Edge's Letter in Bell's Life in London
--October 24, 1858
Hotel Breteuil, Paris, Oct. 20, 1858
To the Editor of Bell's Life in London:
Sir,-- Two letters appeared in your paper of last
Sunday, one with the signature of
"M. A.," the other of "Fair Play." In justice to fact, those
communications must not remain unanswered, as the misstatements they
contain might perchance mislead some as to the good faith of Mr. Morphy.
It is in no improper spirit that I appear before your readers under my own
name, but simply because, as I intend replying to your anonymous
correspondents with facts, not with hypotheses, I think I am bound in
honor to hold myself responsible for what I advance. The chess players of
London and Birmingham are not ignorant of the intimacy which Mr. Morphy
has honored me during his visit to Europe, and they will permit me to
state, that no one is better conversant with the facts bearing on the case
in point than your subscriber. Were it not that Paul Morphy positively
refuses to reply to any attack upon himself preferring his actions should
be the sole witness to his faith, I should not have troubled you or the
public with this communication.
On the 4th of last February, the New Orleans Chess Club
challenged Mr. Staunton to visit the Crescent City, "to meet Mr. Paul
Morphy in a chess match." On the 3d of April the former gentlemen replied
to this defi in the Illustrated London News in the following
language: -- "The terms of this cartel are distinguished by extreme
courtesy, and, with one notable exception, by extreme liberality also. The
exception in question, however, (we refer to the clause which stipulates
that the combat shall take place in New Orleans!) appears to us utterly
fatal to the match; and we must confess our astonishment that the
intelligent gentlemen who drew up the conditions did not themselves
discover this. Could it possibly escape their penetration, that if Mr.
Paul Morphy, a young gentleman without family ties or professional claims
upon his attention, finds it inconvenient to anticipate by a few months an
intended visit to Europe, his proposed antagonist, who is well known for
years to have been compelled, by laborious literary occupation, to abandon
the practice of chess beyond the indulgence of an occasional game, must
find it not merely inconvenient, but positively impracticable, to cast
aside all engagements, and undertake a journey of many thousand miles for
the sake of a chess encounter. Surely the idea of such a sacrifice is not
admissible for a single moment. If Mr. Morphy -- for whose skill we
entertain the liveliest admiration -- be desirous to win his spurs among
the chess chivalry of Europe, he must take advantage of his proposed visit
next year; he will then meet in this country, in France, in Germany, and
in Russia, many champions whose names must be as household words to him,
ready to test and do honor to his prowess."
No one would regard the above observations as
tantamount to aught else that, "If you will come to Europe I will play
you;" but we are relieved from the difficulty of discovering Mr.
Staunton's real meaning by his reiterated declarations that he would play
Mr. Morphy. Within a few days of the latter's arrival in London, the
English player stated his intention of accepting the match, but postponed
the commencement of it for a month, on the plea of requiring preparation.
In the month of July the acceptance of the challenge was announced in the
Illustrated London News. Before the expiration of the time demanded
in the first instance, Mr. Staunton requested that the contest should not
take place until after the Birmingham meeting. At Birmingham he again
declared his intention of playing the match, and fixed the date for the
first week of November in the presence of numerous witnesses. Mr. Morphy
may have erred in believing his antagonist intended to act as his words
led him to suppose, but it was an error shared in common by everyone
present, and particularly by Lord Lyttleton, the President of the British
Chess Association, who recognized the true position of the case in his
speech to the association, stating that he "wished him (Mr. Morphy) most
cordially success in his encounters with the celebrated players of Europe,
whom he had gallantly left home to meet; he should be pleased to hear that
he vanquished all -- except one; but that one - Mr. Staunton - he must
forgive him, as an Englishman, for saying he hoped he would conquer him."
-- (Report of Birmingham meeting, Illustrated London News, Sept.
So firmly convinced were the members of Mr. Staunton's
own club, the St. George's, that he had accepted the challenge, that a
committee was formed, and funds raised to back him. What those gentlemen
must now think of Mr. Staunton's evasion of the match can easily be
understood; but so strong was the conviction in other chess circles that
he would not play, that large odds were offered to that effect.
"M. A.'s" reasons for not playing, or "M. A.'s" reasons for Mr. Staunton's
not playing -- a distinction without a difference, as we shall hereafter
show -- is that "he is engaged upon a literary work of great
responsibility and magnitude." Did not this reason exist prior to Mr.
Morphy's arrival in June? and if so, why were Mr. Morphy, the English
public, and the chess community generally led into the belief that the
challenge was accepted? And what did Mr. Staunton mean by stating at
Birmingham, in the presence of Lord Lyttleton, Mr. Avery, and myself, that
if the delay until November were granted him, he could in the mean while
supply his publishers with sufficient matter, so as to devote himself
subsequently to the match?
Mr. Staunton's (I mean "M. A.'s" ) remark in the letter
under review, "I (Staunton or "M. A." indifferently) have no apprehension
of your skill." is hardly consonant with the previous statement the "he
(Staunton) is at least pawn and two below is force," unless the
"English-chess-world-representative" wishes it to be understood that he
could offer those odds to Paul Morphy. Nor is it consonant with the fact
that he has never consented to play Mr. Morphy a single game, though asked
to do so, and when frequently meeting him at St. George's. Of course the
two consultation games played by him, in alliance with "Alter," against
Messrs, Barnes and Morphy count for nothing, as they were gained by the
latter; a result due, doubtless, to "Alter" alone.
Mr. Morphy, in the eyes of the chess world, can have nothing to gain from
a contest with this gentleman. When Mr. Staunton has met even players such
as Anderssen, Heyderbrandt, and L÷wenthal, he has succumbed; whilst his
youthful antagonist can cite a roll of victories unparalleled since
Labourdonnais. And herein is the true reason for "M. A.'s" saying,
Staunton must not be allowed to risk the national honor (?) in an unequal
On wishing "M. A." adieu, I would state that his style
of composition is so like Mr. Staunton's that no one could detect the
difference. And no one but Mr. Staunton himself would ever set up such a
defense as "M. A.'s" -- that of inferiority, "Pawn and two below his
strength," &c., &c. And no one but Mr. Stanton could have such intimate
knowledge of his own thoughts as we find in the following verbatim
quotations from "M. A.'s" letter: "The state of his health was such that
he felt he could not do himself justice" -- "his mind harassed" -- "the
other (Staunton) with scarcely time for sleep and meals, with is brain in
a constant whirl with the strain upon it." In the language of Holy Writ:
"No man can know the spirit of man, but the spirit of man which is in
Served up in a mess of foul language, the letter signed
"Fair Play" contains an obvious untrue assertion, namely, Mr. Morphy
started for Europe not to play a match with Mr. Staunton. This is rather
outrageous in the face of the challenge from the New Orleans Chess Club,
and with Mr. Staunton's reply in the Illustrated London News of April 3d.
So much was it Mr. Morphy's desire to play him, and so little his
intention to engage in the Birmingham Tournament that he informed the
secretary he did not regard such a contest as any true test of skill.
To sum up the whole matter, I
will state the naked facts.
1. Mr. Morphy came to Europe to play Mr. Staunton.
2. Mr. Staunton made everybody believe he had accepted
the challenge from Mr.
3. Mr. Staunton allowed the St. George's Chess Club to
raise the money to back him
4. Mr. Staunton asked for a delay of one month, in
order to brush up his openings
5. Mr. Staunton requested a postponement until after
the Birmingham meeting.
6. Mr. Staunton fixed the beginning of November for the
commencement of the match.
If all this do not mean "I will
play," then is there no meaning in language. I beg to subscribe myself,
Mr. Editor, most respectfully yours,
Frederick Milne Edge