Blind Ambition II

Mar 24, 2010, 3:18 PM |

Rod Edwards, who recently informed me of his updated Edo Historical Chess Ratings website : "The main thing I've done is to attempt to  document all my sources for all my information, but I've also added event pages and a fair bit of new information on 19th century  tournament  and match result,"  took note of my posting, Blind Ambition and apprised me of an even earlier historical blind chess player named M.  Fournier.
   "There is information about an even earlier blind player than Lumley. In the 15 July 1837 issue of Le Palamède (vol.2, pp.177-178), de la  Bourdonnais described a visit he made to Versailles to play a blind man named Fournier, who had then been playing for about 15 years. He  describes the special chess set Fournier used, with the squares in relief to hold the pieces, and the black pieces having a garland around the  top to distinguish them. Moves had to be announced to Fournier. During de la Bourdonnais' visit, they played 2 games. In the first, de la  Bourdonnais played blindfold while Fournier was allowed to touch the pieces, but otherwise without odds. In the second game, both played  'blindfold' (i.e. Fournier was not allowed to touch the pieces either), and de la Bourdonnais gave rook odds. De la Bourdonnais won both  games. He discussed Fournier's play again on pp.292-293 (15 Sept. 1837 issue)."

This is a wonderful addition!

I tried to discover more about M. Fournier. Indeed, in his 1837 article, DÉFI EXTRAORDINAIRE, Bourdonnais mentions: ". . .on the forefront is Mr. Fournier,  who lost his sight from a cruel disease at the age of six. Mr. Fournier has played chess last fifteen years, since his father  introduced him to the first move, principles and purpose of the noble game."

In 1847, Chamouillet wrote about a game he had with Fournier, and fortunately preserved the moves for us. According to Chamouillet, Fournier  was a Philidor of sorts - both a musician and a chess teacher, whose main weaknesses in chess were that he moved too quickly and tried to sieze the initiative, presumably even when it wasn't warranted.
The following game, however, doesn't really indicate a player of strength:


Now, who was this man named M. Fournier?  While not conclusive, everything indicates that he is no other than Alexandre Fournier.

                  Valentin Haüy

Back in the late 18th century, a great man named Valentin Haüy opened the world's first blind school for children in Paris. Haüy not only treated his students with unprecedented compassion and respect, but actually taught them - a rather revolutionary concept at that time.  Haüy also developed the first system  that allowed the blind to read, an embossed alphabet that was also suitable for reproduction with a moveable typeset. One of his students, in fact, his star pupil, was Alexandre Fournier.  Haüy and his students "performed" for Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette at Versailles, impressing  the King
  enough that he sponsored Haüy's school,  renamed the Institution Royale des Juenes Aveugles (Royal Institute for Blind Children). Unfortunately, the  French Revolution soon intervened and Haüy, now a Royal employee, fell into displeasure with the newly established State. Napoleon relieved him of his position (with a stipend) in 1802. Haüy took his prize pupil, Fournier, with him, ending up eventually in St. Petersburg, Russia, where he established a  similar school. Countries throughout Europe began recognizing the value of Haüy's concepts, and similar schools were esablished in  Switzerland, Austria, Germany, England, the Netherlands and Denmark.  Meanwhile Haüy was suffering poor health and in 1817 returned to  Paris where his wanted to live out his final days.




                                                                                   Valentin Haüy's book, Essay sur
                                                                                   l'Education des Enfant-aveugles,
                                                                                   explaining his methodology and
                                                                                   used by schools throughout Europe

an example of Valentin Haüys raised script

The school he had established was being directed by a rather unscrupulous man, Dr. Guillie, who was diverting part of the meager stipends received by his students into his personal account while he referred to his charges as "degraded beings, condemned to vegetate on the earth."  Dr. Guillie barred Haüy from even visiting the school.  In 1821, Dr. Guillie was replaced with Dr. Pignier, a man of integrity, who not only invited Haüy to the school, but gave a celebration in his honor. One of the current students who was attending the celebration was 12 year old Louis Braille. A few months later, Haüy passed away and Braille, obviously taken by Haüy, was also one of the few attendees at his funeral.
Braille, of course, developed Haüy's ideas of raised writing, but he also incorporated a dot system proposed by an Army Captain, Charles Barbier and eventually created what is today's most widely used system.  During this developmental period, one of Braille most able assistants was Alexandre Fournier, who was in charge of Braille's printshop and published the first Braille text book (a 3 volume history of France) in 1837.

   While I found nothing conclusive to directly link Alexandre Fournier with the M. Fournier who played Bourdonnais, the facts seem to indicate  that they are the same person. Bourdonnais noted that M. Fournier of Versailles, lost his sight from a disease at the age of six.  Alexandre  Fournier, also of Versailles, was blinded as a child from smallpox. An associate of his mentioned that Fournier could easily read raised letters and music. It's also known that Fournier taught a solfeggio (sight singing) class starting in 1846.  This coincides with Chamouille's assertion that Fournier was a fine musician.
     When Bourdonnais played M. Fournier in 1837, he mentioned also that the blind contestant had been playing for 15 years and was taught the game by his father. Alexandre Fournier moved back to Paris in 1817 and left
Haüy's service in 1822 (perhaps moved home to his father's house, but that's conjecture), precisely 15 years from 1837. It's also evident that Alexandre Fournier was leading an active life when  Chamouille played his game with M.Fournier.

It seems almost inconceivable that there would be two distinct M. Fourniers, both blinded in their early childhood, both living simultaneously in Versailles, both musicians and both at least capable of learning chess.