Paul Morphy by Willard Fiske


Fiske's short biography of Morphy pretty much follows the traditional, offering us little new. However, the fact that Fiske was intimate with Morphy helps establish the accepted perspectives as most likely accurate. 


by Daniel Willard Fiske

extracted from Memorials of Willard Fiske, Volume 3.
By Horatio S. White

PAUL MORPHY, the foremost Chess-player of the present age, and so far as we are enabled to judge, the greatest Chess-player of any age, was born in the City of New Orleans, Louisiana, on the twenty-second day of June in the year 1837. His grandfather on the paternal side was a native of Madrid, the capital of Spain, the land in which Ruy Lopez and Xerone lived and died, and in which Leonardo de Cutri and Paoli Boi won their most glorious victories. Removing to America, the grandfather of Paul resided for some years at Charleston, South Carolina, and had five children, two sons and three daughters. The elder son, Alonzo Morphy, the father of our hero, was born in November, 1798, went to New Orleans at an early age, graduated at a French institution, known as the College d'Orleans, studied law under the famous Edward Livingston, was Judge of the Supreme Court of Louisiana from 1840 to 1846, and died in November, 1856. He was a Chess-player of respectable ability, but was greatly excelled by his brother Ernest Morphy, formerly of New Orleans, then of Moscow, Clermont County, Ohio, and now of Quincy, Illinois. Judge Alonzo Morphy married a daughter of Mr. Joseph B. Le Carpentier, a gentleman of a French family, who came many years ago from St. Domingo to New Orleans, and who died in 1850. Mr. Morphy had six children, of which two sons and two daughters are now living. The elder son received the name of Edward, and is at present engaged in mercantile pursuits in his native city; the younger son was christened Paul Charles, but usually signs his name simply Paul Morphy.

During the days of Paul's childhood Judge Morphy was accustomed in the evenings and on Sundays, as a relaxation from the severe labors of his profession, to play Chess, either with his fathering-law, Mr. Le Carpentier, who was a confirmed lover of the game, or with his brother, Ernest Morphy, who, as is widely known, occupied for a long time a high rank in the New Orleans Chess Club. The boy Paul was wont to watch these friendly encounters with so much interest that his father, in 1847, when Paul was about ten years of age, explained to him the powers of the pieces and the laws of the game. In less than two years he was contending successfully on even terms with the strongest amateurs of the Crescent City. One peculiarity of Paul's play, during the infantile stage of his Chess life, while his father, his grandfather, his uncle, and his brother were his chief adversaries, used to create considerable merriment among the fireside circle of Chess lovers with whom he was brought into contact. His Pawns seemed to him to be only so many obstacles in his path, and his first work upon commencing a game was to exchange or sacrifice them all, giving free range to his pieces, after which, with his unimpeded Queen, Rooks, Bishops, and Knights, he began a fierce onslaught upon his opponent's forces, which was often valorously maintained until it resulted in mate.

Paul fitted himself for college by several years' study in Jefferson Academy, New Orleans. Leaving this seminary he became, in December, 1850, a student of St. Joseph's College. This institution, one of the best Catholic educational establishments of the South, is situated in the pleasant village of Spring Hill, six miles west of Mobile, Alabama, and was founded by the Society of Jesus in 1830. Here Paul passed the usual four years of the undergraduate course, spending the agreeable and profitable days of student-life very much, as we may suppose, as multitudes of other youth have done since the time of the earliest university. During the periods given up to recreation, Chess was allowed by the government of the institution, and Paul occasionally indulged in his favorite amusement. Both among his fellow-pupils and the faculty he enjoyed considerable fame as by far the strongest player in college, and now and then one of the learned Professors permitted himself to be beaten, at heavy odds, by the young disciple of Caissa. Among Paul's adversaries was Mr. Charles Amedée Maurian, of New Orleans, a younger student, with whom he had already been upon terms of intimacy in their school days at the Jefferson Academy. But it was not alone as a Chess-player that Paul made his mark at college. He was known as a close student, and won either the first or second premiums in every department during each year that he remained at Spring Hill. In the classics he took especial delight, but exhibited less of a fondness and aptitude for mathematics. During the annual vacations, which lasted from the fifteenth of October to the first of December, Paul returned home, and at these periods he used to encounter some of the leading practitioners of New Orleans. He graduated with honor in October, 1854, less than four months after he had finished his seventeenth year. His youth induced him to pass another year at college as a resident graduate, and he left New Orleans in December of the same year and remained at Spring Hill until the close of the academical term in October, 1855. In the following month he entered the Law School of the University of Louisiana, where he enjoyed the instruction of such men as Christian Roselius, Randall Hunt, Alfred Hennen and Judge Theodore McCaleb—all of them prominent ornaments of the Louisiana bar. He graduated at the Law School in April, 1857, and was admitted to practice in the courts of his native state, so soon as he should attain the legal age of twenty-one.

In the course of the years 1849 and 1850, before entering college, Paul contested over fifty parties with Mr. Eugene Rousseau, a gentleman whose name is familiar to Chess readers in both hemispheres on account of his famous match with Mr. Charles S. Stanley in 1845, and from the fact that he played in Paris more than one hundred even games with Kieseritzky, of which the great Livonian won only a bare majority. The first meeting between the veteran devotee of the game and his youthful opponent was brought about by Mr. Ernest Morphy. Of the games played, Paul came off the conqueror in fully nine-tenths. . . .

The crowning triumph, however, of the younger years of the American master was his defeat of Lowenthal. This distinguished Hungarian player, who had long before acquired a European reputation as a gifted cultivator of the art of Chess, was, like his famous Chess-loving countryman, Grimm, driven into exile by the disastrous events which followed the heroic but unfortunate struggle of the Magyars against Austria. Coming to America, he visited New York and some of the western cities, and finally reached New Orleans in May, 1850. On the twenty-second and twenty-fifth of that month he played with Paul Morphy (at that time not yet thirteen years of age) in the presence of Mr. Rousseau, Mr. Ernest Morphy, and a large number of the amateurs of New Orleans. The first game was a drawn one, but the second and third were won by the invincible young Philidor. Another opponent of Paul Morphy's before the Congress was Mr. James McConnell, a lawyer of New Orleans, with whom he played about thirty games, of which he won all but one. During the last year which he spent at St. Joseph's College, on the first day of March, 1855, Paul Morphy contested six parties against Judge A. B. Meek of that city, and was successful in all. On the same day he encountered Dr. Ayres, also a prominent amateur of Alabama, in two games, with a similar result. In January, 1857, he again met Judge Meek in New Orleans and won the four games played at that time. With his friend Mr. Charles A. Maurian, now undoubtedly one of the strongest players in the country, he has played a multitude of games at odds diminishing in value as Mr. Maurian's strength increased. Their contests at the odds of Rook or Knight are among the very best combats of their kind on record. The first place at which Paul Morphy ever played in public was the News Room of the Exchange at New Orleans, where his board was always surrounded by veterans of the game gazing with wonder and surprise at the almost incredible achievements of the boy before them. Astonished as they were, there were doubtless very few among them who anticipated the more brilliant feats which he was afterwards to perform upon a grander field and against greater foemen.

In the latter part of June, 1857, the writer of this article, who was then acting as Secretary to the Committee of Management, wrote a note to Paul Morphy inviting his special attendance at the coming Congress. A reply was received early in July from Mr. Morphy declining to accede to the request, the death of his father a few months before making him reluctant to take part in such a scene of festivity as a Chess Congress. A lengthy letter was then sent to Mr. Maurian, urging him and others of Mr. Morphy's friends in New Orleans, to press the matter for the sake of Chess and the Congress. And finally, late in September, the writer had the pleasure of receiving a telegram from Mr. Morphy saying that he would leave his home the following Wednesday on his way to New York. It was with the prestige acquired by his victories over Lowenthal, Rousseau, Ernest Morphy, Ayers, Meek and McConnell, that Paul Morphy arrived in New York on the fifth of October, 1857, to participate in the first Congress of the American Chess Association. But few specimens of his skill had appeared in print. And notwithstanding his general high reputation, there were many who, from his youth and the small number of his published games, manifested much incredulity concerning his actual Chess strength and the probability of its standing the shock of the attack which would be made against it by the first players of America. But on the evening of his arrival, all doubts were removed in the minds of those who witnessed his passage-at-arms with Mr. Stanley and Mr. Perrin at the rooms of the New York Club, and the first prize was universally conceded to him, even before the entries for the Grand Tournament had been completed. Certainty became more sure as the Congress progressed and he overthrew, either in the Tournament or in side play, one after another of those men who had long been looked up to as the magnates of the American Chess World. . . .

But the earlier pages of this volume are a sufficient witness to the gallant exploits of Paul Morphy during the sessions of the first national assembly of American Chess-players, from his entrance into the Grand Tournament to his final and complete victory over all opponents which secured him the highest prize in the gift of the Congress. His amiable character, his youth and his modesty had won the hearts of the members and visitors even before they had fully learned to admire and applaud his unrivalled excellence as a player. Half unconscious, perhaps, of his own powers in this respect, he gave no such exhibition of his command of unseen Chess-boards as those with which he has since astonished the Capitals of England and France. But that his ability was only latent was evident to many who watched the progress of his single public blindfold game with Mr. Paulsen, at the close of which he announced, amidst the applause of more than two hundred excited spectators, a forced checkmate in five moves. After the Congress he remained more than a month in New York, delighting the Chess-club of that city with frequent visits and playing a number of games at the odds of Rook or Knight with various competitors. It was at this time that he addressed a courteous note to the Secretary of the club, in which he stated that he was desirous, before leaving for the South, of testing his actual strength, and with that view he ventured to proffer the odds of Pawn and Move, in a match to any of the leading members of the club. . . .

On the seventeenth of December, 1857, Mr. Morphy left New York, where he had spent nearly three months and a half, on his way to his Southern home. The evening before his departure a large number of the Chess lovers of the city gave him a farewell dinner, at which Mr. James Thompson presided. Near the close of the year he reached New Orleans, by way of the Mississippi, and met with a cordial reception from his friends and the Chess-players of that city, by whom he was serenaded soon after his arrival. In January he announced in the pages of the Chess Monthly that the challenge which had been extended to the members of the New York Chess Club was now open to the acceptance of the whole American Chess community, and that he was willing to play a match with any prominent amateur in the country and would give the odds of Pawn and Move. It was never accepted. During the remainder of the winter of 1857-8 he occasionally attended the sittings of the New Orleans Club, of which he had been elected president some months previous. . . . He also made his first serious attempts at playing without sight of the boards, and on different evenings contested in the Club Rooms successively two, three, four, five, six and seven parties at once in this manner, with unvarying success. The rooms were literally crowded on every occasion with curious observers. . . .

After having won the highest honors which could be gained in the American Chess arena, Paul Morphy's friends and admirers were naturally anxious to see him arrayed against the great players of the Old World. Meanwhile, there seemed to be little chance of the immediate fulfillment of this hope, for Mr. Morphy entertained no idea of crossing the Atlantic for some years to come. But it might, perhaps, be possible, by an offer liberal enough to cover all his expenses, to induce some European amateur to attempt the journey. Accordingly a committee of the New Orleans Club, in a letter dated the fourth of February, 1858, invited Mr. Howard Staunton of England to visit New Orleans for the purpose of playing a match with Mr. Morphy, for a sum of five thousand dollars, one half to be furnished by the amateurs of New Orleans, and the other half by Mr. Staunton or his friends. The proposed terms of the match provided that "should the English player lose the match, the sum of one thousand dollars" was "to be paid him out of the stakes in reimbursement of the expenses incurred by him." One of the reasons that induced the originators of this challenge to select Mr. Staunton, in preference to some of the great players of the Continent, was that his name was more familiar to the American Chess public. His books formed a part of a collection which is to be found in all the libraries of the Union, and were known to every amateur. He and his friends, moreover, had maintained for years his title to the Chess championship of Great Britain, and with what other nation do Americans so delight to compete as with the sons of our motherland? But Mr. Staunton, as he had a perfect right to do, declined the offer of the New Orleans committee. At the same time his reply was couched in language designed to make the world believe that only the distance between London and New Orleans prohibited his acceptance of the challenge. Mr. Morphy determined to remove this obstacle and in the last days of May left his native city, with the good wishes of all who knew him, to encounter the English player upon English ground. He arrived in New York, where he was warmly received by the Club, on the eighth of June, and sailed the next day in the steamship Arabia for Liverpool, which he reached on the twenty-first.

The world that opened upon Paul Morphy, when he set foot upon the eastern continent, could hardly be called a new one. Familiar with the published games of all the living masters, he had examined their style and measured their strength with an acuteness of Chess judgment which has never been equalled, and with a memory which is rarely treacherous. The men with whom he was about to meet were no strangers to him; he had known from boyhood every peculiarity of their Chess character. The foemen before him could have inspired him with no sentiments of fear; for, aware of the strength of their blows, he felt confident that his own would be stronger. In short, whatever doubts others may have felt, Paul Morphy himself could hardly have anticipated any other result to his European tour than that which actually followed. It was the lord of a broad realm going forth, in the pride of his hereditary right, to take possession of his own, with the modesty of youth and the confidence of strength. Leaving Liverpool on the day of his arrival, he went to Birmingham, to attend, as he supposed, the annual meeting of the British Chess Association. It had been appointed to take place at this time, but had afterwards been adjourned until August; the news of this postponement, however, had failed to reach Mr. Morphy. Having learned the facts at Birmingham, he set out for London the following morning, and went to Lowe's Hotel in Surrey Street, Strand, a house kept by a German gentleman who had held, some years back, a leading position in the Chess circles of the great metropolis. In the capital of Great Britain, Mr. Morphy found an ample field for the exercise of his great powers. No city in the world possesses so many localities devoted to the practice of the game, or numbers so many persons given to its habitual culture. . . . But the greatest of his English triumphs was to come. His old Hungarian opponent, who had encountered him seven years before, was now in London. Since the battles at New Orleans Lowenthal's strength had greatly increased. His natural talent for the game had been cultivated by several years of practice in the clubs; his powerful analytical ability had been improved by a long period of study and editorship. Of the off-hand games which he had played with Staunton he had won a considerable majority, and at a later period he was destined to wrest still more honorable laurels from the same chief in the lists of Birmingham. A match was soon arranged. . . . The result of the whole match, which came to a conclusion on the twenty-second of August, was:

Morphy, 9. Lowenthal, 3. Drawn, 2.

It is pleasant to be able to record that feelings of the utmost courtesy prevailed during the entire continuance of the match; indeed Mr. Lowenthal's whole conduct towards his young conqueror, from the day of his arrival in London to that of his departure from Europe, was characterized by extreme generosity and kindness. . . . But the avowed object of Mr. Morphy's voyage remained unaccomplished. Mr. Staunton, still promising to play, postponed the commencement of the match from time to time, until October, when he finally declined it. This is not the place to comment upon the singular conduct of the British player. His own countrymen have loudly rebuked him for the course which he saw fit to pursue, and the Chess press all over the world has manifested its approbation of the American's behavior. And after all the public has lost but little by Mr. Staunton's refusal to play. Games between players who differ so greatly in strength could have afforded neither instruction nor entertainment. . . . There were several reasons why Mr. Morphy declined entering the Tournament at the annual meeting of the British Chess Association in Birmingham. The Committee, having invited his attendance, offered him, soon after his arrival in England, the sum of seventy pounds to defray, in part, his expenses. This Mr. Morphy declined. If he had taken part in the contest and had been so fortunate as to win the chief prize (sixty guineas), it might have been thought that he had magnanimously refused the money at one time, feeling certain to gain it at another. Many prominent personages in the London Chess circles were desirous, too, of seeing the Chess-editors of The Era and the Illustrated News meet in the lists, a circumstance which it was felt would be less likely to occur if the American took part in it. And finally, Mr. Morphy was advised to refrain from playing lest it should have a fatal influence upon the prospects of his match with Mr. Staunton. But he never intended to disappoint those who might feel a desire to witness some specimen of his skill, and accordingly, at noon on Thursday the twenty-sixth of August, he reached the seat of the conflict by a midday train, and offered to play eight games simultaneously without sight of the boards against any eight gentlemen who might be selected to oppose him. A feat like this would certainly compensate the members of the Association for any feelings of regret arising from his failure to participate in the Tournament. Before such an achievement the traditional exploits of Philidor and Labourdonnais seemed insignificant affairs, and the blindfold Chess with which Harrwitz a few years back had astonished the amateurs of the provinces was divested of its wonderful character. On Friday at one o'clock, in the Library Hall of the Queen's College, Mr. Morphy commenced the execution of his stupendous task. . . . He won six games, lost one and drew one, terminating the remarkable contest at a quarter past six o'clock, amid the loud plaudits of the assembled spectators. . . .

On the twenty-eighth of August Mr. Morphy left Birmingham and returned to London. As Mr. Staunton had declared his inability to play the proposed match before November, the young hero determined to spend the intervening time in Paris, and accordingly departed from London on the second of September, reaching the French Capital the following day. And now a new scene opens in the life of the man whose deeds we chronicle. Behold him in that classic dwelling-place of Chess, the Cafe de la Regence, a locality made memorable by the presence of a score of great masters and by remembrances of a thousand celebrities who have played Chess, discussed philosophy, dreamed military fame, or mused upon political projects within its walls. From the days of such pre-revolutionary philosophers as Voltaire and Rousseau to the times of such poetical worthies as Musset and Mery, numbers of the rulers of the minds and masses of France have resorted to this noted Cafe for recreation and sociality. And now can we not see them gazing with interest at the advent of this young man who was destined to revive the old glories of the place? Can we not imagine the shades of Legal and Philidor, of Bernard and Carlier, of Deschapelles and Labourdonnais, looking down with delight upon this youthful inheritor of their laurels? Does not the spirit of Franklin rejoice as he watches this representative of America—less of a sage, perhaps, but infinitely more of a Chess player than himself— revenging the defeats which the tamer of the lightning was compelled to undergo in this very same Café de la Regence nearly a century ago? Nor did the past welcome him with greater joy than the present. St. Amant, Riviere and the whole crowd of the Café's living habitués received him with open arms. Multitudes gathered to witness his play. Old pupils and admirers of Labourdonnais returned to the forsaken paths of Chess, to see the glories of their old teacher and idol eclipsed in the contests which now took place upon the time-honored battle-fields of Caissa. Beyond the Chess circles, too, honors were showered upon the' head of the eminent champion. Famous sculptors like Lequesne asked him to sit for his bust in marble; he received calls from princes and was invited to dine with dukes; he was flattered by poets and men of genius. And amid all this, Gallic pride, which would else have felt sore at his repeated victories, exulted in the fact that Paul Morphy was half a Frenchman; for the language of his fireside had been, from his youngest years, that of France. Speaking the tongue with the ease and facility of a native, admiring the character of the people, and familiar with their manners and customs as still preserved in the Creole circles of New Orleans, Mr. Morphy felt himself at home among the French and enjoyed with a keen zest the pleasant society of gay and agreeable Paris. The American residents, from the Minister down, were of course proud to do honor to one who was so worthily representing his country in the Old World; while every French door was thrown open to him with a generous and hearty hospitality. . .

On the twenty-seventh of September Mr. Morphy repeated the wonderful feat which he had before performed at Birmingham and engaged simultaneously eight strong amateurs of La Regence, with his back to the boards. . . . The combat lasted ten hours, during which Mr. Morphy without food or drink retained his seat. The result, Mr. Morphy winning six and drawing two games, was announced amid prolonged and reiterated plaudits. The Caf6 was literally crowded, from the commencement of the exhibition to its close, with hundreds of French, English, and American amateurs. . . .

But the greatest victory of the chivalrous knight-errant of Chess was to come. On the evening of the fourteenth of December, Adolph Anderssen arrived in Paris for the purpose of playing a match at Chess with Mr. Morphy. He had long been regarded as the representative of the practical department of Teutonic Chess; he had won in 1851 the victor's wreath in the great international Tournament at London; and had been during several volumes one of the editors of the famous Schachzeitung of Berlin. He now resides in his native town of Breslau, where he is attached to a Gymnasium or College as Professor of Mathematics, giving enough of time to his favorite recreation to enable him to maintain his strength unimpaired. Upon reaching the French capital he found his opponent confined to his bed by a severe illness. But, excited by the promise of a joust with an adversary so distinguished, Mr. Morphy soon sufficiently recovered to commence playing, and on the twentieth the match began at his rooms in the Hotel Breteuil. . . . The whole result of the encounter is thus summed up: Morphy, 7. Anderssen, 2. Drawn, 2.
After the termination of this more formal contest, which was concluded on the twenty-eighth of December, several off-hand skirmishes were fought between the same players, Mr. Morphy winning five and Professor Anderssen one. That the great Prussian was still in the vigor of his strength, and preserved the old force and skill before which the assembled Chess-players of Europe eight years before had learned to tremble, was proved by the result of the games with Harrwitz and others at the Cafe de la Regence which took place just previous to the match. Mr. Morphy confesses that he met no abler antagonist or nobler gentleman in Europe than the Prussian Anderssen. . . . At length the American was obliged to leave the fascinating city where he had passed so many pleasant weeks and won so great renown. His protracted stay in Europe and the approaching departure of his brother-in-law, Mr. Sybrandt (who had lately arrived in Paris), compelled him to hasten his departure, and obliged him reluctantly to relinquish his long-cherished project of visiting Germany. His Parisian friends entertained him at a farewell banquet on the fourth of April, at which his bust was solemnly crowned with the merited laurel wreath, and on the ninth he took a final leave of the great French capital. He reached London the next day, and deep was the regret expressed by the British amateurs, when he announced that he could not prolong this second visit beyond a few days. He again performed his blindfold feat, once in the presence of the London Chess-Club, and again in the presence of the St. George's Club. . . .

During the last few days of Mr. Morphy's sojourn in England the leading Clubs of the metropolis expressed their sense of his high abilities by public dinners, and the British amateurs of all grades hastened to testify, in various ways, their approbation of his conduct and their admiration for his skill. From such flattering demonstrations the youthful conqueror felt obliged to tear himself away, and accordingly left for America by the steamer of the thirtieth of April from Liverpool. He reached New York on the tenth of May and was received with enthusiasm, not alone by lovers of the game in which he had displayed an unsurpassed proficiency, but by American citizens in general, who rejoiced at the triumphs which he had achieved in Europe, and who felt a national pride in the eminence which his efforts had given to his country in a field of art where the Old World had hitherto met with no rivalry.

Physically, Paul Morphy is of short stature and slight build. He has the dark eyes and hair of the South, and betrays in many ways his Gallic descent. His eye is soft and expressive, and assumes an expression of brilliancy whenever he is examining an interesting position. His memory is wonderfully good, and his comprehension quick and active. His genial disposition, his unaffected modesty, and his unvarying courtesy, have endeared him to all his acquaintances. His affections are ardent and his generosity unbounded. He is a man of large general information and liberal culture, and is especially well-read in French and English literature. The most noteworthy features of his Chess character are the strange rapidity of his combinations, his masterly knowledge of the openings and ends of games, and the wonderful faculty which he possesses of recalling games played months before. While engaged at the board he is quiet, courteous, and undemonstrative, and is neither depressed by defeat nor excited by victory.