A Certain Player Named Williams. The Man Who Incurred the Wrath of Staunton..
A Court for King Cholera. Punch. 1852.

A Certain Player Named Williams. The Man Who Incurred the Wrath of Staunton..

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For some time now I have been collecting material to do a large article on Elijah Williams.

However, a recent conversation with John Townsend revealed that he is working on a project himself along those lines, which will include a great deal of new information on Williams - in particular his early life, so by way of a taster I have decided to pick a few things from my files and put this together.

Before we start - this is not an 'anti - Koward Staunton etc, etc' article. The  subject matter is Elijah Williams, and Stunton's efforts to attack his reputation are a part of the article, not its sole purpose.

As such is not a forum for the ill-informed with their own agenda to make abusive comments about dead people. Any of those will be deleted.

Yes I can - it is MY article. The name  of Paul Morphy is not mentioned, and is not relevant to the article.

So let us begin!!

Staunton was well known for his use of his literary outlets to criticize or belittle his rivals - particularly those who were successful against him, and the title relates to the following from an article by Charles Tomlinson in the B.C.M in 1891.on Simpson's - formerly Ries - Divan.

''But to return to the Divan. This was in a state of excitement at the end of every week, when the Illustrated London News came in, and the notices to correspondents were eagerly examined.

I remember much indignation was caused by the reference to 'a certain player named Williams'., that player being as well-known in the chess world as Staunton himself.''

Tomlinson comments on Williams :-

''Williams was a pleasant, gentlemanly antagonist, and he published some specimens of his divan play in a little volume which he sold to the benignant amateur. It is entitled ''Horae Divanianiae, a selection of one hundred and fifty original games by leading masters, principally played at the Grand Divan''. It was published by the author at the Divan in 1852, and it has a long list of subscribers, showing how greatly Williams was respected......

Williams also died early. A subscription was got up in the Divan for the benefit of his widow and children, and I hope it was liberally supported. he had been a medical man in Bristol [records describe him as 'surgeon'. Simaginfan] and was a distinguished member of the chess club there. Williams became so fascinated with chess that he gave up his practice for a precarious seat in the Divan.''

And so - Elijah Williams. He was from Bristol originally, before moving to London in 1844.

Gaige gives his D.O.B. as Nov. 7th, 1809, and death as Sept 8th, 1854.

The introduction to this book,

gives the following;-

''As regards the Bristol Chess Club, we have no reliable data to offer as to the exact period when it first emerged into light, as no record remains of the event; but we have undoubted evidence that it was formed in 1829 or 1830, under the presidentship of Mr. Elijah Williams ''.

And further on:-

Mr. Williams, the subject of this brief sketch was the founder of the Bristol Chess Club, it's president until he left the city in 1844, and the strongest player. many of his games.....were printed and ''perused with so much interest that public expectation placed him in the highest rank amongst our English players. He must have commenced his cultivation of chess very early in life, for two games played by him at the early age of fifteen years,  with the automaton player in London, in 1819 or 1820, are extant. [This has been debated, whilst the age given, 15 years, would give a date of birth of around 1805. Simaginfan] 

....His style was sound, cautious, and sometimes brilliant. Mr. Williams edited ''The Souvenir of The Bristol Chess Club'', comprising 100 games played within the club, ''Horae Divanianae'', 150 games played within the Divan, and was the chief contributor to, and manager of,the chess articles in 'The Historic Times' and 'The Field'.  

He also wrote other chess columns. An example from August 1853, from The Illustrated London Magazine.

If the birth date is correct, Williams would have been just 20 or 21 years old at the time. He was, however, a leading member of society, being also a member of 'The Gloucestershire Society.

The Bristol Times and Mercury, Saturday April 13th, 1844 records the details of  his marriage.

''April 9th, at St. Mary's, Kirkdale, Liverpool, by the Reverend D. James, Mr Elijah Williams, surgeon, to Amelia, the youngest daughter of F. Cassin Esq, late of this city.

It seems that he and his new wife may have spent time in both Bristol and London early in their married life, as in February 1845 he published the book 'Souvenir of the Bristol Chess Club'. It contains a lot of his games, and the preface states that 'A very large proportion of the games was played within the last six months;' 

A large proportion of the games were played by Williams himself - mostly at various odds.

One illustrative game at random.

 The edoratings site give the following list of his known match and tournament results.

You will see that as early as 1845 he met Staunton in a small match at odds - in fact the two had met earlier - back in 1841 at odds of Pawn and two moves, with the three known games resulting in a score of one win each, with one draw.

Looking at the list, it is clear that he improved steadily, to become a very strong player. By 1850 he was good enough to be leading no less than Henry Buckle by 3-1, at which point the match appears to have been broken off. 

You won't find many games from most of those events in the databases - however, many can be found in Horae Dianianae, so I will include a few  samples here.

And so on to the event that has written William's name into chess history - the London Tournament of 1851. There he beat Staunton in two matches - much to that gentleman's displeasure!!

Staunton did not seem, shall we say, to be of generous spirit, or what could be described as 'a good loser'. In attempting to excuse his own performance, he attacked both Williams as a player, and for the slowness of his play. How much of the latter is true - Staunton was known as a none too quick player himself, on occasion - and how much is Stauntonesque excuse making and deprecation of a rival, is difficult to know. The 'mud', however, has stuck, even all this time later.

See, for example what is said in a recent article.   

For those of you who do not know, the event was run on a knock-out system, and eventually won by Anderssen.

In the first round, the first to win 2 games was to go through. Williams didn't get the best of the draw, being paired against a man just starting to build a reputation, Johann Jacob Lowenthal.

 At one win each, this was the decisive game, and Staunton started doing his thing!!

Tournament book page 29.

'The unexpected result of this contest took everybody by surprise, and added greatly to the regret felt at te mistaken policy which permitted matches of such importance to be decided by three games only.

Mr kieseritzky was already lost to the tournament, [ the fortunate victor in that case being Anderssen - who later eliminated Staunton!! Simaginfan] and now another of the best players was thrown out, under circumstances of additional mortification, since Mr. Lowenthal's opponent was unquestionably his inferior in every point.'

In the second round, Williams got the luck of the draw  - the bunny of the event. Staunton basically ignored the games, except for his attempts to chip away at Williams reputation.

Tournament book page 88. In some respects these players were well paired, not for equality of force, indeed, Mr. Williams being much the stronger, but because each, in his degree, exhibits the same want of depth and inventive power in his combinations, and the same tiresome prolixity in maneuvering his men. It need hardly be said that the games, from first to last, are remarkable only for their unvarying and unexampled dulness. (sic)

Page 90. I am not aware whether the time consumed has been recorded. It must have been portentous, as about midway in the original copy I find a significant notification by the unfortunate secretary, ''Both players nearly asleep!''.

In the third round Williams met Marmaduke Wyvill M.P. Although known as a decent player, Wyvill turned out to be the real surprise package of the tournament, reaching the final, where he put up a decent fight against Anderssen. Williams shot into a 3-0 lead, only to finally lose 4-3!! Quite a match.

As Williams lost, Staunton limited himself to merely commenting on how fine Wyvill's comeback was.

Mean-time, Staunton was being eliminated by Anderssen. He then got drawn against Williams in the play-off for 3rd and 4th prizes Given that he had been able to give Williams odds of Pawn and two moves - odds that he was a true master of - 6 years previously - he would have been confident of success. However, After a tough struggle, it was Williams who came out the winner by the narrowest of margins 4-3 with one draw.

The first game was a beautiful game on William's part. Staunton's notes hardly reflect that fact(!)

The  first note is my own - the rest Staunton's from the tournament book.

Staunton fought back, taking the lead in the match  by 3-1. It was the first to win 4 games.

Tournament book page 148. ''In this and the next two games, Black appears to have roused himself into something like action; the stimulus, however, was evidently insufficient to sustain him long against the insupportable tedium of his adversary's play. There are positions, everyone knows, occurring occasionally in a game, where even the clearest and farthest-seeing head requires a long time to unravel all the intricacies of the position. In such cases deliberation is a duty, and none, except a very unreasonable opponent, would object to it; but when a player, upon system, consumes hours over moves, when minutes might suffice, and depends, not upon outmaneuvering, but out-sitting,  his antagonist, patience ceases to be a virtue, and one can not help expressing deep regret that there is not some legal or moral force which may be brought to bear upon the offender, so that, in default of accelerating his pace, he should be held disentitled to a victory gained by such unworthy strategy.' 

Williams fought back and won a magnificent fifth game of the match. Even Staunton - at move 36, had to concede that 'White plays the end of this game, which is very difficult, extremely well,.

With the match in the balance, it was Williams who won the decisive 8th game.

It was indeed a game unworthy of Staunton, who made  a thoroughly unsound sacrifice, and lost accordingly. His final comment. T.B. Page 162.

'Thee mere absurdity of black entering the listsin the state of health he has been in for the last to years, was sufficiently evidenced by his play in many of the previous games, and needed not the crowning proof of this one. No wonder truly, that a player of acknowledged skill such as Mr. Anderssen unquestionably is, should have got the best of him, under such circumstances, when he here loses the odd game to an opponent to whom, in ordinary play, he has always given the odds of pawn and two moves,  and beaten easily.

O.K. For many that would have been the end of the matter, but Staunton - a man fiercely defensive of his reputation - wasn't going to take these defeats lying down. His challenge to Anderssen could not come to fruition - the latter having to return to Germany, but he was able - through the funds put aside during the tournament for supplementary matches, to get another crack at Williams.

There seems to have been a certain amount of bartering - Staunton wanting to play the games in his own home, with Williams asking for a compensating advantage. Eventually, the match took place, with Staunton agreeing - desperate as he was to regain his lost reputation - conceding a 3 game handicap in a match of first to 7 wins. This followed straight after Lowenthal's chance of revenge, which he took by a margin of 7-5.

Tournament book page lxxiii.

'On  the present occasion, the Hungarian scored seven games to his opponent's five, and there can be little doubt that he would have gained a larger majority, but for the unchivalrous tactics of his antagonist in protracting every game .....

This encounter was to be succeeded by one between Mr. Staunton and Mr. Williams, but when the time of combat approached, the latter refused to play without some modification of the terms on which all the previous matches were conducted.

Mr. Staunton, rather than the match should not be played, consented to give him three games out of seven; that is to say, agreed, in the event of his winning four games before Mr. S. won seven, to relinquish him the prize played for,

In the opening games of this contest, which were played in the presence of a distinguished amateur, Mr. williams systematic delay over every move called forth the marked animadversion of the lookers - on. When games are prolonged to twelve, thirteen, and twenty hours, each , and single moves can occupy two hours and a half, the effect upon an invalid can well be imagined.

Notwithstanding these disadvantages, Mr. S. contrived to score six games to his opponent's two; but the extent to which every subsequent game was prolonged, compelled him out of sheer fatigue to resign the contest before scoring the seventh game, so that in the end he had won six to his adversary's four.'

There is even more where that came from, but let's leave it there!!

The big blot on William's record - as you can see above, was his three matches against Harrwitz, where he was repeatedly crushed. The matches are extensively covered in Fiala's Quarterly for Chess History vol 20. Very often, Williams got the advantage out of the openings, only to find himself outplayed later

Whilst Harrwitz - in my view the stronget player in the World, at the time,

was charitable in victory, Staunton - no friend of Harrwitz either, was less kind.

In The Illustrated London News, Jan 22nd, 1853 he had this to say.

'The present state of the second contest between Harrwitz and Williams, we believe to be- Harrwitz 4, Williams 2; drawn 1.  Of the games. as far as we have seen of them, we can say nothing favourable: they are miserably dull and poor. It is to be hoped that Mr. Lowenthal's gallant challenge to the winner will lead to a series of games more worthy of being recorded,'

At the time, Lowenthal was on good terms with Staunton - Harrwitz was not. Maybe another post from me there!!

Williams eventual death is a sad story, and explains my choice of header picture.


In 1854 there was a famous outbreak of cholera in London - remembered as an event that led to a breakthrough in medicine. 

From the London Illustrated News, 

 As said in the Tomlinson article, a subscription was taken up for William's wife and children.

Bell's life, Oct. 8th, 1854 has this.

As I said at the top - if you can remember that far back  This was originally intended to be a full article - probably in two parts - perhaps i will come back to the subject when John Townsend has published his research. I have amassed a lot of material on Elijah Williams, of which some is given here.

A few links that give a little more material.

To finish, a handful of games played by Williams - I have well over 200, and have not really done any searching.

And finally, a bit of off-hand fun against this man, the Rev. W. Wayte.

Chosen because it is something pretty to finish with!!