Saint Amant

May 16, 2009, 7:08 PM |

Recently I had the pleasure of discussing Howard Staunton with member, SWRR2009 in the forums.  Just a bit of the discussion focused on Saint-Amant, one of Staunton's numerous arch-rivals.  I had written a brief bio of Saint-Amant  a few years back and digitalized George Walker's account of the second Staunton-Saint-Amant Match called The Late Grand Chess Match.  But, while not ignorant of Saint-Amant's life and accomplishments,  I was curious about what additional information I could locate quickly on the web.  Below are the results of those searches which tend to offer a broader picture of Saint-Amant than is usually given.

Here is a Saint-Amant's only non-consulting game against Morphy.


Westminster Papers.
2nd DECEMBER 1872.

"The whisperings of our petty burgh."

But a few months ago it was our painful task to announce the decease of the veteran Evans, and now another link of the chain which connects the rising generation with the past has been severed by the " fell archer," Death.  Fournier de Saint-Amant, the famous French Chess player, was thrown from his carriage on the 25th October last, and died on the same day, from the effects of the accident, at his chateau, near Algiers, in the 73rd year of his age. To the majority of Chess players Saint-Amant is but a name in the annals of their favourite pastime, but to the few in this country who possessed the privilege of his acquaintance, the recollection of his simple and modest nature, combined with extensive and varied learning, will  "keep his memory green."  During his last sojourn in England he was a frequent visitor at the Westminster and St. George's Chess Clubs, and his final appearance in the Chess arena was on behalf of the former Club in a match against the City of London. The Chess career of Saint-Amant is well known to students of the Chess literature of thirty years ago, including his match with Mr. Staunton, in which he was vanquished ; and the long and exciting controversy that followed it, in which he certainly was not defeated ; but it is not merely as a Chess player that Saint-Amant is to be regarded. His numerous books upon the subject of the French Colonies are standard works in France ; during his mission to Cayenne he displayed all the qualities of a wise and enlightened administrator; and, in 1848, as Captain of the National Guard, at the head of his company, when the revolutionary mob assailed the Tuilleries, Saint-Amant contrived to change so effectually the mischievous purpose of the populace, that, instead of destroying the Palace, they appointed him Governor of it, with acclamation. The body was interred at the Cemetery of Birmandreis, and, in accordance with French custom, an eloquent oration was pronounced by M. Mouline at the grave.



The New York Times
Dec. 19, 1872
Chess Champions

     The late tragical death of FOURNIER DE SAINT AMANT brings back many interesting recollections.  Once famous as the greatest chess-player in the world,  and for years held to be the champion of France,  M. ST. AMANT  lived to be nearly sevety-three, and to die from being thrown from a carriage.  Not much has been heard of him of late years; but, thirty years ago, the clubs, and, indeed, all society, both in Paris and London, rang with his fame.  It was in 1843 the HOWARD STAUNTON ventured to dispute ST. AMANT's title to be called chess champion of Europe.  The cepebrated match then arranged -- the greatest ever contested for the amount of the stakes,  the wide interest excited, and the time consumed in the games -- ended in the Frenchman's defeat.  It was a gallant struggle, and the prevalent opinion of experts has been that MR. STAUNTON, distinguished as were his merits,  won by superior skill.  However, the match was fairly played according to the stipulated terms, and to the victor the honors fairly belonged.  The excitement over this memorial encounter was intense.  That created by the Heenan-Sayers battle was nothing to it.  All classes in England and France watched the match with breathless attention.  The games were commented upon, from day to day, by the leading journals of both countries, and the probable effect upon the result of each new development of tactics was weighed and disputed as if the fate of empires were the stake at issue.
     It is a common superstition that people who play chess well can do nothing else well, and the negative side of the preposition has some tolerable
evidence to support it.  Several famous captains who excelled in the real field of war have failed in the mimic field of chess.  NAPOLEON, who was passioately fond of the game, never could attain any strength in it, and the same has been and is true of eminent soldiers in our own country.  But it happens that both parties in the chess match spoken of have proved themselves the possessors of marked ability in other vocations.  Chess is a game of singular facination, and people having natural aptitude, who once fall in love with it, are very apt to devote themselves too exclusively to its pursuit. 
 They are thus likely to be credited in time with ability for nothing else.  On the other hand, the bad players who are good soldiers have commonly given too much time and thought to excel in war to leave space to excell in chess.  On the whole, much the same qualities that bring success in the one walk, with equal vigor and industry bring success in the other.  M. ST AMANT himself disproved the popular notion by skill and remarkable achievements in several different and important departments.  In his mission to Cayenne he showed high qualities as a diplomatist and statesman.  His works on the French colonies are standard textbooks of study and reference.  At the head part of the National Guard of Paris, he repeatedly -- and notably in 1848 -- evinced courage, presence of mind, and military capacity.  He mad chess his pastime, rather than the sole and engrossing pursuit of his life;  and, although from the renown he aquired by its practice his name was more grequently connected with chess than with anything else, it is certain thatm in the absence of that particular talent, his claims to rank as a man of distinction would have been generally allowed.
   A counterpart to this experience is suggested by the name of PHILIDOR, whose name would have coe down to us as a famous musician had his
powers at the chess-board been less conspicuous.  MR. STAUNTON, too, would be well known, or, we should rather say, better known, as an editor of SHAKESPEARE, and as the historian of the Great Schools of England, but for his overshadowing exploits at his favorite game.  These examples, which are but a few among the many that might be given,  are pretty good proofs that to be strong at chess dooes not imply weakness in other things.  The penetration, sagacity, and self-control, and, what is more important still, in critical situations, of the relative importance of things must needs be as important elements for general success in life as for success in the checkered arena that saw the triumphs of a MORPHY or a SAINT AMANT.


Le Palamède  1847
   The March number of 'Le Palamède' portrays a highly interesting interview which has lately taken place between the French King and M.
St.-Amant, the first chess player in France. It appears that St-Amant was on duty at the Palais- Royal, as a captain of the National Guard , and Louis-Philippe gave him a long- audience, chiefly relative to chess. Our readers will recollect that at the last meeting of Yorkshire players, the Rev. Richard Garvey introduced the following sentiment into his speech :
— 'Would that our heart-felt aspirations for a continuance of the entente
cordiale could penetrate the halls of St-Cloud, that its venerable monarch might know and feel how much we Englishmen love peace with France, and how ardent are our wishes lor the health and long life of that wise and great man who now rules the Gallic empire, ' etc. The report of this meeting having been specially made to Louis-Philippe, his Majesty thus expressed himsell in reply to St-Amant :
— 'I have always loved chess; but,
alas! for many long years have had no time to sacrifice to its shrine. The pleasure with which I greet its great representative in France is not thereby diminished.'
His Majesty then continued in English (which he speaks remarkably well), 'You are about to revisit England, and will again participate in
these interesting chess reunions. I heartily congratulate you on the pleasure you will enjoy; felicitating you in the development you have so ably given to the serious side of the question — that of the most kindly and brotherly feeling between the two countries.'  So we really have to announce the interesting fact that a message sent to Louis-Philippe by an English gentleman on the part of English gentlemen, has been responded to as one free-born man ought to reply to another. This interview was marked throughout with the most pleasing amenity on the part of the King. He entered a private room, hat in hand, like a gentleman about to pay a morning visit, St-Amant having waited in the salon a few minutes, the King being quite alone with his subject, having closed the door after him. His health seemed all that France and Europe could wish, his manner that of a high-bred gentleman speaking to his equal. Oh, Louis Quatorze, can you rest in your grave?

St-Amant has come to London en passant for the Yorkshire Chess Festival, on May 12, at which Louis-Philippe's kindly acceptance of last year's good wishes will not tail to be duly appreciated. These chess passages are delightful to the poet and the enthusiast; they make the crooked ways of life straight, and the rough places of politics plain. Honour to chess, as affording a neutral ground, on which Kings, Queens, Bishops, and Pawns, may meet in all amity and good feeling !


The British Chess Magazine  1883

The net result of the match is well summed up by George Walker, in whose words we conclude. " Had Saint-Amant played from the first as well as he did at last, we are persuaded he would have been equally beaten, though he might have made a better fight, winning perhaps, one or two more games. Mr. Staunton has proved himself the better player at every point. His last games must have been contested under a disadvantage equal to the loss of a Pawn in each ; absent from home and England so long a time, anxious to return, and necessarily left in Paris without the presence of the friends on whose constant attendance he had counted. Nothing can be better than the notes Saint-Amant gives upon these games in the Palamede.

He personally bears up under his defeat now with the same manly spirit which sustained him in his heroic struggle at the last. No cavilling, no querulous complaint escapes him. The result of the match, however unfavourable as to Chess, is highly honourable to him in a far higher point of view—honourable to him as a man and a philosopher. We ardently hope another match may be made up, to be played here the coming spring.

The hope expressed in the last sentence was never fulfilled. The negotiations respecting another match occupy a considerable space in the French and English Chess organs of 1844-5 ; and we believe that we do no injustice to Saint-Amant in summarizing them as follows. He had privately resolved not to play again : but he professed to be anxious for the revanche which Staunton was really ready to grant, and accordingly found fault in detail with every arrangement that was proposed. Saint-Amant came to England in 1851, but took no part in the Tournament of that year.
— W. W.



Fraser's Magazine  1840

One, ancient of days, walks quietly across the floor, and hats are raised in token of respect at the coming in of M. Boncourt, the Nestor of the camp. Seventy years and more have passed over him ; but their weight has not bowed down his light and even spirit. To the simplicity of the dove, as regards his dealings with the world, Boucourt unites, in chess, the veriest serpent guile. Inferior to none, save De la Bourdonnais, in skill, there breathes not the mortal more free from arrogance or vanity than this our venerable professor. Attired in an old-fashioned frock-coat which sweeps the ground, with a vest of scarlet, or perchance grass-green, Boncourt placidly smoothes down his silver locks, as he drops mechanically into his seat before the chessboard. Eccentric in some of his hahits, Boncourt in his old age keeps hours which render it difficult to secure him as an antagonist.

He delights in dining at ten o'clock at night; and he'll then mate you till cock-crow. Having a comfortable pension as a retired government clerk, he takes the world as he finds it, and practises the true philosophy of resignation under every stroke of fate, whether in life or in chess. He receives beating better than any Frenchman of his day, shrugging up his shoulders and replacing the men, when defeated, with a nonchalance perfectly edifying. His favourite companion is a little dog; well known to the chess circle, and a frequent visitor at the Regence. Boncourt has never been in England, which, considering the present facilities of travelling, is remarkable ; and evinces total disregard as to fame, whether present or posthumous.

Boncourt's style of play is the correct, rather than the brilliant. Comparatively weak in the mechanical openings and endings, from never having looked at a chess-book in his life, Boncourt has no superior in the capacity ef piercing through the intricacies of positions of intense difficulty. "In the twenty-fire years I have played chess," said La Bourdonnais to me, " never did I sec Boncourt commit an error in a crowded situation." His favourite debut is the Giuoco Piano; in the early stages of which he almost invariably drives up his queen's knights' and queen's rooks' pawns two squares. I must add that Boncourt has not the usual rapidity of the French school; but is to the full as slow in digesting his chess calculations as nous autres in the London Chess Club.

And that young man, Boncourt's present antagonist, who is he ?  Did you ever see a more pleasant smile, a more intellectual countenance ? How smart his dress !  How becoming that budding moustache!  He is engaged in a match of long standing with Boncourt, and they are to play a game this evening. Rivals in reputation, their respective partisans press around, like Homer's myriad warriors to view the encounter of Hector and Achilles.

Youth has the Cull, and Boncourt by the mob is set down as passé ; but the elect deem otherwise.  The free, gallant bearing of the younger combatant is much in his favour. He has a bon-mot for each ; a smile for all.  His eagle eye darts at once over the position of the men, and grasps fully the difliculties and capahilities of the array. He delights in danger; and the excitement of peril lights up his brow with increased expression, and tinges his cheek with a deeper hue. At one time spoken of confidently as the successor to Deschapelles and De la Bourdonnais, St. Amant may still be styled the favourite of the Café de la Régence. Certainly, no other player in the world is more agreeable to look over. It is matter of universal regret that St.Amant has in a measure fallen away from his allegiance to the chequered flag he once followed, by night and day, through France and England, and now confines his chess to Sunday evenings.

St. Amant's game unites the dashing style of Greco, with the ingenuity and steadiness of a veteran chief.  Young in years, he is aged in chess. Quick as lightning in commonplace situations, St. Amant takes a full measure of contemplation in positions of difficulty. In play with me, I once timed him three quarters of an hour on a single move! None of the French players approach St. Amant for courteousness of demeanour and readiness to oblige. He never sneers at a bad player; never taunts the unfortunate, nor insults the conquered. St. Amant visited England upon the occasion of bearing Deschapelles' proud challenge, a few years back, and had a decided advantage in chess over our best practitioners. He has beaten, in fact, every player but Deschapelles, De la Bourdonnais, and Boncourt. Rather a stickler for reputation, St. Amant declined risking his laurels upon the occasion of Szen, the Hungarian, visiting Paris in 1835, and refused to accept his challenge. This fact excited some surprise; but the feeling is unfortunately but too common among fine players. St. Amant and Boncourt have played in all about thirty-five games; and Boncourt stands at present, I believe, with a majority of three. Signor Calvi is spoken of latterly as the equal of these two heroes, but does not play at the Regence.



Waifs and Strays   by Hugh Alexander Kennedy

Another conspicuous instance of inflexible courage in bearing up against, and partially overcoming, the frowns of adverse fortune, is afforded by the renowned French chess player, M. St. Amant, who began his famous encounter with Mr. Staunton by losing eight consecutive games in a match of the first eleven. It might well be supposed that so calamitous a beginning on his own part, of this national contest, if it did not entirely break the French champion's spirit, would at least have materially affected the strength of his play during the remainder of the struggle. But the sturdy Gaul, far from being downhearted by reason of his first ominous losses, only buckled his sword-belt tighter about him, and caused his blade to whistle round the head of his redoubtable foe in such a fashion, as to succeed in scoring six games ere he ultimately succumbed to the thrusts of a weapon wielded by skill more potent than his own. M. St. Amant, has, I believe, said, and said truly, that he never played with greater vigour and point than in this important match. He won the thirteenth game in glorious style, dashing into the heart of the enemy's citadel, and scattering outworks and inner defences like chaff. The annals of chess have yet recorded no finer coup de main. La Bourdonnais himself could not have done it better; and mightily would it have solaced the spirit of that departed chief, if, revisiting " the glimpses of the moon," he could have witnessed the forethought and admirable combination displayed in this game by the wearer of his mantle.