Charles de Maurian's Obituary of Paul Morphy
Jul 3, 2013, 5:55 PM 6,492 Reads 6 Comments
As most folks interested in Paul Morphy know, Charles Amédée de Maurian had been his best friend since childhood. Paul's father and Charles' father (also Charles) were both lawyers, judges and politicos in New Orleans and lived near and associated with each other. Alonzo Morphy and Charles Maurian the elder were witnesses to the marriage of Judah Benjamin, later the Confederate Attorney-General and Sec. of War, to Natalie Bauché de St. Martin. Paul and Charles went to school together in New Orleans and later in Moblie, Alabama. Charles has the magnificant distinction of having been the only person tutored in chess by Paul Morphy. Outside of Morphy, Maurian became the strongest player in the Crescent City. He founded and was first president of the New Orleans Chess, Checkers and Whist Club in 1880 and edited the chess columns in the New Orleans Delta and later in the New Olreans Times-Democrat, from which the following has been taken -
The New Orleans Times-Democrat, Sunday, July 13th, 1884.
THE KING OF CHESS KINGS
The death of Paul Morphy has removed from our midst one who may justly be pronounced a true phenomena of the present century. For, however much it may be argued that genius consists of an infinite capacity for taking pains, we hold that this applies in truth only to talent, which, in its highest type, may sometimes attain even greater results than genius of a moderate type, but which ever remains only talent still. Genius, true genius in the exercise of its powers can be limited by no such constrained definition. It sets through incomprehensible methods; it reaches its ends or its conclusions by inexplicable means; it differentiates itself from talent by lines unmistakable yet indefinable in terms; it is in every sense and in every characteristic of its existence a true phenomena. And Paul Morphy was a true phenomena, for never before existed there so true, so unmistakable, so astounding a genius for the noble and intellectual game with which his name and his fame are indissolubly linked. Other great players had lived before him and transmitted their masterpieces to subsequent generations; other great players have come after him and claim to have discovered and recorded a new and more perfect school of chess; but not one has ever approached him that natural, innate, capacity for the game and for every branch of it; in that complete possession of every faculty necessary for its practice and rendering him the nearest, if not indeed the only approximation to the perfect player.
Nor is the claim of superiority simply an empty assertion; the proofs lie in the nearly complete collections of his recorded games, collections embracing his every mood and manner of pay, from the deeply meditated battle against a fellow giant of the chess world to the hasty skirmish with a mere fourth rate, and yet how weighty is the proof thus afforded? What other chess master could thus appear so deshabille, as it were, before the judges and stand a comparison? In what other player’s games can we find such an absence of dullness, such freedom from errors, such abundance of sparkling surprises, such wonderful blending of attack and defense, such profound, daring and subtle combinations, and above all such originality, such freshness- the truest indication of genius, after all? What Mozart as to innate, natural ability, was to music, Morphy likewise was to chess. He stands, in this characteristic, unique, alone, without a rival, however much in other respects his claims to pre-eminence may be disputed. For Morphy’s rise to the front rank of chess-players was not like that of Steinitz, or Anderssen, or Staunton, or Zukertort, or Blackburne, or any one of a dozen other masters – nay, even of LaBourdonnais himself, the result of long years of personal study and practice with other great, and perhaps stronger, players than himself. As a very child, and (as his uncle Ernest Morphy wrote to La Régence as far back as 1851) before he had ever opened a chess work, he was a finished player, selecting the "coup justes" in the openings as if by inspiration! When he struck the kings of European chess from their lofty thrones, it was not by virtue of the experienced strategy of a practiced master, but by the sheer strength of an irresistible genius that rose equal to the requirements and superior to the difficulties of every occasion presented. Well might so profound a judge as Mr. Boden declare that the possibilities of Morphy’s genius had never been half revealed because only a very limited exercise of its powers had always been sufficient to insure victory!
Indeed, the more searchingly we examine and compare with Morphy’s the recorded masterpieces of the other kings of chess, the stronger grows the conviction that no other lived whose capacity for the game from every standpoint was so truly gigantic in whom, both mentally and even physically, so wonderful a union of every characteristic of the complete player was to be found. Coolness, patience, accuracy, perseverance, imagination, enterprise, daring, judgment, rapidity and facility of play, and memory of an astounding character, all were Morphy’s, and all in a degree that no chess master in the history of the game ever possessed before and that, we fear, in all likelihood none other will ever possess hereafter. And despite all that the kings of the so-called modern school of chess assert for it in the way of superiority over the old style, of which Morphy may be claimed to have marked the grand and final climax, who shall doubt for a moment that, if opposed to these, his stupendous genius would not have dashed aside ingloriously the too feeble network of counter-march and manoeuvre, and shattered their but seemingly impregnable positions with the lightning strikes of mighty and unfathomable combination? We frankly confess that no such doubt exists for an instant for us.
On Thursday last, the 10th instant, there silently passed away from the theatre of this earth into the shades of the historic past, one whose name is familiar in every quarter of the globe; the compass of whose renown is coincident with the worldwide limits of Caïssa’s domain; the immortality of whose fame is one with the perpetuity of man’s appreciation of the beauties of the purely intellectual. Paul Morphy is no more; so suddenly, so unexpectedly was he snatched away, that his many friends are still dazed and bewildered with the shock. But assuredly it is fitting that in this column- where if, while living, his name was so seldom mentioned, it was solely in deference to his well-known wishes- it is fitting that there should be done in death that justice so often denied him in life; that here we should lay upon his tomb the slight but sincere tribute of our defense and of our praise.
Paul Charles Morphy was born in the city of New Orleans on the 22nd of June,1937. His paternal grandfather was a native of Madrid, Spain, and, emigrating to America, resided for some years at Charleston, South Carolina in which city Paul Morphy’s father, Alonzo Morphy was born in the latter part of 1798. The family not long afterwards removed to New Orleans, where Alonzo Morphy, after receiving a collegiate education, studied law under that great jurisconsult Edward Livingstone, practiced his profession with great success, and for a number of years previous to his death was an honored justice of the Supreme Court of Louisiana. Judge Morphy’s wife was a Miss Le Carpentier- one of the oldest French Creole families of the State. Paul was the second son of four children born to his parents. He received a good academical education in this city, and when about thirteen years old was enrolled as a student of St. Joseph’s College, conducted by the Jesuit Fathers; at Spring Hill, near Mobile, Ala. Here, after four years attendance, he graduated with the highest honors ever awarded in the institution, in October, 1854 but remained a year longer, occupying himself almost exclusively with the study of mathematics and philosophy. He was a hard, indeed a very hard student, and his intense application, combined, as it was, with phenomenal power of mind, and especially of memory, gave him such success in his studies that his classmates actually came to consider as surprising no mental feat, however great or difficult, when accomplished by him. But unfortunately this intense devotion to study was not broken and relieved, as it should have been, by that participation in athletic physical exercise usual in youth, and so essential under such circumstances, and we would not be surprised, though we cannot affirm, that in these years thus were largely laid the foundations of the feeble physical health that subsequently afflicted him. It must be added here, however, that amid the hard work that marked the years of his college life, the study of chess formed almost absolutely no part, notwithstanding a very general impression to the contrary. In 1855 he became a student in the law department of the University of Louisiana, and again, in the prosecution of his legal studies, showed the same intensity of application and notable success as in his college life. He graduated in April, 1857, when but twenty years of age, and we have heard it reliably said, was pronounced by an eminent member of the faculty the most deeply read and most thoroughly prepared student that had ever graduated from the law school of the University.
Chess had always been a conspicuous feature in the amusements of the Morphy family. Paul’s maternal grandfather, old Mr. Le Carpentier was devoted to the game; Judge Alonzo Morphy was a player of fair strength, while his brother, Ernest Morphy, was not only almost a first rate of his day, but was also a particularly strong and deep analyst. Among a number of frequent visitors who played chess was, also, Eugene Rousseau, whose hard-fought match, contested in this city in 1845, with Stanley, the English player, is one of the landmarks in the early history of American Chess. Paul Morphy’s father taught him the moves of the game in the latter part of 1847, when he was a little over ten years old, and through his indulgence in its pleasures was then, as indeed all through his boyhood, limited to certain days of the week he proved so apt a pupil under the instructions of his father and uncle that almost from his first game he was able to fight on even terms against either. His strength of play increased with incredible rapidity, and within two years he had defeated by overwhelming majorities all the strongest players of the city, among them Rousseau, who, out of upwards of fifty games played, lost at least nine-tenths! But the crowning proof of the young player’s genius for the game was given when in May, 1850, he contested three games against Lowenthal, the eminent Hungarian player, who was then passing through this city, and who not many years previously, in consultation with Szen and Grimm at Budapest, had defeated the foremost players of France in a memorable match by correspondence. Any victory over such an antagonist by a mere child of less than thirteen years would have been an astonishing feat, but Paul Morphy achieved it by the unique score of two games won and one drawn! His departure for Spring Hill in the autumn of the same year seems to have caused a prolonged interruption in the youthful prodigy’s practice of the game, for excepting such play as he may have had at home during his brief vacations, he may be said to have virtually abandoned chess during his collegiate career. It was only in the summer of 1853, the year before his graduation, that, to oblige some college mates who had become enthusiastic over chess, he played with them a number of games and these at odds of Queens, or of rook and knight combined. After leaving college and during his legal studies from November, 1855, to April, 1857, he played more though still not very frequently, but nearly always yielding such large odds that his play should have been rather deteriorated than improved by such practice. It was during this period, that he contested on two occasions ten games with Judge A.B. Meek, then the strongest player in Alabama, winning all, and also two from Dr. Ayers, another strong amateur of the same State. It was with this practice and with this experience that Paul Morphy entered in October, 1857, the lists of the First American Chess Congress convened in New York- an assemblage including the strongest players of the Union, paladins and veterans of the game, but destined to become ever memorable as the occasion of the young hero’s first public appearance in that world of chess whose universal sceptre he was so soon destined to sway with undisputed right. Stanley, the conqueror of Rousseau, Montgomery of Philadelphia, Fiske, Thompson, Perrin, Marache and Lichtenhein of New York, Paulsen of Iowa, Raphael of Kentucky, and many others were opposed to him in the tournament proper or in side-tilts, off-hand or formal, during its progress, but his triumph was so absolute, his victories so overwhelming, that the defeated felt not even a twinge of jealousy Comparisons were simply impossible, and the idea of rivalry would have been an absurdity. Out of about 100 games thus contested during the period of the congress, Paul Morphy lost three, only a few more being drawn.
The discovery of such a genius for the most intellectual of games naturally aroused the greatest enthusiasm throughout the whole chess world of the Union, and there were not a few members of the then National Chess Association who wished at once to issue a cartel on behalf of their champion to all Europe, but overborne by the prestige clinging to the reputations of the European masters, the more timid sentiments of the others prevailed and no action was taken. The New Orleans Chess Club, however, lacked no confidence in Morphy’s powers, and in February, 1858, singling out no less a master than Howard Staunton, the champion of British chess, they addressed a challenge to him to play a match of eleven games up in this city for stakes of $5000 a side, and offering him $1000 for expenses. Staunton, in reply, simply declined to come to New Orleans to play, but in terms clearly indicative of a willingness to contest the match in London. Not to be bilked of their desire that their youthful champion should measure swords with the masters of Europe a deputation from the club called upon Morphy’s family and entreated their consent to the plan. After some hesitation this was at length accorded, and in May, 1858, Morphy set out on what proved to be the most bewilderingly brilliant career of successes recorded in the history of chess; successes so numerous, so unbroken, so dazzling, that we can but epitomize them here.
Paul Morphy arrived in London on the 21st of June, 1858, and met with a most cordial reception at the hands, not only of the British chess public, but of English society at large, and more particularly through the medium of the two great London clubs, the St. George’s and London, within the precincts of which all of his most important contests in England were played. Of course, his first step, looking to the principal object of his journey, was to issue a "défi"to Staunton, which the latter first accepted, then postponed, then clearly sought to evade and finally peremptorily declined. Judging the English champion without bias and with all possible charity, it certainly does seem impossible to ascribe his varying action in the promises to fight else than the gradually alteration in his opinion of Morphy’s play, brought about by the surprising series of victories that marked the latter’s visit to Great Britain. For in offhand play and more or less formal matches Morphy, during his stay of a little over two months in England, met and vanquished nearly, if not every, strong player in that country. Bird, Boden, Medley, Barnes, Lowe, Mongredien, and numbers of others all went down before his victorious lance, and all in the same decisive style that had marked his conquests in America. Of his more serious contests, the most important were his match with his old adversary Löwenthal, whom he defeated by 9 to 3 with 2 draws; his match yielding pawn and move to “Alter” (Rev. J. Own), which he won by the remarkable score of 5 wins and 2 draws; his two games won in consultation with Barnes against Staunton and “Alter”; and three brilliant exhibitions of blindfold play, conducting eight games each time simultaneously- one at Birmingham, where he won six, lost one and drew one; one at the London Chess Club where he gained two, the other six being abandoned as drawn owing to the lateness of the hour; and one at the St. Georges Club, winning five and drawing three. His decisive victories over the British chess players had almost as thoroughly convincing a result as those in his American triumphs. Nearly every feeling of doubt or of rivalry disappeared, and when he crossed the channel to Paris in the early part of September, 1958, almost exclusively the good wishes of friends and admirers followed him in his forthcoming battles with the continental champions.
Nor were those good wishes disappointed. His experiences in the French capital were but a repetition of his preceding triumphs; every French player of note lowered his colors before the crushing attacks of the new monarch of the chess world, and many even of the best did not disdain to accept, nor often successfully at that, varying odds at his hands. His principal victories in Paris, however, were that over the famous Harrwitz, who abruptly abandoned the match after winning the first two games and then losing five out of the next six, one being drawn: that over his English friend Mongredien, by 7 to 0; and finally, that over the renowned Prussian master, Anderssen, then the acknowledged champion of the world. The score in the latter contest was even more surprising than that of any of its predecessors, the result being: Morphy, 7; Anderssen, 2; drawn, 2. It was in Paris, moreover, that perhaps Morphy’s greatest feat of blindfold play was given, taking into consideration the remarkable strength of the eight players simultaneously opposed to him, and against whom, nevertheless, he won six and drew two. A superb specimen from this contest forms one of our games given today. As in England, his stupendous feats and triumphs caused a profound sensation in the Parisian world. He was, during his stay, its greatest lion: “ victories and ovations”, in the language of one of his biographers, “became the monotonous order of his seven month’s residence in that fascinating city. His extremely modest, quiet and courteous bearing under the most exciting applause which attended his unparalleled achievements added to his immense popularity as an unrivalled chessplayer, and he became the courted favorite of every circle of society.” Nor were his countrymen at home slow in catching the same impulse, and on his return to America in May, 1959, his whole homeward journey was simply a succession of fêtes, entertainments and ovations of every description. In the presence of a grand assembly in the chapel of the University of New York, he was presented with a superb testimonial in the shape of a magnificent set of gold and silver chessmen; he was given a splendid banquet in Boston, at which Longfellow, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Lowell, Agassiz and many other eminent citizens were present to tender him their congratulations. Reaching this city not long afterward, and having issued, without response, a final challenge offering to yield the odds of pawn and move to any player in the world, he declared his career as a chessplayer finally and definitely closed- a declaration to which he held with unbroken resolution during the whole of the remainder of his life. Even in private and among intimate friends his participation in chess was of rare occurrence, and in brief contests nearly always at considerable odds; indeed, we believe his only subsequent games on even terms were a few contested with his friend, Mr. Arnous de Riviere, on the occasion of a second visit to Paris in 1862. He paid that city a third visit during the world’s exhibition of 1867, and the completeness of his abandonment of the game may be inferred from the fact that although at that period the great international chess tournament of 1867 was going on in Paris, he never even once visited the scene of its exciting and splendid battles. His actual retirement from all serious play may be said to date from 1860 at least- many long years before the melancholy mental affliction that clouded and darkened his later days fell upon him. And it is but just to the noble game whose history and whose lore he so enriched and adorned during his brief career as a player, to say here that it was in no wise responsible for the disaster that befell its afflicted monarch. Sorrows, misfortunes and trials of other character, and such as might have destroyed the balance in a far less delicate organization than his, were the potent agents that wrought the ruin of which Caïssa is so generally and so unjustly accused. The frailty of his physique was evident at a glance and the very manner of his death demonstrated it more clearly. A cold bath on a summer's day brought on a congestion of the brain that proved almost immediately fatal.
And here, before we close, speaking as "knowing" whereof we speak, we deem it best to correct two generally received impressions as to the departed master. First, then, Paul Morphy was never so passionately fond, so inordinately devoted to Chess as is generally believed. An intimate acquaintance and long observation enable us to state this positively. His only devotion to the game, if it may be so termed, lay in his ambition to meet and to defeat the best players and great masters of this country and of Europe. He felt his enormous strength, and never, for a moment, doubted the outcome. Indeed, before his first departure for Europe he privately and modestly, yet with perfect confidence, predicted to us his certain success, and when he returned he expressed the conviction that he had played poorly, rashly; that none of his opponents should have done so well as they did against him. But, this one ambition satisfied, he appeared to have lost nearly all interest in the game. He kept in some degree, the run of its general news, even up to the date of Mr. Steinitz's visit to this city last year, but he could rarely be induced to discuss chess, and nothing more annoyed him, even years ago, than to be designated as "Morphy, the chess player."
In the second place, Morphy was a thoroughly educated and cultivated man, and there is not the shadow of a doubt that but for the misfortunes of his times, and the melancholy affliction of his later years, he would have been capable of great results in lofty spheres of human action. There is no graver error than to suppose he was capable of nothing but playing chess. He was, moreover, in every sense, a gentleman- of high delicacy, culture and refinement, both innate and acquired; and even clouded as his mind was in the latter years of his life, these qualities were marked. There was much of the true Hidalgo about him.
Of Morphy’s stupendous powers as a chessplayer and of his comparative rank as to other masters, we do not propose to speak here. In another column of this paper these subjects are properly discussed. Caïssa mourned his loss many a year ago, and today our regrets for the loss of the man and the gentleman are chastened by the hope that he has found surcease from the sorrows of this life in the happiness of a better world. (END)
This transcription has been graciously supplied by WilhelmThe2nd