Walker on M'Donnell and Labourdonnais

Jan 26, 2012, 3:43 PM |

The Chess Player's Magazine
vol. II, 1864
edited by Johann Lowenthal

An excerpt from a letter from George Walker to the editor in response to a series on the M'Donnell-Labourdonnais match presented in the magazine

. . .

Alexander Macdonnell, the son of a Belfast physician, was unmarried, of simple habits, good health, and trained to figures and calculations as a merchant here and in the West Indies. He was the author of several works on political economy; and after his return from Demerara until his death, held the post of  Secretary to the West India Committee of Merchants, with a stipend of twelve hundred a year, and work to do only when the Houses of Parliament were sitting. He resided quietly in a boarding-house in Tavistock-square, and was one of the most temperate men I ever knew. His duties were to watch the progress of bills connected with the West Indies through the two Houses of Parliament, and defend with his pen the interests of those beautiful islands, subsequently plunged into comparative ruin through the strong bray of Exeter Hall, frightening a weak and time-serving ministry into sudden negro emancipation.

Louis Charles Mahe De La Bourdonnais, descended from an ancient and noble family, was educated in the College of Henri Quatre, and succeeded his father as heir of an old estate. This he lost in a building speculation at St. Maloes, remotely owing to the enormous faculty of "constructiveness," pointed out by Dr. Elliotson in lecturing in the Phrenological Society upon the cast of La Bourdonnais' head, which I had managed to get taken after death; and upon which greatly rested his Chess powers, coupled with enormous "combativeness." Reduced in his means to "zero," with a wife and child to support, the French champion for years had possessed no resources beyond the small gains he made daily, playing Chess for a franc per game, and his salary of £50 or £60 a year as Secretary of the Paris Chess Club. In playing with Macdonnell, the stake was very small; and La Bourdonnais was always eager to finish the game, that he might receive his half-crown customers, who played with him till nearly midnight, after he had finished with our countryman, all receiving large odds. Let the judicious critic judge as to which of the two paladins was best fitted by social circumstances and position for their "gentle passage of arras." But the observer must also take into consideration that our Macdonnell came completely untrained into the field. He had never enjoyed the opportunity of playing with any first-rate player on even terms, and his powers visibly improved during the great battle; while, on the other hand, La Bourdonnais had played many hours daily for long years, cutting down all his contemporaries, first taking odds, then playing even, and finishing by giving the Pawn to the first rates of France. Finally, trained to arms, through hundreds of games at odds, by the illustrious Deschapelles, who formally abjured Chess when his pupil reached the zenith of his powers, and abdicated the throne, as did Alexander, in the well-remembered words, " Henceforth I am represented by La Bourdonnais; he is worthy to be my lieutenant!" Like Lewis and Macdonnell, La Bourdonnais and Deschapelles never played on even terms.

I am, Sir, your obedient Servant,
Stock Exchange, May, 1864.