One of Morphy's acquaintances in Paris was Gabriel-Éloy Doazan. They were seemingly close since on his return trip to Paris in 1863, Morphy, who had renounced public chess, played only privately at the homes of Arnous de Rivière and G. E. Doazan. I don't know much about Doazan other than he was a prominent member of le Cercle des échecs of Paris and often wrote articles for "La Régence, Journal des échecs." George Walker called him a "French writer; " while Prof. Geo. Allen called him a "celebrated French Chess-litterateur" and he often wrote using the nom de plume, Urbanus.
Professor George Allen
In 1859 Doazan wrote the following letter to George Allen, Professor of Greek at the University of Pennsylvania. George Allen authored the "Life of Philidor" in 1863 and wrote "The History of the Automaton Chess-Player in America" for "The Book of the First American Chess Congress" in 1859. Doazan knew both Morphy and Labourdonnais personally and his insights are invaluable.
LABOURDONNAIS – MORPHY
You will not be surprised to learn that the letter you sent me made me quite proud. But however grateful I am about the flattering distinction of which I was the object, believe me that I am only strictly fair in telling you that your work is certainly one of the best of this kind that I have ever read. You combine the patient exactness of the Germans, and the neatness and the colour of our good writers. I was charmed, but not amazed, to find so much elegance and good taste in a man who lives continuously in the familiarity of the poets and speakers of the antiquity. These illustrious dead men will be eternally the models of whoever wants to give his thoughts and feelings the grace which charms and the eloquent simplicity which forces conviction and enters the hearts.
May your work, so useful for your fellow citizens, leave you enough leisure to enjoy freely the business of these immortal friends, and to spend a little time with the noble game which was the favourite relaxation of so many fine minds!
After Deschapelles and Labourdonnais, I was lucky enough to see a young man whom one can and whom one must place in the same bracket. His superiority is as obvious as theirs. It is undeniable too and reveals itself in the same way.
- is Morphy as good as or better than Labourdonnais?
I was often asked this question, to which it is impossible to answer in a simple and affirmative way. Some reflections will help understand this impossibility. Art has several faces, and should be examined, analysed, appreciated in various aspects by seeing things from different points of view.
Is Raphaël a greater painter than Rubens? Another pointless and insoluble question.
Raphaël and Rubens are first-rate geniuses who followed different roads, each of them obeying a particular organization, being subject to the influence of the environment in which he was placed, of the climate, the dominant ideas, the customs of the country, and of their time; both addressing people who have the feeling of the beautiful and acting magisterially on them, but to different degrees, because everyone has a better understanding of such or such part of art according to his own nature.
Thus, let us admire Raphaël and Rubens to the extent of our faculties; leave them both at the forefront where they are placed, and indeed let us understand that art will be better known to us as we feel the beauty of their works.
Let us come now to Labourdonnais and Morphy, one entering life, the other dead, but both immortals!
I do not want to compare them, I will leave someone else the sad task of lowering one of them just to raise the other. I only want to emphasize the strange contrast of their organizations and to highlight the impossibility of a discussion the purpose of which would be to demote one of them to the second rank.
Finally, I have yielded to the temptation of speaking about them: I was given the opportunity, and I greedily seized it.
In one century, when we speak about this young man crossing the seas in order to defy the most skilful, triumphing with wonderful ease, making friends of those who cannot be his rivals, and so superior to them than this superiority cannot offend anybody, we will find in this story something poetically chivalrous.
In Labourdonnais's time, chess were still a game. A game infinitely higher than any other, but which excluded neither gaiety nor animation. The loss of one or two games was suffered without irritation and was not looked upon as a disastrous event, a major humiliation which lowered you in the opinion of your contemporaries and of posterity while giving victory to your enemies.
These expressions are exaggerated, undoubtedly; but this expression is founded on something real.
Yes, by making efforts everywhere and unanimously to improve the theory of chess, while trying to make it a positive science, we changed, so to speak, the aspect of the play; and the very character of the players was appreciably modified.
When Morphy doesn't play a move for twenty minutes, he analyses the positions, calculates all the variants and their consequences until their last limits, without the least apparent effort; his face remains calm, blood does not rise to his forehead. It is an incomparable power of abstraction and a clearness of intuition that one cannot admire too much. So like all real chess-lovers, I just watch, wait and admire.
But, not far away, there are players of fourth or fifth force who make us just as long for a bad move. This systematic slowness is the wound of our time. Ancient times were less serious: Allow me to miss them for some reasons.
These general considerations will help us understand better what I have to say about these two famous players. We know Morphy, his distinction, his reserve, his sobriety, the delicacy of this young body which supports a head so admirably formed; moreover, the bust by Lequesne and his photo and engraving reproductions have made his features familiar to all, so to speak, popularized them.
The features of Labourdonnais are unknown to the majority of current players. For me, who lived with him, they become uncertain as time goes on and our memories weaken.
Instead of a portrait, we only have a sad caricature drawn from a dreadful mask moulded after death. What I can affirm is that its aspect, eminently significant, expressed above all gaiety and a love of pleasure. Too often Béranger could have said of him like he did of Emile Debraux:
"Sniggering to see his life running
Like the wine of a battered barrel"
Labourdonnais had a vigorous constitution; there was a rare and delicate intelligence in the body of a Hercules. He raised his broad shoulders contemptuously when this fine rule of behaviour was pointed out to him:
Sic praesentibus utaris voluptatibus, ut futuris non noceas
There were other points of irritation than chess in him; and if one had been able to distinguish what he hummed low while his adversary sought the right move, one would have heard something like:
In bed, at the table,
Let's love, drink;
Then, let us send
business to the devil . . .
However, the simultaneous excitation of the nervous system, stomach and brain, would kill the most robust athlete. Labourdonnais died three years after Morphy's birth.
Laughter suited his strong voice: his spiritual and sardonic mouth always seemed disposed to a mocking remark, and had to make an effort in order to keep serious.
So how can we compare such opposing natures?
Isn't it obvious that, in players of such different constitutions, the manner of appreciating and practising the game could not be the same? Let us see whether it is by their games that one can bring them closer and then classify them.
Hardly are Morphy's games played that they are published, circulated, studied wherever an amateur has a chessboard. Games at odds in order to make the game equal, or without seeing the board, played in America, in England, in France, everything has been collected, annotated and put forward for us to admire; everything, thank God, has been published, in English, French, German, Italian: nothing is lost for us or for posterity. We have a presentiment of what this exceptional genius would be, as of the age of eleven years. Today, we see him in his complete development. Thanks to this publicity, chess-lovers from all countries have perpetual and incomparable pleasures, and everywhere a sympathetic admiration avidly follows all the phases of Morphy's battles and applauds his innumerable successes. Happy innovations found by him are noted, engraved in indelible characters, and are now part of the science. And, on this subject, I will point out that the opening found by captain Evans was lucky enough to be adopted and improved by Labourdonnais, Mac-Donnel and Morphy. It is probable that these three Masters will not leave anything to discover to their successors, and that the best moves of this pretty opening will be forever given when Morphy gives us the analysis that he has recently announced.
As for Labourdonnais, we saw him playing for many years; and what a charming pleasure! What a festival every day! So many laughs! So many wonderful exclamations!
But none of us thought of preserving these exceedingly clever games. He himself never thought about that. This is an incredible and inexcusable negligence on our part, and it was necessary for him to go to England for something significant remained of him. There was not even among us a speculator who had the idea of making an excellent deal by publishing a choice of Labourdonnais's games; games, incidentally, which were all "at odds", and a lot of them "at odds giving a piece". Mac-Donnel alone played games "at odds with a particular goal"; and, if one takes account of the speed of the combinations, of the promptitude of calculation and the number of games won, he remained far behind Labourdonnais, who read the news during the meditations of his opponent.
If chess is a science, if a game is a succession of problems which must be solved before playing each move, the incredible power of analysis of Morphy put him perhaps above all his predecessors. But one cannot deny that this incomparable play is not also part of imagination, when a kind of sudden revelation is revealed in its complete development, a clever combination whose long examination would then prove its accuracy, and it is what we admired a hundred times in Labourdonnais; because Labourdonnais had something more than science: he had inspiration! Between 1840 and 1858 we had a true interregnum. Indeed,
there was around him a fertile fermentation; each secondary talent making an effort to approach the model, and, after some time, the level of art rose appreciably. Then, at this point, great gatherings of followers were formed
and an unaccustomed enthusiasm fired people’s minds.
This is striking, undoubtedly; but what is much more, is the effect produced by the loss or the retirement of the one who was the heart and the origin of this movement towards progress. He disappeared… the impulse ceased, and soon a strange coldness succeeded this burning animation. A few moments ago it was the light and the certainty; now hesitation and doubt; poor rivalries and the pretensions that an undeniable superiority had quashed and which suddenly awoke.
Chess mainly lost what made it a pleasure, a relaxation, a consolation. Then these invisible bonds which linked all players slackened. A fraternity which would allow me, Sir, to shake your hand as I would a friend’s, if I were lucky happy to meet you one day.
There remains the scientific part. Isolation favours meditation: one isolates oneself to solve problems. Achilles sulking in his tent perhaps wrote a treatise on tactics. We saw men of talent giving themselves to the study of theory, and books multiplied. The errors of the former Masters were announced, the beginnings and the ends of parts were improved. We saw clever Kieseritski making the chessboard an assembly of various figures obtained by geometrical drawing, and basing his teaching on this mathematical data.
A curious and striking consequence of this linear decomposition of the sixty-four squares, is the possibility to follow with ease the positions of a game without a chessboard. There is today quite a large number of players who easily achieve what formerly appeared miraculous. Under these conditions, and on this ideal battlefield, Morphy is still better than anybody; but, finally, Harrwitz played eight games simultaneously, and you, Sir, know players who play one, two or three games, and perhaps more. Their number grows every day, so much so that it should be recognized that the current way of studying has created, for the most skilful, a true mnemonic.
Thus, to set out my opinion clearly, Labourdonnais was a man of feeling and action, Morphy is a man of thought and reflection. They have been the best of their time, and it is probable that, at any time, nobody was more skilful.
Let us forget the dates and suppose that a match could be played between them. I do not know who the winner would be; but, obviously, for future players, their games would have been admirable models which would have made our game progress incalculably, and their names, honourably linked like those of Puttino and Paolo Boï, would have remained in the forefront of our opinion.
In an issue of its newspaper, Mr. Dubois, of Rome, this charming player, so varied, so clever, so Italian, solved the question, and decided that since Puttino,no player had emerged with the force of Morphy. Who cannot understand this enthusiasm? And who better than Morphy is able to arouse it? But if one subjects this judgement (which is really only a cry of admiration) to the analysis of cold reason, one will object that in all arts the same has been said of all the great men. Their admirers, dazzled and under the charm, cannot and do not want to admit any
comparison. They deny past wonders in order not to diminish the prestige of what is before their eyes: it is the history of all eras that have seen the birth of great talents or geniuses.
I will finish this long chatter by thanking you, Sir, for your invaluable missive. I am happy to be able to say that we have common ideas, and that, in spite of the distance, we are close in some ways. Like you, I like the old players. Continue to live amongst them, far from the pettiness and miseries of life. Also let us love and honour chess, thanks to this game, the nineteenth century has two more famous men.