Ranken Reminisces

Sep 12, 2009, 7:45 PM |


Charles Edward Ranken
January 5, 1828–April 12, 1905

The British Chess Magazine, Volume 17, February 1897


I WAS born in 1828 at Brislington, near Bristol, and was taught to play chess when twelve years old by my father, with whom I had many tough battles; but our games at that period were quite innocent of book knowledge, as we possessed neither Philidor's, Sarratt's, Walkers, nor Lewis' treatises, and had never even heard of them. After leaving school, in 1845, I was a pupil of the late Dr. Woodford, the future Bishop of Ely, who was very fond of chess, but though an excellent mathematician, he was not skillful at the game, and generally I used to get the better of him. In 1846 I went up to Wadham College, Oxford, as an undergraduate; owing, however, to a shameful practical joke played upon me by some freshmen in my first term, which might easily have cost my life, and owing also to subsequent improper treatment by a blood letting physician, I had to remain at home for a whole year in a very weak state. It was at this period that I became acquainted with Staunton's chess column in the Illustrated London News, and used to spend some part of my enforced leisure each week in solving the problems and playing over the games. I also began to try my hand at composing problems, and was not a little proud to see some of them in print during the next few years in the Illustrated News, Chess Player's Chronicle, and a magazine called the Home Circle. They were, however, for the most part, in the style of that era, which, even in the three and four move problems, did not disapprove of a series of checks, or still less of captures, and as for duals, there seemed to be no objection to them at all. In returning to Oxford, in 1847, I made the acquaintance of the late Mr. Brien, then a Scholar of Balliol College, and also of the late Mr. Dal by, a Scholar of my own College, which ripened into life-long friendships, though, alas, the lives of neither were destined to be much prolonged. Constant practice over the board with them, with the Rev. J. Coker, then a Fellow of New College, and with Mr. Mucklow, a strong player of the newly-formed City Club of Oxford, together with theoretical study of the English Handbook, then recently published by Mr. Staunton, of course tended to improve my knowledge of the game, and strength of play. It was in 1847 also that the " Hermes Club," the first real University Club, was established at Oxford, all previous chess societies having been confined to the various colleges. A correspondence match between the " Hermes " and the Cambridge University Club resulted in one game being won by Oxford and the other drawn. I rather think that soon after that time Mr. Staunton paid a visit to Oxford, and that it was then that Brien and I had some consultation games against him. I know, however, that we did play such games, either at that time or soon afterwards, with the result, of course, that he won the large majority. We were both then ardent partisans of Mr. Staunton against the opponents he unfortunately raised up by his somewhat arbitrary and overbearing remarks in his magazine and chess column, and Brien strongly took up the cudgels by letters to the editor in his favour, but subsequently, I think, he rather changed his opinions. There are a number of University players whom I should like to mention as having encountered during my career at Oxford, but the lapse of time has obliterated my recollection of most of them, except that of Messrs. Green, Wormald, Capper, Jellicoe, and Wilkinson, of Oxford, all of them strong players, and some of whom afterwards distinguished themselves in Metropolitan chess careers. I may also mention, as belonging to that time, the names of Messrs. Wilbraham and Calthrop, of Trinity College, Cambridge, and these were followed not long after by the Rev. W. Wayte, who was Fellow of King's. On leaving Oxford, I took part in the provincial section of the London Tournament of 1851, wherein I succeeded in gaining the second prize, Mr. Boden winning the first. During the tourney I stayed at "old Lowe's," as he was generally called, in Surrey Street, and either there, or at the Divan in the Strand, I met most of the celebrities who were engaged in the great tourney and subsequent matches. Among these were Anderssen. Buckle, Horwitz, Jaenisch, Kennedy, Kieseritzki, Lowenthal, Szen, Williams, and Wyvill. My recollection of Anderssen is, that he was rather a bald-headed silent man, of a very retiring disposition, but with an exceedingly intellectual physiognomy. Buckle I saw only once, playing an off-hand game, but he much impressed me by his clever look. Horwitz was also a man with a splendid head, and most frank and kind disposition. Of Jaenisch and Szen I can hardly speak with any clear remembrance. Lowenthal I knew well in after years, and liked him much, but always thought that he had one weakness, which was to try to please everybody. Kieseritzki was certainly eccentric, and I well remember walking with him in his dressing gown and slippers one night from Surrey Street to Soho Square, to see a fire at Cross & Blackwell's factory. Capt. Kennedy, Williams, and Wyvill were typical Englishmen, each with his peculiar idiosyncrasy. The first and the last were most genial companions, and I became very friendly with them subsequently. While staying at Lowe's, I met Capt. Evans, a fine specimen of a retired British sailor, and when he challenged me to a game, I offered him his own gambit, and was fortunate enough to win it. He was not, however, a strong player, though the inventor of one of our most popular openings. Harrwitz was another celebrity whom I met and played with at Lowe's, but not I think in 1851. He was a fine player, yet not always an agreeable opponent, being inclined to sarcasm and to a certain amount of conceit. Old Lowe himself was a most pleasant host, as well as an enthusiastic and skillful player. The description given of him in "Chess Life Pictures," by the Rev. G. A. Macdonnell, is very correct. I can also thoroughly endorse Mr. Macdonnell's chapters in that work about Staunton, Boden, Wormald, and Lowenthal, not to mention his delineations of players belonging to a subsequent period, some of whom are still living. After the year 1851 I was engaged as a tutor in Scotland. and from 1853 as a Curate at Burton-on Trent and other places, during which time I do not remember playing a single game of chess, with the sole exception of taking part in three consultation games in 1855, at the Leamington Meeting of the Northern and Midland Counties' Association, wherein Brien, Wormald, and I were opposed to Messrs. Kipping, Owen, and Burnell. I travelled down to this meeting with Mr. Staunton, M. de Riviere and Signer Tassinari, and it was on this occasion that the problem incident occurred which is so graphically described in "Chess Life Pictures" by Mr. Macdonnell. I took no part in the London Tourney of 1862, being quite out of practice, and unable to spare the lime for it. I was then a Curate at Cheltenham, and the only chess I got during a residence of six years there was an occasional game with Dr. Philson. It was only in 1864, when I became Curate of St. John's Church, Richmond, Surrey, that my appetite for chess began to revive. This was entirely due to the Rev. W. Wayte, at that time a Master at Eton, who invited me frequently to come there and play with him, by which good practice of course I was much benefited. I had become acquainted with him some years before, but from that date our acquaintance was changed to a warm friendship, which has never faltered. In 1867 I became Vicar of Sandford-on-Thames, and resided in Oxford, where, in co-operation with Lord Randolph Churchill, who was then an undergraduate at Merton College, I founded the present University Chess Club, and was elected its first president. The future Statesman did not often come to the club, but used to like to play with me in his rooms at Merton. His knowledge of the game was not very great, but he was certainly an ingenious player, and had all the making of a strong one if he had chosen to pursue the study and practice of chess, which however his subsequent political career left him no time for. Two of our foremost players were the present Sir Walter Parratt, then organist of Magdalen College, and now of Windsor, and Mr. E. Anthony, of Christchurch. Prince Leopold afterwards became president of the club, but very seldom played there during his Oxford residence, and I never had a game with him. I heard, however, that he was not strong. My memory does not serve me to recount the names of all other O.U.C.C. members who by their skill came to the front at Oxford, and many of whom, like Mr. Locock, Mr. Gattie, and Mr. Jackson, afterwards became distinguished members of the St. George's and other London clubs; or like Mr. H. Plunkett, who is the champion player of the House of Commons. It was in 1869 that by the invitation of the Rev. A. B. Skipworth I first attended the meeting of the Yorkshire, afterwards the Counties' Chess Association. The meeting was at York, but was not a success as to the entries, there being only four of us in Class I., and Mr. Skipworth won the prize by half a point. I had the pleasure at this meeting of making the acquaintance of  Mr. E. Thorold. In 1871, owing to ill-health, I resigned my Vicarage of Sandford, and removed to Malvern, where I have lived ever since. In the same year a much more successful meeting of the Counties' Association took place at Malvern, under the presidency of Lord Lyttelton, when there were ten entries in Class I, and the first prize was again won by Mr. Skipworth by half a point. The handicap tourney fell to Mr. Wisker, whom I then met for the first time, and played a few off-hand games with him, with about an even result. The veteran Mr. Cochrane and Mr. De Vere were among the visitors on this occasion, and I well remember being keeper of the door when the old gentlemen, who was about 80, applied for admission. As he had no ticket, I looked at him hesitatingly for a moment, but his exclamation, " I am John Cochrane," was an open sesame that of course procured him immediate entrance, and a hearty welcome. In 1872 the Counties' Association again met at Malvern, when there were fifteen entries in Class 1, and once more the first prize was decided by half a point, the highest scores being Ranken 12, Thorold 11½, Wayte 10½.  Lord Lyttellon as before presided, and Mr. Staunton and Mr. Lowenthal honoured us with their presence as visitors. I was very glad at this meeting to have been the medium of a reconciliation between Messrs. Staunton and Lowenthal, who had for some time been estranged from each other. In after years I attended and took part in other meetings of the C.C.A. at Bristol, Birmingham, Glasgow, Grantham, London, and Leamington, but only at the last named was I successful in winning first prize. Meanwhile, at Malvern, I had constant opportunities of practice with Mr. B. W. Fisher, who also resided there, and who greatly improved in chess strength. In these years too, I often visited the Oxford University Club, and in conjunction with Mr. Coker, gave them some practice as a preparation for their annual matches with Cambridge. In 1883 I entered for the Vizayanagram or Minor Tourney of the great London International contest of that year, but broke down in health after the first week, and only divided the 5th and 6th prizes with Mr. Gossip. It was, however, a pleasure to meet on that occasion so many world-famed foreign and English players, such as Steinitz and Zukertort, Gunsberg, Englisch, Rosenthal, Tchigorin, Winawer, Bardeleben, &c., and to watch their games. In 1885 I took part in the International Tourney at Hereford, and in 1895 that at Hastings, but, being entirely out of play, without any success. In 1877 I became editor of the Chess Player's Chronicle, and continued it for four years, since which time I have been a regular contributor to the British Chess Magazine. In 1889 I was partner with Mr. Freeborough, of Hull, in bringing out "Chess Openings Ancient and Modern," which cost us both two years' hard work to produce. At the age of 69 I find it now too hard a strain to play any longer in tourneys and matches, and must be content to aid the cause of chess by writing and analysing so far as it is in my power.
                                                                                   - C. E. Ranken

   The publication of the interesting chess reminiscences of our friend the Rev. C. E. Ranken gives us the opportunity of acknowledging his numerous and valuable contributions to the B.C.M.
   Mr. Ranken's reputation as an authority on chess is so high, and has been established so long, that we are highly favoured in having such an eminent colleague, whose extensive knowledge of chess literature makes his opinions of the highest possible value. His contributions to the literature of the game embrace many articles of historical, theoretical, and practical subjects ; also games, game-endings, problems, etc. As a critic of play, Mr. Ranken's annotations cannot be over estimated, and wo hope that he will be spared for many years to come to continue his labour of love. We have much pleasure in presenting our readers with the portrait of Mr. Ranken, which forms our frontispiece. We are told that "it is a good likeness."