More on Cecil De Vere.
I have decided - now that I have learned how to do more things, to add to my earlier post on Cecil De Vere. I will give a few of my own thoughts, some interesting period stuff, and some games. It will end up being more like a novel than a blog, but hopefully there will be something in it that will capture your imagination.
For anyone interested in a full biography, I would recommend the book 'The English Morphy?' by Owen Hindle and Bob Jones, published by Kerevel Chess Books.
De Vere is an almost unique case in chess history. If you look at the historical ratings sites - edoratings for example- his first rating is his highest. That is simply extraordinary. To emerge as a novice into the top ranks of the game is not unique, although most I could name had developed quietly behind the scenes, playing strong opponents in informal games and matches within strong clubs. However, with experience will normally come an increase in strength, and a rise in ratings. That is the true tragedy of De Vere. Had his life and personality have been different he would - in my opinion - have become one of the immortals of chess. He had a sublime talent. In some of the games I will give, he will make sacrifices, not following up with a series of hammer blows, but with simple looking quiet moves, against which his opponents are helpless. And he did it against the best - Steinitz, Zukertort, Blackburne, the mature Paulsen, Winawer, Bird etc. Unlike many, he did not have admirers ready to record and pass on his games, particularly in off-hand encounters for posterity. Indeed, many of his serious games have gone unrecorded. And so, as I.O.H. Taylor was to remark, many of his most beautiful accomplishments are lost forever.
His career slipped quietly away, the talent unfulfilled.
The decline, as I say, was down to a combination of his personality and circumstances. He was always frail and unhealthy. When you look at the few images of him that are available, you will notice that his clothes seem to be 2 sizes to big, his face hollow, and his eyes shrinking back into his white, almost bloodless, face. At the Redcar meeting of 1866 it was remarked that he would not live long, and so it proved. He was to die of T.B. - consumption as it was called in those days - shortly before what would have been his 30th birthday. (He was born on February 14th - Valentine's Day, probably in Montrose, Sterling, 1845, and died February 9th, 1875, in Torquay.) He suffered from what we would now call depression - melancholia was the term of the time. Macdonnell in his 'Chess life Pictures', dates this from a visit to his family during the Dundee tournament of 1867. However, it is likely that this set in earlier - his mother, to whom he was utterly devoted,( ref. previous post) died in 1866. He had no other family nearby. He also suffered form the curse of the Victorian era - overuse of alcohol, which is certainly no cure for depression.
Like Charousek, Junge and others, the story of Cecil Valentine Brown De Vere, the reworking of his name that he adopted after his mother's death, is a tale of 'if only's' and 'what if's'.
As with all player's of the era, The objective opinion on De Vere comes from William Norwood Potter in his obituary. A little later he added a small 'addendum', as follows.
City Of London Chess magazine. march 1875. Page 42.
Chess World - ed. Lowenthal. Vol.1.pg 345.
As above .Page 378.
Shortly afterwards De Vere became the first Official British Chess Champion by winning the inaugural event for the B.C.A. Challenge Cup. The event was not, despite value of the trophy - estimated at £50 - well supported. In the event, only De Vere, Bird, and MacDonnell of master strength entered. De Vere made a mockery of the whole event. Bird, MacDonnell and James Minchin - a name that crops up a lot in the chess of the time- all got the same treatment. 4-0.
Rev.G.A. MacDonnell. Courtesy Chessarch.com.
This event was followed by the congress at Redcar mentioned above. A Photo of the event is available - see previous posts, but I do not have permission to give it here. It was to be the last time, within a year of his emergence to master level, that De Vere played to his full potential. he won all his games except one - against the strongest of the chess playing 'Reverends' of the era, Thorold, who finished in second place. He lost that game by blundering a won position, thereby depriving himself of 19 straight wins in tournament play. Sadly only one game of his - against Rev. Owen, has been preserved, which I will give. From here on, his inexorable slide down the chess ladder began.
From 'The Chess World', ed. Lowenthal comes this report of the Redcar event. As Staunton was present, it has been speculated that the report emanates from him.
A photograph from the Hereford meeting of 1885. Thorold is standing, 2nd from left.
The following game was played in a small practice match by De Vere against his mentor Frank Burden, which he probably used as preparation for the great Paris tournament which followed soon after.
The game against Rosenthal is regarded as De Vere's best in the Paris Tournament.
Rosenthal, ca. 1878.
It was at Dundee that De Vere played his best known game.
MacDonnell in 'Chess Life Pictures' says:-
'In 1867 we both visited Dundee, where we were most hospitably entertained by his Scotch relatives' and afterwards we spent a most delightful time at Montrose, and the burn which, fourteen miles northward, glides at the foot of one of the Grampian Hills. In the winter of that year De Vere returned to London, and from that time forward he gradually declined in steadiness of play and seemed to have lost much, if not all, his enthusiasm for chess. I happen to know that there was an efficient cause for this declension and apathy on his part, and i mention it not by way of reproof to De Vere but in vindication of his memory.. When in Scotland, a dark cloud overshadowed his path, and instead of waiting for it to pass by, he resigned himself to its gloomy influence and despaired of ever seeing the returning sunshine again.'
The sketch of De Vere from Chess Life Pictures.
Found by Joost Van Winsen. 'Daily Graphic', December 29th, 1875. Posted on Chessarch.com.
From The Westminster Papers.
A Photograph of the great Adolf Anderssen as he would have looked around this time. I have seen it on many websites, without mention of the primary source. (fancy that!!) For the benefit of anyone who wishes to use it, I have scanned it straight from my copy of the Leipzig Tournament Book - Edition Olms facimile - with the title page.
A Famous caricature of Blackburne, from 'The Westminster papers, 1876.
The last known game of De Vere's. Hindle and Long give the following details, which I quote with thanks, as I have been unable to find a direct source for myself.
To finish. I will give the obituary from Westminster Papers, on March 1st, 1875. I believe it is by his lifetime friend, and first known opponent of accepted 'Master' status, the Rev. G.A. Macdonnell.
I will add a small comment of my own, if I may be permitted the indulgence. De Vere was an extraordinary talent - arguably the finest the World had known at that time - and a true chess artist.
Hopefully this humble attempt to do him justice will help to preserve his memory. simaginfan.