Jun 29, 2011, 7:53 PM 5,729 Reads 6 Comments

Lawrence Totaro had sent me the pages from which I had originally published this article in May 2007.


The American Chess Bulletin - October 1909
pages 218 - 224

Rare Photographs of Paul Morphy.

                      As a youth in 1859                                                            Taken in Paris in 1867













By J. A. Galbreath,  New Orleans,  La.

If a ballot could be taken among the chess players of the world on the question, "Who was the greatest chess player?", there is little doubt that the overwhelming majority would be recorded in favor of one whose name is familiar in every quarter of the globe; the compass of whose renown is coincident with the world-wide limits of Caïssa's domain; the immortality of whose fame is one with the perpetuity of man's appreciation of the beauties of the purely intellectual; Paul Morphy, that unrivaled chess genius, - who flashed like a comet into the view of the chess world in 1857; blazed as the one bright attraction in the firmament until the middle of the year 1859, and then vanished.

It has truly been said that Morphy was at once the Caesar and the Napoleon of chess. He revolutionized chess. He brought life and dash and beauty into the game at a time when an age of dulness [sic] was about to set in and he did this at a stroke. Then he quit forever. Only two years from the beginning to the end. The negotiations for some modern matches have taken that long!

The manner of Morphy's abdication of the monarchy of the chess world has been but imperfectly understood. Happening at a time when his native land was on the eve of an awful conflict, the event was swallowed up and lost sight of in the prodigious kaleidoscope of the civil war, and it was not until the paramount things brought to the front by that war had somewhat subsided that the world got back to things of lesser magnitude and began to inquire, "Why did Morphy abjure chess?" Several years had elapsed and the matter had already become misty. Very few knew the particulars, and they did not care to go into them out of deference to the wished of Morphy himself, and therefore the question was never fully answered. Theories without number have been given out from time to time; but all of them have been more or less conjecture. The consideration of the matter in connection with some facts not hitherto touched upon will, it is hoped, serve to make clearer the motive which impelled Paul Morphy to lay down voluntarily the crown which he had so gloriously won. The obliquity of Morphy's mind, which occurred some years later after his absolute retirement from chess, has given currency to the most ridiculous stories at the expense of the noble game. Scribblers for the press who do not know anything of the game have dashed off paragraphs by the score, warning the public against over-indulgence in chess and holding up Morphy, its brightest exponent. as the horrible example. Even the clergy have occasionally adverted to the subject and added its admonition against too much devotion at Caïssa's alter.

It is really surprising how much credence has been given these purely imaginary stories, and it is the strongest proof of how thoroughly Morphy's extraordinary performances over the chess board had impressed, not only chess players, but the world at large. Morphy's obliquity was of the mildest and most harmless kind. Once, an inquiry as to his sanity was set on foot by one of his brothers-in-law [Morphy only had one brother-in-law, -batgirl]; but Morphy defended his own case before the authorities with such consummate ability that he was released from any restraint and was never afterwards molested.

It may be here stated authoritatively that chess had nothing to do with Morphy's hallucinations, which were first manifested many years after his retirement. Under similar conditions from about the year 1870 until his death on July 10th, 1884, he would have suffered the same dementia, even if he had never learned the first moves at chess.

It is a fact, however, that for many years the younger members of the Morphy relatives allowed themselves to be misled by the false and pernicious theories advanced by the space writers in the press, and by the clergy, who knew no more than the scribblers, and by meaning well but ill informed friends, who read the stories in the newspapers and retailed them to the family. These could not conjure up any other reason for Morphy's eccentricities except, "He played too much chess." The truth is said to be in the bottom of a well, and these good people never looked there for it.  The Morphy family have at last realized the truth. They know now that among the names of immortal Americans the name of Paul Morph is indelibly inscribed with those of George Washington, Benjamin Franklin and the others in various walks who have shed lustre on their native land. They know that the intellectual game in which Morphy won enduring fame was in no way responsible for his misfortunes.

Morphy was a thoroughly educated and cultivated man, and moreover was in every sense a gentleman of high delicacy and refinement, both innate and acquired. There was much of the true Hidalgo about him. It must be remembered that in 1857, he was but a youth of twenty. He had been very carefully brought up and had never come into contact with the world. He knew absolutely nothing of the seamy side of life, its base, its sordid and its venal side. He had spent his life up to that time in going to school, and when he came out of this carefully nurtured youth was very much like a girl who has been brought up in a convent, and was ignorant of the ways of the world.

Chess to Morphy at that time was an ideal, and he treated it as a true artist. He went into it with all his youthful ardor and vim. "The viewless arrows of his thoughts were headed and winged with flame." His opponent's ingenuity was appropriated and assimilated at every conquest, and thus for a brief time he lived in an ideal world, as it were in dreamland. He did not know that there are mean and petty jealousies among the devotees of the game; that there are individuals who neglect useful occupations and everything else, and hang around the chess resorts of al large cities to make their daily bread playing chess with persons inferior to themselves in skill, for a quarter of a dollar a game. Morphy did not know anything of these hawks of the game, "undesirable citizen" in every sense of the word, as our late strenuous Chief Executive so aptly characterizes certain persons. When Morphy went to the tournament in New York in the year 1857, he had his first experience with mean and petty chess jealousy. He found out for the first time that there were persons who did not have the same lofty ideas about the game that he had, and it was a great shock to the young gentleman. Next year, in London and Paris, he "got up against the real thing," and the effect on his sensitive organization may be imagined. He went to Europe for glory. He wanted a fair contest over the board with the best of them, stakes or no stakes. He was in that enviable state of existence so well described by George Walker, Ease and independence, freedom from the worlds chains, how much do these lighten up the energies and fit the combatants for mental struggle." Morphy was not concerned about stakes, hence his match with Harrwitz was for a nominal stake, and he actually subscribed to help defray Professor Anderssen's traveling expenses in order that the match with the Professor could be played in Paris. There was no stake whatsoever on the match.

Meanwhile the world was talking so much of "Morphy the chess player" that it got on his nerves, and he asked himself if it were really true that he was considered one of the best hawks of the game, such a person as described above, and for whom he had the utmost contempt? Remember, this young man had but recently earned his diploma as a lawyer, his father was a leading jurist of Louisiana, and chess to him was a pastime. Is it any wonder, considering the circumstances, that the idea grew on him and finally became an obsession, that the world regarded him as "a mere chess player and nothing else" and he resolved to quit the game and prove to the world that is was mistaken?

When Morphy reached this city in June, 1859, after the receptions and fetes in his honor in New York and Boston on his return from his triumphs in Europe, he issued a final challenge offering the odds on pawn and move to any player in the world. Receiving no response to his challenge, he considered that the work which he had set out to do two years previously had been accomplished, and, deeming the time had arrived which was most fitting to abdicate the position which he had won, he declared his career as a chess player finally and definitely closed. He held to this with unbroken resolution during the remainder of his life, playing only a few games with his intimate friends, Mr. Charles A. Maurian of this city and Mr. Jules Arnous de Rivière of Paris. The former had been his schoolmate and lifelong friend and knew more of Morphy's hopes and aspirations than any other person. Mr. Maurian, in his obituary of Morphy written for the chess column of the New Orleans Times-Democrat, wrote this: "Paul Morphy was never so passionately fond, so inordinately devoted to chess as is generally believed. An intimate acquaintance and long observation enables us to state this positively. His only devotion to the game, if it may be so termed, lay in his ambition to meet and to defeat the best players and great masters of this country and of Europe. He felt his enormous strength, and never for a moment doubted the outcome. Indeed, before his first departure for Europe he privately and modestly, yet with perfect confidence, predicted to us his certain success, and, when he returned, he expressed the conviction that he had played poorly, rashly; that none of his opponents should have done so well as they did against him. But this one ambition satisfied, he appeared to have lost all interest in the game."


Ever since Morphy's retirement from the chess world, whenever a young player has developed unusual skill in any quarter of the globe, he is spoken of as "A reincarnation of Paul Morphy" as the highest possible compliment that can be bestowed upon the rising youth. We never hear about the reincarnation of any other departed chess master, and it is conclusive proof that in the estimation of the world at large Paul Morphy was the supreme master of chess.

About ten years ago, the writer devised a scheme for an actual reincarnation of the "Peerless Paul." A grand-nephew of his, named Paul Morphy, was living in the city. He was a bright, studious lad with all the Morphy characteristics strongly in evidence; the eyes, the hair, the complexion, even the diffidence of his great-uncle. It would be a great thing to teach this lad the game, carefully train him in play, and, perchance, if heredity meant anything, at the proper moment spring a real Paul Morphy II on the astonished and delighted chess world. It would be an actual reincarnation in name and everything, and withal [sic] would be such a surprise to the chess world, that the writer actually hugged himself in anticipation of the good thing that was to happen.

The subject was broached to the lad's aunt, Miss Regina Morphy, a niece of Paul Morphy, and who, the boy's father being dead, had charge of him. Miss Morphy assented to the plan; but appeared not to be very enthusiastic about it. I did not allow anything like that, however, to interfere with the project. Young Paul was provided with a board and men and I taught him the first moves which he learned with astonishing quickness. Then followed a few primary lessons, and my pupil was so apt that I could already foresee the full success of the reincarnation in the not distant future.

Then came opposition to the plan. Anxious friends, not knowing anything of the game or the facts about the boy's great-uncle, hearing that Paul the second was learning to play the game and having the later years of his uncle before his eyes, became apprehensive of the ultimate consequences, and they hastened to lift their warning voices against his learning to play chess. The utmost tact was used in order to discourage my plan. First one excuse, then another, for Paul's not being on hand to take his lessons, and finally it was stated that, as he had commenced another session at school, it would not be possible for him to continue his chess studies. I realized that the well meaning but ill informed friends had got in their work, and had succeeded in persuading Miss Morphy that it would be the greatest misfortune to allow young Paul to learn to play chess, as to do so would be to invite his uncle's fate. I did not give up my scheme without a strong effort to disabuse the family of its mistaken conclusions; but in vain. It seemed that one chess player in the family, with the traditions of madness which must inevitably overtake devotees of the game, was enough for the younger members of the Morphy family, and I reluctantly gave up my plan for the reincarnation.

It must be borne n mind that the younger members of the family knew nothing, of their own knowledge, of their illustrious relative, and that they depended upon what older friends of the dead master told them. These in turn were misled by the fallacious stories they had read in the newspapers, or which had been retailed by the gossips. Paul Morphy was a recluse in his late years and even friends knew very little about him; but the nagging tongues proved a decisive factor against my scheme as to his grand-nephew. Miss Regina Morphy herself did not actually know much about the matter, as her uncled died several years before that time, when she was a small child [Regina was 15 when Paul died - sbc]. I am glad to record the fact that the family have at last found in truth that chess had nothing to do with the hallucinations of Paul Morphy's late years. Paul Morphy II is now a young man of twenty-two; just the age when his uncle retired from the game.

Could Paul learn to play chess now is a question which his aunt regretfully asked the writer a few weeks ago.

She is now sorry that she allowed herself to be persuaded to oppose my plan. Perhaps Paul Morphy, the second, may yet be an acuality in the chess world. How he looks is shown in the accompanying picture. His is a strapping young fellow, and quite a contrast in physique to his grand-uncle.

Mrs. George G. V oitier, (Miss Regina Morphy) the daughter of Edward Morphy, only brother of the Immortal Paul, is a typical Creole beauty. She is one of the Crescent City's brightest young women, and is an accomplished musician.

A short time ago, a lady in Paris, a relative of the Morphy's and a friend of the Infanta Eulalie of Spain, wrote Mrs. V oitier that the Princess Eulalie wished to obtain a photograph of Paul Morphy and requested Mrs. V oitier to send her one. This turns out most fortunately for the chess world, as Mrs. V oitier has a small photograph of her uncle taken in Paris about the year 1867, after he had grown up to a man's estate. All the pictures extant of Morphy represent him as the youth of 1859, when he so completely dazzled this country and Europe. The photograph is old, faded and badly spotted; but the photographer has succeeded in making a very good enlargement of it. Mrs. V oitier kindly gave the writer a copy, and it is herewith presented to the readers of the BULLETIN.



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