Upgrade to Chess.com Premium!

Morphy - Went Crazy?


  • 3 years ago · Quote · #1

    Master_Po

    Somewhere I heard or read that Paul Morphy, great American chess player - perhaps the first unofficial world champion of chess, went crazy.  But googling it, I can't find anything on this, only that he essentially quit chess and died in his 40's.  Why did I hear or read that he went crazy or insane?

  • 3 years ago · Quote · #2

    JG27Pyth

    Chess.com forum regular (well, she used to be here all the time anyway) ------ Batgirl -- is an authority on Morphy... she can no doubt tell you three different theories regarding Morphy's mental state, which she feels is most credible, and what objective data there exists in the historical record. So put up the batsignal and hopefully batgirl will weigh in.

    It is, as far as I know, "common knowledge"  that Morphy went some kind of nuts or was in some way mentally enfeebled in his later years.  I'm rather startled to hear that this isn't readily googleable. it's not in the wiki? Really? *edit* wow, I checked the wiki and indeed the legend of crazy morphy is nowhere to be found... just some odd business about him arranging shoes in a semi-circle. 

  • 3 years ago · Quote · #3

    Master_Po

    Indeed, maybe Wiki is trying to be PC. 

  • 3 years ago · Quote · #4

    TonyH

    a lot of morphy's final days and his mental status is vague. A lot of second and fifth hand information. The stories all pretty much agree that his behavior was at the least very unusual. remember at his death mental illness was not even a conceptual idea. strange behavior was based on demons, etc. Freud graduated in 1873 and morphy died in 1887. 

  • 3 years ago · Quote · #5

    batgirl


    click here ---->  Morphy Madness


  • 3 years ago · Quote · #6

    mikenz7

    Davy, Morphy qualified as a lawyer.

    He did apparently end up with some kind of parinoa that his family were trying to do him out of his ‘share’ of some estate. The story goes that he spent all his money on legal battles to win his ‘case’. It is also reported that he said some rather wild things about chess and refused to have anything to do with it during his latter years.

    There do seem to be lots of parallels between him and Fischer.

    Check this link for a starting place.

    http://www.angelfire.com/games4/lifemasteraj/_Morphy/morphy-list.html

  • 3 years ago · Quote · #7

    Estragon

    There is little doubt that Morphy regarded chess as a hobby and went to great lengths to avoid being considered anything but an amatuer.  Given his obvious strength, most opponents were more than willing to play their matches for honor rather than the customary money stake.  Adolf Anderssen insisted on a stake though, and Morphy returned his winnings secretly to Mrs. Anderssen.

    So his inability to be taken seriously as an attorney because of chess, which he had only indulged to kill time until he could be licensed to practice, was certainly a cause of great anguish.

    The story of his rebuff by a fiance is entirely apocryphal, but it is known that he was so disturbed by his celebrity that he already addressed the notion in his speech at the gala welcome dinner, attended by many of the most prominent citizens including Longfellow who wrote a poem for the occasion, and was known to fire off letters of correction to any writer who referred to him as "professional" as a chessplayer.

    There were also disputes about his father's estate, and even a lawsuit which Morphy lost.  But because we don't know the actual facts of the matter, it is quite a leap to declare Morphy insane because of it, even if he lost the suit.  Losing in court doesn't mean your are wrong, just that there is no redress granted by the law.  It isn't paranoia if they are really out to get you!

    A brilliant mind deprived of all stimulation - he couldn't practice law because of his chess celebrity (considered quite frivolous at the time), and wouldn't play chess because it had cost him his career. 

    So the verdict is still out, and the truth will probably never be known absent some startling new discovery.  To compare Morphy with Fischer is an insult.  Bobby was clearly off his rocker in his later years, maybe even when he won the championship.

  • 3 years ago · Quote · #8

    fabelhaft

    Maurian was Morphy's best friend so it's clear from what he wrote that Morphy was more than just slightly eccentric in his late 30s. Some quotes from his letters:

    "It is unfortunately true that Mr. Morphy's mind has been deranged of late but not to the extent that the New York Sun would have us believe"

    "I noticed some time ago some extraordinary statements he made of petty persecutions directed against him by unknown persons, that there was something wrong about him, but after a while he openly accused some well known persons of being the authors of the persecutions, and insisted upon their giving him proper satisfaction by arms"

    "you beg me to inform you if it is true that certain rumours about Paul Morphy are true that he may not be right mentally. I am sorry to have to reply to you that these rumours are only too well founded"

    Maurian's stating that Morphy's mind was "deranged of late" and that the rumours that he wasn't right mentally were "only too well founded" are strong words to write about your best friend. At least his condition was serious enough for his family to try to have him treated in an institution.

    I too find it surprising that Morphy's "madness" is such a "forbidden" subject. For example the long Wikipedia article on his life doesn't have a line about it, and several other sources as well mention at most the shoe thing and call it an urban legend and end up with an implied conclusion that there was nothing unusual whatsoever with his mind the last decade. Maybe it's seen as more correct to avoid the subject.

  • 3 years ago · Quote · #9

    Scottrf

    fabelhaft wrote:

    Maurian was Morphy's best friend so it's clear from what he wrote that Morphy was more than just slightly eccentric in his late 30s. Some quotes from his letters:

    "It is unfortunately true that Mr. Morphy's mind has been deranged of late but not to the extent that the New York Sun would have us believe"

    "I noticed some time ago some extraordinary statements he made of petty persecutions directed against him by unknown persons, that there was something wrong about him, but after a while he openly accused some well known persons of being the authors of the persecutions, and insisted upon their giving him proper satisfaction by arms"

    "you beg me to inform you if it is true that certain rumours about Paul Morphy are true that he may not be right mentally. I am sorry to have to reply to you that these rumours are only too well founded"

    Maurian's stating that Morphy's mind was "deranged of late" and that the rumours that he wasn't right mentally were "only too well founded" are strong words to write about your best friend. At least his condition was serious enough for his family to try to have him treated in an institution.

    I too find it surprising that Morphy's "madness" is such a "forbidden" subject. For example the long Wikipedia article on his life doesn't have a line about it, and several other sources as well mention at most the shoe thing and call it an urban legend and end up with an implied conclusion that there was nothing unusual whatsoever with his mind the last decade. Maybe it's seen as more correct to avoid the subject.

    I don't think so. Lots of wikipedia pages have similar stuff, I think that whoever wrote it just didn't have enough solid information.

  • 3 years ago · Quote · #10

    Dodger111

    http://www.jeremysilman.com/chess_history/grt_plyr_pc_morphy.html

    If you just google Paul Morphy and add the words crazy or insane you will be led to a slew of sites  about his mental state.

  • 3 years ago · Quote · #11

    Master_Po

    Great links everyone, thanks.  Interesting fellow.  Though a genius at chess, he seemed to have a bit of disdain for it, as in it's merely a game, contrasted with Bobby Fischer, who said 'chess if Life'. 

  • 3 years ago · Quote · #12

    Dodger111

    Everyone knows of Morphy and Fischer, the two American champions that dominated the world and then quit playing  while descending into madness, but there's a third American, Harry Pillsbury, who at the age of 22 came out of nowhere and did something unheard of, as if in a fairy tale.  He played at Hastings 1895, an all-play-all tournament which had the previous world champion, the current world champion, and the top 20 contenders, and he took first place over the world's best.

    And that was it.....he fell apart, died at 33 from syphylis and drink.

  • 3 years ago · Quote · #13

    blake78613

    Estragon what is your basis for saying:

    "The story of his rebuff by a fiance is entirely apocryphal,"

    The incident in reported in several sources and Frances Parkinson Keyes
    says she knows the name of the lady in question.




  • 3 years ago · Quote · #14

    Master_Po

    "

    A brilliant mind deprived of all stimulation - he couldn't practice law because of his chess celebrity (considered quite frivolous at the time), and wouldn't play chess because it had cost him his career.

    So the verdict is still out, and the truth will probably never be known absent some startling new discovery. To compare Morphy with Fischer is an insult. Bobby was clearly off his rocker in his later years, maybe even when he won the championship."

       Sounds like Mr. Morphy really had his heart set on being a lawyer instead of what was considered trivial at the time, speaking of chess.  I can understand and empathize how he felt.  He AND Mr. Fischer probably had problems with the fairer sex, gaining their affection that is, - often true of high IQ geniuses.  Both of these reason enough to go into seclusion, become paranoid and withdraw from the world, leading some to think they had gone crazy -  Fischer and Morphy both.  All is fascinating.   

  • 3 years ago · Quote · #15

    Roma60

    why is it that a lot of top chessplayers suffer from some kind of mentle illness.morphy. fischer and what many top chess players think was the best player of all time Rubinstein.there are a lot more players if you want to look in to it.

  • 3 years ago · Quote · #16

    batgirl

    I think of everything posted here that Estragon most closely depicts what is generally believed from the factual data that is known.

    There are a few points to consider though. One is that Morphy's inability to establish himself as a lawyer has always been somewhat overstated. I put a summary of his known activities as a lawyer here, including where he pled a case before the La. Supreme Court.

    Morphy's so-called insanity has also been overstated. There's little doubt that Morphy had some "derangement" as they called it, very peculiar behavior,  but he was hardly ever clinically insane.  He also never divorced himself from intellectual pursuits.  Leona Queyrouze is very specific that Morphy have a deep interest in music, philosophy and literature until his death.  Morphy also played chess up until the last few years before his death. Both Queyrouze and Maurian tell us that.  In 1883, Steinitz met with Morphy and found him quite engaging and not at all crazy. Despite what Keyes wrote in her mishmash of historical fact and pure fabrication, there's nothing to indicate Morphy ever had a lover, real or imaginary.  Keye's  contention that only she know's who that nebulous women was, and she's not telling because of some Creole code (Keyes isn't Creole and doesn't apply that imaginary code to any other of her revelations) , doesn't really sound all that credible, just pretentious.  She actually got that story from Charles A. Buck's somewhat uncertain pamphlet called, Paul Morphy: His Later Life.

    Almost everything we know about Morphy's mental condition with the exception of what Leona Querouze had to say, all of which is circumstantial,  can be found on the link I posted in #5. Everything else is conjecture.

    Morphy so-called madness, not only isn't a taboo subject, it was the subject of two papers by professionals. One was Ernest Jones, a protogee of Freud, who wrote The Problem of Paul Morphy and one by Reuben Fine, called The Psychology of a Chess Player. I'm not sure how accurate this retro-analysis can be, especially when some of it depends upon some historical fallacies, but they're at the links above if anyone wishes to read them.

  • 3 years ago · Quote · #17

    anpu3

    Well, there seems to be only one way to settle this now.

    Let's put out a call to Hollywood (i.e. the entertainment industry) to make a movie called... "Searching for Paul Morphy" based on the old saw... never let the truth get in the way of a good story.

    Or better yet, "Paul Morphy- Vampire Hunter". Now that might explain everything!

  • 3 years ago · Quote · #18

    ContemplativeCat

    "paul morphy- vampire hunter"

    Cool

    I love it!

  • 3 years ago · Quote · #19

    TonyH

    wow bat-girl. I am impressed :) you have taught me a  lot and very well researched and your analysis is very critical and honest. KUDOS!!!

    My 2nd trophy to you in 4 years here.

  • 3 years ago · Quote · #20

    Estragon

    blake78613 wrote:

    Estragon what is your basis for saying:

    "The story of his rebuff by a fiance is entirely apocryphal,"

    The incident in reported in several sources and Frances Parkinson Keyes
    says she knows the name of the lady in question.




     

    A story "reported in several sources" is not necessarily true.  The fact that those who have seriously researched Morphy and the legends have found this tale was never told in his lifetime tends to confirm that the "multiple sources" are just parrots of the first fiction.  Frances Parkinson Keyes was a fiction writer, by the way, whose books were historical fiction and had no particular expertise in historical research - although such a romantic legend fit well with the needs of a novelist.

    As usual, batgirl is on it, too.


Back to Top

Post your reply: