MacDonnell and Thorold

Sep 22, 2009, 9:23 PM |

Rev. George Alcock MacDonnell

Death Of The Rev. G. A. MacDonnell

   THE genial and jovial, the wise and witty "Mars" is dead!  It is sad news to all of us; but it is especially sad to the writer of these lines, for by that death he has lost a kindly friend, a frank but appreciative critic, and a brilliant correspondent.
   For some time the Rev. G. A. MacDonnell has been a lost figure in the chess world, illness—long and severe—being the cause. The end came on June 3rd, when he passed away in his 69th year.
   If chess be the king of games, then most certainly must the Rev. G. A. MacDonnell be called "the King's jester," for indeed in the matter of a joke he was ''a chartered libertine," and though ''motley" was not "his only wear," he wore it with so much grace, and it so well became him, that one was always delighted when he donned " the cap and bells." But he joked because he had a merry heart, and his " good things " were the natural outcome of his fun-loving nature. Some years ago a few chess players were apportioning appropriate mottoes to various chess masters, and this is what they tacked on to MacDonnell's name : " Laughter for a month, and a good jest for ever."  Both life and chess may be looked upon as serious things, but after all there is ample room in them both for jest and laughter, but it is well that the jest should be witty and the laughter clear. There have been two MacDonnells in the chess world, both celebrities in their own way. One was the renowned opponent of  De la Bourdonnais, the other is the subject of the present sketch. Now there is a story that a person was once introduced to G. A. MacDonnell, and said to him, " Oh !  I beg pardon, but did you not play some games with a Frenchman called Bourdonnais. "No!" replied MacDonnell. "Then you are another MacDonnell," said the visitor. "Oh dear no!" replied G.A.M., "I am the MacDonnell, it was the other MacDonnell who played the Frenchman. Ever since then the Rev. gentleman publicly claims to be the MacDonnell, leaving Labourdonnais' celebrated opponent the title of the other MacDonnell. Someone once joked him about the two MacDonnells, saying chess had only one Steinitz and one Zukertort, and asking why it should have two MacDonnells. '' Ah !" he replied, "you can't have too much of a good thing, and two MacDonnells are better than one Steinitz."
   The Rev. G. A. MacDonnell was born on the 16th August, 1830. He was an Irishman, and was proud of his nationality. He received his academic training at Trinity College, Dublin, and did honour to his alma mater. He selected the church as a profession, and after some time found his way to England. For some years he performed occasional duty in Condon, ultimately becoming curate-in-charge of Old St. Pancras Church, and on the death of the vicar (for long absent from the parish) much sorrow was felt by the parishioners that the living was not given to Mr. MacDonnell, as a recognition of the faithful discharge of his clerical duties. Shortly afterwards, however, the Duke of Rutland bestowed the living of Uppingham, Rutlandshire, upon him, and to that rural parish he partook himself, and henceforth visited London only at intervals. Mr. MacDonnell has published several sermons of a high class, one especially, on "Man's Life and Destiny," being very highly esteemed. His pulpit elocution was of a very high order, and he rendered the beautiful Liturgy of the Church of England in a very striking manner. Needless to say that he had endeared himself to his country flock as much as he had done to the parishioners of Old St. Pancras. We think it only fair to Mr. MacDonnell to set forth this more serious side of his character, or those who knew him only as a chess player and humourist might form an erroneous opinion of the man himself.  He loved chess, he loved a joke, and he loved most of the good things of life; but none the less he loved his calling, and faithfully performed the duties of his sacred office, and in his own life proved that to be a Christian it was not necessary either to be a bigot, a fanatic, or a rigid puritan.
   We now pass to Mr. MacDonnell's chess career. He learnt the moves very early, but he himself took pains to deny the statement that he was born with a "silver Pawn in his mouth," as indicative of his future fame as a chess player. He asserted, however, that at the age of fourteen he was known in local chess circles as " the champion," and we can quite believe it; but when he went on further to assert, as he did, that even at that early date, he knew every opening on the board, and had the end-game at his fingers' ends, we put it down as one of his little jokes. In 1853 MacDonnell was in Dublin, and there he met the really great English player, H. T. Buckle, and played some games with him on even terms. As was to have been expected, MacDonnell lost, but he lost not without honour, for he made a good fight of it, and was charmed with the great man. MacDonnell came permanently to reside in London in 1856, when 26 years of age. and very speedily became a well-known figure at the Divan and other chess resorts. At this time Mr. Howard Staunton was still in his prime, and dominated the entire English world as chess King, holding his court in the Grand Divan, in the Strand. H. T. Buckle was also a constant visitor at this time, for if his celebrated "History of Civilization" was his work, chess was his relaxation, and MacDonnell renewed his acquaintanceship of three years before. Bird and Boden were then regular frequentors of the Divan, playing innumerable games, bright and sparkling in form, and dashing in nature. "Old Lowe" went about the room with his faintly-heard chuckle. Barnes and Williams were to be found here; and here also came occasionally a handsome young fellow, afterwards to become the well-known Capt. G. H. Mackenzie ; and R. B. Wormald, the friend of Staunton, was a frequent visitor. In 1857 the genial Hungarian, Lowenthal, made one of the company. In 1860 poor Cecil de Vere became a pretty constant visitor. In 1862 the gifted Blackburne was added to the list, and Steinitz himself—not by any means the great man he afterwards became—was sometimes seen; in 1864 P. T. Duffy shed the light of his countenance upon the "happy family." Such were the men that MacDonnell met on his first mixing with the English chess world Amongst them he let off his first little jokes, told his little stories, and played his little games—all in a MacDonnellish sort of way. Staunton himself was a talker of repute; his stories were well told, his anecdotes pointed, and his humour flowed freely, albeit the stream might be somewhat turgid, and there was a general air about him which seemed to say, ''When I ope' my lips let no dog bark." But the brilliant young Irishman was quite capable of holding his own as a talker even with the great man himself, and he soon began to be a prime favourite in social chess circles, and a favourite he continued to the end. An after dinner speech by MacDonnell, on a big occasion, was always waited for with eagerness and listened to with delight. Someone once asked a great American postprandial orator how he managed to make such neat speeches. "Well," he replied, " when the steam's up I just go ahead." This was exactly MacDonnell's style, but with him the steam was always up, and he certainly went ahead. What direction he went in did not trouble him much, for in his after dinner speeches he had a grand discursive style with him, and the more discursive he was the better his audience appreciated him. His course was like a swallow's flight. He darted hither and thither, he wheeled and turned; now he swooped upon a little joke as the swallow might pick up a knat on the wing, anon he dashed upon an anecdote like the same swallow appropriating some larger insect. Joke. anecdote, good thing, ban mot, what mattered it ? It was all delightful ! To vary the simile, his oratory was like an olla-podrida, full of tit-bits and toothsome morsels; yet with just that suspicion of garlic about it that made one's mouth water. "Did you ever lose the thread of your discourse. Mr. MacDonnell?" asked a diffident youth who had been requested to respond to a toast. " No sir," answered Madonnell, " I never do that, for I take great pains never to have any thread to lose !"
   It must not be thought, however, that because MacDonnell could make good jokes he could not play good chess, for his chess skill was of a very high order indeed, and most of his opponents found it no joke to meet MacDonnell in a tournament. He took part in the London International Master Tournament, 1862, taking the fourth prize; Anderssen being first. Steinitz (sixth) and Blackburne being unplaced. After the conclusion of the tournament, he played several off-hand but hard-fought games with Anderssen, then in the height of his skill, making an equal score with the celebrated Breslau professor. In 1866 he played in the English Challenge Cup Competition (the first of its kind), but was beaten by Cecil de Vere. He also played in the Handicap Tourney, beating the late Mr. Thorold in the first round, but he was defeated by Steinitz in the second round. At the Dundee Congress of the British Chess Association, 1867, he played in the Grand Tournament, and tied with De Vere for third and fourth prizes with 61/2 out of a possible 9; Neumann being first with 71/2 out of 9. He entered for the Handicap but did not play. In 1868 he competed in the " Glowworm" Tournament, taking the first prize, and coming out ahead of Blackburne, De Vere, Wisker, and other strong players. In 1869 he played in the "Displacement" Tournament, organised by Mr. Mongredien, and gained a good position, beating Blackburne and other strong players.
   In 1873 Mr. John Wisker was regarded as the English champion, but in a match with Mr. MacDonnell, played in that year, the latter won by 31/2 games to Wisker's 1/2, thereby securing the coveted honour. But Wisker had his revenge the following year, for in a match, which ended in November, 1874, the final score was Wisker 7, MacDonnell 4, drawn 4. In the early part of the match MacDonnell held his own, but fell off towards the close, and Wisker gradually got a strong lead. From this time the pressure of his professional and literary work gradually increased, and in consequence Mr. MacDonnell took little part in first-class chess play, and had to content himself with occasional appearances in the arena. He played in the Handicap of the Counties Chess Association, at Glasgow, in 1875, the other first-class players being Messrs. Bird. Blackburne, and Burn. The first and second prizes were carried off by Blackburne and Burn, but neither Bird nor MacDonnell was placed. In 1876 he took part in the Tournament at the Divan, but was not placed, Blackburne taking first prize, Zukertort second, and Potter third.
     In 1881 he played in the Handicap at the Boston meeting of the Counties Chess Association, and carried off the first prize. He also played in the Handicap at the Birmingham meeting in 1883, and again took the first prize. In the Vizayanagram Tourney of the London Chess Congress, in 1883, he won the third prize, Herr von Bardeleben taking first, and Mr. Fisher second. In 1885 he played in the Master Tournament of the newly formed British Chess Association, but he only tied for fifth and sixth prizes with R. Loman; Gunsberg being first, Bird second, Guest third, and Pollock fourth. In 1886 he won the "Tennyson" Competition of the B.C.A. meeting, after a tie with Mr. Gwinner. In 1874 Mr. MacDonnell was elected an honorary member of the City of London Chess Club, where at one time he gave several exhibitions of simultaneous chess with success ; he was also a constant guest at the annual dinner of the club, and his speeches on these occasions were amongst his happiest efforts in that direction.
   Mr. MacDonnell was a racy writer, and for some years he conducted a chess column in the Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News, where his chess gossip and sketches over the signature "Mars " form a prominent feature. Someone once asked Steinitz, "Don't you think MacDonnell always spoils his stories?" "I don't know that he does" replied Steinitz, "but I do know that he generally 'Mars' them!"  Mr. MacDonnell has given to the world two works of a gossipy nature (mostly reprints from his chess column), one entitled "Chess Life-Pictures." the other "The Knights and Kings of Chess,"  both of a very entertaining nature.                                                             -J.G.C.

Immediately following Rev. MacDonnell's obituary in this 1889 issue of BCM:

Death Of Mr. Edmund Thorold.
We deeply regret to announce the death of the celebrated amateur Mr. Edmund Thorold, of Bath, who died suddenly during the past month. In our next issue we hope to do justice to the many services which Mr. Thorold rendered to the cause of chess. 

However, the next issue covered Thorold's death more fully.

AS briefly announced in our last issue, English chess has suffered a severe loss by the death of Mr. Edmund Thorold, who died very suddenly at his residence, New King Street, Bath, on Monday, June 26th.
     Edmund Thorold was born at Barnby Moor, Notts, in 1843, of a well-known Lincolnshire family. He was entered at the Collegiate School, Sheffield, and it was during his school days that he became interested in chess. From Sheffield he went to Worcester College, Oxford, to continue his studies. When Mr. Thorold first saw Oxford, the Inter- Universities' matches had not started, nevertheless he found at Oxford some good chess players. Mr. Ranken left just before Mr. Thorold entered, but he had left a chess influence and some enthus'astic players. Mr. Thorold's attention, however, was fully taken up with his studies; he had therefore little lime to devote to chess, still he found time for an occasional game, the late Mr. Wormald and Mr. Green being amongst his opponents. During the vacations he visited London, and embraced the opportunity of playing with the Masters. One of his opponents was the late Mr. S. S. Boden, and from this talented exponent of the game he derived much knowledge of scientific play.
     On the completion of his University studies (being at one time Fellow of Magdalen College), Mr. Thorold returned to Sheffield, and was for some time Master of the Collegiate School. He soon identified himself with local chess; was elected president of the Sheffield Chess Club, and also took a very prominent part in various annual meetings of the West Yorkshire Chess Association.
     He removed from Sheffield to Bath about thirty years ago, and since then his name is found closely identified with every effort to advance the interests of chess in the West of England. He was for some time president of the Bristol Chess Club, succeeding the late Capt. Kennedy.
     Mr. Thorold was a frequent competitor in the various tournaments of the Counties' Chess Association. In 1885 he took part in the Hereford Tournament, but not with signal success, though he defeated Schallopp in the personal encounter. To some extent he never seemed to do himself justice in tournament- play, though he often defeated strong opponents. In 1888 he was a competitor in the International Master Tournament, at Bradford, and defeated Gunsberg (winner of the first prize), his final score, however, was only 6i out of a possible 16. In 1890 he was one of the competitors in the International Master Tournament of the Manchester Congress, and he won some fine games, including one from Blackburne.
     Mr. Thorold played several important matches, defeating such players as Mr. Feddon, of Bristol; Mr. Fisher, of Cheltenham ; and Mr. J. I. Minchin, of the St. George's Chess Club, London. In 1861 he played a match with Mr. John Watkinson, of Huddersfield, which was won by the latter by 7 to 4. In 1884 he played a match with the late Rev. W. Wayte. The final score was Wayte 7, Thorold 5, drawn 4.
     The name of Edmund Thorold will always be linked with those of Allgaier and Kieseritzki, in connection with that form of the King's Gambit which is known as the Thorold - Allgaier - Kieseritzki. Had Mr. Thorold done no more for chess than given to its literature the result of his analytical research in the King's Gambit variations, his name would live long in chess annals. But Mr. Thorold rendered other important services to English chess. He was one of a band of enthusiastic amateur players who have laboured unceasingly to raise the standard of English provincial play to the level of the best Metopoli- tan play, and the efforts put forth have not been altogether unsuccessful. Mr. Thorold was peculiarly a provincial player of the first rank, as Blake, Owen, Ranken, Skipworth, and Watkinson ; but whilst the names of Messrs. Blake, Ranken, and Skipworth are honourably connected with provincial chess, yet they also have a connection — more or less close — with the Metropolis. In Mr. Thorold's case this was not so. Unfortunately Mr. Thorold kept no regular record of the score or results of his games, yet meaare as the account is it is sufficient to show that he was for years amongst the very foremost of English amateur chess players. He has passed away very soon after his old friends the Rev. W. Wayte and the Rev. A. B. Skipworth, and by his death another link is snapped between us and the band of players whose services to chess will cause the Victorian Age to be renowned in chess history.
     Mr. Thorold was for some years a Master at the Somersetshire College, Bath, and was engaged more or less in tuition till the time of his death.
                            In Memorium. Edmund Thorold.

                            ''Multis ille bonis flebilis occidit."

                         To thee, dear friend, we bid a last farewell !
                         No more shall we behold thy kindly face,
                         Or hear thy words that, fraught with gentle grace,
                         Gladdened and charmed us like a magic spell.
                         Long in our hearts thy memory shall dwell,
                         As in Caissa's page thy fame we trace,
                         But no new friend can ever take the place
                         That Death made vacant when he rung thy knell !

                          Yet lives thy influence ; — teaching us to be
                          Courteous and kind in all things — great and small ;
                           To smile alike at victory or defeat,
                           And so to fill our days with service meet,
                           That when for us the sable curtains fall,
                           Others may mourn us as we now mourn thee !

A. L. S., who contributes the foregoing lines, also writes us as follows : —
     As a friend of the late Edmund Thorold, I should like to add a few words of tribute to his memory. I first became acquainted with him at Bath, more than twenty years ago. He then read with me for the Oxford Matriculation, and the friendship thus begun continued without interruption till his death, though when I ceased to reside in Bath we saw each other only at intervals. I have many pleasant recollections of study hours, in the course of which he showed himself the kindest and most painstaking of tutors. It was to him that I owed my first introduction to serious chess. He was a well-read man, of refined and intellectual tastes ; emphatically (in old parlance) "a scholar and a gentleman." He had a remarkably retentive memory, and his extensive knowledge of the Classics and other subjects was distinguished by the greatest accuracy. His neat delicate handwriting might in some measure be taken as an index of his character. But there was also a decided vein of poetry in his nature. His well-filled bookshelves contained editions of all the best poets, and he had a keen appreciation of their beauties. His mind was of a serious cast, but at the same time he possessed a considerable fund of quiet humour.
     He was delightful as a companion. Always genial and hospitable, there was an atmosphere of quiet and repose about him that formed a refreshing contrast to the hurry and unrest of the present age. A peculiarly slow deliberate way of speaking lent an additional charm to his manner. Noted as he was for skill in chess, he was even more esteemed for his personal qualities. A friend once remarked, after listening toan encomium on his play,—'.Ah yes, I like him as a chess-player, but I like him still more as a man." No greater or truer compliment could have been paid him ! He never suffered his fondness for chess to interfere with his other sympathies. Even a stranger could not play a casual game with him without carrying away a pleasant impression of his personality.
     His sudden and painless end seems a fitting close to his gentle life. He was called away " in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye," with no dreary preface of lingering disease, and before old age could dim his faculties of mind or body. One may well wish for such a death, and desire it for one's dearest and best.

                          "The face of Death is toward the Sun of Life,
                            His shadcw darkens earth; his truer name
                            Is 'Onward'; no discordance in the roll
                            And march of that Eternal Harmony
                            Whereto the worlds beat time, tho' faintly heard
                             Until the great Hereafter. Mourn in hope!"

Prof. Thorold, a chess lover, was no match for Rev. MacDonnell -