By G. A. Macdonnell


"What odds will you give me?" asked a provincial youth of a well-known player at the Divan, as they were arranging the pieces on a board close to the table at which I was sitting. "Well, let me see," said the celebrity. "How do you play with Mr. B. and Mr. O.?" (naming two magnates). "They give me a knight, and win a slight majority." "Then I will give you a rook." Here the speaker flashed his eyes rapidly around him upon each of the spectators that had already gathered to witness the coming fight, and as he did so there was a peculiar twinkle in his dark orbs which admitted of various interpretations. It might have been construed into saying - "Behold in me a player superior to all other men; please wonder and admire." But to my mind that twinkle seemed but to say - "I know that I am bold, but am I not also generous? Moreover, have I not created a small sensation that amuses you all and frighten my opponent?"

In short, it was more the flash of fun than of conceit that sparkled in the eyes of Harrwitz, who was the hero of this little incident. I observed in after times that Harrwitz generally gave greater odds than any other player, but I think he was influenced to do so, not by his belief in the superiority of his own powers, but by the delight he took in coping with difficulties. He certainly was a wonderful odds-giver-amongst the very best. His manner and his speech, coupled with the peculiar nature of his mental gifts, all favored his success in this department of the game. He played with great, almost unsurpassed rapidity, scarcely ever pausing more than a few seconds to think out his moves, and when his opponent was poring over the board unlike most fast players, he was looking about him on all sides, twittering out some gay or witty remarks. There is nothing more calculated to disturb the equilibrium and lessen the strength of an inferior player than a lively manner and a seeming carelessness as to the result of the game. It seems to say - "I feel and look happy because I am going to win; I do not exert myself, because it is not necessary to do so." Harrwitz was always very quick, even with the strongest opponents. I saw him once play a match-game with Anderssen, and he did not take half as much as that quick-sighted player. Even in games upon which considerable stakes depended, he seemed at times less anxious to obtain a victory than to excite admiration by the rapidity of his play. He was not exactly nervous, but extremely restless, and exhibited this feeling throughout the progress of the game in an almost perpetual motion, or sawing up and down with one of his hands. His countenance was highly intellectual, his eyes dark, full, deep-set, and lustrous with varied expression; his head was large and well-shaped; his forehead was high and broad, and looked all the broader on account of the form of his face, which was long and tapered down to his chin. He had, undoubtedly, a genius of the highest order for chess, and it was only his restlessness, springing, no doubt, from delicacy of health, that prevented him from taking his place by the side of the very greatest masters. The indomitable pluck he displayed in his memorable contest with Lowenthal, not merely enhanced his reputation as a player, but rendered him - and very justly too - a hero in the eyes of all who admire the brave spirit which never surrenders. I may here mention, without in any way detracting from the merits of Lowenthal, that in the early part of the match Harrwitz was suffering from severe cold in the head, and it was to get rid of it, not to postpone a defeat which seemed looming in the distance, that he went to Brighton for a week, when the score stood 7 to 2 against him, thereby forfeiting two more games. His match with Staunton of 21 games - 7 even, 7 at pawn and move, and 7 at pawn and two - exhibited fine generalship on both sides, and perhaps contributed more than anything else to increase the reputation of the Englishman. It was, indeed, for him a grand victory; but in justice to Harrwitz it should be remembered that at the time he was a mere youth, unpracticed with masters and unskilled in the odds rendered. An amusing little incident occurred in that contest which I think is worth recording. In one of the games Staunton made a sacrifice whereby he expected to win; but Harrwitz retorted by also sacrificing a piece, and the result was that the Prussian emerged from the scrimmage with a superior game and a pawn ahead. Somewhat chagrined at his discomfiture, Staunton muttered - "Dear me, dear me, I have lost a pawn!" in a voice and with an accent that indicated rather anger towards his opponent for his clever maneuver than blame towards himself for his faulty combination. When he had repeated those words, "I have lost a pawn", several times, Harrwitz rang the bell sharply, and, upon the waiter appearing, he exclaimed -
"William, will you kindly look about the floor for a pawn. Mr. Staunton has just lost one." Harrwitz was a great favorite at the London and St. George's Clubs, where for some years he had lucrative engagements. His obliging disposition, amiable character, and readiness to encounter all opponents in any way worthy of his powers, excited the admiration and gained esteem of all with whom he came into contact. There was, however, a touch of cynicism in his nature, which sometimes gave offence where it was really not intended; but he never intentionally wounded any man, unless circumstances provoked and justified the aggression. Here is an instance of his fun, which has been mistaken for vanity. A gentleman from the provinces one day visited the Divan and got into conversation with Harrwitz. He did not know the Prussian master, but suspected his identity. "And whom," said he, "do you consider the best player who frequents this room?" "Do you see," replied Harrwitz, "that gentleman with yellowish hair, standing near the fireplace?" pointing, as he spoke, to Mr. Williams. "Yes." "Well, he is the best." "Indeed, and how do you play with him?" "Well, I beat him every game." By-the-bye, it is only just to Mr. Williams to state that he certainly owed his ignominious defeat by Harrwitz to a time limit, which was most unfavorable to him against so rapid an opponent. Harrwitz was a clever epigramist. On one occasion, when he was playing a match, annoyed with his opponent, who frequently failed to keep his appointment, and habitually pleaded illness as an excuse for his neglect, Harrwitz observed to him - "Yes, sir, you are always ill; one day you can't play because you are ill; and the next day you are ill because you can't play." About thirteen years ago Harrwitz retired altogether from chess, and left this country to take up his residence at Botzen, in the Tyrolese mountains, where surrounded by some of the loveliest scenery in Europe, and possessing a competent fortune inherited from his father, he enjoys good health, and passes his time in intellectual pursuits, the chess-world forgetting, but not by the chess-world forgotten.



Harrwitz Bio