The State Of German Chess in 1863
ON THE PRESENT STATE OF CHESS IN GERMANY.
Lowenthal's Chess Magazine 1863
In writing on the present state of Chess in Germany, I must go back to a former period—to the palmy days of the game as it was played in Germany, when Chess was a real pastime with old and young, with the learned ?s well as the beginners, and when the metropolis of intelligence, as Berlin indulges in styling itself, mustered a phalanx of players of European repute, such as few other capitals in the world could have boasted of at the same time. Those times are gone, indeed, never to return ; and we—an effeminate progeny—can only look back with dismay and wonder at the portentous feats of that giant race. Still, as some veterans of the Old Berlin School are still living, and others have not yet ended their Chess career—and, moreover, as I had the good fortune of having been personally acquainted with some of the leading players of Berlin some twelve years back—I trust it will not be considered presumptuous on my part, or assuming the prerogative of writers more qualified than myself for the task, to recall to the minds of the readers of this periodical the golden days of ancient Berlin—the battles they fought and the laurels they earned—
I must go back, then, to the year 1843, when the founder of the "Berlin Chess Magazine" (Berliner Schachzeitung) was still in his prime of life, and assisted in his glorious endeavours to promote the cause of Chess by the editors of the far-famed German handbook. Most of your readers, I suppose, will know at once that I refer to the celebrated Dr. Bledow, and to his not less eminent countryman, Heydebrandt von der Lasa. But those two men, great though they were, and enjoying a European reputation for their practical skill in the game and their literary productions, yet did not stand alone. There were five other champions besides them, almost equal to them in strength, yet comparatively less known abroad, who formed as it were the nucleus of a formidable array of strong players in Prussia. Their names were Mendheim, Bilguer, Hanstein, Mayet, and Horwitz. They were playfully called the Pleiades, or Seven Stars of Berlin. Well do I remember the time (it was the end of 1849) when, not much of a Chess-player myself, yet an ardent enthusiast of the game, and intimately acquainted with some of the most prominent members of the Leipsic Chess Club (Augustea)— it was my happy lot to fall in with one of the leading players of Berlin, a man who then occupied a prominent place in the Chess world, and was at the same time entrusted with the management of the "Berlin Magazine." Anderssen was not then much known in the Chess world, at least he very seldom played in public, and very few, indeed only a small circle of intimate friends, had an opportunity of watching his progress in the scientific part of the game or of appreciating his talent. People, of course, did not dream of thinking that he should ever attain that degree of eminence and that world-wide reputation which he now deservedly enjoys. Yet the man I referred to spoke to me in terms of the highest acknowledgment of Anderssen's skill and genius. "Take my word for it," he said, " this young man will beat all comers, and prove a phenomenon in his way. I have watched him, when he yet was a student, spending nights on the theory of our intricate game, and whenever he was matched against one of our first-rate men he has shown the lion's claw." I treasured those words up in my memory, and, years afterwards, when it was my good fortune to make Professor Anderssen's personal acquaintance, I found to my extreme delight how well the predictions of his friend and rival had been fulfilled.
Most of your readers, I presume, have heard of Dr. Bledow. He was a man of great literary acquirements, a professor of mathematics at the Berlin University, and, in his way, a great enthusiast of the game. He first suggested the idea of a Chess Congress of the leading German amateurs. The other distinguished players I mentioned in my last (the Berlin Pleiades), eagerly embraced the suggestion, and a great meeting at Trier (in 1843, if I mistake not) was planned under the Doctor's auspices. Owing to some unhappy circumstances, however, that meeting never came to pass, and when, about the same time, the great and much-talked-of encounter between the English and French champions, Mr. Staunton and Mons. St. Amant, took place, it so much absorbed the attention of the Chess-playing public, that the German scheme completely fell to the ground.
In 1846, Dr. Bledow founded the German Schachzeitung. It was the first Chess periodical in Germany, and encountered, as your readers may easily imagine, great—nay, almost insurmountable—obstacles. Yet the Doctor's perseverance and indomitable energy enabled him, in a the course of time, to surmount those difficulties, and with the assistance of his many friends and admirers, he succeeded in establishing, on firm ground, that powerful magazine which has found supporters and steadfast contributors in almost every part of the civilised globe, and has recently reached its eighteenth anniversary. Speaking of this far-famed magazine, the only existing Chess periodical which ever since its foundation has continued without interruption, improving from year to year—never descending to personality, and diffusing in a steadfast and dignified manner the theoretical knowledge of our game amongst all classes of society—it may be as well to give here a short outline of the chequered career of this remarkable periodical, and the various phases it went through since the Doctor's death. It was founded, as I stated above, in 1846, as the organ of the Berlin Chess Society, and was continued, shortly after Bledow's demise, by some of his friends, the then leading players of Berlin. In 1848-9 it was conducted by Hanstein ; and I think I can say, without fear of contradiction, that under the management of this excellent and ever-to-be-lamcnted Chess player, it has reached the climax of its perfection. After Hanstein's death it was conjointly superintended by Professor Anderssen and Herr Max Lange ; then for a short time by Dufresne, and now, again, it is under the able management of Herr Lange and a committee of the Berlin Chess Club. It was the happy lot of this magazine, that it had never for a long time to contend against the opposition of a rival periodical, for the Leipzig Chess Journal, started by Herr Hirsehbach about 1847, only outlived a few numbers, whilst the Vienna Schachzeitung, founded by the writer of these lines in 1855, had to struggle against such fearful odds, that with the utmost vigour it could only be kept above water to its ninth number, when, owing to the Editor's absence from Vienna, it was finally discontinued, never to rise again.
Dr. Bledow's style of play was extremely brilliant and inventive. His chief object seems to have been to discover deep complications and to make the game as intricate as possible—to create difficulties —nay, to provoke them—just to show his wonderful skill in extricating himself "from a sea of troubles," into which he had purposely plunged himself to his heart's content. For that reason he allowed larger odds to most of his opponents than any of his contemporaries could afford,—yet, when he was paired off with an even player, he was capable of showing an equal amount of steadiness and sound and correct play. His knowledge of the openings was truly wonderful ; and was greatly assisted by a large and well-selected Chess library, enriched by notes and comments of his own, which were freely resorted to by his numerous friends and coadjutors. Thus the most interesting parts of the first edition of the German Handbook, of Heydebrandt's Leitfaden, which shortly afterwards appeared, and even of the subsequent volumes of the Berlin Magazine, were mainly owing, the authors frankly admitted, to contributions from Bledow's pen, to variations of openings and endings which he had compiled during his lifetime, and to games played by himself and others, which were found in his Memoirs.
To give your readers an idea of his style of play, the fertility of his resources and the quickness of perception with which he could turn to account the slightest error on the part of his opponents, I here annex a charming little game, played by himself against Mr. Horwitz, in December, 1837, and found, after Bledow's death, in his miscellaneous papers. To do the latter player justice, however, I must remark that Horwitz, at that time, had not yet attained the great skill for which he was afterwards reputed—in fact, he had only just began his brilliant Chess career :—
Dr. Bledow was born on the 27th July, 1795, and died on the 6th of August, 1846—a few weeks after he had established the Berlin Schachzeitung. His peculiar grace and elegance of manners, his profound acquirements in science, art, and literature, combined with a perfect knowledge of nearly all the principal living languages, made him a favourite with old and young—a subject of love and admiration to all around him. Nor was that high esteem of his talents, his lofty character, and generous disposition confined to his personal friends and acquaintances. C. F. de Jaenish, the distinguished author of the Analyse Nouvelle des Ouvertures, &c., compared him, in a letter to the French player St. Amant, with the reputed Greco, adding that—like the celebrated Calabrese—he lived a hero and died unconquered. So much is certain, that in all his encounters with most of the leading players of his time, such as Messrs. Buckle, Alexandre, Szen, Löwenthal, Mongredien, Horwitz, &c., he generally came off victorious, or at least made even games with them.
A good deal is said in the Doctor's Memoirs about Chess in Stroebeck. Many of your readers, I suppose, will have heard of this quaint little village, situated in the Duchy of Brunswick, and inhabited chiefly by peasants, all of whom are great devotees to the noble game of Chess. Rumour says, that the game had been introduced there during the reign of Bishop Burkhard, or Burko I., of Halberstadt (1040—1045), who took part in the wars of the Emperor Henry III. against the Vandals. In one of those campaigns, a prince of that warlike race having been taken prisoner, he was confined in a castle, which is still in existence, near the village of Stroebeck, and just to alleviate the hardship of his captivity he taught his gaolers Chess. Ever since, it is said, Chess has become a favourite pastime with the peasants.
However that may be, so much is certain, that those worthy rustics (who may well say with the Roman poet: 0 fortunatos nimium sua si bona norint agricolas !) have a peculiar way of their own of playing Chess, for not only do they not condescend to acknowledge the rules of the game laid down for centuries and sanctioned by the practice of our best players, but they even go the length of commencing the game in quite an original manner by playing first both the Rook's Pawns, and the Queen's Pawn two squares, and then by placing the Queen on her third square. This is what they consider a great improvement on the game, and what they are facetiously pleased to call "the outset," or the correct position of the pieces to begin with. In my humble opinion, this bold innovation does not tend much towards improvement, as it does away, once for all, with the theory of the opening, and strongly militates against the preconceived notions of every civilized Chess player who has not the good fortune to belong to the peasantry of Stroebeck.
Talking on this subject, I cannot resist the temptation of treating your readers to a very amusing little anecdote, in close connection with the matter of Chess in Stroebeek, so much commented upon in the Doctor's papers. Towards the end of the last century (says Herr von Oppen, the editor of Dr. Bledow's Memoirs, and afterwards President of the Berlin Chess Club), there lived at Berlin a man of the name of David Hillel, who enjoyed a great reputation for his skill in the game, and made his living by giving lessons in Chess ; another man, a furrier by trade, and nearly equal to him in strength, was his constant antagonist, and both spoke in terms of the highest acknowledgment of each other. "The leather-seller is a great man!" Herr Hillel used to say, with an air of profound conviction. Yet it was whispered amongst the officers of the garrison (to whom Herr von Oppen's father belonged) that the master never ventured out in the streets, especially after dark, without carrying a huge stick about him, lest the leather-seller should take substantial revenge for his intellectual defeats. The worthy man was reputed for his faint-heartedness and timidity, so much so, that he could not discharge a gun without turning his face away. Once he repaired to an estate of Herr von Oppen's father, who took lessons in Chess from Hillel, and was possessed of some landed property in the county of Halberstadt, when, being induced to fire a gun into a flight of partridges, he was in raptures to see the air full of feathers, as his gun had been previously loaded with some plumage, to make him. believe that he had hit the mark. Shortly after this performance he asked permission to accompany a party on a trip to the village of Stroebeck, three (German) miles off, " for," he said, " if he could only beat the peasants, the Duke of Brunswick might confer some title upon him, say that of Chess Player to the Court, and then, perhaps, he might turn this handle to his name to good account."
"I was then," continues Herr von Oppen, " a boy of about ten years of age, and when we were near Stroebeck, my father ordered the coachman to take good care of me, in case anything should happen. Herr Hillel got fidgetty and nervous, and asked what on earth my father expected to happen ? when the latter, who could appreciate a good joke, coolly replied to him, that the fame of the villagers was mainly founded on the fact that whenever a stranger happened to contend against them, and to beat them, he was liable to be cudgelled on the spot. Fancy the state of mind poor Hillel was in after that cruel intimation ; but having once embarked in the venture, he, of course, could not retrace his steps. His mental agony was greatly increased by the fact that upon his entering the village-inn, where the combat was to take place, all the peasants rallied behind his antagonist, to whom ho gave the odds of a Rook, gesticulating fiercely, and from time to time exclaiming aloud, 'Take care, neighbour!' (Gevatter, mit Rath !) The master very soon lost an additional piece—in fact, his presence of mind was entirely gone, and he certainly would have lost the game also had not my father reassured him by stating that it was all a joke, and that he had nothing whatever to apprehend. It is true poor Hillel ultimately won the game, yet he abandoned all hope of a title being conferred upon him by the Duke, as he had become well aware, that like the celebrated Knight of La Mancha, he had comquered not an army, but a flock of sheep." So much about Stroebeck.
Your readers will, perhaps, excuse the prolixity with which I am taxing their patience to the utmost (encroaching, I am afraid, at the same time, on your valuable space) in dwelling on bygone times, when they are good enough to consider that it is mainly due to the great exertions and the position in the Chess world of the leading players in Germany, some twenty years back, that the present flourishing condition of Chess in that country has been brought about. I will, therefore, in my next, offer a few more remarks on the social achievements and the influence of the "Seven Stars" of Berlin, to conclude my narrative with what it ought to have begun,—viz. : a true account of the present state of Chess in the birthland of Heydebrandt, Anderssen, and Hanstein.
I have been asked the question many times how it came to pass that both the literature and the practice of our game are more cultivated in Germany than in England and France ; that the former country has, with very few exceptions, produced the best players of modern times, and the profoundcst writers on the game, whilst proud and mighty England, with her immense resources, her vast array of intellect and enterprising genius, has of late been lagging somewhat behind, instead of taking a leading part, contributing only now and then some straggling volunteer to the great army of chess players, and for the rest closely following in the footsteps of less ambitious Germany? The question is rather a comprehensive one, and, in my opinion, does not admit of an easy answer. In order to arrive at a satisfactory conclusion, we must first of all take into account both the different genius of the two nations and the peculiar nature of the game.
Englishmen, as a rule, are matter-of-fact men, slow in taking counsel, but quick in executing it, and—generally speaking—judging a question more or less from its applicability to the exigencies of practical life ; Germans rather incline the other way. Now chess, being a highly intellectual game, and requiring to a degree those mental faculties which may well accord with speculative subjects, but ill agree with the practical pursuits of life, is from its very nature congenial to the more pensive and contemplative German, whose ideal turn of mind, prone to, and versed in the solution of metaphysical questions, is liable to take peculiar delight in the intricacies of this noble game. For this reason chess, having nearly become a science with Germans, is still a mere pastime with Englishmen. But the difference of the national character, great though it m'ay be, does not exhaust the question. It may account for the fact that the leading player» of that country have attained a high degree of eminence ; but it does not sufficiently explain the immense popularity the game enjoy» amongst the middle-classes of German society. There is hardly a town in Germany but has a chess club of its own; some of their cities—for instance, Berlin, Breslau, and Leipzig—have two or three of them. There are various reasons, more or less patent, by which this result has been brought about.
Much is due to the great influence and exertions, referred to in my last, of the Berlin magazine—more to the example and the great feats, inviting emulation, of the leading players of Berlin in the two last decades. Take, for instance, Hanstein. This man, who during his lifetime, and still more after his death, enjoyed a high reputation amongst his countrymen, has done more to promote the cause of chess in Germany than—with the exception, perhaps, of Heydebrandt von der Lasa—any other of his still living compatriots ; yet his activity was confined to very narrow limits, his acquaintances were few and far between, hia very name—save a dozen games or so—has rarely been noticed abroad, and Englishmen can hardly realise the influence this extraordinary man exercised over the minds of his younger and more aspiring competitors. His great powers of mind and the inappreciable services he has rendered to German chess will appear still more astonishing when we consider that his time was almost completely taken up by professional engagements, being a chief clerk in one of the Government offices, where—like most of the Prussian clerks—he had to work hard for a scanty living ; that, besides, he was passionately fond of music and poetry, being an author and poet himself (some of Burns's, Mackay's, and Longfellow's poems are beautifully translated by him into German), and that—just by way of recreation—he had to keep up an enormous correspondence with his numerous literary friends in England, France, and Germany. Yet, with all this heavy business pressing upon his mind, with only a few leisure hours to bestow on his favourite game, he contrived, as I stated in my last, to conduct the Berlin magazine, during his short superintendence, in such a masterly manner that it has never since been equalled with regard both to its scientific and its literary matter ; the German hand-book also, which about that time was approaching its second edition, being indebted to him for its most valuable contents and its most elaborate variations.
And all this tremendous work he did for love, no emoluments having accrued to him for his literary pursuits, and nothing to reward him for his labours but the appreciation of his countrymen and the consciousness of having done his duty.
Of all the chess clubs in Germany, that of Berlin is undoubtedly the most important one. I have alluded in my former articles to its founders and promoters, and I shall now confine myself to a short sketch of its career since Bledow's death, and to its actual condition. The fortunes of the Berlin Chess Club were, ever since its foundation, closely interwoven with those of the Berlin Chess Magazine ; nay, the very existence of the latter depended—at one time at least, and to some extent—on the success and prosperity of the club. Founded some eighteen years ago by some of the most prominent members of the Berlin Chess Society, the magazine has been ever since, with a few very short exceptions, exclusively edited by the members of the Berlin Chess Club (Berliner Schachgesellschaft), its very title-page bearing witness to its origin and support. Their close connection will be still more apparent by the fact that the same men who conducted the business of the one very often also occupied the chair in the sittings of the other, both president and editor being invariably selected from celebrities in the chess world. Owing to this intimate relation, their strange vicissitudes—the days of their glory and adversity—went hand in hand, and at the time when the Berlin Chess Club enjoyed the greatest number of members (in 1851, during the London Congress, to which Anderssen was sent as deputy) the Berlin magazine also had reached the climax of its prosperity, the list of its subscribers having increased to the enormous extent of 800—a figure which has never since been equalled by another chess periodical, nor by the Berlin magazine itself.
Much, of course, depended in that respect on external influence, for the cause of chess, like that of science and literature, will always prosper more in quiet times than in those of war and revolution. Shortly after the events of 1848, for instance, and, again, during the Crimean war, the number both of the members of the Berlin Chess Club and of the subscribers to the magazine decreased to a fearful extent ; but they always soon recovered and came out of their trials more vigorous than ever.
Besides being the oldest and most influential, the Berlin Chess Club is also the most numerous one in Germany. I mean the first and original one, for recently two more chess clubs have been established at Berlin. It counts upwards of seventy members, some of them still ranking amongst the leading players of Germany, and there can be no doubt that of all chess clubs in the world it stands unequalled for the brilliant array of chess celebrities it has brought forth. I need only adduce here the names of Bledow, Heydebrandt, Bilguer, Hanstein, Mayet, Dufresue, Lange, to make good my assertion. Anderssen, too, although at present domiciled at Breslau, virtually belongs to the Berlin Club, being also, if I mistake not, an honorary member,
Of all the presidents of the Berlin Chess Club, those who after Dr. Bledow's demise enjoyed the greatest popularity were Hanstein, Mayet, and Von Oppen. The first two need no encomium on my part ; the last-named gentleman—perhaps less known to your readers than the two others—occupies a high place in the Prussian civil service, and is a problem composer of repute. At present the society is presided over by Dr. Franz, a player of great aptitude for the game, and proprietor of one of the richest chess libraries in the world. Some of the old members who had witnessed the palmy days of ancient Berlin are still living, and foremost amongst them—once a conquering hero himself—ranks old Professor Wolf, who, though now an octogenarian, still plays an occasional game in a quiet corner of the place of meeting, in town, of the Berlin Club, the Café Belvedere, Unter den Linden (one of the most fashionable streets in Berlin), or enjoys his pipe under the shadow of an elm-tree in their second place of meeting during the summer months, the Blumengarten. Another of the oldest members of the club, a captain on half-pay, who was renowned for the witty remarks and homely proverbs with which he used to season his games, died but a few years ago, and one of his games, accompanied with some of those sarcastic comments of his own, has been handed down to posterity by Hanstein, in one of the early volumes of the Berlin Magazine, under the heading of "A Game with Proverbs." The captain was certainly an exceedingly good- natured chess player, and delighted in regaling his antagonists (and the lookers-on, too, who always crowded around his table) with little bits of home truths, pronounced in dog-Latin or Berlin jargon, which never failed to evoke peals of merriment. Once he was pitted against a player reputed for his dullness of conception and intolerable slowness. The captain did not seem to pay much attention to the game, nor to heed the mental agony of his opponent, but kept talking to the bystanders on the weather and on politics, on the slow progress of events in general, that people did not like to be up and doing, as they used to be, and so on. Still his antagonist did not move ; and the game was nearly coming to a standstill, when the captain all at once turned round in a most civil and gentlemanlike manner, and after having first apologised to his adversary for interrupting him, delivered himself of the following speech— "My dear fellow, I beg to insinuate—no offence, I hope—but just allow me to observe, that if you do not know how to continue the game, you ought not to have commenced it." After that, of course, his opponent, amidst roars of laughter, was obliged to give way, and make his move.
Next to the Berlin Chess Club in influence and respectability, ranks the Leipsic Chess Club, Augustea. It was founded in 1848 by some young artists, students of law, &c., who, though great enthusiasts of the game, were not much known abroad. Shortly afterwards, however, some of the members of the old Leipsic Chess Club having joined the new and more aspiring society—amongst them men of repute in the chess world, ex. gr., Hirschbach, Otto Wiegand, and others—the young club soon became widely known, and in a few years succeeded in establishing its fame as one of the most popular and influential chess clubs in Germany. The many single- handed contests and tournaments arranged by the members of this club amongst themselves, the games by correspondence played with almost constant success against other not less notorious chess clubs, such as Magdebourg, Breslau, &c., and the great reputation which some of their members, viz., Count Vitzthum, H. Pollmaecher, Schurig, Pitschel, &c., had already acquired, soon called the attention of Germany to this rising club, and the pages of the Berlin Magazine were filled ere long with accounts of their proceedings. Much was due in that respect to the great exertions of the late H. Portius, M.A., of Count Vitzthum, the worthy President of the Club—and, last, but not least, to the indefatigable energy of their Secretary, young H. Pollmaecher, than whom a more ardent lover of the game did not exist, but who, unfortunately, met with an untimely death, two years ago. During my domicile at Leipsic, in 1849 and 1850, I had the good fortune of being on intimate terms with some of the founders of this club, then in its infancy, and it is owing to this fact, I suppose, and in kind remembrance of bygone times, that the Leipsic Chess Club Augustea have, five years ago, done me the honour of electing me, out of a list of other far more competent candidates, their first honorary member. I deeply feel the honour thus conferred upon me, and I beg to embrace this opportunity of stating that the happy days I have passed in company with the members of this far-famed chess club will never be effaced from my memory.
The Vienna Chess Club, though one of the youngest, as it was only founded five years ago, assuredly comes in third amongst the leading clubs in Germany owing to the European repute of some of its members, whose names, no doubt, have been for years familiar to most of your readers. I need only recall here the names of Hampe, Jenay, Matschecko, Baron Perènyi, Kolisch, Steinitz, and others, to vindicate the claim of the Viennese Chess Club of being reckoned amongst the foremost in Germany. Vienna, too, of all chess clubs in Germany, has furnished the largest contingent of problem-makers of great reputation, and few of your readers, I trust, but are acquainted with the name of a Conrad Bayer, a Novotny, a Count Pongràcz, Willmers, Delia Torre, and others.
I cannot say much about the chess clubs in Breslau and Hamburg, which, though very numerous and well attended, have—with the exception, of course, of Andcrssen and, perhaps, Herr Hillel, hitherto produced very few chess players of repute. Nevertheless, those clubs deserve to be enumerated amongst the most notable ones in Germany. On the whole there are—according to the Berlin Magazine—at present not less than seventy-six chess clubs in Germany, out of which two are at Breslau, two in Stettin, three at Berlin, and, strange to say, four at Koenigsberg in Prussia.
I here conclude these observations on the Present State of Chess in Germany, and in taking farewell of your readers, I have only to thank them for the forbearance with which they have followed me so far, and once more to apologise for the prolixity with which— perhaps, to an unwarrantable degree—I have been taxing their patience.