantic until after the great 1851 Tournament in London, at which he was present for part of the time, though only as a spectator.
St.-Amant spent over a year in California with his headquarters at San Francisco. We next hear of him arriving in New York, homeward bound in the autumn of 1852. "
While in America, Saint
Amant wrote "Voyages en
Californie et dans l'Oregon"
which was considered the
most comprehensive and
important work on
California published in
Here is a map, drawn by
Saint Amant, from that
Not only did he draw maps, but he also drew a match in New York in 1852 against Charles Stanley, the US champion (+4-4=0)
St. Amant was back in Paris in 1858 when Paul Morphy made his first visit to France. He openly admitted that Morphy outclassed him as a chess player, and was present at a banquet honoring Morphy. While it's known that they played some private games, only one game, which Morphy won, has been recorded and preserved.
Here is a Saint-Amant's only recorded game against Morphy.
December 2, 1872.
THE CHESS WORLD.
"The whisperings of our petty burgh."
But a few months ago it was our painful task to announce the decease of the veteran Evans, and now another link of the chain which connects the rising generation with the past has been severed by the " fell archer," Death. Fournier de Saint-Amant, the famous French Chess player, was thrown from his carriage on the 25th October last, and died on the same day, from the effects of the accident, at his chateau, near Algiers, in the 73rd year of his age. To the majority of Chess players Saint-Amant is but a name in the annals of their favourite pastime, but to the few in this country who possessed the privilege of his acquaintance, the recollection of his simple and modest nature, combined with extensive and varied learning, will "keep his memory green." During his last sojourn in England he was a frequent visitor at the Westminster and St. George's Chess Clubs, and his final appearance in the Chess arena was on behalf of the former Club in a match against the City of London. The Chess career of Saint-Amant is well known to students of the Chess literature of thirty years ago, including his match with Mr. Staunton, in which he was vanquished ; and the long and exciting controversy that followed it, in which he certainly was not defeated ; but it is not merely as a Chess player that Saint-Amant is to be regarded. His numerous books upon the subject of the French Colonies are standard works in France ; during his mission to Cayenne he displayed all the qualities of a wise and enlightened administrator; and, in 1848, as Captain of the National Guard, at the head of his company, when the revolutionary mob assailed the Tuilleries, Saint-Amant contrived to change so effectually the mischievous purpose of the populace, that, instead of destroying the Palace, they appointed him Governor of it, with acclamation. The body was interred at the Cemetery of Birmandreis, and, in accordance with French custom, an eloquent oration was pronounced by M. Mouline at the grave.
"The New York Times"
Dec. 19, 1872
The late tragical death of FOURNIER DE SAINT AMANT brings back many interesting recollections. Once famous as the greatest chess-player in the world, and for years held to be the champion of France, M. ST. AMANT lived to be nearly sevety-three, and to die from being thrown from a carriage. Not much has been heard of him of late years; but, thirty years ago, the clubs, and, indeed, all society, both in Paris and London, rang with his fame. It was in 1843 the HOWARD STAUNTON ventured to dispute ST. AMANT's title to be called chess champion of Europe. The celebrated match then arranged -- the greatest ever contested for the amount of the stakes, the wide interest excited, and the time consumed in the games -- ended in the Frenchman's defeat. It was a gallant struggle, and the prevalent opinion of experts has been that MR. STAUNTON, distinguished as were his merits, won by superior skill. However, the match was fairly played according to the stipulated terms, and to the victor the honors fairly belonged. The excitement over this memorial encounter was intense. That created by the Heenan-Sayers battle was nothing to it. All classes in England and France watched the match with breathless attention. The games were commented upon, from day to day, by the leading journals of both countries, and the probable effect upon the result of each new development of tactics was weighed and disputed as if the fate of empires were the stake at issue.
It is a common superstition that people who play chess well can do nothing else well, and the negative side of the preposition has some tolerable evidence to support it. Several famous captains who excelled in the real field of war have failed in the mimic field of chess. NAPOLEON, who was passioately fond of the game, never could attain any strength in it, and the same has been and is true of eminent soldiers in our own country. But it happens that both parties in the chess match spoken of have proved themselves the possessors of marked ability in other vocations. Chess is a game of singular facination, and people having natural aptitude, who once fall in love with it, are very apt to devote themselves too exclusively to its pursuit.
They are thus likely to be credited in time with ability for nothing else. On the other hand, the bad players who are good soldiers have commonly given too much time and thought to excel in war to leave space to excell in chess. On the whole, much the same qualities that bring success in the one walk, with equal vigor and industry bring success in the other. M. ST AMANT himself disproved the popular notion by skill and remarkable achievements in several different and important departments. In his mission to Cayenne he showed high qualities as a diplomatist and statesman. His works on the French colonies are standard textbooks of study and reference. At the head part of the National Guard of Paris, he repeatedly -- and notably in 1848 -- evinced courage, presence of mind, and military capacity. He mad chess his pastime, rather than the sole and engrossing pursuit of his life; and, although from the renown he aquired by its practice his name was more grequently connected with chess than with anything else, it is certain thatm in the absence of that particular talent, his claims to rank as a man of distinction would have been generally allowed.
A counterpart to this experience is suggested by the name of PHILIDOR, whose name would have come down to us as a famous musician had his powers at the chess-board been less conspicuous. MR. STAUNTON, too, would be well known, or, we should rather say, better known, as an editor of SHAKESPEARE, and as the historian of the Great Schools of England, but for his overshadowing exploits at his favorite game. These examples, which are but a few among the many that might be given, are pretty good proofs that to be strong at chess dooes not imply weakness in other things. The penetration, sagacity, and self-control, and, what is more important still, in critical situations, of the relative importance of things must needs be as important elements for general success in life as for success in the checkered arena that saw the triumphs of a MORPHY or a SAINT AMANT.
"Le Palamède" 1847
The March number of 'Le Palamède' portrays a highly interesting interview which has lately taken place between the French King and M. St.-Amant, the first chess player in France. It appears that St-Amant was on duty at the Palais- Royal, as a captain of the National Guard , and Louis-Philippe gave him a long- audience, chiefly relative to chess. Our readers will recollect that at the last meeting of Yorkshire players, the Rev. Richard Garvey introduced the following sentiment into his speech :
— 'Would that our heart-felt aspirations for a continuance of the entente cordiale could penetrate the halls of St-Cloud, that its venerable monarch might know and feel how much we Englishmen love peace with France, and how ardent are our wishes lor the health and long life of that wise and great man who now rules the Gallic empire, ' etc. The report of this meeting having been specially made to Louis-Philippe, his Majesty thus expressed himsell in reply to St-Amant :
— 'I have always loved chess; but, alas! for many long years have had no time to sacrifice to its shrine. The pleasure with which I greet its great representative in France is not thereby diminished.'
His Majesty then continued in English (which he speaks remarkably well), 'You are about to revisit England, and will again participate in these interesting chess reunions. I heartily congratulate you on the pleasure you will enjoy; felicitating you in the development you have so ably given to the serious side of the question — that of the most kindly and brotherly feeling between the two countries.' So we really have to announce the interesting fact that a message sent to Louis-Philippe by an English gentleman on the part of English gentlemen, has been responded to as one free-born man ought to reply to another. This interview was marked throughout with the most pleasing amenity on the part of the King. He entered a private room, hat in hand, like a gentleman about to pay a morning visit, St-Amant having waited in the salon a few minutes, the King being quite alone with his subject, having closed the door after him. His health seemed all that France and Europe could wish, his manner that of a high-bred gentleman speaking to his equal. Oh, Louis Quatorze, can you rest in your grave?
St-Amant has come to London en passant for the Yorkshire Chess Festival, on May 12, at which Louis-Philippe's kindly acceptance of last year's good wishes will not tail to be duly appreciated. These chess passages are delightful to the poet and the enthusiast; they make the crooked ways of life straight, and the rough places of politics plain. Honour to chess, as affording a neutral ground, on which Kings, Queens, Bishops, and Pawns, may meet in all amity and good feeling !
The "British Chess Magazine" 1883
The net result of the match is well summed up by George Walker, in whose words we conclude. " Had Saint-Amant played from the first as well as he did at last, we are persuaded he would have been equally beaten, though he might have made a better fight, winning perhaps, one or two more games. Mr. Staunton has proved himself the better player at every point. His last games must have been contested under a disadvantage equal to the loss of a Pawn in each ; absent from home and England so long a time, anxious to return, and necessarily left in Paris without the presence of the friends on whose constant attendance he had counted. Nothing can be better than the notes Saint-Amant gives upon these games in the Palamede.
He personally bears up under his defeat now with the same manly spirit which sustained him in his heroic struggle at the last. No cavilling, no querulous complaint escapes him. The result of the match, however unfavourable as to Chess, is highly honourable to him in a far higher point of view—honourable to him as a man and a philosopher. We ardently hope another match may be made up, to be played here the coming spring.
The hope expressed in the last sentence was never fulfilled. The negotiations respecting another match occupy a considerable space in the French and English Chess organs of 1844-5 ; and we believe that we do no injustice to Saint-Amant in summarizing them as follows. He had privately resolved not to play again : but he professed to be anxious for the revanche which Staunton was really ready to grant, and accordingly found fault in detail with every arrangement that was proposed. Saint-Amant came to England in 1851, but took no part in the Tournament of that year.
— W. W.
"Fraser's Magazine" 1840
One, ancient of days, walks quietly across the floor, and hats are raised in token of respect at the coming in of M. Boncourt, the Nestor of the camp. Seventy years and more have passed over him ; but their weight has not bowed down his light and even spirit. To the simplicity of the dove, as regards his dealings with the world, Boucourt unites, in chess, the veriest serpent guile. Inferior to none, save De la Bourdonnais, in skill, there breathes not the mortal more free from arrogance or vanity than this our venerable professor. Attired in an old-fashioned frock-coat which sweeps the ground, with a vest of scarlet, or perchance grass-green, Boncourt placidly smoothes down his silver locks, as he drops mechanically into his seat before the chessboard. Eccentric in some of his hahits, Boncourt in his old age keeps hours which render it difficult to secure him as an antagonist.
He delights in dining at ten o'clock at night; and he'll then mate you till cock-crow. Having a comfortable pension as a retired government clerk, he takes the world as he finds it, and practises the true philosophy of resignation under every stroke of fate, whether in life or in chess. He receives beating better than any Frenchman of his day, shrugging up his shoulders and replacing the men, when defeated, with a nonchalance perfectly edifying. His favourite companion is a little dog; well known to the chess circle, and a frequent visitor at the Regence. Boncourt has never been in England, which, considering the present facilities of travelling, is remarkable ; and evinces total disregard as to fame, whether present or posthumous.
Boncourt's style of play is the correct, rather than the brilliant. Comparatively weak in the mechanical openings and endings, from never having looked at a chess-book in his life, Boncourt has no superior in the capacity ef piercing through the intricacies of positions of intense difficulty. "In the twenty-fire years I have played chess," said La Bourdonnais to me, " never did I sec Boncourt commit an error in a crowded situation." His favourite debut is the Giuoco Piano; in the early stages of which he almost invariably drives up his queen's knights' and queen's rooks' pawns two squares. I must add that Boncourt has not the usual rapidity of the French school; but is to the full as slow in digesting his chess calculations as nous autres in the London Chess Club.
And that young man, Boncourt's present antagonist, who is he ? Did you ever see a more pleasant smile, a more intellectual countenance ? How smart his dress ! How becoming that budding moustache! He is engaged in a match of long standing with Boncourt, and they are to play a game this evening. Rivals in reputation, their respective partisans press around, like Homer's myriad warriors to view the encounter of Hector and Achilles.
Youth has the Cull, and Boncourt by the mob is set down as passé ; but the elect deem otherwise. The free, gallant bearing of the younger combatant is much in his favour. He has a bon-mot for each ; a smile for all. His eagle eye darts at once over the position of the men, and grasps fully the difliculties and capahilities of the array. He delights in danger; and the excitement of peril lights up his brow with increased expression, and tinges his cheek with a deeper hue. At one time spoken of confidently as the successor to Deschapelles and De la Bourdonnais, St. Amant may still be styled the favourite of the Café de la Régence. Certainly, no other player in the world is more agreeable to look over. It is matter of universal regret that St.Amant has in a measure fallen away from his allegiance to the chequered flag he once followed, by night and day, through France and England, and now confines his chess to Sunday evenings.
St. Amant's game unites the dashing style of Greco, with the ingenuity and steadiness of a veteran chief. Young in years, he is aged in chess. Quick as lightning in commonplace situations, St. Amant takes a full measure of contemplation in positions of difficulty. In play with me, I once timed him three quarters of an hour on a single move! None of the French players approach St. Amant for courteousness of demeanour and readiness to oblige. He never sneers at a bad player; never taunts the unfortunate, nor insults the conquered. St. Amant visited England upon the occasion of bearing Deschapelles' proud challenge, a few years back, and had a decided advantage in chess over our best practitioners. He has beaten, in fact, every player but Deschapelles, De la Bourdonnais, and Boncourt. Rather a stickler for reputation, St. Amant declined risking his laurels upon the occasion of Szen, the Hungarian, visiting Paris in 1835, and refused to accept his challenge. This fact excited some surprise; but the feeling is unfortunately but too common among fine players. St. Amant and Boncourt have played in all about thirty-five games; and Boncourt stands at present, I believe, with a majority of three. Signor Calvi is spoken of latterly as the equal of these two heroes, but does not play at the Regence.
"Waifs and Strays" by Hugh Alexander Kennedy
Another conspicuous instance of inflexible courage in bearing up against, and partially overcoming, the frowns of adverse fortune, is afforded by the renowned French chess player, M. St. Amant, who began his famous encounter with Mr. Staunton by losing eight consecutive games in a match of the first eleven. It might well be supposed that so calamitous a beginning on his own part, of this national contest, if it did not entirely break the French champion's spirit, would at least have materially affected the strength of his play during the remainder of the struggle. But the sturdy Gaul, far from being downhearted by reason of his first ominous losses, only buckled his sword-belt tighter about him, and caused his blade to whistle round the head of his redoubtable foe in such a fashion, as to succeed in scoring six games ere he ultimately succumbed to the thrusts of a weapon wielded by skill more potent than his own. M. St. Amant, has, I believe, said, and said truly, that he never played with greater vigour and point than in this important match. He won the thirteenth game in glorious style, dashing into the heart of the enemy's citadel, and scattering outworks and inner defences like chaff. The annals of chess have yet recorded no finer coup de main. La Bourdonnais himself could not have done it better; and mightily would it have solaced the spirit of that departed chief, if, revisiting " the glimpses of the moon," he could have witnessed the forethought and admirable combination displayed in this game by the wearer of his mantle.
In 1861 Saint Amant retired to Birmandreis, near Hydra, Algiers in Northern Africa. He died there in on October 9, 1872 after a carriage accident.