Hugh Alexander Kennedy

Jul 25, 2009, 9:34 AM |

from the Chess Players Chronicle 
November, 1878.


"On Tuesday, 22nd October, at his residence, Ailsa Lodge, Reading, aged 69, Hugh Alexander Kennedy, late Lieutenant, Madras Native Infantry, and Captain, Forfar and Kincardine Militia."

This melancholy intelligence reached us so late in the month that in our last number we conld only record the fact of Captain Kennedy's death. We now proceed to give some account of the achievements of our lamented friend as a Chess player and an author. Captain Kennedy, who was nearly of the same age with Stannton and Löwenthal, belonged to the Scottish branch of the ancient family of the Kennedys, of which the Marquis of Ailsa is the head. That he retired from the Indian army at an age somewhat over thirty, with no higher rank than that of Lieutenant, will not surprise those who are aware of the slowness of promotion which prevailed in the Company's service, in the " piping times of peace " before the Afghan and Scinde campaigns, especially at Madras, the most pacific of the Presidencies. On his return to England he fixed his home first at Brighton, and subsequently at Bath, in each place leaving his mark as an energetic promoter of his favourite game. He became President of the Brighton Chess Club, und afterwards—the Western city of pleasure having, strange to say, no Club exclusively devoted to Chess, but coalescing for this purpose with its busy and smoke-begrimed neighbour—President of the Bristol Athenaeum Chess Club, an office in which he was succeeded by Mr. Thorold, another resident at Bath. When, a few years ago, he removed to Reading, he had already retired from the active practice of the game.

His chief public performance was in the Tournament of 1851, when (not to mention minor antagonists) he defeated Mayet, one of the Berlin  "Pleiads"  He lost to Mr. Wyvill, then at the top of his strength and inferior only to Anderssen ; and in a subsequent round, played to determine the fifth and sixth prizes, he was singularly unlucky with Szen, the great Hungarian. Though he did not succeed in scoring a game, he almost always obtained advantages sufficient to have led him to victory. In a passage of the "Waifs and Strays" it is mentioned that he was unwell during this particular match, and Captain Kennedy was not the man to put forward a plea of this kind as a mere pretext for covering defeat. On the other hand, Szen was a rare master of the Pawn ending. A few years before this period he had made even games with Buckle, who, however, in 1845, had not yet culminated. We are far from placing Buckle (as has sometimes been done) on the same level wiih Staunton, but we hold that, at his best, he was at least superior to Captain Kennedy. We are more inclined to compare the latter with Williams, the winner of the third prize in 1851. In a long series of friendly contests, Captain Kennedy had held his own with Williams, originally a Bristol player; aud from their published games of all kinds, as well as from our own recollections, we believe that Captain Kennedy was fully equal to Williams in practical efficiency, while superior to him in the artistic qnalities of his style. A yonngrr opponeut would probably be struck, as we remember to have been, with Captain Kennedy's skill in end-game«; but we further hold that he was, in his best days, a. player of the first rank at every stage of the game, uniting the brilliant and the solid in the just proportions which constitute real excellence. We therefore unhesitatingly claim for him a place—a minor place, it may be, but still a place—among the real Masters of his art, as distinct from reputations merely of the second order.

As a member of a club, no one could be a pleasanter opponent or a more efficient man of business than Captain Kennedy. At the close of his life he was always ready to undertake the journey from Reading to London in order to attend a committee meeting of the St. George's Club, or—as on the occasion of  Mr. Cochrane's death but a few months ago—to pay the last honours to a Chess friend. And, on more than one of his latest visits to the metropolis, his love of the game prevailed over those prudential considerations, of a fancied regard for reputation, which are the bane of so much Club play, and he readily entered the lists with, and took a beating from, opponents whom he had for some years formally declined encountering.

Captain Kennedy had been a frequent contributor to the Magazines—not only to chess periodicals—of light and humorous sketches. A selection of these was published some years ago under the name of "Waifs and Strays, chiefly from the Chess Board," *  and the book went through two editions. Had he taken to fiction Captain Kennedy, we think, with his powers of humour and his unfailing brightness of style, would have achieved no mean reputation in this novel-writing age. As a delineator of Oriental life and field sports ho could, we think, have competed successfully with the authors of " Hajji Baba " and " The Old Shekarry." In his brief work, apart from contributions bearing more directly upon Chess, the varieties of Indian barrack life, with its private theatricals, its pig-sticking, and its oceans of iced pale ale and brandy-pani — we retain the Captain's accurately philological spelling—are touched off with remarkable freshness and an ever-sparkling sense of fun. His style throughout his writings is saturated with Shakespeare; and it was doubtless as a subaltern at an up-country station in India, with no books around him but a few of the choicest, that he had acquired this consummate mastery of the great world-poet. But his knowledge of Shakespeare was not merely of the verbal sort adapted for ever-ready quotation; he had, as we learn from a local paper since his death, given studies of several of the plays in tho form of lectures at the Bath Literary and Scientific Institution. Another feature which strikes us in the "Waifs and Strays," as illustrating his literary preferences, is the minute acquaintance with military history, especially with the details of Napoleon's campaigns, which he constantly displays. He was indeed especially attracted to Napoleon as a Chess player among heroes, and a hero among Chess players ; but he is no convert to the Napoleonic legend, and he unhesitatingly puts down the "Modern Charlemagne" as a scourge rather than a benefactor of his species. One of his latest contributions to Chess literature (in our last volume pp 241-244) had Napoleon for its subject, and the last of all, his " Chess Notelets," in our August number for the present year, attested, like its predecessors, the variety of his reading and his remarkable command of recondite illustration. These researches among the by-ways of literature had likewise made him a frequent contributor to " Notes and Queries."

* "Waifs and Strays, chiefly from the Chess Board," by Captain Hugh A. Kennedy, Vice-President of the British Chess Association. London : W. W. Morgan, 67 Barbican, E.C.