Morphy in "The Press"


This highly insightful and lively article was published in "The Press," a London journal, in 1858, and excerpted from  Max Lange's "Paul Morphy: A Sketch from the Chess World."

     "The chess world (for chess world there is, although it is seldom brought into contact with any other of the fifty worlds into which society is so curiously cross-divided) has received an impulse sufficient to arouse it from its usual meditative tranquillity. A general chess conflagration seems to be kindling just when the political and the fashionable world begin to 'pale their ineffectual fires' in the approaching dawn of the recess. The matches which have produced this startling effect are not of the Lucifer order, but will burn longer and more steadily than the patent night-lights or Palmer's best stearine. To convey our views in a more familiar metaphor, Mr. Morphy, the champion of the American chess, is in the field, and prepared to joust with all comers. And putting aside a match with Mr. Loewenthal (now pending), and another with Mr. Staunton, also on the tapis — the event of neither of which can we assume to prejudge — thus far he has kept his ground triumphantly. Though occasionally beaten, he has scored a considerable majority of games against every player whom he has encountered, including several of our first English celebrities. And this with a "gallery" of strangers, and at the age of twenty-one. When a few months since we read of the appearance of an American phenomenon (our present visitor), who was to 'whip all creation' in the chequered field, we confess we felt somewhat skeptical. The language of the West is singularly tinged with Oriental hyperbole, and puffing under the auspices of Mr. Barnum has attained the dignity of a science. We thought of the Feejee mermaid and woolly horse — of the hunter who could whip his weight in wild-cats, and of the mare whose rapid transit past successive milestones gave the country the appearance of a continuous churchyard. Even the report of the New York 'Chess Congress,' where the young amateur from New Orleans won, unless our memory fails us, eighty-one games out of eighty-four, did not completely dispel our prejudices. The games were brilliant, but they were played chiefly against third-rates, with whom it might be safe to take liberties. So dashing a style would perhaps prove fatal when tried against wary veterans, trained in defence and tenacious of the smallest advantage once gained. Such were our previous impressions and those of many abler judges— impressions not destitute of some 'a priori' probability. But we were mistaken — we confess it frankly and deliberately — utterly and absolutely mistaken.  Mr. Morphy needs no aid either of 'yarn' or 'whole cloth' (we adopt the latest American metaphors) to establish his claims as an extraordinary genius in his own line.
     This is no place for discussing the value of chess, either as a recreation or as a test of intellectual power. Enough to say, that its living votaries are legion, including many men (like Messrs. Stnunton and Buckle, now the first names of English chess) of high literary or professional distinction; and that it is historically associated with recollections of Charles XII, Napoleon, and other

"Dead but scepter'd monarch,  who still rule
Our spirits from their urns.'

Our present purpose is to claim for our distinguished visitor, as a gifted and accomplished chess-player, the praise, to which he is entitled in that character even from the non-chessplaying world.
     "'Not to put too fine a point upon it,' as Dickens would say, the qualifications requisite for excellence in chess are principally four:
     1. Inventive power, for original combinations; 2. Power of analysis, seen chiefly in working out the possible results of a given position; 8. Temperament — a word which we purposely use somewhat vaguely; 4. Memory. Of course it is easy to except to this division as imperfect and inaccurate, but it is our object to write for multitudes who are neither finished chessplayers nor metaphysicians.
     Under the first head, then, we would say that Mr. Morphy's invention seems marvellous. He is eminently an attacking player, and his schemes for harassing his adversary are as various as they are brilliant You might play with him for a year without being able to affirm, as Cicero did of Hortensius, 'Novi omnes hominis petitiones.''  Chess-players will understand us when we say that his assaults remind us of the fiery onslaught of Mr. Cochrane, but will bear scrutiny better. And here we may remark (though conscious that we are trespassing on other divisions of our subject) that Mr. Morphy's style of play is singularly fearless — more so, we must confess, than any which we have yet seen opposed to it.  He is ready, for instance, to give or accept any of the most critical 'gambits,'  instead of confining himself to the safer openings at present in fashion. This adds greatly to the spectator's pleasure. We remember how much disappointment was caused at the time of Mr. Staunton's conflict with M. St Amant, by the pertinacious refusal of the latter to answer ' K P 2' with ' K P 2.'   The American champion dislikes the anomaly of a ' close opening.'  And well he may; for, secondly, his great power of analysis tells most in involved and complicated positions. Aided by a wonderful knowledge of chessbooks and of the recorded games of the best players, he aims (and generally with success) at looking farther forward than his antagonist's  'coup d'oeil'  can reach, confident that none of the thousand intermediate variations has been overlooked. Play a dozen back games with him, and you will fail to show him any contingency which he had not contemplated. Mr. Morphy's temperament, thirdly, is much in his favor. Look at him as he plays. You are at first struck principally by the roomy forehead, clear eye, and fine well-placed ear; but when you have observed him long or frequently, you discover that he is never flurried, never nervous — that a defeat does not discourage nor a victory elate him. Young as he is, he is always calm and self-possessed, whether in the quiet circle of the St George's Club or in the noisier gallery of the Chess Divan, and is, consequently, as sure as any player we ever saw to do his own powers justice under the mental tension of a long match and the trials of temper which frequently attend it We must here record the pleasure with which we have witnessed the kind, friendly reception given by the English players to their formidable competitor, and also the unassuming courtesy which invariably marks Mr. Morphy's demeanor. Fourthly. A few words under the head of memory and we have done. Mr. Morphy seems to forget nothing, from the game which he himself played yesterday to that which he read in the Chess Chronicle a year ago. He has more than once puzzled English players with 'dodges' of their own invention which they had actually forgotten.  But perhaps his most wonderful performances have been those in which memory and imagination seem to work together — we mean games played blindfold, or without sight of the board.  Philidor played three such games at once successfully against skilful antagonists. Harrwitz has more recently done the same. Mr. Morphy has played seven simultaneously, losing only one, and winning the other six! This is indeed astonishing; but we trust our ingenious visitor will be content with having once done the feat As Dr. Johnson said of a young lady's masterpiece of fingering on the pianoforte, 'It is very difficult; we wish it were impossible.'  Sure we are that not even Mr. Morphy's brains can repeatedly endure such a strain without injury. A less degree of the same effort killed La Bourdonnais, and had nearly destroyed Harrwitz. And even could it be made with impunity, the spectacle is rather curious than pleasing. We feel sure we will be pardoned for these remarks; they arise from a sincere wish that Mr. Morphy may long live to practice freely and without arbitrary fetters the art of which he is so distinguished a professor."