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Louis-Charles Mahé de La Bourdonnais

 

La Bourdonnais' death-mask

Instead of a portrait, we only have a sad caricature drawn from a dreadful mask moulded after death.  -Gabriel-Éloy Doazan writing to Prof. Geo. Allen

 


     Louis-Charles Mah
é de La Bourdonnais followed Deschapelles as the chess champion of France and likely the world.     A complete, yet concise, biography can be found here on Bill Wall's Bourdonnais Bio Page.
     Mark Weeks transcribed this article from "Frazer's Magazine" concerning the Café de la Régence, this part called, Portrait of La Bourdonnais, was published just a month before Bourdonnais died.
     All the Bourdonnais-McDonnell games can be played through here ---> Chessgames.com.
     There are many games with annotations by Paul Morphy here --> Chessgames.com

     With all these wonderful resources, I won't go into great detail on Bourdonnais'  life.

     When Deschapelles gave up playng chess in 1821, Bourdonnais (sometimes "La Bourdonnais,"  "dela Bourdonnais" or "Labourdonnais") supplanted him as the strongest player in France and probably the world. Unlike Deschapelles, who lorded over the Café de la Régence and played all comers at odds, Bourdonnais actively sought out the strongest opponents. Having beaten the brilliant John Miles Cochrane quite conclusively in 1821 in Paris (see Rod Edward's "Le temps des combats de géants"), he traveled to London in 1823 and played William Lewis, the "Teacher of Chess" (winning 5-2-0) who himself had supplanted Jacob Henry Sarratt, the "Professor of Chess," as the strongest player in England. Then two years later he returned to London, beat all comers, including Lewis again, and and, while there, married an English girl, Eliza Waller Gordon in July, 1825. She was the daughter of Lewis Gordon, Purser in the Royal Navy. In January 1842, 13 month's after Bourdonnais's death, she married James Budge of Camborne, Cornwall at Bethnal Green, London.

The above image comes from Mark Weeks page showing some of this book.
http://mark_weeks.tripod.com/chw02g01/chw-2g01.htm
and
http://www.mark-weeks.com/aboutcom/imgallry/fo2260/
(copy and paste the url. For some reason chess.com alters the link)


     In 1833 Bourdonnais wrote a book, "Nouveau Traite du Jeux des Echecs,"  trying to recoup from his disaterous financial reverses caused by bad land investments. But it was 1834 where he finally reached the apex of his chess career.


     Bourdonnais accepted the challenge from the Irish born Londoner, Alexander McDonnell (or M'Donnell), who had surpassed Lewis in people's minds as the best player in England.  Unlike other matches of those days which were usually short and quick, this match, arranged by George Walker, was really a series of six matches. They played a total of 85 games. The moves were recorded by William Greenwood Walker, the secretary of the Westminster Chess Club where the matches were held  ["I recorded minutely the whole of their matches, being occasionally relieved at my post by Mr. Lewis, and Mr. George Walker, the well known writers on Chess."].  Bourdonnais won 45, over half. MacDonnell won 27, about a third. There were only 13 draws - so it was a fighting match.
    Not only were the moves recorded, but they were published in newspapers and periodicals so that the public could follow- which it did with great excitement and anticipation. The final match was suspended when Bourdonnais had to take care of some business in Paris and McDonnell took sick.
    McDonnell died before the match could be resumed. He was buried at Kensal Green in London where Bourdonnais would join him in five short years. William Greenwood Walker, the recorder, died in 1839 in between McDonnell and Bourdonnais, but was able to publish the entire match, minus one game, in 1836 within the context of his book, "A Selection of Games at Chess Acutally Played in London by the Late Alexande M'Donnell, Esq."

     Since very little is said, or probably even known, about the recorder of these games, here is some peripheral information on William Greenwood Walker:
Walker is often portrayed as an old man (including by G.H. Diggle who called him "aged" and impressionally by George Walker who called him "full of years") , but in fact he was born in Leeds in Dec. 1785,  putting him at 48 at the time of the match.  He succeeded George Walker as secretary of the Westminster Chess Club (opened on the first floor of Huttman's coffee house on Bedford street, Covent Garden in 1832) which hosted the event and worked as a silk broker and manufacturer.  Contrary to what is sometimes written, he wasn't the founder of the Westminster Club, but among its first members. He was also an ardent admirer of fellow chess club member Alexander M'Donnell and after M'Donnell's death, published, "A selection of games at chess actually played in London by the late Alexander M'Donnell, Esq.," which contained many games M'Donnell played even and at various odds, mostly during the late 2 years of his life,  as well as 84 of the 85 games from the famous match (William Lewis probably recorded game 14).  
     He wife, Mary Ann (Dodd), was 5 years younger and lived until 1870.  The lived mostly in Middlesex where she was born. They had 6 children- 2 boys: William and Alfred); and 4 girls, Mary
, Emma, Amelia and Isabella.  Isabella was only 9 years old when her father died on June 24,1839  (Mary, the oldest, was 23) so his widow certainly had her hands full. 
            George Walker wrote in "The Chess-player's Chronicle" in 1843:
                Mr. William Greenwood Walker, himself but a very moderate
                Chessplayer, (related to me only in name,) was the most
                enthusiastic Chess recorder I have ever had the honour to know.
                He cared little to play himself, but delighted to be always at
                M'Donnell's elbow, to record his victory; like one of the bards of
                old, ever by the side of his Chief to hymn the song of triumph in
                his praise. Mr. Walker took down the whole of the games played
                by M'Donnell and La Bourdonnais, and printed them, with many
                others played by the former, in a well known octavo volume.
                Without him, these fine games would have been lost for ever.
                Great, then, is the obligation we are all under to his name, for
                thus constantly attending at his post—the scribe, the herald of the
                war. It is no light thing to sit daily five or six hours, during a period
                of months, to watch games playing, and write them down. Mr.
                William Greenwood Walker has been taken from us long since. He
                died full of years. We could "well have spared a better—aye,
                many a better—man."

     Here is a clippng from the "Leeds Intelligencer" of May 16, 1846 showing George Walker still honoring William G. Walker for his work preserving notes of games even beyond the match games:

                   The "Thousand Games" is Walker's remarkable 1844 "Chess Studies
                   comprising of one thousand games"  which starts off with the entire
                   85 games of the Bourdonnais-M'Donnell match plus many, many more
                   by those same players; games by Philidor and Philidor's contemporaries;
                   50 games by Mouret playing as the automaton; 60 correspondence
                   games; a few games by Deschapelles, Sarratt and Lewis.

 


     This match was important on several levels. First, no previous match had been this involved nor this revealing of the two opponents skills and weaknesses. No other match had ever been so well recorded, nor so promptly published. No other match up to this time had ever been so thoroughly studied and annotated.  No other match had ever been so praised and admired by adherents to both parties. Most importantly, no other match had ever generated the level of interest as did this one. It served as a catalyst to inspire an unheard of wave of popularity for the game.  Ironically, a very mediore player, Willaim Greenwood Walker, played perhaps an almost pivotal role, but certainly one for which no praise could suffice, in the history of the game.

     The opponents were equal in talent, the main and telling difference being Bourdonnais' knowledge of opening theory. McDonnell's mentor was William Lewis who disdained the study of openings. The games are surprisingly modern and often positional and they are typically numbered 1-85 in the order in which they were played.

     According to British chess historian, G.H. Diggle:
    "Of the 85 games, the following have been agreed by generations of critics to be "the greats:" Games 17, 47, 62 and 78 won by the Frenchman and 5, 21, 30, 50 and 54 won by McDonnell."

     Game 50 is usually singled out for it's brilliance.

Game 50




Joseph Méry

     Bourdonnais' win in game 39 inspired Joseph Méry (who would co-found and co-edit the periodical, "Le Palamède," with Bourdonnais in 1836) to write a poem honoring Bourdonnais called, "Une Revanche de Waterloo."
    According to the "British Chess Magazine" (BCM) review of "The Chess Player’s Chronicle" Volume 3 (1843):
     "Staunton’s magazine features a long poem in French celebrating Bourdonnais vs. McDonnell, entitled "Une Revanche de Waterloo,"  depicting McDonnell descending, like Rob Roy, from the mountains of Scotland to do battle with the French hero. It seems a shame to spoil this romantic vision by pointing out that McDonnell came from Belfast." -


Game 39



 



   

    In response to Méry's poem, the Rev. Alexander Charles Louis Poichard d'Arblay of the Westminster Club (who died in 1837) wrote "Caïssa Rediviva,"  a light-hearted, poetical retelling of one of M'Donnell's Muzio Gambits.

Game 54




     Bourdonnais suffered a stroke in 1838. In the last three weeks of his life, Bourdonnais and Eliza were supported financially through George Walker's efforts. Mons. Thiers, the Prime Minister of France was arranging a pension to be granted by the state for Bourdonnais and his wife.  Bourdonnais died before the king granted it, but Madame La Bourdonnais received it for the remainer of her life.

     45 year old Louis-Charles Mahé de La Bourdonnais died December 13, 1840.
[According to the "BCM," Jan. 1887: "
The date of his birth is not exactly known: a French tradition places it in 1795, the year of Philidor's death; but the epitaph which may still be read in Kensal Green Cemetery says 'died December 13, 1840, aged 43 years.' This inscription was put up by George Walker, who had known him intimately during the last six or seven years of his life, and doubtless gives Labourdonnais' own account of his age; according to this his birth-year would be 1797." ]


 

Comments


  • 16 months ago

    batgirl

    From the subscription list of WG Walker's book on M'Donnell:

    Clint. Scipio, esq. 
    see: Clint
  • 16 months ago

    batgirl

    Well, I think I found with a degree of certainty when the old club opened and closed, and it wasn't what I expected:

     

     

    It seems like many well-known people attended that club, though it's hard to say how much of a role they played.  I'm sure they were good for business.

  • 16 months ago

    manitari

    Charles Mackay is almost certainly the person who has a wikipedia entry; Charles Mackay of Illustrated London News was at Paulsen's blindfold exhibit New York 1857

  • 16 months ago

    batgirl

    According to the Westminster Papers, Dec. 1876,  in 1835..."The club was temporarily dissolved, but our hero [G. Walker], 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."

    That's were my proclivity to differentiate between the early and later club comes from.  I think the tenor of the club might have changed too - it's very hard to get a feel for such things.  The original Westminster Club was founded in 1831, 1832 or 1833 depending on who you read. 1831 seems most likely to me. It was formed from members of the Percy Club (named for it's venue, the Percy Hotel, in Rathbone Place, Oxford Street) and the members of the club at Martin's Lane, founded by William Lewis and shortly after dissolved.   From the same article: "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 "Sydney Monitor" must be mistaken. Of the few things clear to me, I know that George Walker was the first secretary (Capt. Medwin, president) he was overworked and handed over the position of secretary to William Greenwood Walker who kept it until the club there dissolved (according to Walker 1835; Edge 1838; John Timbs 1840 - I believe Walker) Since WG Walker lived up to 1839, it seems almost impossible for Huttmann (sometimes "Huttman") to have been secretary - Huttmann had many businesses going on and a lot of financial troubles and I doubt he had time for any involved participation.  Plus, Huttmann himself contributed, actually caused, the downfall of his divan by acting in a way very contrary to the needs and desires of chessplayers, leading me to believe he was very interested in chess.  Huttmann founded his Divan and seemingly convinced Walker to form a club there,  with business rather than chess in his mind.  While he was definitely instrumental in the foundation of the chess club, I'm not sure he could rightly be called a founder.

    I found more names in a passage I had overlooked in Edge: "Dr. Charles Mackay, the poet.  Mr. Skelton (so well known about town as "Dandy Skelton"); Mr. Nixon, oganist of the Bavarian Catholic Church, in Warwick Street, Ducan Forbes, Professor of Oriental languages at University College, and many other celebrated literary characters."  But most these people seem casual and not core players who would contend with Paris in the corr. match.


    One problem I'm having is that so many sources are contradictory -  more than usual. Even the progression or sequence is unclear and the dates are certainly mismashed. The club (at that venue, at least) didn't last long but it sponsored two very significant events (and some less so), so I'm trying to get things as close as possible to reality.

  • 16 months ago

    manitari

    I think Huttmann was a real member. As opposed to the owner of Cafe Regence, Huttmann was a real chess enthusiast. For what it's worth, the Sydney Monitor of Dec 26, 1840 calls Huttmann the ex-secretary of Westminster Chess Club, and the Chess Player's Chronicle of 1843 calls Huttmann one of the founders of Westminster Chess Club.

    I got Packham's name from articles on the Turkish ambassador's visit to Westminster Chess Club; during this visit he took great interest in watching a game between George Walker and Packham. I would bet good money he is also the Packham who is listed on the London 1851 tournament committee, so more information about him should be easy to get. Howard also comes from the Turkish ambassador's visit; he is a rook player who plays against the ambassador's secretary.

     

    Clint's name comes from the Metropolitan Magazine of March 1835; it says that the Westminster Chess Club annual report shows 200 members, but was formed 3 years ago by a half dozen including Clint, Medwin, G Walker et al.

    I am not clear as to whether one should say the old club really disbanded in 1835; Walker says this, but then in his own column in October 1836 he says the club move to Ries' Divan rather than saying it reorganized. It had enough changes but kept many of its members that I am not sure there is a clear cutoff date for the "old" Westminster Chess Club.

  • 16 months ago

    batgirl

    Mr. Spinrad,

    Thanks. I found Delannoy's "The Regence Under the Old Masters" in Chess-monthly vol. II and I'm working my way through it. The article about Mouret and Labourdonnais, I learned, was excerpted from it.  Delannoy was familiar with all those legendary players.

    I forgot about Duncan Forbes, but I had his name also (from Edge). John Henry Huttmann owned the divan where the club was founded, and though he put out chess papers as cigar wrappers, with problems and games printed on them to get players to buy his cigars (and later as larger bulletins), I'm really not sure he was a club member.  I have an article on him, from what little I know,  ready to post.  Clint and Packam, I'd never heard of. I wonder who they were?    I knew of a Mr. B. Smith, but couldn't find a first name. I see it's Benjamin!  

    I don't know Piercy.  The old club was before Staunton's time. I think Murray associated him with the later club. Aaron Alexandre, I believe, was in France at that time as a Palamede in the mid-late 30s featured him.  I really don't know enough about Alexandre. 

    Thanks so much. I'm getting a clearer picture. 

  • 16 months ago

    manitari

    A first search of my notes for old Westminster CC members gives me the following.

     

    Capt Medwin (a friend of Byron),  [probably Duncan]  Forbes, Evans,  Huttmann, Clint, Packham, Benjamin Smith MP for Sudbury, Howard: Mentioned as members

    John Henry Tuffman: A self-described writer in periodical publication brought to debtors court in 1838 former address given as Westminster CC

    Worrell, Bone: Mentioned in connection with some events Westminster CC

    Staunton, Alexandre , Piercy: Members of a slightly later iteration ~1840 may have been members older since this contained many old members

    The sources also say that the Westminster CC contained almost all the London 1st rate players; many names can be added if this is really true. I could add a lot of others as guesses.

  • 16 months ago

    manitari

    Delannoy has a number of articles which mention Labourdonnais' appetite, but the most substantial I have seen is in (Zukertort+Hoffer's) Chess Monthly Volume 2 page 71, available via google books.

     

    I will go through my notes for extra suspects for the old Westminster CC.

  • 16 months ago

    batgirl

    Mr. Spinrad,

    I'd read Delannoy funny vignette concerning Labourdonnais and Mouret in Bretano's Monthly, Dec., 1880, but never one in which Delannoy decribes Labourdonnais' eating habits.  Where would I find that particular article?

    I'm making educated guesses about the members of the original Westminster Chess Club that disbanded in 1835.  This club hosted the Labourdonnais-M'Donnell match and played the corr. match with the Cercle de Panoramas in Paris.   After scouring tons of Le Palamedes, BCMs, CPC's, books by Walker and Lewis (and really most successfully, Edge's Exploits of Morphy), I have about ten likely names, plus a lot of initials (found in Geenwood Walker's book).  Do you know of anywhere that mentions some of these players?

    Here's my list of suspects:  M'Donnell, Rev. d'Arblay, F. L. Slous, George Perigal, H. W. Popert, Albany Fonblanque, Thomas Medwin, W. Fraser, W. G. Walker and Geo. Walker.

  • 16 months ago

    epoqueepique

    My pleasure, Sarah, and thank you for your blogs, always filled with documentary evidence, original sources, links, and always enriched by your insights and humor.

  • 16 months ago

    LimpSpider

    Game 39 is just a diagram

  • 16 months ago

    manitari

    I feel that the article about Cochrane's drinking is interesting, but should not be taken as absolute truth. I certainly never saw any other indication of Cochrane being a heavy drinker, but I also have no good first hand accounts of Cochrane in India other than as a lawyer or a chess player.

    My personal take until more evidence comes in is that this is a matter of perspective. Cochrane could not have been what we think of as a drunkard; a homeless man in the street who has squandered his life due to alcohol. He was a very successful lawyer in a time when appearances definitely needed to be kept up.

     

    However, there are many highly functional individuals who have serious alcohol problems; there was never any reason to suspect that Cochrane could have been such a person, but we now have a reason to consider this possibility.

     

    On the other hand, it is also possible that Cochrane's brother-in-law, who the article says is affiliated with the police, had an unusually harsh view on drinking. Cochrane may have simply enjoyed heavy drinking from time to time with friends; my understanding is that alcoholics often show fewer public symptoms of intoxication than those who are not alcoholics but who like a wild night out from time to time. Thus, Cochrane may never have had an actual drinking problem, even if the core of the story is factually true.

     

    At this point, all I can say is that it is an interesting addition to what we know about Cochrane.

     

    As for La Bourdonnais (I will stick with Labourdonnais in my personal notes, so that I can find references to him with one search), he was loved, but I was amused at how Delannoy really goes into his eating habits, saying that his artistry in this field matched his artistry in chess.

  • 16 months ago

    batgirl

    Fred,

    I wish I had paid better attention in French class.  America also went from a monarchy to a republic (or a democracy, as some people incorrectly call it), and, in spite of popular conception, a large percentage of people living in the colonies were loyalist or Tories.  This split in colonist enabled the British to find aid and comfort far from home and gave the patriots or revolutionaries a second enemy to overcome.  I can see how the French revolutionaries and monarchist both would have difficultieds in such uncertain times.   Philidor leved during that time, but he seemed almost rather apolitical (actually, he had pro-revolutionary leanings but received a pension from the crown), yet he went back and forth between France and London regularly to take advantage of his music and chess careers in Fance and his chess career in England. The Revolution left him stuck in London in 1792 where, unable to return to his family, he died alone in 1795.

    You are most right in your implication that much of what we look at needs to interpreted relative to the times and events.  Ignorance of even small factors can often flavor our understanding negatively.

    Thanks so much for your input.

  • 16 months ago

    batgirl

    Mr. Spinrad,

    I've read alot about Cochrane, but never heard of him being an alcoholic. Do you think the article was dependable?  If so, that's rather sad, though his overcoming it seems rather heroic.  I tend to think that Cochrane was to some degree affected by Sarratt since his play is innovative, bold and attacking. By the same token, I would suggest that Bird was influenced by Cochrane.  At any rate, it seems like Cochrane needs a lot more attention.

    Labourdonnais has often been portrayed as loud, garrulous, boisterous and thirsty.  He seems to have been liked as well as admired. His letters that I read suggest he was educated and polite. That he edited Le Palamède shows he was capable and literary.  He was a man with many sides.

    Thanks.

  • 16 months ago

    epoqueepique

    Thank you Sarah, it's an interesting obituary, filled with political references as always in that time, and with the inevitable concerns with pensions that go with the incertain times, when migrations were constant, emigrating to England because one was either pro or anti revolutionary, immigrating back for the same reasons, when the system broke down, and each time losing the money allowances which one had worked hard to deserve...

  • 16 months ago

    manitari

    Another little fact about Labourdonnais; it was remarked upon that he had an amazing appetite for food (he also loved his drink).

  • 16 months ago

    manitari

    Technically, Cochrane did not invent this gambit. I believe it was in Sarratt's book, but Cochrane certainly is responsible for the gambit being widely known; he used it effectively in a number of published games.

     

    I wrote an article on Cochrane once, but I only recently learned something quite interesting about him. The source is the chess column of the Quebec Chronicle, Sept 3 1880 (available through BANQ, the Quebec archive).

     

    Apparently Cochrane was a drunkard for a number of years while in India (for 30 years according to the column). When his brother-in-law was on his deathbed, despairing what would happen to his daughters who were coming to India,  Cochrane promised to look after them. His brother-in-law said this was impossible due to Cochrane's drinking, but Cochrane vowed to stay sober and kept that promise for the rest of his life; the column mentions this was despite initial sufffering which I interpret as some form of withdrawal symptoms.

     

    Great article, batgirl, as was the article on Sarratt; I had never seen such detailed information on him. I should mention that Sarratt lived at a time when the records are much harder to find than on players who lived only a generation later.

  • 17 months ago

    batgirl

    Some supporting documentation for Eliza's marriage to James Budge from Le Palamède, March 1842:

  • 17 months ago

    batgirl

    Fred,

    Merci!  It's indeed complicated, but you made it quite clear.  Here's a gift:

    from Saint-Amant's Le Palamède, Dec. 1841:


  • 17 months ago

    epoqueepique

    So the way you spelt it in the title is absolutely proper !

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