Pride and Sorrow

Jun 7, 2009, 12:05 PM |

Sheriff Walter Cook Spens, an excellent Scottish player of the last half of the nineteenth century, is generally credited with and mostly remembered for having attached to Morphy the phrase, "The Pride and Sorrow of Chess." 

George Eyre-Todd  wrote the following sketch of Spens in his book, The Glasgow Poets in 1906:

     Descended of an old Fifeshire family, Spens of Latballan, Walter Cook Spens was born in Glasgow, was educated at Glasgow and Edinburgh Universities, and in 1865 was called to the Bar. Already, in 1863, he had published his first volume of verse, " Dreams and Realities," and hid developed a passion for the game of chess. Both of these accomplishments, no less than his legal acumen, commended him to Sheriff Glassford Bell, who in 1870 appointed him a Sheriff-Substitute of Lanarkshire. After presiding in Hamilton Court for six years he was transferred by Sheriff Clark to Glasgow, where he remained till his death. He was author of several valuable contributions to legal literature, and was known throughout his career as an able, painstaking, and courteous judge. In 1881 he published his second volume of verse, "Darroll and Other Poems," and in 1889 Glasgow University conferred on him the degree of LL.D. He was a keen golfer, and was said to be the finest exponent of the game of chess in Scotland. So eager was he for a fine game that he occasionally journeyed to Perth Penitentiary to play with a certain Angus M'Phie confined there, a triple murderer and maniac, who was nevertheless the solver, in half an hour, of Raikes's great chess problem. On the death of David Wingate, Sheriff Spens became vice-president of the Glasgow Ballad Club, and several of his poems are published in its volumes. Some details of his life were furnished in Mr. Walker-Brown's volume, "Clydeside Litterateurs," and in the Glasgow Herald on the day of his death, I2th July, 1900.


Born in 1842, Spens was 5 years younger than Morphy. On the year Morphy died, Spens helped found the Scottish Chess Association (presently Chess Scotland) and won the first Championship that year - the only time he won it - and also won £5 for the Best Game of the tournament which he donated to the newly formed association (according to The Chess Monthly, 1893-1894).

After his death, The Spens Cup, montiored by the Scottish Chess Association, was created in his memory.  The Spens Cup is a tournament for those clubs who are not eligible for the most prestigious invitation-only Scottish Tournamnt (est. in 1899), the Richardson Cup.

[According to John B.Henderson writing in The Scotsman in 2003:
   Following the death in 1900 of Sheriff Walter Spens, a leading Glasgow legal officer of his day and one of the original founding-members of the Scottish Chess Association (which has now become Chess Scotland), a public subscription among the membership was organised for a fitting memorial in his name. So, in 1902, the Spens Cup was initiated as a subsidiary event to allow teams to qualify for the Richardson Cup.
   Last year, thanks to a nifty piece of detective work by Scotland On Sunday columnist IM Douglas Bryson (who was captain of centenary winners Shettleston), it was discovered that the original Spens Cup was destroyed in a fire at the club premises of the Jewish Institute during the war years between 1939 and 1945; and in 1946 the present cup was gifted by the Jewish Institute to the SCA as a suitable replacement.


What was Spens' style of chess-play? 
Below is a game between Spens and Cecil de Vere, the British Champion at the time.
[Cecil de Vere, born on Feb. 14, 1845 with the appropiate given name of Cecil Valentine Brown, beat Steintiz soundly (+7-3=2) in 1865, just the year before Steintiz beat Anderssen, a victory on which he later claimed the World Champion title. In 1866, at age 21, he won the 1st British Chapiomship. The game below was played in Dundee in 1867. On his trip to Dundee he also learned he had tuberculosis, a disease the would lead him into alcoholism and kill him at age 29.]



Sheriff Spens was a noted poet. First published in the Glasgow Weekly Herald on July 19 1884, shortly after Morphy's death and reprinted in his book, Darroll and Other Poems, in the chapter Chess Trifles (pp. 225-229) is his tribute to Paul Morphy:



HE came to Europe: English sages smiled
With half contemptuous pity. 'Bah !' said they,
'This bold American who seeks the fray
With European masters, is a child;
Staunton will show him his crusade is wild !'
But that great master thought it well to say
With boyish chivalry he would not play,
Until at last, when triumphs had been piled
On the young hero, who, in dauntless fight,
Vanquished, with many others, Anderssen,
He took a different tone, and cried, 'No time.'—
Yet Staunton's fame had shone with fairer light,
If he had striven, although he strove in vain,
With the great Captain of the Western clime !


He played a glorious game: in open field,
Whate'er the opening was, he met the attack,
And almost always hurled it grandly back;
And when he did, his rival's fate was sealed.
"Tis wrongly said the greatest art's concealed
Behind art, for he never strove to hide.
His forte to see beyond the opposing side !
And deadly meshes many a time revealed
To his surprised and quite defenceless foe
That move of ten moves back a master-coup,
Who fondly deemed it lost at any rate.
Most dreaded was he when he seemed to throw
Piece after piece away, for then all knew
Swiftly approached the inevitable mate.


About him was a gentle modesty:
Never too confident or too elate,
His mind was free from jealousy or hate,
Such as in truth, 'tis useless to deny,
Too often reigns midst Chess Nobility.
He came to Europe as a lad unknown,
But left it seated on Cai'ssa's throne,
Then vanished as a comet from the sky.
But as years passed, the wondrous games he played
Became the standard of Chess excellence;
The earnest student pondered half dismayed
O'er those strange feats, where brilliancy intense,
When analysed, but only seemed to show
No loophole of escape was left his foe.


He came, he saw, he conquered, then he went
Back to his native land, but ne'er again
He sought to mingle with his fellow-men
In great Chess combat or in tournament.
'Tis said o'er him a cloud of discontent
There passed, and warped that intellectual mind,
And Chess, once loved with a devotion blind,
Became to him a hateful monument
Of his lost opportunity to gain
A proud position in the work of life.
And now there comes a wail across the main,
' His mind has broken under mental strife.'
Alas ! we are all powerless to illume
The hopeless darkness of that living tomb !


Twas thus I wrote when it seemed vain to throw
A doubt upon the rumour being true,
Swiftly, as always flies bad news, it flew;
But now sincerely I rejoice to know
That it is false. Still let these sonnets flow,
Penned in his honour; if he thought us cold,
Weak, selfish, narrow, cast in petty mould,
And if this thought bedimmed the joyous glow
Of youthful glory when he left our shore,
O would that now these heart-felt lines might show,
Though with scant courtesy in days of yore
We welcomed him and calmly let him go,
On him all honour we would gladly pour
To pay the debt that all Chess lovers owe !