Jul 21, 2009, 7:34 PM |

John Ruskin
, the 19th century British Renaissance Man, was exceedingly fond of chess until near the end of his life when he gave up playing.



He lived from 1819 to 1900 and even in 1884 the newspapers had this to say:


New York Times  June 30, 1884 

Ruskin' on Biliards and Chess
Letter from John Ruskin to the Editor of the London Times     
     As you have honored me by referring to my likes and dislikes in your interesting article on games, will you kindly correct the impression on your readers that I "should dislike" either billiards or chess.  I am greatly interested in the dynamics of billiards, but I cannot play, and I deeply deplore the popularity of the game among the lower classes on the Continent.  Chess, on the contrary, I urge pupils to learn, and enjoy it myself, to the point of its becoming a temptation to waste of time often very difficult to resist.  and I have really serious thoughts of publishing a selection of favorite okd games by chess-players of real genius and imagination, as opposed to the stupidity called chess-playing in modern days.  Pleasant "play," truly!  in which the opponents sit calculationg and analyzing for 12 hours, tire each other out nearly into apoplexy or idiocy, and end in a draw or a victory by an odd pawn.


I found several letters from Ruskin dealing with chess in The Works of John Ruskin, edited by Edward Tyas Cook, Alexander Dundas Ogilvy Wedderburn:

   -To Charles Eliot Norton

                                      Herne Hill, Saturday Morning, St. Valentine's, 1874.
. . . I'm going to drive up the hill to the Crystal Palace, and I shall play some games of chess with the automaton chess player. I get quite fond of him, and he gives me the most lovely lessons in chess. I say I shall play some games, for I never keep him waiting for moves and he crushes me down steadily, and my mind won't be all in my play, to-day, any more than Henry 8th at end of the play *— only the automaton won't say, " Sir, I did never win of you before!"
Thanks for your words about "Fors".
                                                      —Ever your affectionate John Ruskin 


There was one interesting letter to Henry Edward Bird:

                                                                         Brantwood, Dec. 15th, '86.
Dear Mr. Bird,—I find in a letter of yours—of—ever so long ago —that you were hesitating to write to me because of the state of my health—and for some time I have been under the impression that you also had to rest from chess—but in the number of the Chess Monthly I received to-day, for December, I find a lovely report of your play at the British Chess Club; and a most interesting letter from you. But I have not for some time received any numbers of Modern Chess. Is it my subscription that is in arrear?—in any case will you please send me, on a new subscription, all the numbers that are out, and I will return cheque instantly? I've spilt the ink-bottle over some of the best games in my old copies.

I find Blackburne's games intolerably and unpardonably dull—and am more and more set on my old plans of choosing a set of beautiful games—Cochrane—Kennedy—Barnes—Macdonnell—and the like—with some of your lovely short ones. I find even Morphy often a little dull in his security!
                                                      —Ever affectionately yours, John Ruskin.


The letter to James Mortimer was also intriguing:

                                                                        Brantwood, July 11, 1885.
The books I have directed my publisher to send will, I think, fully represent me to your favourable judgment to the best of my power. I am usually myself only thankful to escape from them to chess. I have no claims whatever to be ranked among chess players any more than among painters properly so called, though I enjoy chess as I do drawing within my limits; and if, indeed, some time you condescended to beat me a game by correspondence, it would be a great delight to me.
                                                    — Ever your faithful servant, J. Ruskin.

The footnote at the bottom of the page revealed:
 [From the Morning Post, April 9, 1900, where Mr. Mortimer says: "The regrettable death of Sir Wyke Bayliss recalls to my memory that he and I were fellow competitors in the British Chess Association Tournament of 1885, when I had the good fortune to win the Ruskin prize, Sir Wyke Bayliss being second. Mr. Ruskin had only promised one of his books to the winner, but he very generously sent me his complete works, accompanied by an autograph letter which I carefully preserve, together with one written to me by Charles Dickens, a few days only before his death, in June 1870. Mr. Ruskin's letter is before me as I write. After a sarcastic allusion to his own poetry ('originally printed against my wishes, and I turn it out of all my friends' houses if I can') he says" (then follows the letter as given above).]


According to p.87 of Industry, Lliberty, and a Vision by Stephen Herbert, Mo Heard, "The [Ruskin] prize was open to members whose qualifications were 'Art, Science or Literature.'"
While the BMC in 1905 tells us, "Of all the prizes won in chess tournaments, perhaps the one which he [Mortimer] values most is the complete set of John Ruskin's works, which he received from the author on the occasion of his winning the Ruskin prize at one of the meetings of the British Chess Association."

Ruskin's chess set - found at his preserved home, Brantwood