Of Many Men


A most interesting profile of Paul Morphy taken from the pages of Of Many Men  By Thomas C. Evans, 1888.



     PAUL MORPHY wanders about the streets of New Orleans  nattily dressed, carrying a little cane, with which he occasionally taps his little boots as he trips along in dim half memory of other and jauntier days. His mind has been going for years, and it is now gone, its wreck hastened somewhat, it is said, by the adverse result of a lawsuit in which some of his property was involved.
     Morphy dawned on the broader horizon of chess at the old Descombe rooms in Broadway, not far from Eighth Street, about 1856. He had previously shone in a narrower zodiac, having beaten everybody in his native city, and overthrown Judge Meek, of Mobile — the Philidor of the South, huge and handsome justiciary, about seven feet in vertical extent — like David vanquishing Goliath. He was locally known as a phenomenon, but had no extended fame till after the tournament began, when his renown flew on wings of wind to the borders of the world. The chess circles of Vienna, Amsterdam, and St. Petersburg were stirred ; the Cafe de la Regence was in a ferment. Old laurels trembled and old champions of the game "sat still with awful eye."  It was manifest that a new planet had swum into the constellations of chess, fledged with a
brighter beam than any that had ever shone therein. Morphy was, indeed, the supreme genius of the game, who had no predecessor and is not likely ever to have a successor.
     I remember well the excitement which attended the tournament as Morphy began to reveal his wonderful powers. All New York thronged the rooms. The contest brought Greeley away from his editorials and Dr.Chopin from his sermons ; Forrest from his tragedies, and Charles L. Elliott and William Page from their canvases. It drew in Charles O' Conor and John Van Buren, mild, learned, and venerable Dr. Hawks, Valentine Mott, George Ripley, Henry J. Raymond, Charles A. Dana, Fitz Greene Halleck, Bryant and almost everybody who was of note at that time. Morphy was the littlest of men — weighed only ninety pounds — and had the hand and foot of a child. His face was small and boyish, eyes deep, dark, and brilliant, complexion rather pale, brow of good proportions, and his manner was that of the South — affectionate, mild, gentle, and refined.
     His principal antagonist was Paulsen, an Americanized German or Dane of ox-like proportions and overwhelming head, who towered over his little antagonist as Magog would have towered over Ariel. He studied over his moves for hours, while Morphy responded to them almost instantly, and invariably conquered not only this antagonist, but all the others who dared encounter him. When he had overthrown all the champions, one after another, he attacked them in phalanx, playing blindfold against their united strength, and routed them, horse, foot, and dragoons.
     Morphy came out of that quaint, picturesque Creole quarter of New Orleans, of good, well-to do family, and, except Beauregard, is the most famous man it has ever produced, though Gottschalk was born and reared there, and Cable, the novelist, is understood to have family affiliations with the community which he so daintily and faithfully describes. This quarter looks like a fragment of provincial France set down there beside the Mississippi, almost within hearing of the chime of the gulf billows and the screaming sea birds which hover over the reeds of the Delta, as changeless through all political and social change, through the shock and ruin of the Civil War, as Aries or St. Ouen through the vicissitudes of French administration, the drums and tramplings of revolution, the triumph of Magenta and the overthrow of Sedan. There are the same little cabarets and auberges that were there when Napoleon sold out the province, serving, I doubt not, the same petits verres of Maraschino, the same excellent Chambertin, the same dishes of red snapper and pompano, the same fragrant and aromatic coffee. There are French names on the shop doors ; you meet women in pretty white Normandy caps and pinafores and men in blue blouses ; you hear the French language spoken and chattered and screamed ; the newspapers are published in that tongue ; madame of the refectory has shining black hair and eyes and a gold ornament at her neck, and a spruce, busy aspect, after the manner of her sisters on the other side of the water, and everything tells you of foreign ways, and promotes the illusion that you are in a foreign country. Across Canal Street all is changed, or was, for I write of the days just preceding the war, when the old rotten and debauched prosperity in which the city had wallowed so long, represented by open faro-banks making no kind of concealment of their business, gorgeous drinking shops, crowded with customers, with shooting and bowie-knife affrays as the occasional accompaniment of their carousals, and universal prodigality of expenditure, was about to take its departure and leave the doomed city to the Egyptian plagues which were gathering over it. In the great barroom of the St. Charles, which was the heart of the American section of the metropolis, all the types of slavocracy were on perpetual exhibition, and all the curious drinks of the toper's almanac were on perpetual tap. There were planters and gamblers, generals, judges, army officers and overseers, together with the ordinary riffraff of a busy river port, and the general tableau there presented was as tipsy and debauched a one as any traveller might see from end to end of the world. The planters had come down from the river counties, gotten the money for their crops, and, like fine old and young Southern gentlemen, were scattering it broadcast among the faro-banks, roulette tables, bars, and other enticing resorts of the town, unmindful of any prophetic handwriting upon the wall forecasting the days of ruin which were upon them. To walk across Canal Street from the cool and quiet walled-in conservatism of the French quarter into the delirium and profligacy and turbulence of the American side was like walking from one world into another, like stepping out of the quaint, mediaeval tranquillity of some Norman or Provencial suburb into the whirl and hubbub of a frontier mart, a  riparian Nigni Novgorod, with its hundred-tongued chatter and hundred-handed traffic and general atmosphere of hurry and precipitation. I explored both those regions with much diligence, having as my companion the late E. A. Sothern, who was playing there at the time, and with whom my remembrances of New Orleans are closely associated. The Grandissimes and Dr. Sevier and Scipio were already there, although they had not yet found their historian, and so was Legree and Uncle Tom and the rest, who had found theirs.