Henry Thomas Buckle

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Sep 8, 2009, 9:10 AM |
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This treatise on Buckle was written by Johann Jacob Löwenthal and appeared in the Vol. II,  1864 issue of his  Chess Player's Magazine

 

"The game of Chess is not merely an idle amusement. Several very valuable qualities of the mind, useful in the course of human life, are to be acquired or strengthened by it so as to become habits ready on all occasions."—Franklin

MR. HENRY THOMAS BUCKLE.

   The genius of Henry Thomas Buckle came and went like a splendid meteor, shedding its radiance over two spheres of intellectual life. Over the world of chess, as over the world of literature, its glorious career shed a lustre, and its sudden extinction cast a gloom. Those who observed him in the mental wrestlings of the king of games recognized a player of extraordinary power, daring originality, and calm self-reliance ; while all who met him in the regions of learning and philosophy felt the august presence of a penetrating mind, schooled to independent wanderings in every department of human thought.   It is a mere truism to say that Chess developes the intellectual faculties, but that it betrays the idiosyncracies of character is a fact perhaps lesa generally noted. This tendency is clearly exemplified by a mere cursory glance at Mr. Buckle's style of play. Although he possessed an intimate acquaintance with the scientific history of the game, only excelled by the elaborate studies of Staunton and Heydebrandt von der Lasa, his nature instinctively recoiled from tho fetters of servile imitation ; and the remarkable yearning for free and self-relying action which displayed itself in every phase of his public and private life was nowhere more conspicuously demonstrated than in his struggles over the chequered board. Neither the dread of insurmountable difficulties, nor the danger of ultimate defeat, deterred him from his eajjer pursuit of originality, and a bold dependence on his own inventive powers. Hence he invariably evinced (when second player) a marked partiality for the well-known French Opening, P. to K. third, which, rendering the known theoretical researches unavailable, and involving a close game, throws the antagonists upon their own inventive resources. Mr. Buckle was known to have successfully played this opening against the most prominent European celebrities. Even the brilliant and renowned Kieseritzki, usually victorious in the dashing openings of the books, [* The Allgaier and King's Bishop's Gambits, for instance. The former was fully analysed by Kiesoritzki himself ; the latter was always persistently opposed by Mr. Buckle with the old-fashiouod defence of checking with Q. on K. R. fifth.']  was often  ignoiniuiously defeated whon the English amateur selected this courageous course. Mr. Buckle was a frequent visitor at the Divan when residing ini London, and at the Café de la Régence during his stay in the French capital. The distinguished habitués of both these famous resorts have many pleasant recollections of the well-fought battles and brilliant conversations owed to his presence among them. But the agreeable society in which he then moved was but an amusing relief to the arduous pursuits of his life, and we should do a sad injustice to the memory of a great man were we to pass those pursuits unmentioned. The narrative of his life is not diversified by many remarkable events beyond those connected with his Chess and literary career.
    About three-and-twenty years ago, then a very young man, he sat himself do'.vn before his books and papers with the calm resolution to determine the exact source, nature, and effect of his country's civilization. Тheге appeared a strange disproportion between, the proposed performance and its would-be performer. The precious truths to Ьэ grasped were obscured by distance, and separated by a mighty ocean of human learning, heaving to and fro with the turbulent billows of controversy, and perilously beset with the quicksand of errors ; and be who resolved to plunge into its stormy bosom—to battle with its angry waves, and boldly dare its secret dangers, was a boy over whose head but eighteen summers had согаз and gone—who had never entered the gates of a university, or sat on the form of a public school, and whose education had, for the most part, been placed in his own hands, and conducted in accordance with his own will. Those who watched him go forth upon his formidable journey must have smiled at what they probably esteemed boyish audacity, or gazed with solemn pity as they thought how soon ho would be baffled and wearied by the difficulties and length of the way. But the brave youth never wavered from his purpose, nor flinched at the frowning obstacles which towered one behind the other iu his path; and after years of patient study, the first volume of his "History of Civilization in England" was given to the world. The enthusiastic boy had become an earnest and thoughtful man when this instalment of his great work issued from the press, and from that day Henry Thomas Buckle has been acknowledged an able writer, a brilliant scholar, and bold philosopher. A life devoted to one eager pursuit, which demanded long years of quiet, persevereing study, was not likely to be diversified by many events of sensational interest, and we are not surprised, consequently, to find that his career, apart from that pursuit, presents little of public importance to record.
   Henry Thomas Buckle was the son of a prosperous merchant, and was born at Lee, in Kent, on the 24th of November, 1822. He received the first rudiments of learning at a private academy in Kentish Town, known as Gordon House, then under the superintendence of  Dr. J. T. Holloway, where he early betrayed an extraordinary love of study, and a remarkable facility for the acquirement of knowledge. His sanguine temperament, enterprising character, and great self-reliance soon caused him to chafe beneath the stern control and monotonous routine of a school, and it was not long before an opportunity occurred to free himself from its restraint. On returning home with a first prize for proficiency in mathematics, his delighted father requested him to mention anything that he most desired as an additional reward for hia successful diligence, and young Buckle at once confessed an earnest wish to continue his education at home. The indulgent parent complied with the wishes of the son, and in doing so he was unquestionably prompted by something more than au overweening fondness for his child. He could iiot avoid perceiving in the conduct of that child the tender germs of a firm and thoughtful nature, and after events fully proved how truthfully he had estimated his character. He was only fourteen years of age when thus thrown upon his own resources. Private tutors were at first engaged to aid him in hie studies, but even their assistance soon became irksome to the embryo philosopher, and they were accordingly dismissed. Loved and petted at home, with few restraints upon, his actions, it might reasonably have been expected that one so young would neglect the sombre labyrinths of learning for the more glittering enticements of boyish sport. But for him the boisterous hilarity of the play-ground had little or no fascination. In years lie was a boy, but in soul he was a man. While others of his own age were actively occupied with peg-tops and marbles, or glowing with the excitement of "leap-frog" and "prisoner's base," young Henry Thomas Buckle was bending gravely over his books and entering the great sea of human knowledge. His studies were very numerous, but not too much so for the wide embrace of his mental powers. About four years after his departure from the academy in Kentish Town he had struggled far enough to possess an extensive view of the intellectual and social position of the world. The perseverance then spread before him must have presented a comparatively dim und uncertain outline ; but the prospect was sufficiently dazzling to kindle the warm enthusiasm of the sanguine youth, and it was under its influence that he conceived the idea of a work upon the progress and civilisation of mankind. The conception of the work was but the forerunner of an anxious desire for, its achievement, and from that moment it became the purpose of his life—a purpose from which he never swayed—till worn with over-work he sank to an untimely grave. He commenced his mammoth task with beaming hope and firm devotion, but it was not the hope which luxuriates in castles built on foundations of air, nor was it the devotion of an ill-governed mind tickled with the charms of novelty. He was contented to spend twenty long years of patient research and deep thought before he sought to offer his ideas to the world, and during those twenty years his courage never failed, and his industry never slackened. For ten hours in almost every day of thaf long period he sat in the seclusion of his study, persuing his labour of love, and if the value of his work could be fairly estimated by the diligence of its author it would claim a high place, indeed, in the opinion of mankind.
   The first volume of the " Introduction to the History of Civilization in England" was issued by the publisher in 1858. Its reception was not altogether unworthy the erudition and originality of thought which distinguished its 500 pages, and the name of Henry Thomas Buckle was received into the world ot letters with all the respect due to so able a writer and profound a scholar.
   We should be departing from our rule were we to enter here into any lengthy review of this remarkable work, but we should, on the other hand, scarcely do justice to the memory of a man whose life was so intimately connected with hid literary efforts were we to pass them entirely unnoticed.
   Among the numerous reviews of the volume which appeared in the periodical literature of the time was one in the pages of the Christian Observer for September, 1858, particularly conspicuous for its perspicuous style and high tone of creditable impartiality. The tenor of that criticism may be gathered from the two following extracts. The reviewer, in alluding to the qualifications of tho author before him, says :—" His style, though neither brilliant nor eloquent is usually clear and unaffected ; the tone of thought shows earnestness of conviction and very fair abilities; the writer may claim, we think, to take his place by the side of Auguste Compte and John Stuart Mill."  He then, referring to the book, proceeds to show that " Three main features are conspicuous in the whole work. It idolises intellectual power, depreciates morality, and discards all religious faith."
   To what extent Mr. Buckle intended to treat the subject he had taken in hand, with so much evident ability it is almost impossible to conjecture. If we may judge from the magnitude of the introduction, of which the bulky volume we have mentioned was only the first part, weo must believe his purpose to have been the production of a gigantic work. Five hundred pages as a first instalment of introductory remarks was a foundation which might well lead to tho supposition of a mighty edifice.
   In May, 1859, an article from the pen of Mr. Buckle was published in the columns of  "Fraser's Magazine". It was headed "Mill, on Liberty," and was a review of that work of the talented political economist which had recently issued from the press. The article was penned with a pleasing fluency and peculiar force of expression. He commenced with a brief and somewhat eloquent sketch of the progress of philosophy, teeming with scholarly illustrations. Many of the greatest minds which have led human thought pass before him in review, and he discusses them all with happy expressions of keen and deep-sighted criticism. That in some instances his criticism should lean too much in one direction, and minute accuracy be sacrified to one leading idea could only be expected from a man so remarkable for strong opinions and earnest advocacy. Of Shakespeare he says : —"No other mind has so completely incorporated the speculation of the highest philosophy with the meanest details of the lowest life. Shakespeare mastered both extremes, and covered all the intermediate field. He knew both man and men. He thought as deeply аз Plato or Kant. He observed as closely as Dickens or Thackeray."   Of Bacon he says :—"To genius of the highest order he added eloquence, wit, and industry ; he had good connections, influential friends, a supple address, an obsequious and somewhat fawning disposition. He had seen life under many aspects, he had mixed with various classes, he had abundant experience, and still he was unable to turn these treasures to practical account. Putting him aside as a philosopher, and taking him merely as a man of action, his conduct was a series of blunders."  Mr. Buckle is here endeavouring to illustrate the combination of the grossest folly with the highest examples of genius and ability, and it is curious to observe how mercilessly he twists and batters his model to show the position lie has taken up. After bringing conspicuously forward every mistake of Ikcon's life, ho concludes, " The truth is that while the speculations of Bacon were full of wisdom, his acts were full of folly."
   A digression on the nature of genius succeeds this spirited onslaught, and then again the fire of indignation gleams through his flowing sentences. This time it is the degradation of literary dependence which arouses his animosity, and inspires his scolding pen. Having thus "cleared the ground," as he expresses it, he draws near to the ostensible subject of his essay, and the supporters of Mr. Mill can assuredly have nothing to complain of in his treatment. Not confining himself exclusively to the work under consideration, Mr. Buckle seizes the opportunity of dragging his principles of economy and system of logic within the reach of his peculiar criticism ; but he finds little to censure in the works of Mr. Mill, and it is not until he arrives at the close of his subject that he again burst forth, indignant at human wrong. There is something lion-like in the manner in which he bounds upon his foe—something terrible in the mighty roar with which he proclaims his confidence of superior strength. A poor man, named Pooley, had been convicted by a learned judge for publishing some petty blasphemy. The man was not altogether of sound mind, but he had always borne a good character for industry, sobriety, and honesty. The punishment was unjustly severe, and the occurrence is alluded to by Mill. This case went deeply to the heart of Mr. Buckle, and he prepared to pounce upon the cruel oppressor. "I could not believe," he says, "that in the year 1851 there was a judge on the English bench who would sentence a poor man of irreproachable character, of industrious habits, and supporting a family by the sweat of his brow, to twenty-one months' imprisonment, merely because he had written on a gate a few words respecting Christianity. If  Mr. Buckle had permitted the matter to rest here, or contented himself with a simple condemnation of the harsh sentence, he would have avoided a misunderstanding which terminated in much painful and needless vituperation. But his impetuous spirit urged him on, and although in his fierce attack upon the judge (Sir John Coleridge) he serupulously adhered to what he believed to be true, yet his language was indecorously violent and severe against a man who, at the worst, had only committed an unfortunate mistake, and whose long-tried public life was distinguished by many great and estimable qualities. As might be expected, this portion of his article called forth a long and bitter reply from Sir John's friends, and prompted several very unfavourable remarks from the public press.
   While Mr. Buckle, in his literary capacity, was enjoying public attention, he did not forget his agreeable connections with the world of Chess. He was a man altogether intellectual. His tastes, pursuits, and conversation were all of an intellectual nature. The ever-moving and powerful machinery of his mind abhorred grooves and limits. His thoughts must dash hither and thither, piercing beyond the reach of ordinary men, or he was not happy. Hence Chess presented an amusement particularly adapted to break the monotony of his literary toils. Its infinite variety of combinations, and its broad scope for the exercise of original and inventive power, were characteristics of Chess which made it peculiarly fascinating to Mr. Buckle. Once seriously won over to the cause, and such a man would necessarily have the impress of his touch. We are not surprised, therefore, to find the author of  "The Civilization of England" and the champion of poor, weak-minded Pooley, figuring conspicuously in the arena of Chess ?
   He played few public matches, but his conspicuous talents soon gained him the renown he justly deserved. His frequent contests with the famous Kieseritzki, his victory over Löwenthal at the meeting of the British Chess Association, and his struggle with tho poweiful Staunton by telegraphic communication between London and Dover, are events in his Chess career which have contributed to establish his fame.
   There are three points in Mr. Buckle's style of play to which we would claim our readers' attention. The first and most important of them is the perfect knowledge he on all occasions betrayed of the openings, which the following example may servo to illustrate :—
       Game played in June, 1843, between Mr. Buckle and Mr. Zytogorski.
           This illustrative little game has never before apeared in print)
                                (Cunningham Gambit.}

 

Another point to which we would allude ia his peculiar brilliancy of play, particularly when giving odds. In the following game this is conspicuously illustrated.  We see there no hesitation, and little of his customary caution, but, notwithstanding, the game is replete with bright phases of genius, and a boldness of conception worthy of Morphy or Staunton.Game played in 1846 between Mr. Buckle and an Amateur, the former giving the odds of Queen's Rook 
                                                           

 

 

Lastly, we would call attention to his remarkable steadiness, and growing courage under difficulties. The moro complicated the position, and the greater the obstacles in his pathway to victory, the warmer became his enthusiasm, the stronger his play, and the more certain (it has been said) his victory. The game we annex will fully demonstrate this extraordinary characteristic of his style.

          Game played in 1853, between Mr. Buckle and Signor Tassinari

                                           (French Opening.)


   A second volume of his history appeared in 1861. In the period which elapsed between the publication of this and the first volume a terrible misfortune had befallen its author. Icy and rigid as were many portions of his philosophy, his heart was not a stranger to the throbbing of warm affection. The man who wandered through the regions of human history with such stern severity and freezing criticism was overwhelmed with all the tenderest emotions of humanity by the suffering and death of a beloved parent. His mother died in April, 1859, at the age of 66. He had loved her with all the sincere devotion of a good son and when after much painful illness she breathed her last the shock produced a serious effecct upon his health. That health had already been grievously injured by the constant strain of his mental faculties and reckless neglect of bodily exercise. To restore his shattered constitution he sought the relief of foreign travel, but the remedy came too late. While journeying in the Holy Land he was overtaken with a severe illness, which terminated fatally. In Damascus, the most ancient city of the world, where groves of trees for five miles round shade the traveller from the noonday sun, where flourish the walnut and damson, the citron and palm tree, and where the famed rivers Albana and Pharpar wind their way like silver threads through the lovely plain—there Henry Thomas Buckle, the persevering student and earnest philosopher was doomed to end his earthly career. He died on the 31st of May, 1862, at the comparatively early ago of 40. Could he have foreseen this untimely close to his existence he would scarcely have planned the work of his life on so bold and enormous a scale.

                            "'Tis a stern and startling thing to think 
                             How often mortality stands on the brink 
                             Of its grave without any misgiving ; 
                             And yet in this slippery world of strife, 
                             In the stir of human bustle so rife 
                              There are daily sounds to tell us that life 
                              Is dying and death is living !"