Mongredien

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British Chess Magazine  -  1888

     Augustus Mongredien was the son of a French officer, who came over to England at the time of the first revolution. He was born in London, on the 17th March, 1807, and being brought up and educated here, seems naturally to have accepted this country, and not his fatherland, as his proper home ; although speaking French perfectly, he never resided in that country, going there only for a few short visits. He learnt to play Chess in his early youth, but did not take much interest in the game until 1829; at that time he says:—"William's Coffee-house, in Aldersgate Street, was a place of resort for a number of players of various degrees of skill, and I spent many evenings there." He made some progress too, and in 1830 gave up "Williams" for the stronger circle at the Divan; here he met "several well-known players, among them Henry Thomas Buckle, the eminent thinker and writer, by whose quiet, courteous manner, and elegant and ingenious, rather than powerful style of play, I was deeply impressed."   In 1833, George Walker, then well known as a writer and analyst, founded the Westminster Club, and young Mongredien, in company with many other of the Divan players, went over to the new society. It met then at the house of a Mr. Huttman, in Bedford Street, Covent Garden, and seems to have soon become the centre of some of the best London play. "It was here," says Mongredien in his autobiographical notes, "That in 1834 McDonnell encountered La Bourdonnais in that celebrated series of 85 games, which furnished the finest specimens of Chess play on record, till the appearance of Paul Morphy, a quarter of a century later."   In 1835, Mongredien, then coming into notice as a strong and rising player, left the Westminster and joined the famous old London Chess Club. This was not only the strongest club in England, but was the rendezvous for all foreign players who came to this country ; its members had thus advantages which no other club could offer, and their position had the effect of making them somewhat exclusive. Mongredien was admitted, however, and found his father's language of much service; he was able to converse with the French players who came to the club, and in this way became as popular as a player as he was useful as an interpreter. He formed several important Chess friendships, and was finally in 1839 elected President.  "This honourable post," he says, "I occupied for 31 years,—that is, till 1870, when the club died of sheer old age. It was founded in 1807 (the year in which I was born), and throughout its career of 63 years, there was hardly a player of any eminence, native or foreign, who was not either a member or a frequent visitor. The honorary secretary, at the time I was elected president, was George Perigal, the wittiest and pleasantest man, as well as the most elegant and ingenious of Chess players."
     Mongredien's appointment to the presidency of the London Club was no doubt as politic as it was popular. Already one of the best known players in England, he had besides a high reputation on the continent, was intimately acquainted with the leading Paris masters, at that time among tlie strongest players in the world, and he was fully in touch with the other great Chess circles of Berlin and Vienna ; added to this the personal advantages of a singularly courteous and pleasant demeanour, of an address so winning as to be almost irresistible, and one may easily see that it would have been difficult to find any one so well qualified for the office. What then must have been the disappointment when he almost immediately tendered his resignation and announced his intention of leaving London. Business arrangements, which had been in progress for some time before had been suddenly completed, and he found it advisable to go down to Liverpool to control his just established commercial house there. Business before pleasure is the rule, even when the latter is so businesslike as Chess, and the London Club was fain to console itself in its disappointment as it best could. One thing was certain, the resignation could not be accepted ! Mr. Mongredien would often be in London, and could surely make it convenient to come up on any special occasion. He must retain the office and perform its duties as well as he could. So the matter was arranged, and so it worked admirably for ten years (until 1849), when he left Liverpool and became a prominent figure in London Chess once more. At Liverpool, the prospects of Chess, if not good, were promising. There was a club at all events with about fifty members : some fairly strong, some very weak, but all enthusiastic. On the other hand, Chess in Liverpool was existing just then on sufferance. The players had been able—they very nearly failed—a month or two before to assert its right to exist at all, and they were in constant danger of being turned out of the only meeting place then available. The fact was they had had to fight and to fight hard against a little bit of bigotry and narrowminded- ness which still obtained among the folk in power, and had barely succeeded in persuading these latter gentry that Chess was not necessarily the beginning of a downward course ending only in perdition. Their early difficulties had not however, prevented them from setting to work to make their mark in the world. They had already, when Mongredien came down, begun a couple of correspondence games with Leeds and, to do them justice, had succeeded in getting positions beyond redemption in both. Whether Mongredien, who joined the local club immediately on his arrival, gave the playing committee the benefit of his assistance does not appear. If he did he was not able to mend matters, for Liverpool lost both games. As may be supposed, Mongredien was looked upon as a great acquisition to the young club. It did not take him long to make himself popular—it never did, and at the first annual meeting held on the 6th of May, 1839, he was unanimously voted president. It may be mentioned that to this office he succeeded Mr. Robert Clay, who was the first president, and who was one of its warmest supporters during its early struggles. At the same meeting G. S. Spreckley, one of the strongest players in the club, was appointed honorary secretary, and between him and Mongredien a strong and as it turned out a lasting friendship sprung up. They held office together for ten years, both resigning—Mongredien, as we have said, to return to London, and Spreckley to go abroad—in 1849. During that period, Mongredien, either in Liverpool or London, seems always to have had a match in progress with somebody. With Spreckley he had a regular series, only ending one to begin another. He did not always win, though he appears—mainly, no doubt, on account of greater experience-—to have been the stronger player. He was ignorant of the books and a little intolerant of them also, so that he often irredeemably prejudiced his game in the opening. Throughout his Chess career this disregard of the experiences of others kept him back. He was always scheming to get out of the books, and once offered a prize (won, we think, by the Rev. G. A. McDonnell) in a tourney where Knight and Bishop exchanged places on the board. The records of the Liverpool Club show that between 1839 and 1849 Mongredien played no less than 30 set matches ; of these he won 23, lost 12, and 3 were drawn. Among these may be noted two with Staunton, both of which the latter won. The conditions, however, in the first game were that each player should concede the odds of Pawn and move and Pawn and two alternately; no game therefore being played on equal terms. In the second match the record merely says that "all the games were at the odds of Pawn and two moves," so that whether the London master gave the odds in every case, or gave and received them alternately is not clear. At any rate Staunton won all the games but one, which was drawn. In London, at one time or another, Mongredien met all the best known players, but handicapped as he was by the want of book knowledge, it is not surprising that he was frequently unsuccessful. He did better in off-hand play when his opponents were willing to try experiments, and when his brilliant combinative ability had more scope. In consultation play, too, where his deficiences at the beginning of a game were supplied by other players, he was generally successful, and the match between London and Amsterdam from 1847 to 1853, in which he was one of the London committee, bears evidence of the beauty and accuracy of his play in the middle game. We should mention here the honour, which he much appreciated, conferred on him by the Paris Club. On its foundation in 1841, the members elected nine honorary members, four of these were Englishmen, and of the four, three (Lewis, Staunton, and Walker) were elected as well-known writers on the game. In Mongredien's case, the election was an expression of personal esteem, and must have been peculiarly gratifying. One speedy use he made of his membership, was to bring about a match between the English and French champions, Staunton and St. Amant. This contest, he and his constant Chess friend (Spreckley) promoted by every possible means. Indeed as Staunton himself acknowledges, it was due to their influence and liberality that it eventually took place. In 1859, Mongredien went over to Paris, to play his sometime arranged match with Morphy. A friendship had already sprung up between the two—there was nothing like envy or jealousy to prevent it doing so. Mongredien's love was for Chess, not for his own play, and he was the first to recognise the wonderful genius of the young American ; on the other hand, Morphy was evidently impressed with the courtesy and kindness of the president of the London Club. If he had any fear that the jealousy of professional players might prejudice his reception in this country, he must have been at once reassured. No one could be in Mongredien's society long, without feeling that he had to do with one who was a gentleman in the widest sense of the word ; one who might be trusted not only to do justice, but, whenever he could, to see it done. The match ended as everyone thought it would. Mongredien had no chance. He opened the first game well, and though content with a draw, should have won. Afterwards, Morphy, whose play always improved as a match progressed, never gave him a chance, winning the seven games right off. Mongredien was defeated with equal decisiveness by Harrwitz, early in the following year, and from this time he played serious games with increasing reluctance. He still took an active part in club affairs, was on the committee of the British Chess Association during the Bristol Congress of 1861, and the London meeting the next year. " I played" he says " in the tournament that year, without winning a prize ; and I took a leading part not only in the committee of management, but also in the committee for drawing up a new code of Chess laws. I did not play in the tournament of 1868, but worked actively as one of the Vice-Presidents of the Association." Here, Mongredien's Chess career ends. He says "being busily engaged in writing my work on "Trees and Shrubs for English Plantation," I ceased playing difficult match games, and have ever since contented myself with an occasional encounter with mild players." He applied himself to the study of literature and politics, gaining some fame in both. His pamphlet on " Free Trade " received the prize offered by the Cobden Club, and is still a standard text book. For it and for his other literary work, he was granted in 1887, a Civil List Pension, which, however, he did not live to enjoy. He died on the 30th March, 1888, strange to say, only a few days after his friend Spreckley.

 

 

Augustus Mongredien published several books and pamphlets:
Trees & Shrubs for English Plantations  1870
Free Trade and English Commerce   1879
The Western Farmer of America   1880
Wealth-creation   1882
The Suez Canal Question  1883 (a 48 page pamplets)
Trade Depression, Recent and Present  1885 (a 24 page pamphlet)

 

Read Augustus Mongredien's 1888 BCM memoirs, Chess Players I Have Known.