Chess Resorts: Simpson's

batgirl
batgirl
Oct 18, 2009, 5:32 AM |
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CHESS RESORTS
"Simpson's."

By Charles Tomlinson, F. R. S., &c.


              The lights extinguished, closed is the Divan
              And weary Simpson and his wearier man
              Seek home and smiling supper which awaits
              The men whose homes are graced with smiling mates
              The husbands did not smile; they'd tarried long
              while a strong player, matched 'gainst one as strong
              Could scarely mould his men to mating power
              Ere Mary's clock had chimed the midnight hour.

When I wrote the above lines in 1855, the Chess Divan was in flourishing condition. It had changed somewhat from its earliest state; it was less literary and musical than it had been when Troloppe introduced his simple old Warden into it for one solitary visit. The reverend gentleman had come up from Barchester for a single day, for the purpose of consulting a high legal authority as to his power of resigning a sinecure of l800 a year (Good Heavens!), and a busy man of law could not see him until 10 p. m. He did not put up at his hotel, lest his son-in-law, the Archdeacon, should find him, and din his favourite ejaculation into his ears, and try to prevent him from carrying out his purpose. So he dined in the Strand, and on enquering where he could get a cup of coffee, was referred to Simpson's.
     His surprise was something like that which Hone experienced in 1828, when Gliddon's Divan, in King Street, Covent Garden, was first opened, and which I visited that every year.
     "Mr. Gliddon's shop is a very respectable one, but nobody would look for the saloon beyond it; and it seems in good Oriental keeping, and a proper Sesame, when on touching a door in a wall, you find youself in a room like an Eastern tent, the drapery festooned up around you, and views exhibited  on all sides of mosques, and minarets, and palaces rising up out of the water."  *

     In like manner the Warden thought he had made some mistake when he found himself in a cigar shop, but being reassured by the man behind the counter, he paid his shiling, refused the proffered cigar as he did not smoke, and proceeded upstairs with his ivory ticket. On entering the Divan, he was surprised to find long rows of sofas, the smell of tobacco, many chess boards, and shelves full of books. A civil old waiter brought him his coffee, together with Blackwood and some newspapers, and enquired whether he would like a game of chess, which was declined; when O! a musical clock was set going, which could be heard in every part of the large room.
    My recollections of the Divan extend back to the twenties of this century. It owed its name, I believe, to that of the head waiter, which sounded more English than that of the proprietor, who was a Portuguese. As its interest in chess were more and more developed, it became less literary, that is, fewer books and papers were taken in, and the musical mechanism was removed altogether, as it tended to disturb the royal game. I remember on one occasion, when the Divan was being cleaned and redecorated, that the proprietor carried out what he conceived to be a clever idea in the interest of the chess players. He caused to be sunk into each white marble table a mosaic chess board, the squares of marble being of opposite colours. When the room was re-opened, the players would not use these stone squares. We must, they said, have a board raised from the table, with a terrace round it, being flush with the table, a dishonest player might easily coax with his sleeve a captured piece or Pawn back again on to the board.
    Chess was not allowed in the Divan on Sundays, and those players who         could not forego their game on that day congregated at Kilpack's. This man succeeded Gliddon, and transferred the Divan to the first floor, having converted the Oriental scene below into a gallery for American  bowls; just as later times the large handsome room of Simpson's has been converted into a dining hall, and the chess players removed to the top of the house.
    Simpson's in its best days was a pleasant place. It was the resort not only of well-known chess players of London and the provinces, but also of authors, actors, artists, and men about town. In cold weather there was a large fire at each end of the room, and we used to congregate about the one farthest from the door for a chat and a smoke. All sorts of subjects were more or less discussed. When Sir Robert Peel introduced his income tax measure, it was frequently talked over. An old gentleman remarked that he remembered it in Pitt's time, and how it led to a remarkable case of fraud in the town where he resided. A dashing young fellow engaged the best lodgings, lived in good style, and got into society. He returned his income at a very large figure, and soon after paid his addresses to the daughter of the surveyor of taxes. This worthy man told his friends how good a match it was. "Because", said he, "I know what his income is".   After the marriage it was discovered that he was a mere adventurer, and his income return a fiction.
    Buckle would occasionally join in the talk; he was always very positive, and few cared to contradict him. His rapid talk was not like his play, for this was very deliberate. On one occasion, when playing against Stanley, he occupied upwards of an hour over a single move. When he did move, Stanley said: "Yes, I thought thet the Knight would be the right move!". "You only thought so; I know it", retorted Buckle.
    Buckle would sometimes invite a player to visit him at his house for a game. He was fond of giving a Pawn and move, or Pawn and two, to a strong player, and the game would usually last late into the night. Next day, Williams, who edited a chess column, would look a Buckle's antagonist, and get him to go over the game of the night before, which was than taken down. In this way some of Buckle's games were preserved, which otherwise would have been lost.
    But perhaps the most remarkable game ever played by Buckle was that in which Kieseritzky had the temerity to offer him odds of P and move. This famous game is not included in Mr. Williams collection reffered to below; we therefore append it, as it may be both new and instructive to many of our readers:



    I was talking with Mr. Lewis on the too great length of games, when he stated that the practise of long pauses was introduced by Staunton. "In the old Westminster club", he said, "if a game lasted three hours, it was matter of talk for a fortnight. In my match with Des Chapalles, all three games were played before dinner. Also with Cochrane's games with the same occasion. But one of Staunton' games may last twelve or thirteen hours, and even be adjourned. At the time when Harrwitz and Loewenthal played their match, a time limit had frequently been discussed, but not agreed on. Staunton directed Loewenthal at least one occasion when I was present, if not oftener, to take a quater of an hour for every move. But Nemezis pursued even Staunton. He told me that in a match, a professional antagonist, whom I will not name, coolly said to him in answer to his remonstrance to his slow play, "I can't afford to lose this: I must sit you out!"
    Staunton was not a favourite at the Divan. His chess column in theIllustrated London News was made a vehicle for many a stinging satire on well-known players. He always called himself an amateur, and professed to despite those who played for money. But one of the professionals said to me, "I knew him when he was glad to play for threepence a game". This was probably true at one time; but Staunton rose above the position in which Fortune had placed him. He cultivated literature with some credit:
        he was a successful student of Shakespeare, and edited a well-known edition of the works of the great dramatist. Hie books on chess are admirable examples of sound exposition, judicious arrangement and selection, and good editing. During several years he was the leading player in Europe,and engaged in matches at odds with men of position, for money, it is true, for this was his chief means of support. He also played correspondence games for a stake, and I thought it somewhat unreasonable when the members of a provincial club complained to me bitterly that Staunton asked for the money as soon as he obtained what he called a winning position, After he defeat by Anderssen in 1851, he became, as Boden termed it, "decorticated"; that is, more sensitive to every touch of Caissa, more irritable, and, if possible, more unfair. But he maintained his pompous manner, and his love of armorial bearings and sealing-wax, which might appear ridiculous to a sober man, but were sources of irritation to those who professed chess and nothing else. One of his publishers told me that Staunton informed him, that his family objected to his mixing himself up with chess players and chess divans. But it may be fairly enough suspected that Staunton's family was a myth, and that "Howard Staunton" a part therof, however aristocratic the sound. Rumour, however, assigned a different name to our hero when he appeared first as an actor and next as a chess amateur.
 
    But to return to the Divan. This was in a state of excitements at the end of every week, when the Illustrated London News came in, and the notices to correspondents were eagerly examined. I remember that much indignation was caused by the reference to a "certain player named Williams", that player being as well known in the chess world as Staunton himself; and also a contemptous reference to Lowe, "that Professor!" when it was notorious that Staunton had a match in hand with Lowe at the odds of Pawn and two; but finding his antagonist too strong for him at those odds, refused to go on with the match, and abused him in print. This will explain a remark of Buckle's, when someone asked him if he had ever engaged Staunton in a match? "No!" was the reply, "I was always careful to maintain friendly relations with him". But the excitement at the Divan was, perhaps, at its height during the match between Harrwitz and Loewenthal. The former repaired to the Divan after the day's play, and went over the moves of the game before an admiring host of friends. Harrwitz was so elated at having won the first two games that he declared in my presence that Loewenthal should not win a single game. Boden encouraged him by saying: "I had rather throw a five pound note into the gutter than that you should lose this match". Staunton, who got hold of every thing that occured in the chess world, got hold of course of this boast of Harrwitz's, and in his next chess column remarked: "We understand that Mr. Harrwitz intends his contest with Mr. Loewenthal to be a maiden match". The players met in a private room near Spring Gardens, and in the following week I was present when Staunton dropped in, and Harrwitz went up to him and denied ever having made the remark which called forth Staunton's sarcasm. Staunton simply smiled, and said nothing. Of course I was equally silent, from a reluctance to get into hot water with the Divan party. Here the feeling ran very high, and it became so embittered as to lead to very discreditable conduct on the part of some of its inferior members. As the match inclined decidedly in favour of Loewentahl, one man said, in my hearing, that he had sent an organ boy to play before the window, so as to distact the attention of Loewentahl, who was known to be very nervous. He also did not like smoking, and had stipulated beforehand that visitors should not smoke; but some of the Divan party made it a point to smoke as near to Loewenthal as possible, and I even saw one man light his cigar at Loewenthal's candle, and puff the smoke into his face. I was never more convinced of the necessity for a chess player to be a gentleman.
    But to return to more genial reminiscences. Among the players at the Divan were some very pleasant men. I do not think I ever got the odds of Pawn and two, which these gentlemen gave me; but I played even with Captain Evans, whose game was not, I thought, equal to his reputation. Little Alexandre, who had worked the automaton, and talked pleasantly of Mouret who had preceded him, and also of some other earlier players, said he could not give me Pawn and two; but he had become old and feeble, and was probably in bad circumstances, his "Thousand Chess Problems" and "Encyclopaedia of Chess", having but a scanty sale. Williams was a pleasant gentlemanly antagonist, and he published some specimens of his Divan play in a little volume which he sold to the benignant amateur. It is entitled "Horae Divanianiae, a selection of games of chess by leading masters, principally played at the Grand Divan". It was published by the author at the Divan in 1852 and it has a long list of subscribers, showing how greatly Williams was respected. It contains many games by Buckle but not the game quoted above. The book, we say, was purchased off the author by the benignant amateur.  But all amateurs were not benignant. I have seen a man take the odds of a Knight, and score game and game and a draw, and then retire well satisfied with himself. One day when this occured. Williams protested that he could not afford to give a lesson on such terms. Of course, under such a protest, none but a shabby man would refuse to pay the fee. Daniels was also a most pleasant antagonist, he was chatty and intelligent, and his game had a flavour of originality about it which was rare among the professionals. There was a man named Finch, for example, whose moves were all stereotyped, as well as his traps and catches. He generally tried to avoid odds by complimenting the amateur on his strength. On one such occasion an incident occured which became a standing joke in the Divan. A clergyman introduced to Finch by Simpson, sat down before him and assented to the customary "play for a shilling?". He lost about a dozen games, and then got up and deposited a shilling on the board, and would not be persuaded that a shilling a game was intended.

    Daniels died early of consumption, and was greatly regretted. The         following is a good specimen of his original style of play. He gives QKt and has the move.





     Williams also died early. A subscription was got up in the Divan for the benefit of his widow and children, and I hope it was liberally supported. He had been a medical man in Bristol, and was a distinguished member of the chess club there, which also reckoned Henderson and Withers among its best players. Willims became so fascinated with the game, that he gave up his practise for a precarious seat in the Divan. I have also a melancholy recollection of De la Bourdonnais, who, broken in health and in fortune, was engeged by the proprietor of the Divan, at two guineas a week, to play all comers.  The engagement did not last long. He was attended in the kindest manner by Mr. George Walker, who, when he died, conducted his body to its last resting place in Kensal Green Cemetery, near the remains of his old antagonist, McDonnell. The last illness of De la Bourdonnais was said to have been occasioned by the great mental strain of a blindfold game with Boncourt. He said he felt as if something had given way in his brain. What a contrast between this single game and the twelve simultaneous blindfold games
which I saw conducted by Blackburne in the old Divan before its up-stairs
migration!
    The professional players were subject to a somewhat heavy tax about Christmas time. They had to subscribe each a sum about two guineas to  the waiters' fund. As the players were more or less dependent on the waiters for their customers, no one dared to put down for a smaller sum.
    My acquitance with the Divan belongs to the generation of players that has passed away, and I leave to abler hands the delicate and difficult task of describing the present. I have always been a lover of the game, and have done something to diffuse a knowledge of it. I have also been interested in its literature, to which I have contributed my share. Both the game and its literature have been a solace to me in the intervals of leisure, during a long and busy life. How long, the reader may judge when he is informed that I learnt the moves during the excitement occasioned by the Automaton Chessplayer in St. James's street, in 1819.
        My tutor was a member of a chess club that met once a week in the parlour of a public-house, on the north side of Great Queen Street, Lincoln's Inn Fields; and I was sometimes permitted to acompany him to the club. This gentleman resigned his membership a few years later, because as he confessed to me, he felt a personal irritation, amounting to dislike, against the man who beat him. This is by no means an unusual feeling. Few men will admit the superiority of an opponent, and he who loses finds generally something in himself to account for defeat; or, as Loewenthal once remarked to me, "He always has a doctor's certificate in his pocket!"
    Thus Staunton lost with Anderssen in consequence of some affection of the heart, and Horrwitz lost to Staunton because he was afflicted with palpitations. After all, a first-rate chessplayer is but human, and he might do well to reflect that a bad move is as disastrous in life as in a match game, and as a rule equally irrevocable.

                    We should escape, ah me! how many a pain,
                    Could we recall bad moves, and play again

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* Hone's Table Book, vol. 2, with the view of the Divan, which we reproduce.

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The British Chess Magazine 1891, p. 46-54.