On the third floor of the main building of the main Cleveland Public Library sits the John G. White Special Collection. White underwrote the construction of the Special Collections room and donated his personal library of rare books and manuscripts on Folklore, Orientalia, and Chess that form the core of the collection.
Photo from "Bench and bar of northern Ohio" 1921 By William B. Neff
John Griswold White was born in Cleveland, Ohio on August 10, 1845. His father was the prominent attorney Bushnell White and his mother was Elizabeth Brainerd Clarke, the granddaughter of Governor Matthew Griswold, governor of Connecticut and neice of Gov. Roger Griswold of Connecticut. After attending public schools, he graduated from the Western Reserve College in 1865. He studied law under his father and was admitted to the bar in 1868. In 1870 White along with Robert. E. Mix and Judge Conway W. Noble formed the law firm in the law firm, Mix, Noble & White. Then in 1881, he became a judge. From 1895-1910, he formed part of the firm White, Johnson, McCaslin & Cannon. According to A History of Ohio (by Samuel Peter Orth - 1910): "Mr. White is greatly interested in oriental literature, of which he has presented over seven thousand volumes to the Cleveland Library. He is a republican, became a charter member of the Union Club in 1872, is well known as a chess and checker enthusiast and is a keen and persistent sportsman, but these things are minor interests in his life. He is often called "a living enclycopaedia" and said one who knows him well: 'It is not possible for one to have an adequate idea of his knowledge without living and coming into daily contact with him.'"
The Encyclopedia of Cleveland tells us: "Largely through his efforts, [the Cleveland Public Library] grew to national prominence, established a branch library system, introduced the open-shelf policy, and implemented an employee retirement plan. White personally selected and donated over 60,000 books on Orientalia, folklore, and related subjects to the library; upon his death he bequeathed his 12,000-volume chess and checker collection to it. He left the bulk of his estate as an endowment to maintain and develop its John G. White Collection of Folklore, Orientalia and Chess. Never married, White died in Jackson, Wyoming, and was buried in Lake View Cemetey [Aug. 26, 1928]"
For the "300th Anniversary of the Writing of the First Manuscript 1619-1919," White created a laborious study the bibliographical side of Greco's work entitled, "Greco and his Manuscripts." It's, indeed, a tedious work, mostly of interest to scholars of ancient documents, but it aslo contains a short history of Greco's life and many beautiful examples from his original manuscripts found in the White Collection that might delight the average chess enthusiast.
from Greco and his Manuscripts by John G. White, Christmas 1919:
Gioachimo Greco was born about 1600 at Celico near Cosenza in Calabria. He is usually called the Calabrese from the province of his birth. Practically nothing is known of his early life until we learn of his being at Rome under the patronage of a number of wealthy ecclesiastics. He seems to have commenced to keep a manuscript collection of games in 1619, and for his patrons he made extracts from this collection, prefixing to the copies much other matter.
In 1621 he was at the Court of the Duke of Lorraine in Nancy. To him he gave a beautiful copy of his manuscript, dated July 5, 1621. From thence he went to Paris. In 1622 to England, and on his way was robbed of all the profits of his sojourn in Paris.
He returned to Paris in 1624. Then to Madrid, where he played at the Court of Philip IV, defeating all. Then he accompanied Spanish nobleman to the West Indies, where he died before 1634.
He was the Morphy of his time, and his influence in behalf of the open game dominated the chess world until the rise of Philidor. His collection of games is even today very stimulating to the young player.
Greco's hand in the earliest manuscripts is a very illiterate one. It improves by degrees. The grammar is said, by scholars, to be very bad at the commencement. This also improves. There is so great a difference in the various signatures that it may be doubtful whether they are all by him. He seems to have not unfrequently, where his manuscript was intended for wealthy or powerful patrons, to have had the beginning of the treatise caligraphed and then himself to have written the body of the text.
Mistakes occur in the caligraphed parts, which experts say indicate that they were written from dictation. In its completest form, the treatise, in addition to the text, contains the following:
2. Ai lettori.
4. Del Gioco de Scacchi, treating of the invention of the game,
the moves, check and mate.
5. Leggi del Gioco.
6. Usanza che nel Gioco si osserva in diversi parti.
7. Astutie de Giocatoria.
8. Regole da tenersi per imparar a giocare di memoria
all' nobilissimo gioco de scacchi.
Most of these are given in somewhat different form in the different manuscripts where they occur.
Some of the manuscripts of Greco have been described by v. d. Linde and J. A. Leon, the latter in Prof. Hoffman's Games of Greco. All of these descriptions have been more or less imperfect and erroneous. The manuscripts are enumerated but not described in Murray's history of chess. It is quite likely that other manuscripts still remain unknown. They may be divided into classes by the time at which they were written.
To Greco's first period at Rome belong (this part is highly abbreviated):
1. The Corsini manuscript dated the 12 th of February, 1620,
Dedicated to Monsig. Corsino di Casa Minutoli Tegrimi.
2. The Casa Orsini manuscript, dated at Rome, 1620.
Dedication to the Cardinal of Casa Orsini.
3. Manuscript Boncompagni - Ludovisi, (prior to April, 1621)
4. Libretto di giochare a schachi (produced prior to April, 1621)
5. The Lorraine manuscript, Rome 11619.
Dedicated to the Duke of Lorraine.
6. A French translation by Guillaume Polydore Ancel, 1622.
7. Bodleian manuscript, dated at London, 1623.
8. Manuscript Sloane: 429 pages of written matter,
sixteen lines to each page.
9. The booke of the ordinary games at chesse composed
by Joachino Greco, acq. by v.d. Lasa in 1856.
10. Same title as above (title English, text Italian):
from the library of J.Wilson, 1763.
11. Manuscript in the Bibliothique Nationale, Paris. Parigi, 1624.
12. Trattato sopra la nobilita del gioco di scacchi, etc.
acq. by v.d. Lasa, 1855.
13. Manuscript G-384: bequeathed to city of Grenble in 1855 by Mr. Alliey
14. The Samuda Ms.: "Presented to A. Samuda by James Bonfel, Esq.
15. Manuscript Italiens. dated 1625.
16. Manuscript in the Library of John G. White; possibly Paris in 1624.
17. Orleans Manuscript 481
18. Jeu d'eschets de Mr. Talon Medicin. 1660.
19. Jeu d'Eschets de Joachim Grec Calabrois. 1660.
20. The Royal Game of Chess made easy. circa 1715.
21. Gambetts composed by Giochino Gracco italian Calabrease
in the Kingdom of Naples. circa 1795.
22. The Studies of Biochimo dated 1656, a copy of Beale's edition.
probably an 18th century copy.
23. Primo Modo de Gioco de Partito Composto per Gioachimo Greco
Calabrese. date unknown.
24. Manuscript, Paris Bibliotheque Nationale
Ancienne Fr. 1748. A copy of the French printed text.
The manuscript in the Toulouse Library is by Polerio not by Greco, and the Ms. Riccardiana is a collection of mediaeval chess problems.
Both of these in former descriptions have been ascribed to Greco.
GIOACHINO Greco, one of the most brilliant chess-players that ever lived, was born at Celico, near Cosenza, in Calabria, about the year 1600. He left his home at an early age, before he had achieved any celebrity. Carrera's treatise, which was published in 1617, gives an exhaustive list of the good players of that day, but makes no mention of his name.
Greco probably did not establish his reputation till a later period, in Lorraine and more especially in Paris, where he was regarded as the strongest player of the day. The best French players were then the Due de Nemours, Arnaud, Chaumont, and La Salle, none of whom were able to hold their own against him. He appears to have made chess a very profitable occupation, for he won while in Paris a sum of no less than five thousand scudi (rather more than a thousand pounds), of which he was robbed during a visit to England, when he had a narrow escape of his life. Returning to France, he amassed a further sum, and then after paying a visit to Naples, accompanied a Spanish nobleman to the West Indies, where he died shortly afterwards, leaving the whole of his fortune to the Jesuits. His chess career was exceptionally brilliant, though brief, for in 1634 Salvio already records his death. At the same time he mentions that Greco unsuccessfully encountered Don Mariano Marano, at the Court of Philip IV. of Spain.
Greco's earliest work, which bears the date 1619, was dedicated to the Duke of Lorraine. It is a very fine illuminated manuscript on vellum, which is now in the Biblioteca Nazionale, in Florence. In it he employed the Neapolitan free rochade, not adopting the normal method of Castling till 1623. In that and the two following years he produced a large number of manuscripts, many of which are still in existence. Several of these were written by Greco himself in an execrable hand, and in the most barbarous Italian imaginable, showing that he was a man of next to no education. Here for the first time we come across the highly ingenious, though unsound counter-gambits which he originated in the King's Knight's and King's Bishop's Openings, which lead to such sparkling games. The latest of his manuscripts (Naples, 1626 or later) again reverts to the free rochade, but he remarks that he always played according to the rules of the country in which he happened to be staying. Most of these manuscripts conclude with a number of problems (one in my own possession contains nineteen), of which there is also a collection bearing his name in the National Library in Lisbon.
Nearly all these manuscripts are dedicated to important personages, and are frequently written by a copyist; several contain some well executed miniatures and initials. The tone of the work is varied to suit the taste of the person addressed; thus one MS. (Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris, MS. Italiens No. 1,378) is entitled: Trattato del Nobilissimo et Militare Esstrcitio de Scacchi, and is obviously intended for a military officer of high rank, whose name is however not mentioned in the dedication.
This is borne out by a curious note at the end of one of the games, where he remarks that White Castles on the Queen's side, and directs the battery with his infantry and cavalry from the side of the King's Rook. At the end of another game in this MS.—a counter-gambit in the K Kt opening— the author remarks that there are thirteen other ways of playing the game, but that he does not give them as it might do him great harm! This counter-gambit must have been a great source of income to Greco.
His work was not printed till long after his death. The earliest edition is an imperfect English one of the year 1656, by F. Beale, who calls the author "Biochimo." Another English edition, entitled "Chess made easy," was published in 1750. Lewis brought out a copiously annotated version in 1819, of which a reprint appeared in 1833.
The earliest French edition was published in Paris in 1669. It is a re-production of the games and six problems of one of the 1625 manuscripts, with a substitution of a fresh introduction for Greco's own. This was followed by numerous others at rapid intervals, showing how great the demand for the work must have been. The French editions of Greco have been frequently mistaken by writers for editions of Ruy Lopez, and vice versa.
A German edition was produced by Moses Hirschel, in Breslau, in 1784, of which a second edition was published in Leipsic, eleven years later. The best version of all is by v. d. Lasa. It first appeared in the Schachzeitung, for which it was afterwards reprinted in 1859, together with the same eminent writer's Berliner Schacherinnerungen and Lucena.
A Danish edition appeared in 1854, and a Dutch one, by Van der Linde, in 1865.
Strange to say, there is not a single Italian edition in existence, and his games were not brought before the Italian public till 1861, when Usigli embodied them in his Miscellanea. It is however only right to mention that Cozio (1766) included several of Greco's games in his treatise for the charitable purpose of pointed out errors that occurred in them.
Greco's celebrated collection of games does not, as v. d. Lasa points out, form a text-book. It consists of a number of variations without any proper connection, and is entirely unaccompanied by notes. Very weak moves are found accompanying
the most hazardous attacks, while the plain straight - forward game is frequently overlooked. Nevertheless, these games are highly instructive, and according to Ponziani's correct judgment, are well calculated to stimulate new ideas in a young
imagination. They are artistically arranged, and are, as it were, taken from life, containing as they do those very errors apt to be committed by weak, and occasionally even by the strongest players. They abound in numerous suitably-selected traps, and notwithstanding the absence of notes, contain many highly ingenious combinations. In illustration of this I append a number of his games, which will well repay the trouble of playing over. I do not give any of his problems, as they are neither original nor of much interest. J. A. Leon.
Note: Prof. Louis Hoffmann's Games of Greco (in descriptive notation with a Greco bibliography by J. A. Leon.) 1900