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George Walker

      Harold James Ruthven Murray was possibly the greatest and most influential chess historian ever born.  His monumental work, "A History of Chess," published in 1913, is still valid and quite useful in its centennial year. While researching for his book, Murray published articles in German and English magazines, particuarly the "British Chess Magazine."  His impartial style coupled with his extensive knowledge and understanding cover his articles with an aura of credibility.  Here is Murray's article on George Walker.

 










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  • 13 months ago

    batgirl


    "Huddersfield College Magazine" 1879


    GEORGE WALKER.

    The story of George Walker's Chess career has been already told; by the Westminster Papers, with much detail, during his life, and by the weekly press, with more or less of that quality, since his death. As the pioneer of newspaper Chess columns, the founder of popular Chess clubs, as Author, Translator, and Editor, the highways of his singularly active life have been mapped, if not measured. So that there would seem to be no incident left unrecorded to provoke a fresh essay upon the subject. Yet it is doubtful if too much can be written of the life of one to whose wholesome influence upon his contemporaries we, who live after him, are chiefly indebted for the spread of Chess in England. The revolution he wrought will be better understood if we look back at the condition of the London Chess world at the time of his birth and during his boyhood. George Walker was born in March, 1803, perhaps the dullest period in the history of London Chess. To the reign of Philidor had succeeded a regime of mediocrities and the game was barely kept alive upon memories of the past. Verdoni, accounted second-rate in Philidor's time, and Sarratt who was never more than Verdoni's peer, were the strongest players of the day. Sarratt, following Verdoui's example, had just bagun to dub himself "Professor of Chess" and was probably then engaged in compiling from unacknowledged sources the Treatise which he published some five or six years afterwards. It was an age of inkshed and not of play, when almost every one of note in the Chess world and many of no note at all contrived to link their names with buried genius by " editing" Philidor's Analysis. The establishment of the London Club in 1807, although it helped to increase the theoretical knowledge and practical skill of the members, exercised little if any influence towards the diffusion of either outside, indeed the organisation had an opposite effect to some extent because it concentrated all the experts within the walls of a clnb-house whose doors were sealed against the many. Nevertheless the prospect was brighter when Lewis and Cochrane superseded Verdoni and Sarratt—Lewis deserves special honour; for his works at this period of his career, the specimens of Oriental Chess, the edition of Stamma, and the translations of Greco and Carrera, all of which appeared in rapid succession between 1817 and 1823, brought the scientific theory of the game within the ken of the student. These works prepared the way for what followed, but they were not popular books as the term is now understood, they were costly as to price, and stilted in style, and they were not likely, nor perhaps intended, to kindle a spark of enthusiasm in the breast of a neophyte. It was in that age of starched neckcloths and formal manners (1823) that young George AValker imbued with the loftiest teachings of the game's traditions but unacquainted with any of its known practitioners made his first appearance in the Chess Arena. Neither the scene of his debut nor the audience that witnessed it can be described as exalted; the first was the public room of a Coffee House then, and I believe now, called the "Percy" in Rathbone Place, and the audience comprised a set of young fellows, who, as Walker described them to me many years afterwards, were more remarkable for exuberance of spirits than for any quality of the mind. To this fortuitous concourse of Caissa's devotees he soon imparted some of his own enthusiasm, and as their numbers increased and their attendance became regular he persuaded them to form a club. A private room was engaged in the same house and the first association of Chess-players founded upon popular principles started into life under the name of the Percy Chess Club. It is unnecessary to follow minutely this phase of his life. It is sufficient to note that the seed sown in Kathbone Place bore good fruit, that men who had never heard of Chess were attracted to the "Percy" and remained there to learn, and that from the ashes of that Society sprang the famous Westminster Chess Club, Simpson's Divan, and subsequently the St. George's of our own day. Through all the varying fortunes of these Societies the most prominent figure was George Walker, cheering them in adversity and reorganising them when their ranks became broken, and one is astounded at the marvellous enthusiasm for Chess which survived the disappointments and obstructive selfishness he encountered in the work.

    It was inevitable that his love of the game should be impressed upon its literature, and happily so for his writings have attracted more persons to the practice of Chess than any other author. His theoretical works have been described as obsolete, and the description is, of course, correct from the point of view of an analyst of the openings, but they never can become so in the regard of students of the game who are 'capable of being influenced by charm of style. No youth can read the preface to the "Art of Chess Play" without a desire to know more of the game which is there so eloquently described; and beyond the science of the analysis the most prominent feature of the book is an earnest desire to impart instruction the genial expression of which passes description. There need not be much fear of the Philidorian becoming obsolete cither, except indeed through wear and tear and the ravages of time upon such perishable materials as paper fand leather. The Philidorian was a monthly journal, which, like the Huddersfield College Magazine, was not exclusively devoted to Chess, and the bulk of it was written by Walker. Six numbers were published —December 1837 to May 1838—each of forty pages and a supplement embodying the first serious attempt to catalogue Chess books and their authors. For imagination and humour there is nothing superior to this magazine in the periodical literature of our time. "Vincenzio the Venetian" is a good example of the first and the sample chapter on Whist of the second. Of the "Chess Studies" it is hardly necessary to say more than that as the work is so scarce it would probably pay some enterprising publisher to reprint it. It contains over one thousand games played by the greatest players of the period during which games were recorded prior to 1844, all selected with consummate judgment. There is another but less well-known book of Walker's which is brimful of interest to the book collector, the "Games played by Philidor and his Contemporaries." The games were afterwards incorporated in the "Studies" but the notes appended to them and the all too brief description of the players can only be found in the original edition. The last of his books which call for notice hero is the one so pleasantly associated with the early recollections of the present generation of Chess-players, the one destined to keep the author's memory green among ihe men of the next—" Chess and Chess Players." The originality, humour and keen observation of character displayed in this collection of tales are fair evidences that George Walker might have achieved a proud position in general literature if he had been disposed to direct his thoughts beyond the subject of Chess.

    There is no space within the limits of this sketchy notice of a remarkable career to dwell upon even the important incidents which crowded its course of fifty years. The sketch would be altogether inadequate, however, without some reference be it ever so brief to Walker's connection with Bell's Life to which journal he contributed a weekly Chess article from 1835 to 1872. Here, as in his books, the freshness and originality of his style formed a marked contrast to the stereotyped mannerisms of some of his contemporaries, and his controversies when he engaged in them were pursued in the light of day. As a matter of fact I believe he never had a controversy with any one except Staunton. Both are now gone from among us and we meteors of a lower sky if we cannot emulate their light may well content ourselves with shedding some upon the greatness of their services.




  • 13 months ago

    batgirl

    "Westminster Papers"  Dec. 1876


    OUR PORTRAIT GALLERY No. 8.—MR. GEORGE WALKER.

         In presenting to our readers the following brief auto-biographical sketch of the time-honoured English Chess Writer and Player whose portrait graces our gallery this month, we have been prompted by a desire to gratify the Chess World with the latest production of the pen that has charmed it for nearly half a century. At Mr. Walker's advanced age, and after the many years he has so unselfishly devoted to the game, he may fairly claim exemption from the task of minutely recording his Chess career. Nevertheless that career has been so closely identified with the most interesting period of Chess history in England that we have thought it desirable to supplement Mr. Walker's rough outline with a more detailed narrative of his public life.—mainly derived from his own writings, and from notes of conversations held with him—and this will be found appended.

         I was born in March 1803, in Great Portland-street, where my father carried on the business of a music publisher. He was favourably known as the author of sundry novels and other works of fancy. My father subsequently removed his business to 17 Soho Square, where he died about 1847. after a residence there of some thirty years, and I went into the Stock Exchange as a stockbroker. I have still the honour of being a member of that honourable corporation, although, owing to the infirmities of age and partial blindness, I have done no business for several years. The same reasons dissolved my connection with "Bell's Life in London," in which newspaper I edited the Chess article for nearly forty years. I may say with pride that I was the originator of weekly chess columns in popular journals, and that the seed bore good fruit. From 1823 to 1847 I was always in the London Chess arena, devoting much time to playing with all comers, though too prudent to cross the line into Bohemia. When I entered the Stock Exchange, in 1847, I gave up serious Chess practice altogether, contenting myself with looking on, and, like honest Locksley, applauding a good shot when I saw one. While in the circle, I may name as players I have contended with. La Bourdonnais, Alexander Macdonnell, Lewis, Cochrane. Harrwitz, Horwitz, Szen, Boncourt, Kieseritzky, St. Amant, Livagnine, Brand, Mercier, &c. As a Chess player. I never was first-rate, although after the death of Macdonnell, Cochrane being in India, and Fraser and Lewis having abandoned the game, there was for a time no stronger player in the field than myself. Players of the force of Morphy, Deschapelles, Macdonnell, or La Bourdonnais, could always have given me the Pawn. I fancy I might have reached the steps to the throne by giving up my business and sending the hat round once a year, but I broke down my Chess-playing faculty through over study of "the books" and writing for the press. If practise on the board can be obtained books should be almost entirely left alone. My chief work on Chess ("Art of Chess Play") having been so successful, my friends have often wondered at my letting it remain out of print for so many years. But when I prepared it I was as green as watercresses, believed in the honesty of the "Row," and have always been ashamed of having been "done." The agreement was, that my publisher should print an edition of one thousand copies only; my wish being to keep up with all new discoveries in the openings, and so forth. The publisher printed two thousand copies of both editions, 1833 and 1846, and then became bankrupt, thus throwing such a heavy remainder upon the book-stalls that it required years to clear them off. During the rest of my career as a Chess author I confined myself almost entirely to scribbling in Bell's Life, and the public has never been edified with certain lucubrations for learners, of which my brain had sketched the outlines. I see nothing in the present style of Chess writers to show improvement over their predecessors. Heavy words are often lumped together, and feeble meanings have to be painfully traced through a ponderous mass of rigmarole. Seeking to impress something on their readers, they often, I fancy, prefer the style of a speech from the throne to the flippancy of my pen in Belts Life. To many of them I can only say with our great satirist,

    The midwife laid her hand upon his skull,
    And said, ' O, happy mortal be thou dull!'


    George Walker, 1876

    ____________________________________________


        George Walker entered the London Chess arena during what may be called the coffee-house epoch of its history—about fifty years ago. The famous London Chess Club had been established in Cornhill some sixteen years before, but it was the only association of the kind then in the metropolis, and being supported chiefly by city merchants and members of the Stock Exchange, who played Chess in the middle of the day, it was practically closed to amateurs whose occupations were not "of the city," or whose only leisure was to be found in the evenings. It had other disadvantages from a young player's point of view, not the least of which was that the members comprised such names of public note as Brande, Cochrane, Fraser, Lewis, Mercier, Pratt, and a host of others scarcely less expert in the science of Chess, and all giants, in whose company in those formal days the young player was greatly more apt to be awed than edified. At the West end of the town there was no Chess club, but accommodation of a kind was provided for the tyro in numerous coffee-houses where " Monsieur" and "Herr," who since the first French revolution have been always with us, dispensed instruction at such charges as their modest requirements suggested. It was in 1823, while still in his non-age, that our hero perceiving the want of a Chess club at the West end of London, and securing the co-operation of about thirty young amateurs, organised the Percy Chess Club at a coffee-house in Rathbone Place. He has himself told the story of this club's brief career as only George Walker can tell Chess-stories. The members met for Chess at seven in the evening, sat down to a hot supper at ten—it is fifty years since—and broke up at half-past eleven. The first strong player that joined the new club was Murphy, the most eminent miniature-painter of the time, who subsequently introduced Lewis to the fraternity of young enthusiasts. Lewis was then a merchant's clerk, and after the death of Sarratt the strongest Chess-plaver in England. He gained the admiration of the Percyites by beating their best players at the odds of a rook, and being a gentleman of business instincts he lost no time in turning to a good account the mine of enthusiasm for Chess he found in the West. In 1825, soon after his first visit to Rathbone Place, Lewis opened subscription-rooms in St. Martin's Lane, whither he was followed by our hero, and through his influence by the main body of the Percy Chess Club. Man)' members of the London club patronised the new rooms; Alexander Macdonnell, then recently returned from the West Indies. Cochrane, just before he set out on his first visit to the East, Penn, the author of Hints and Maxims for Chess-players and Anglers, Bohn, the bookseller, Brande, Mercier. Popert, Pratt, the author of the funniest Chess-lx>ok in our own or any other language, and most of the leading amateurs of the day, with all of whom Mr. Walker found opportunities for practice. The speculation prospered amazingly for some time, indeed until 1827, when Lewis having obtained a patent for the manufacture of pianofortes that nobody would buy, became twice bankrupt in the course of a single year. After a vain effort to reorganise the meetings in Waterloo Place at an entrance fee of ten guineas, the West-end rooms were finally closed, and our hero, then much improved in force and knowledge of the game, became a member of the London Chess Club.

         In 1831 Mr. Walker produced his first literary work on Chess, a brochure upon the Muzio Gambit, afterwards incorporated in the Art of Chess Play, published in 1833. In the same year (1831) hearing that some Chess-players met at a coffee house in Bedford Street. Covcnt Garden, kept by a Mr. Huttman, he persuaded them to form a club. The old Percyites and St. Martin's Lane men rallied around him, and in the beginning of 1832 the famous Westminster Chess Club was opcned on Huttmann's first floor. The club was enormously successful. Huttman sold cigars wrapped up in paper, containing diagrams of Chess problems, and all the best Chess-players in London gathered daily at the new rooms. These became so crowded that larger rooms were taken in the opposite house, and Huttman obtained nearly 200 subscribers, at two guineas each, in the first few months. In 1834 a match between the Westminster Club and the Paris Cercle was arranged, and begun for a stake of a hundred pounds. It was won bv Paris, as every student of Mr. Walker's works knows, as much through indifference on the part of the London players as from want of skill. In these rooms Labourdonnais played his matches with Macdonnell, and administered many a brilliant mate to the best players of the time. Labourdonnais died in 1840. He was buried at Kensal Green, close to the grave of his famous rival, not from accident, but of the set purpose of our hero, who defrayed all the expenses attending the last illness and death of the great Frenchman. Meanwhile, the Westminster Club had been transferred from Covent Garden to the Strand. Huttmann's success appeared to have turned his head. While the club was in the full tide of success, he inaugurated Sunday night meetings with glee singing, and, as Mr. Walker has described it, "other tomfooleries;" so that the best men ceased to attend the rooms, and Huttmann found himself on the roll of insolvent debtors in 1835. The club was temporarily dissolved, but our hero, whose determination to have a club at the West-end no failure could daunt, reorganised it under the old name, and the meetings were held in Mr. Ries' drawing-room, adjoining the Divan, of which establishment that gentleman was then the proprietor. Here Staunton made his first appearance as a strong player, and here were played some of the games in his match with Popert. In 1840 the Westminster Club once more became homeless, until Staunton, in partnership with Alexandre, revived it as a private speculation, when the meetings were held in Charles Street, off the Haymarket. Mr. Walker and all the old regiment of enthusiasts supported the new venture, and for a time all went well, but the famous " Westminster " was fated to undergo further trials. Dissensions between the proprietors, into the cause of which it is unnecessary to enter here, led to its final dissolution in 1843. Once more our hero came to the rescue, and with a number of amateurs, including Mr. Smith, M.P. for Sudbury, Richard Penn, Mr. Gaskell, and many others, anew club was formed at Beattie's Hotel, in George Street, Cavendish Square, which was baptized after the name of the street in which its meetings were first held. Financial disaster appears to have attended the career of all the West-end Chess associations. The old Club in St. Martin's Lane was dissolved through the bankruptcy of Lewis; the Westminster was first disorganised by the insolvency of Huttman, and when re-formed, it came to grief finally through some monetary disputes between the partners. The St. George's was at first not a whit more fortunate. In less than a year from its opening day Beattie, the hotel keeper, became bankrupt, and once more our hero had to find a place of meeting for a West-end Chess club. This was found at the Polytechnic, where the St. George's Club remained until 1847, when the late Mr. Hampton took it over, and established it in King Street, St. James's, where it has remained and flourished ever since.

         The same year that witnessed the establishment of the St. George's Club on a firm basis, saw the retirement of Mr. Walker from the practice of the game. He continued to contribute weekly articles to the Chess column of Bell's Life in London (the first that ever appeared in a popular journal) and to the monthly magazines. His chief books upon the game are the Art of Chess Play (1833), Philidor and his Contemporaries (1835;, and the Chess Studies (1844), but he has probably endeared himself to the Chess world more by the series of stories upon Chess and Chess players contributed to the monthlies, than by all the skill and research displayed in his greater works.

         From his first appearance in the Chess world in 1823, down to his final retirement in 1872, George Walker's career has been distinguished before all his contemporaries for genuine unselfish love of a noble pastime. That he may live long in the enjoyment of his well-earned retirement is the hearty wish of Chess players throughout the world.

  • 13 months ago

    D4EAGLE

    You rock, batgirl!  Keep on doing your thing.  Those of us who are history buffs greatly appreciate it.

  • 13 months ago

    adamstask

    thanks batgirl. Cool stuff. 

  • 13 months ago

    kiwi

    Its a shame they have no information on how or where he learnt his chess, would of been nice to learn of it if that was included. 

    Thanks for the blog batgirl. 

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