Bios of Those Associated with the 1st Amer. Chess Congress, Pt. I

Mar 14, 2009, 12:13 PM |

These short biographies were published in the
Book of the Fifth American Chess Congress by Charles A. Gilberg.

Pt. I  consists of some of those men who were associated with the First Congress but did not play in the main tournament.



Hyacinth Agnel served on the Congress Chess Code committee.


Was born in the city of New York, of French parents, on the 25th of November, 1799, but at the age of three years he was sent to France, where he was educated and reared to man's estate. When in his twenty-eighth year, he re-crossed the Atlantic to South America, and after visiting various parts of that Continent, entered the military service of Venezuela, whose constant resort to arms to suppress domestic broils, or repel border aggressions, gave ample employment to warlike tastes, and he participated in several lively actions, in one of which, near the city of Caraccas, he received a severe sabre wound in the hip; but a lurking fiend afterward inflicted a more serious injury. He had barely recovered from the effects of the blow received in battle when his life met a narrower escape from an assassin's stiletto, which was plunged deeply into his side before the cowardly assailant discovered that he had mistaken his victim. Satisfied with the scars of South American adventures he returned to France in 1831, and in the following year embarked in the ship Ysidra for his native city, New York, the voyage being successfully accomplished in fifty days! After a short residence in this city, he accepted a position as general director at Dr. Powell's Academy, at West Farms, combining, with the labors of that charge, instruction in the French and Spanish languages, and music. A seven years' service at that institution was terminated by his acceptance of the assistant professorship of the French language at the United States Military Academy at West Point, which he retained until President Folk's administration, when he was advanced to a full professorship with the relative military rank of Colonel, U.S.A. To the duties of that office he devoted the remaining years of a full and active life, and became exceedingly popular with the corps of resident officers as an efficient and painstaking instructor. His gentle and sympathetic disposition won the confidence and esteem of the cadets, and in recognition of his distinguished services to the institution, as one of its most successful laborers, the Government caused a life- size portrait to be painted of him by the artist, Henry Peters Gray, which now occupies a place in the library of the Academy. When General Winfield Scott set out to take command of the forces in the war against Mexico, a desire to avail himself of Professor Agnel's knowledge of the Spanish language led him to offer the Professor a Lieutenant-Colonelcy upon his staff; but circumstances of a domestic nature compelled him to remain near his family. His interest in the game of Chess was aroused early in life, during his residence in Marseilles, France, where an uncle undertook to initiate him in its mysteries, and with the success which is usually attendant upon those who become proficient as players, a few lessons sufficed to enable him to defeat his tutor.
Becoming engaged in pursuits which required him to spend considerable time at the French capital, he frequently visited the classic battlefield of the Parisian players, and the practice which he then obtained at La Regence left its impress upon his subsequent life. At West Point he soon discovered among the officers and professors several lovers of the game, and about the year 1845 succeeded in enlisting the men of martial trade into the peaceful folds of a Chess club, which enjoyed an existence of six or seven years under his presidency. The meetings were generally held at the residences of the different members; and at these social gatherings the armies of " war's image " were deployed and manoeuvred with scarcely less strategic energy than that which directed the triumphant progress of our forces in Mexico about the same time. In later years one of Professor Agnel's most frequent opponents over the board was the distinguished hero of the Mexican campaign, General Scott, in whose imagination, may we not fancy, the memory of the stirring scenes at Cerro Gordo, Contreras, Churubusco, and Chapultepec, to have been often revived and re-enacted in these friendly conflicts. In 1848, Professor Agnel compiled the most popular and attractive elementary treatise upon the game that has been given to the Chess world, entitled Chess for Winter Evenings, combining, with the dry theoretical materials, a series of well selected and entertaining tales, which were handsomely illustrated by Prof. Robert Weir. This work has passed through many editions, although impaired in its title by the keen sagacity of the publishers, whose conviction that a book for winter evenings could not command a perennial sale led them to change it without consulting the author, to " Agnel's Book of Chess." Be sides this contribution to the literature of his favorite amusement, Prof. Agnel was the author of several educational works, among which his most important is a " Tabular System for Instruction in French," which has been adopted as a text book at West Point. With an attachment for the noble game that endured through all the cares of his professional and literary labors, he devoted every leisure moment that he could secure to its enjoyment, and found pleasure in all its various phases; whenever opponents were ready to break a lance, he welcomed them to his board, and when they were absent, he often bent in solitude over that board, taking an equal delight in constructing problems or solving and analyzing the works of others. He possessed an excellent Chess library and some valuable art representations of the game. Nestling by the margin of one of the beautiful Highland lakes, the Professor's cosy and comfortable Summer retreat offered tempting allurements to Chess- loving friends, and he greeted, with a tender hospitality, all who sought it—first he generously fed, and then he bravely fought them—and many a doughty Chess-knight from the Metropolis and elsewhere has lost both appetite and spurs under his vigorous and attentive treatment. In person he was tall, erect and well proportioned, and his almost gigantic frame was surmounted with a cast of features that were eminently martial, though betokening, in his passive moods, more of benevolence than sternness of heart. Active, warm, and full of those frolicking pleasantries that sometimes serve to make the moments fly too swiftly, he was the welcome companion of every society—as well with the young as with those of maturer years. He was an expert swordsman, possessed excellent musical talents, and as a promoter of the fisherman's sport had taken an active interest in transplanting to the mountain lakelets of Orange County the famous black bass from Saratoga Lake, and was for twenty years a member of the Game and Fish Association of Orange County. He succumbed suddenly to the inevitable conqueror on the 10th of February, 1871, while in the apparent enjoyment of robust health, and was buried with military honors at West Point, where thirty years of unremitting toil has secured him a final resting place.



 Prof. George Allen contributed a large part to the Book of the First American Chess Congress   and served on the Congress Chess Code committee.


Late Greek Professor in the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, during a period extending over thirty years, was born in Milton Township, Chittenden County, Vermont, on the 17th of December, 1808. He was the son of the Honorable Heman Allen, a lawyer of eminent ability and a member of Congress during the time of Presidents Jackson and Van Buren. In August, 1823, the subject of our sketch was matriculated at the University of Vermont, whence he graduated in due course with the highest honors, and soon after received the appointment to the chair of Professor of Languages in that institution of learning, during the temporary absence of the incumbent in Europe. With the purpose of pursuing the profession of his distinguished father he had commenced the study of law, and in 1830 removed to St. Albans to complete his studies under the Hon. Judge Turner, with whom his father had studied nearly thirty years before, and was admitted to the Bar, in Franklin County, in March, 1831. In the following Summer he was married by the Rev. Ralph Waldo Emerson to Miss Mary Hancock Wirthington, of Boston, a great niece of the famous John Hancock, the President of the Continental Congress and Signer of the Declaration of Independence. This union proved a long and happy one, and the lady, wrapt in the affectionate memory of her husband's love, survived him but a few months. Abandoning the practice of law, Mr. Allen took up the study of theology, and in 1834 entered the ministry of the Protestant-Episcopal Church, and was chosen rector of the parish of St. Albans. In 1837 he resigned this charge, and during the same year accepted a professorship in Delaware College, at Newark, whither he then removed. In 1845 he was elected Professor of Languages in the University of Pennsylvania, which, from the growing necessities of the institution for special professorships in various languages, was subsequently limited to instruction in Greek—a chair which he filled with extraordinary ability and success during the remaining thirty-one years of his life. In recognition of his valuable services and eminent attainments the University conferred upon him, in 1868, the honorary degree of Doctor of Laws. At what date Professor Allen's interest in chess was first aroused we are not informed, but it seems to have been developed during a period of indisposition of one of the members of his family, whose tedium he sought to relieve by the fascinating influences of this game. His professional and literary duties afforded a very limited leisure for indulgence in any recreation or amusement; and, while his appreciation of intricate and beautiful positions in the game frequently called forth emotions that marked the thorough devotee, he rarely ventured to essay his skill as a player beyond Ms own family circle. His chief passion for the game was centred, however, in its literature, and in the course of a few years he succeeded in gathering into his vast storehouse of books a chess library that for a long period stood unsurpassed among the collections of the world in the number and exceeding rarity of its volumes. He contributed many graceful and interesting articles to the earlier volumes of The Chess Monthly and to the Hook of the First American Chess Congress, and in 1858 prepared for the pages of the Monthly an elaborate and pleasing sketch of the life of Philidor; of which a small edition was separately printed in Philadelphia the same year, and which he subsequently enriched and expanded into that unique and exquisitely charming biography published in 1865. Two copies of this enlarged edition were printed on vellum, and the event which marked the first attempt at book-printing on vellum in this country was made the occasion of an appropriate celebration by the publishers in Philadelphia. To the welfare of the Congress Professor Allen's whole heart was generously bent, and in the Committee of which he was the able chief he rendered the most valuable services. Gentle, kind and unselfish, he invariably evinced the warmest disposition toward all who approached him for instruction or information, and whether in the classroom or to his fellow beings in the world at large he was ever ready to open the precious stores of his profound mind or yield a cheerful access to his literary treasures—oftentimes copying from his volumes for the gratification of distant curious friends masses that would have appalled one less sincerely devoted to the highest interests of mankind. In his death, which occurred at Worcester, Massachusetts, on the 28th of May, 1876 ,the American Chess world lost a noble representative, a profound scholar, and an earnest, steadfast friend, whose void will long be felt.


Denis Julien (along with Mr. S. Heilbuth) served as a Marshal for the Congress. Originally scheduled to play in the main tournament (his forst opponent would have been Louis Paulsen), Julien bowed out to allow Samuel Cathrop, a late arrival, the opportunity to play.  The well-described dinner afterwards was held at the St. Denis Hotel, owned by Denis Julien who also provided the meal.


"Was born in the year 1806, in a small town called Les Beaumettes, in the department of Vaucluse, Southern France, and but two miles distant from the celebrated valley and fountain of Vaucluse, where Petrarch's " passion glances" vainly wooed his fair enchantress, Laura. Amid the rural hills and dales of that romantic district, our subject grew to man's estate, but the ambitious dreams of youth thirsted for a wider knowledge of the world than the narrow limits of the Beaumettes could afford him, and at about the age of twenty he shipped on board a man-of-war which had been ordered on an extended cruise. With her he visited Cadiz, Rio Janeiro, and the East Indies, and left the ship at the little island of Bourbon, where he remained three years. His restless inclination to travel next directed his attention to Africa as a most promising land of exciting adventures, and with that aim in view he took passage in a brig, which, to his dismay, he discovered when out at sea to be engaged in the slave trade. This proved an adventure that he had not calculated upon, and unwilling to risk the hazard of being surprised as a.particeps criminis in that nefarious traffic, he determined to abbreviate his expected voyage, and prevailed upon the captain to set him ashore on the first land that was sighted. Preferring to place his trust in savage clemency rather than to abide the prospect of meeting an ignominious end at the halter, he disembarked Mozambique and the Portuguese settlement of Killimoro, which lay several hundred miles apart in opposite directions. With a stout heart that brooked no trembling fear, yet beat not without serious apprehensions for the future, the solitary wanderer proceeded slowly to explore the interior of the dark Continent, until he encountered a native tnbe, by whose chief he was received with unexpected manifestations of friendship, and entertained with aboriginal hospitalities for several months. After various experiences and hardships he again turned towards the coast, and reached a settlement from which he was enabled to take passage on board a vessel bound for France, and after a long and an eventful absence he again sought the tranquil scenes of his early years. The siren song of the ocean's tumult, however, soon allured him from the placid vale, and he made two subsequent voyages to the East Indies, and finally terminated his travels in New York, where he ultimately became the proprietor of two large and flourishing hotels. A life so nomadic, and spurred by a will so persevering in the pursuit of its one predominant passion, had found little time or inclination for sedentary amusements, and it was not until he had become established as the genial host of the Julien Hotel, in Washington Place, in 1845, that he discovered in the game of chess a talisman that could hold his restless spirit in subjection. He acquired, by degrees, considerable force as a player, but his constitutional impetuosity disdained the trammels of the calm and calculating strategist, and he preferred to rush to a brilliant defeat rather than warily to pick his way to victory. Yet a natural aptitude, and the potent charm which the game exercised over him, compensated largely for his lack of analytical steadiness, and rendered necessary the presence of an adversary of more than ordinary strength to escape his subtle snares. He imbibed an ardent love for the fabrication of those poetic fancies of the chess-board, termed Problems, and was one of the earliest and most frequent contributors to America's matutinal chess columns; and achieved the distinction of winning the Albion prize in the first problem competition held in this country. In 1852 Mr. Julien opened the St. Denis Hotel, on Broadway and Eleventh Street, and attested his strong devotion to the game by appropriately fitting up and reserving an ample apartment for the accommodation and entertainment of his chess-loving friends. Here the New York Chess Club found a generous welcome during its houseless periods, and herg the most enjoyable event of the First American Chess Congress received its eclat through the painstaking and zealous efforts of Mr. Julien. With a tall, erect and active frame, upon which the adipose of idleness had not been permitted to accumulate, Mr. Julien combined a quiet, gentle and unobtrusive disposition, which seemed to have been infused with an excess of shyness; yet in his genial, generous heart there was a magnetic warmth that attached and endeared him to all he came in contact with. The rugged and restless course of his early life had prematurely marked him with the furrows of age, and, while yet in the prime of his years, the heavy burden of overstrained energies warned him to seek relaxation and rest from business cares, and in the Fall of 1858 he retired from the management of the St. Denis Hotel. For some time thereafter he occasionally visited the haunts of his old chess friends, and enjoyed the tumult of the fray with his accustomed zest; but these visits gradually became more rare, and in the Spring of 1868 he passed forever from the bustling world of toil and chess, to that peaceful repose which was here denied to him.



Mead was on the Committee of Management and was elected president of the subsequent American Chess Association.


One of the most illustrious of the early retinue of American chess-players, and one of the noblest defenders and benefactors of the game in his native city, was born in New York, in the year 1815. Graduating from Columbia College in 1835, he commenced the study of Law, and was in due course admitted to practice at the New York bar, where the promise of a brilliant career soon opened to him; but a mind strongly devoted to study and observation, and restless under a predilection for travel, impelled him, after a decade of successful professional service, to gratify his inclinations by a trip to Europe, where he remained several years, visiting nearly all the important cities and places of interest, and storing his capacious intellect with that rich experience of the world which became so visibly impressed in the calm dignity and quiet confidence of the accomplished scholar and polished gentleman. His passion for chess seems to have been aroused early in life, and we find him among the conspicuous lights of the old New York Club upon the opening of Bassford's rooms in Ann street, in 1835. Five years later he was associated with Mr. James Thompson in the celebrated match by correspondence with Norfolk, and was for many years recognized as one of the strongest and most reliable of our metropolitan players. During his travels in Europe he sought every opportunity to enlarge his knowledge of the game by practical play with the renowned masters, and while temporarily sojourning in Paris became a pupil of the great Livonian, Kieseritzky, whose services at the Cafe de la Regence were in constant requisition by the younger aspirants to fame. Under the training of that skillful master, Mr. Mead's excellent abilities were largely developed, and in the possession of the serene consciousness of well-attested strength, he sallied forth from the French capital in the pursuit of "foemen worthy of his steel." Rarely did he encounter his equal, and yet more rarely was he compelled to pay the homage due to superior arms; but at Florence a little episode occurred which in after years he often referred to in terms of the warmest tribute to the extraordinary skill of his strange opponent. While the honored guest of the President of the Florence Chess Club, he met and routed the leading players of the club so thoroughly that, while he carefully guarded against any outward demonstration of his feelings, he could not suppress an inward thrill of satisfaction over a victory so complete and unexpected. His noble host became profuse with congratulations, and regrets that his members could not offer a stouter resistance; but he promised to introduce him. to a stranger who would, he thought, prove a worthier opponent. The meeting came, and with it the utter discomfiture of Mr. Mead, who, with a shuddering chill, began to mistrust his senses and suspect that grim old Mephistopheles had been summoned in human guise to: avenge the defeat of the Florentine players. Favorite openings in which he had felt the pride of a familiar acquaintance, seemed to run counter to all established rules; his Gambits proved his own stumbling-blocks, and general havoc was created in his camp before his forces could be fairly marshalled for the fight In struggle after struggle did he bravely determine to retrieve the fortunes of the day, but invariably with the same disastrous result, and he was compelled to capitulate to the superior prowess of the unknown chief. The name of the stranger escaped him, but circumstances have since led to the conviction that the invincible antagonist could have been none other than the redoubtable von Heydebrand und der Lasa, one of the most accomplished and brilliant players that Europe has yet produced. Upon his return to New York, Colonel Mead found his old associates elegantly provided for in the Athenaeum building, 663 Broadway, where he was received with an enthusiastic welcome and tendered the homage due to a distinguished chieftain. Regarding the game solely in the light of an intellectual amusement that was capable of producing much positive benefit to mankind, and earnestly devoted to the advancement of its true destiny as a healthful, scientific recreation, where gentlemen can meet in social and friendly rivalry for mutual entertainment and improvement, Colonel Mead sought no prominence as a mere player, and never engaged in a serious personal match for either stakes or honor. He introduced several novelties in various openings—of which his proposed defence to the Evans Gambit attracted for a time a well-deserved attention—and to test the value of these discoveries he sometimes challenged his friends to a formal encounter; but in the emulatory struggles that are so often conducive to bitterness and wounded pride, his refined and noble instincts would not permit him to enter. Upon the final organization of the New York Chess Club, in 1856, he was chosen its presiding officer, and with the exception of an interregnum of one year, during which Mr. Theodore Lichtenhein filled the office, he retained that position until enfeebled health compelled him, in 1865, to withdraw from scenes where sympathy and love had won him a multitude of devoted followers and friends. Beneath a dignified and courtly exterior, Colonel Mead carried a soul that was animated with the purest instincts toward his fellow beings, and possessed a magnetic power of attraction that sprang from no mere personal accomplishments, but was the inborn attribute of his spiritual being. Unostentatious, courteous, affable, and free from the slightest tincture of jealousy or envy, he cared less to shine in the estimation of the world than in his own refined sense of true integrity and duty to mankind. His uniformly modest and quiet demeanor rarely permitted him to display the fine intellectual powers that reposed within his capacious and well- developed brain, but when occasion demanded it he would charm his audience, whether at the bar or the social banquet board, with speeches that were remarkable for breadth and vigor of thought, elegance of expression, and an affluence of language and interesting anecdote that was ever ready at his command. The possession of an ample fortune made him somewhat regardless of his legal profession, but for some years he diversified his chess amusement by occasional contests in the political arena, where he attained several positions of prominence and trust; and as a member of the Holland Lodge, F. and A. M., he combined with the freemasonry of chess a fraternal fellowship with the mystic brotherhood. His retirement from the presidency of the New York Club, which he had reared and fostered from its infancy, was induced by a slow but intractable impairment of his nervous system which baffled the best medical skill that was employed to oppose its progress, and terminated ultimately in complete prostration, from which he died on the 24th of September, 1876—and so considerate and vigilant is the chess world that the demise of one who had labored so faithfully and perseveringly for its welfare has not to this day been recorded in a solitary chess publication!