THE LIFE AND CHESS OF PAUL MORPHY                                                                                                                                                         Paul Morphy: Edge's letter to Bell's Life

 

  

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. 18, 1858.)
     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 contest.
     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 him."
     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.
        Morphy.
     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
        and endings.
     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

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