Is Chess All in the Head?

Nov 9, 2010, 5:11 PM |

"His frame is large and square, the head presenting a fine study for a phrenologist, bearing the organs of calculation enormously developed. Solid and massive, the head of La Bourdonnais is a true Napoleon front; carved out of marble, and placed upon shoulders of granite, like Ajax Telamon. That eye so piercing, looks through and through the board, so as to convey the feeling that La Bourdonnais could really see well in the dark, which hypothesis accounts for his playing so beautifully blindfold."
Fraser's Magazine, 1840


Illustration from an article in la Palamède 1845 of the same topic


Chess and Phrenology.

     Two interesting discussions have been held at the London Phrenological Society, Exeter Hall, on the cast of the head of M. De la Bourdonnais, lately taken by death from among us, which cast was produced after decease by Deville, of the Strand, the likeness being wonderfully preserved. Dr. Elliotson gave a phrenological description of the head, which, to those who knew the habits of the chess player under discussion, came remarkably home to the truth. As a phrenological specimen the cast presents qualities of the finest description ; it is a head of greater power than the society sees once in seven years ; the organs of constructiveness, stratagem, causality, and others bearing directly upon chess, are amazingly developed. Dr. Elliotson justly remarked, that such were the capabilities of the brain, deceased would have been first-rate in whatever scientific pursuit fate had embarked him. His animal organs were, at the same time, prodigious, which gave that impetus to the mind which enabled him at chess to beat and tear down all opposition. As the general of an army De la Bourdonnais would have gone far ; and enormous destructiveness may, perhaps, have been one of the leading motives which caused him to spend his life in chess ; hardly any other pursuit, save actual war or brutal quarrelling, giving scope for its full exercise. Dr. Elliotson's interesting lecture was followed by some remarks from Mr. George Walker as to the life and habits of De la Bourdonnais, fully corroborating the phrenological views of the scientific men who had previously gone into the subject. On Monday last, the cast of Sam. Scott, the diver's head, succeeded that of De la Bourdonnais, and here the organ of firmness appears to have been even preternaturally developed.
     It is only by discussion that truth can be elicited, and phrenology demands no more than fair play at all hands. We believe the cast of De la Bourdonnais's head is on sale yet at Deville's, Strand, and doubtless chess clubs will be glad to procure a relic so valuable. Constructiveness, a quality so essential to chess, in which schemes are to be concocted and their several merits critically and exactly compared, is seen of immense size in the head of De la Bourdonnais, and it was not unfairly remarked at the Phrenological Society, that it bore some what upon the case that De la Bourdonnais lost his property in early life by a building speculation at St. Maloes.