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Books on Morphy
April 2006

John Dizikes, Professor Emeritus of American Studies at the University of California, Santa Cruz,  wrote a book, Sportsmen and Gamesmen, published in 1981 in which he examined, within a loosely interpretive concept of "games & sports," individuals, particularly from 19th century America, who somehow transcended the paradigms of the times and changed forever our understanding and appreciation for our pastimes.  One of these great individuals that Dizikes examined was Paul Morphy.  Despite his meticulous research, Dizikes made some errors - most of which can be attributed to his seemingly and almost inexplicable unawareness of Lawson's 1976 seminal work, Paul Morphy: the Pride and Sorrow of Chess. However, his ideas on Morphy, as well as his understanding of the world in which Morphy lived is rock solid, innovative and compelling.

Since Dizikes didn't consult Lawson, what books did he use in his research? He explains this very neatly, and by virtue of not having read Lawson, comes to the interesting conclusions below:

First, concerning Fiske's book:

"There are two indispensable sources dealing with the file and chess career of Paul Morphy. One is Daniel Willard Fiske's The Book of the First American Chess Congress .... The title is misleading. Although it is primarily about the Chess Congress of 1857 and was written to commemorate that event, it actually includes a great deal of very valuable material, which is to be found nowhere else, about the history of chess in the United States. In fact, so extensive did Fiske’s researches become that the book grew to twice the size initially intended and was not completed until two years after the congress. As a result, the book’s compilers were able to include an account of Morphy’s trip to Europe. Fiske took pains to be accurate, giving Morphy the final version of the material for his approval."

Second, concerning Edge's book:

"The second important source is Frederick Milns Edge's The Exploits and Triumphs, in Europe, of Paul Morphy ... Edge’s book is lively and, while wholly admiring, does not go in for exaggeration, on the sensible principle that the unvarnished truth about Paul Morphs was remarkable enough. Its chief limitation is one of scope; it is almost entirely about events in Europe and concludes with Morphy’s return to the United States, which coincided with the publication of the book."

Third, concerning Buck's booklet:

"There are three books that deal primarily with Morphy’s personal life, especially the years after his chess triumphs. All are difficult to get hold of. The most dependable and least eccentric in tone is a small volume by C. A. Buck, entitled Paul Morphy: His Later Life (Newport, Ky., 1902). Buck was an admirer who devoted himself to gathering information about Morphy. Buck’s publisher said that much of that information came from “authentic sources” in New Orleans, with “Morphy”s relatives and friends giving him great assistance.” The accuracy of this claim is difficult to estimate, but Buck’s views are sober and sensible."

He's less concerned with the family-centric booklets:

"The other two books are more problematic. Louis Albert Morphy's, Poems and Prose Sketches, with a Biographical Memoir (New Orleans, 1921) was privately published. The author was a great-nephew, and his book is both odd and interesting, devoting most of its attention to Morphy's illness and last years, and seeking to understand Morphy's life by means of some kind of doctrine of philosophical inevitability. Though pretentious and sometimes unintelligible, there are bits of information in it that appear nowhere else.

Regina Morphy-Voitier, Life of Paul Morphy in the Vieux Carré of New Orleans and Abroad (New Orleans, 1926) is perfectly intelligible but unrelentingly snobbish in its main purpose. which was to establish the superiority of the Morphy family's social position. But it is of special value, for Mrs. Morphy-Voitier, a great-niece, quotes family letters and stories. It may well be that it was written as a sort of reply to Louis Albert’s earlier account, an effort to set the record straight in a respectable fashion. But that record, like Morphy's life, is anything but straight."

As less yet with those he perceives as less biographical in nature:

"There are a great number of’ books of chess analysis that refer to Paul Morphy. Very few of these contain any biographical material. J. J. Löwenthal's Morphy’s Games of Chess (London, 1860), the first book about his games, contained a preface of a few words by Morphy himself. Philip Sergeant, the leading student of Morphy’s chess playing, reedited this book in an expanded form as Morphy’s Games of Chess (London, 1916); there is material of interest in this and in Sergeant’s Morphy Gleanings."


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