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Miss Nellie Down and the Devil

While researching my previous posting on Mephisto, I came across a game between the Mechanical Chess-player and a girl in which the girl won.  This, of course, aroused my curiosity about the girl who beat Mephisto either by her skill or through the Automaton's gallantry. But when I tried to find something, what I did uncover was a bit confusing to me.  I placed most of what I read below - and it can get quite tedious - to show the sources of my confusion about Miss Nellie Down.

The Chess Player's Chronicle in 1878 wrote:

Mr. Gümpel's " Mephisto" is now installed at the Westminster Aquarium. He opened his seances there on 1st October, by giving a semi -private exhibition of his wondrous powers, chiefly to members of the press, on which occasion a capital luncheon and an appropriate  address were given by his inventor. We understand that the séances are held daily from 12 to 5 p.m , and from 6 to 10, and that the  proceeds of the first three days' performances were handed to tho Lord Mayor for the sufferers by the recent colliery explosion in Sonth  Wales. Among those who have yielded to Mephisto's prowess at the Aquarium are Col. Minchorn, A. Rosenubaum, and A. Burn, of  Liverpool. On the other hand, he has had to cry peccaci on some occaions, and notably to Mr. Tarrant, of the Railway Clearing House Club, the Rev. A. C. Pearson, and Miss H. Down.   A great improvement has been effected in the Chess board on which Mephisto plays; the old pieces and spikes which it was necessary to press down, having given place to a set of Stanuton men, and an ordinary wooden  board, the only remarkable feature of which is a circular depression in the centre of each square.

later the same year:

Mr. C. G. Gümpel has invented a new mechanical Chess player, of which both the construction and the performances are said to eclipse  those of any previous Chess-playing machine. The talented inventor has named his mechanism " Mephisto," and has been hospitably  inviting many of the leading players of London to a series of séances at his house in Leicester Square in order to test the merits of his  invention before removing it to the Paris Exhibition. Among those who have succumbed to the prowess of " Mephisto " are Messrs.  Potter, Minehin, Delannoy, Down, and Manning, and next month we hope to give one of his games. " Mephisto " is a slim figure, sitting at  an ordinary Chess table, entirely disconnected from surrounding objects, and there is no possibility of any person being concealed in or  near him. The power by which he acts with so much apparent intelligence is of course Mr. Gümpel's secret, but we fancy the clue will  eventually be found in the Chess board, which is of peculiar make, each square containing a spike upon which it is necessary to press,  both in placing thereon or in removing a piece.
   The following account has been forwarded to us by an eye witness :—
          Mephisto's dress is of a very gorgeous description—red velvet, 'trimmed with black ; pink hat, with black border and two magnificent  pink feathers ; and his left hand is covered with a black kid glove, with the object, we suppose, of preventing beholders from entirely  forgetting—notwithstanding his on the whole gay appearance—the awful nature of the being before them.
     The beautiful smoothness of Mephisto's head has been the subject of much comment, and it is generally supposed to be the result of  much study in his perpetnal warfare with mankind. His baldness, however, can hardly be called " premature," since he tells us that he has  played Chess ever since it was invented. The extraordinary merit of Mephisto's barber has also been observed, and we may add that  the excellence of that gentleman as a shaver is only equalled by the skill with which Mephisto "shaves" his opponents over the Chess  board.
     The control over the playing arm by the unseen force is very perfect. We need hardly point out to the reader acquainted with mechanics  that it is a much more difficult problem to give the arm the necessary movements in the case of a Chess than of a Whist playing  machine. The arm of Mr. Maskelyne's figure "Psycho" has only two motions, and both are merely arcs of circles. The one enables it to  move its arms round the semi-circle in which the cards are placed, and the other gives it the power of raising the card, and thus  displaying its face !to the audience. In Mephisto's case, the connection between the arm and shoulder must be similar to what it is in the  human frame, i.e., by a ball and socket joint. Consequently, the bond uniting the arm and the unseen power must be extremely good.
     For some unexplained, and to us incomprehensible reason, Mephisto always very carefully places the piece he captures on the same  side of the board (his right), and his opponent is requested to do the same.
     Mephisto plays indifferently with the white or black pieces, which might have been expected, because being the reverse of a " young "  player, he would not be likely to have any of his weaknesses.
     Mephisto from time to time moves his head in a fascinating manner, and takes a wide survey of the board. Onlookers who have made  him the subject of psychological study assert that this proceeding is a sign of his contentment with the respect of the game.
     Mephisto's play is generally thought to be cautious and profound rather than dashing and showy ; but the before-mentioned observers  have remarked that it varies very much with his opponent, and that he is apt to treat ladies in a very brilliant, if not in a very gallant  manner.

 

Above, in emphasized type, is mentioned Miss H. Down and Mr. Down. It would at first seem that the author confused the names and that  Miss Down  is actually Miss Nellie Down, the sister of Mr. H. F. Down and Florence Down and the daughter of Louisa Down, as George Alcock  MacDonnell tells us in his 1894 book, The Kings and Knights of Chess:
  Mrs. Louisa Down died at the residence, in Chingford, of her son-in-law, Mr. Julius Manning, on 7th October, 1888. Mrs. Down was, at  one time, a great patron, and always a great lover of our game. Indeed, she was more. She was a very skilful player, and enjoyed for one  or two years the position of lady champion of England. Her sons are well known as strong amateurs, and one of them, Mr. H. F. Down,  rendered long and valuable services to the City of London Club, as its hon. secretary. Her daughters were equally indefatigable and  successful in promoting the cause of chess. To them we were indebted for the Ladies' College Club, which flourished splendidly for a  few years, and would, I doubt not, still be in existence but that all the female members got so speedily married that sensible mothers  refused to allow their daughters to join it. I remember one fine summer evening about eight years ago I escorted Miss Nelly Down to the  Aquarium, where she proposed to test her strength against the redoubtable Mephisto. She had then only known chess for eight months,  but such was the force of her genius that in about twenty moves she vanquished her opponent. The game was published in the Illustrated  London News. Mrs. Down was a fine specimen of a lady chess player. She not merely played well but she lost well. She delighted in  entertaining her chess friends. At one of the suppers at her house I met several of the most famous European players, including Harrwitz,  in whose honour, indeed, the banquet was given, and whose health on that occasion I had the pleasure of proposing. That evening the  following mot was originated. As Mrs. Down sat by the side of a well-known conversationalist, she observed to him, " I think Mr. B. is the  cleverest looking man I ever saw, but my dear Mr. D., you are the cleverest man I ever met."


BCM in 1894 informs us:
"
Mr. Manning and Miss Nellie Down would ofttimes play at adjoining boards and bring about mates, one of which was that Miss Nellie Down became Mrs. Julius Manning, and this happy marriage may be considered a sort of chess match. . ."

But things get confusing.  Miss. H. Down, as well as Miss F. Down are mentioned fairly frequently in several periodicals and, if you look at the Mephisto vs Miss Down game below, it lasted only 15 moves rather than the 20 moves that MacDonnell mentions-

The Chess-Player's Chronicle  1878
A handicap tournament, at the Ladies' College, Little Queen-street, Eolborn, has just been brought to a conclusion. There were sixteen entries, the following being the names :—Mrs. Down, Misses Florence and Nellie Down, Miss Weeks, Messrs. Henty, W. T. Hearn, Lawrence, Burdon, Riley, A. Hearn, G. Butler, Barringer, H. Hearn, M. Down, F. T. Richardson, and A. Butler. The lady competitors were unfortunate, a fact which speaks well for their fairness if they had any part in the handicapping upon this occasion. Mrs. Down, who ranked in the first class, was victorious in the first round ; but in the next draw was unable to give the adjudged odds to Mr. H. Hearn, of the third class; and that gentleman was ultimately left to fight for first honours with Mr. W. T. Hearn, also one of the third class players. The latter combatant was successful.


The above passage refers to the Misses Florence and Nellie Down, as if they are indeed sisters.

The Chess-Player's Chronicle  1879
. . .the Misses F. and H. Down, are now engaged in single com. bat with each other, and the score by our last advices stood—Miss H. Down 2, and Miss F. Down 4.  Victory is to be adjudged to the winner of the first five games.

Here, Miss F. (Florence) is connected with Miss H.

 
The Chess-Player's Chronicle Dec. 20, 1882
Daily Papers on Chess.—A reporter of a daily newspaper can write acceptably on lamost any subject, but sometimes ludicrous mistakes are made. For instance, " The Philadelphia Times" one day last week had a column and a half article on Chess, which began with the startling assertion : " The fact is well established that Chess . . . was played in a rude form in Hindustan nearly 5,000 years ago." A little further on our breath is taken away by this sentence : " Reichhehn, of this city (Philadelphia), has few, if any, superiors in theoretical knowledge of the game." Other brilliant remarks are : ' Blackburne, the novelist (sic), is also a strong amateur player."  In Alsace-Lorraine he styles " Steinitz the Napoleon of the Chess arena." We wonder what he styles him in London or Philadelphia?  "The six great players of to-day are probably Steinitz, Zukertort, Mason, Blackburne, Bird and Potter." Where are Mackenzie, Winawer, Rosenthal, Tchigorin, all of whom rank above Bird and Potter? "Staunton, the great English player, Anderson (sic) of Breslau, and Morphy of New Orleans, were the great problem composers."  Were they?  It is well to know it. "Ladies do not shine greatly as Chess players." How about Mrs Gilbert, who beat Mr Gossip, the English theorist, in four straight games ; Mrs Warden, Mrs Favor, Miss Ella F Blake, Mrs Henry Neil, Mrs Edna Laurens, of this country ; Miss F F Beechey, who has won numerous prizes, Miss H Down, Miss F Down, of England ; and Miss Sofie Schett, of Austria, none of whom are mentioned ? Truly, a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.—" Newark Sunday Call."

Tim Harding noted in The Kibitzer:
from BRIEF: The week’s news  by Francis C. Collins
We have heard a stern chess-player remark that “many ladies liked and practised the game of chess with gentlemen opponents, but that the ladies were not sufficiently appreciative of this mental exercise to practise it with each other.” There are a few who have this mistaken idea, and the lady chess-player does not care to which sex her opponent belongs, her greatest desire being a hard-fought and well contested game. The Misses Rudge frequently played together at chess, and now a chess match is being played between Miss H. C. and F. Down, in which the latter has won five and the former two games. The winner of first seven games to count as victress.

While I was hoping to see her name as Miss H. N. Down,  we learn it's really Miss H. C. Down. Still, it seems that while Mrs. Down and Miss F. Down never change, sometimes they are accompanied by Miss H. Down, other times Miss Nellie Down. It would seem to me, though not conclusively, that they are the same person.


Here is Miss H. Down's game with Mephisto (from the Land and Water magazine):

 

But now we find something quite interesting by comparing the next two articles from the Westminster Papers: On Feb 11, 1879 Blackbune gave a 6 board blindfold simul in which 3 of his opponents were Mrs. Down, Miss H. Down and Miss F. Down., beating everyone but Miss F. Down who drew. The pevious year, on May 17, Blackburne gave a 6 board blindfold simul in which 3 of his opponents were Mrs. Down, Miss Florence Down and Miss Nellie Down., beating everyone except Mrs. Down who won her game. 


 

The Westminster Papers. 1st April 1879
On Tuesday the 11th ult., Mr. Blackburne allowed himself to be blindfolded by six ladies after performing which operation, they made him sit down in a corner of the Ladies College, there to meditate in solitude while they devised schemes for his discomfiture. However, we are happy to state that their evil intentions were frustrated. The spells woven on five of the Chess Boards not only would not work in the way that was wished, but entrapped the weavers, which is a very old trick with spells, and so it ought to be, or how should the innocent triumph. The names of the five enemies of the guileless representative of the suffering masculine sex who sat patiently waiting for the victory, which always comes to the right minded some time or other, are as follows, viz :— Mrs. Down, Miss Jamieson, Miss Rymer, Miss Burdon, and Miss H. Down. His sixth foe, Miss F. Down, has begun of late to study deeply the black art of Chess and this stood her in good stead. Mr. Blackburne had probably not expected that she would know so much of the particular variation of the Scotch Gambit, which he selected. As a matter of fact, she obtained some advantage, and was able by this means to hold her own sufficiently well against him, to make it worth his while to consent to a draw. A large assembly, comprising nearly all the stars of the Metropolitan Chess World, were present to witness the performance.

Westminster Papers  1st June 1878
On the evening of the 17th ult. [ult. means "the previous month from now"] the Divan and City Club were companions in misfortune. They were deserted by even their most faithful votaries. Everyone had made his way to the College Chess Club, in order to witness what was felt to be an interesting and unique spectacle, namely, Mr. Blackburne playing blindfold against six lady opponents. The College Club, as our readers know, is an association lately formed with the express object of enabling ladies having a taste for Chess to practise and enjoy it. Any reason why they should not thus recreate themselves does not, at the present moment, occur to us, and we do not propose to look about for one. Could we believe that women would drink much whisky over their Chess, or take to colouring clay pipes, or swear when they lost, or offer to back themselves to any extent to give a rook to successful rivals, or glorify themselves in print, then, indeed, we should doubt the expediency of their being allowed to enter "our petty burgh," but we by no means expect these or any other evil consequences to follow from their learning how to checkmate. Men may, and often do, in defeat, forget that they are gentlemen, but, from the ladies, we should look for nothing worse than a graceful sweep of the hand across the board by way of resignation. Returning, however, to the immediate business on hand we have to mention that Mr. Blackburne's six adversaries were Mrs. Down, Miss Florence Down, Mrs. Shedlock, Mrs. Jamieson, Miss Nellie Down, and Miss Wallington. The very spacious room in which the members of the club meet was none too large for the numerous spectators, among whom might be observed the lions and tigers of the metropolitan Chess world. The company took exceeding interest in the games, and displayed much sympathy with the players in their struggles against the crafty devices of their enemy. This sympathy was far too zealous to be repressed by any feeling of impartiality, in other words, there was much giving of advice. It was very excusable, and certainly Mr. Blackburne, the only person concerned, did not mind it, but the ladies state that on future occasions they will not allow anything of the kind. They want to play their own games and not to be assisted by anyone. We think they are right, there is a pleasure even in being beaten if the struggle has been all one's own. There is delight in having made the best, or at any rate a good fight, in having by unaided skill foiled this or that stratagem. We advise the ladies to adhere to their resolution. Play commenced at 7 p.m., and continued until a little after 10 o'clock, by which time Mr. Blackburne had defeated five of his opponents, but he had to resign to the strongest of them all, viz : Mrs. Down. That lady stood her ground well, but in the end she owed her victory to a slip made by her blindfold opponent, after he had obtained a great, if not decisive advantage over her.

 As we can see, Louisa Down won her game.  Miss Nellie Down lost hers to some brilliant play on Blackburne's part:


 

Comments


  • 4 years ago

    batgirl

    My dear friend notice two things. One, that the name Nellie is sometimes a nickname derived from Helen.  I never knew this, but it helps drive home the final nail, verifying Nellie as Miss H. Down.

    The Nov. 1, 1878 issue of The Westminster Papers states:

    Perhaps the most lively signs of the revival of Chess in the metropolis are to be observed at the Royal Aquarium. In a snug corner of that curious combination of the Musical glasses and Bartlemy Fair, the uncanny Chess player, hight Mephisto, holds daily and nightly converse with all comers. Mephisto has been described in these pages already, and in terms that leave little to be said in commendation of his play or the agency that directs it. Of the latter we are as ignorant as any of our readers, and we should, probably enough, mislead them by guessing. It is enough to note that Mephisto has been successful against some of the strongest players in London, and that in losing he sets before us an example of patience and courtesy that should be taken to heart by some of his mortal adversaries. In the course of one evening during the past month we witnessed many of Mephisto's victories and one defeat. The conquest was effected by Miss Helen Down in a brief but remarkably well played game, and though the gratification of the spectators was loud and clear, it was outdone by the graceful recognition of skill expressed by the mechanical Chess-player's bended head and outstretched hand. For amateurs who like a quiet game of Chess in the afternoon or evening against an adversary of the first force, Mephisto's reception room at the Royal Aquarium is much to be preferred to any of the public rooms in London.

     

    She also noted that the Blackbune simul against 6 ladies from the Ladies' College Club was given as May 17, 1878 by the Westminster Papers (which apparently was reporting on it) and as  simply 1877 in the Blackburne game itself. These are the actual dates given by both sources. It would seem most likely that Mr. Blackburne's Games at Chess gives the incorrect date.

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