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Löwenthal's Visit to America
by Johann Jacob Löwenthal
from The Book of the 1st American Chess Congress, 1859.
January 2006


   It is not my purpose, in this retrospect of my visit to the United States, to touch on the impression I received of the political and commercial greatness of the powerful republic of the West. Writing with a definite object, I confine myself as much as possible to my Chess experience of America; but I may say, that I never saw a country which gave me such an idea of growing power and importance, nor one so well fitted to become the home of the exile. The cordial manners of the people, their open-handed hospitality, and free institutions all combine to make the wanderer feel himself at home; while the spreading commerce and vast undeveloped resources of the country, open up to him a profitable field of labor, and promise, in return for his industry, an honorable independence. In the States I have met with men of many nations, and of all professions and trades, but I scarcely  recollect one instance in which the same feeling was not expressed.

I arrived in New York from Hamburgh, on the 29th Dec., 1849. I will not dwell on the events which forced me to fly my own country, Hungary. They are known to all. Their interest belongs to the past, their results to the future; and a Chess record is not the place in which to touch upon them. It is enough to say that I landed a refugee - driven from home, separated from family, depressed in mind, physically ill, and with very slender means at my command. My intention was to go to the West and settle down upon the land. I took lodgings at a hotel near Broadway, and afterwards removed to a boarding-home in Chambers street; and for about a month occupied myself with seeing the city and its institutions, and gaining such information as my ignorance of the language enabled me to collect.

During this time I was waiting for means to carry out my original intentions, but they never came; and as my limited funds melted away, my position became more and more difficult.

Up to this time I had thought but little about Chess. The game had been to me, in my own land, an amusement which absorbed and occupied the time I could spare from business. With my lamented friend, Szen, once my Chess-master and afterwards my fellow-Player. I had spent many delightful hours over the board; and in my tours, I had met and contended with most of the great German players; but of Chess as an occupation I had never thought.

One day, oppressed by the feeling of loneliness which comes over a stranger in a crowded city, and perplexed at the dark prospects before me, I wandered into a reading-room and took up the New York Albion. The first thing which caught my eye was a diagram with a position upon it. If a benevolent magician had waved his hand over me, the change could not have been greater. In a moment my old love for Chess revived, with a vividness I had never before experienced. It seemed as if it had grown into a passion after, for a few weeks, lying latent. The sense of loneliness vanished. I could find Chess-players, and a common love for Chess was, I knew, a sort of freemasonry. I could not leave the room before I had solved the problem. All night I fought in dreams many old battles over again, and anticipated combats yet to come. The next morning I called on the editor of the Albion, who received me very kindly, and gave me his card as an introduction to Mr. Stanley of the British Consulate—a gentleman with whose name I was already familiar. Mr. Stanley gave me a most hospitable reception. I spent that evening at his house, and played with him; the result being, I think, even games. In Mr. Stanley’s style of play, I found very much to admire, particularly the originality and invention displayed by him in the openings. This was especially remarkable in the Knight’s Game, in which he introduced the method, since approved by the best Chess authorities, of bringing both the Knights over to the King’s side, thus giving additional safety to the King, and preparing a strong attack. I cannot allow the opportunity to pass, without expressing the deep obligations Mr. Stanley placed me under by his unvarying kindness, and the constant exertions he made to advance my interests.

            It was about this time that Mr. Stanley left for Washington, to play his match with Mr. Turner; and when he returned victorious, he introduced me to the leading members of the New York Chess Circle, who were in the habit of meeting at the Carlton House, Broadway. There I met Mr. Thompson, whose frequent visits to Europe had caused him to be well known in European Chess circles, and in several encounters with him I had much the best of the play. I also made the acquaintance of Mr. Perrin, the present Honorary Secretary of the New York Chess Club, and Mr. Evert, to both of whom I successfully gave odds.

My first formal match was with Mr. Turner. It was arranged for me by the kind offices of Mr. Stanley and Mr. Thompson, and was played at New York. In this and another match, which immediately followed, I was the conqueror; but I regret to say that I have not preserved any of the games. Mr. Turner struck me as a player of great natural talent and strong imagination, but somewhat too liable to be carried away by a brilliant combination or a dashing coup.

In Mr. Turner I found a generous friend. He kindly invited me to accompany him to his residence near Lexington (Kentucky); my old thought of turning farmer reviving, I accepted the invitation. We left on the 3d of March, 1850. Our stay in Philadelphia was too short to suffer me to meet any of the players of the city, who, I had heard, held a high rank among American amateurs. From Philadelphia we went by rail via Baltimore and Cumberland, and from thence by steamers to Wheeling and Pittsburg, and reached Lexington by stagecoach on the 9th of March.

I had heard much of the powers of Mr. Dudley, and looked forward with great pleasure to meeting him. On the 10th, I made his personal acquaintance at Charles’s hotel, and we at once sat down to the game and did not cease playing till the time arrived for me to go to Mr. Turner’s farm, distant about six or seven miles. I greatly admired Mr. Dudley’s style of play, but, on this occasion, could hardly form an estimate of his strength. We were, in these first encounters, reconnoitering  each other. I saw, however, that I had found a very able antagonist and subsequent experience impressed me with the conviction that Mr. Dudley was the best American player I ever met. Looking back now I do not see any reason to alter the estimate I then formed.

 At Mr. Turner’s plantation I was entertained with the most open hearted hospitality, and I shall never forget the kindness of my host and the efforts he made to serve me.

 On the 11th of March, I was introduced to the leading Lexington players at the Club, and I remember particularly Mr. Steward and Mr. Hunter, as among the most enthusiastic devotees of Chess.

 On the 12th of March, I commenced a third match with Mr. Turner, and at that sitting won every game.

On the 14th, I was introduced to Mr. Wikle, the editor of the Lexington newspaper, who emulated my other friends in kindness, and inserted in his journal a very handsome notice of my arrival. I also made the acquaintance of Mr. Lutz, a German by birth, but for many years resident at Lexington.

During my stay with Mr. Turner, Chess, of course, filled up the hours that gentleman could spare from his duties. The result of our play then was, that out of seven matches, some of the first five, others of the first three games, I won six and lost one by the odd game.

Mr. Dudley paid us a visit, and a match was arranged for rue with him, by Mr. Turner. Time winner of the first eleven games was to be the victor. The first game—a well contested one—was won by Mr. Dudley, and if I had had sufficient English at my command, I should have said that such a game was worth losing. The second game, through a blunder on my part, also went to the score of my opponent. Mr. Turner seemed somewhat startled at the turn affairs were taking, while I felt uneasy. In all the important matches I have played, I have lost the first two games. In consequence of my habit of mind, I take some time to become familiarized with my position, and able to apply myself thoroughly to what is before me; and this is so, whether my opponent happens to be equal or inferior to me. At the third game, I settled down to my work, and won that and the following live, and ultimately the match only by a majority of three games. This close play was, I think, owing to Mr. Dudley often playing the Ruy Lopez Opening in the Knight’s Game. That attack was not then sufficiently appreciated in Europe, and I was but little acquainted with the defence. I took the line of play given in the German Handbuch, and lost nearly every game. Mr. Dudley played this opening with great skill and judgment. Since that time, I have had the opportunity of investigating this attack, and have prepared a defence which, if not completely satisfactory, seems to me far preferable to the old method. I soon had my revenge—for in another match which followed immediately I won eleven games, Mr. Dudley scoring only three. In this match I remember I adopted in the defence to the Ruy Lopez 3. P to KB4. with success, and though that move has not secured the approbation of the leading European players it is my individual opinion that it may as well be played as any other, and that, at all events, it gives the second player an open game. After some days pleasantly spent with Mr. Steward, Mr. Lutz, and Mr. Turner, Sen., a third match with Mr. Dudley was arranged. The previous matches had been played in private, but this took place in compliance with the wish of the Lexington players, and was played in public. It excited considerable  interest. The play commenced on the 29th of March, and terminated on the 4th of April the score at the close being Mr. Dudley 5, myself 11, drawn 3. These games are the best I remember playing lu America, and would be well worth recording; but I have not a note of one of them. Mr. Dudley bore his defeat well, and in the most handsome manner, declared himself fairly beaten. On the 10th of April I left Lexington for Frankfort on my way to Cincinnati, carrying with me many pleasant reminiscences, and furnished with letters of introduction to Mr. Temple, the Treasurer of the State of Kentucky. Mr. Temple introduced me to Gen. Pain and to Governor Crittenden, in whom I had the satisfaction of becoming acquainted with one of the leading statesmen of America. I stayed at the Governor’s house to tea and supper amid a large party. Mr. Brown, who was, I was told, considered the best player in Frankfort, was present.

I won two games of Mr. Brown, to whom I gave odds, and then requested the honor of a game with the Governor. Here my good fortune deserted me, Mr. Crittenden proved victorious, and I had to console myself with the thought that I had been beaten in even play by one of the shrewdest brains in the States.

On the 12th of April I went to Louisville by steamboat. Here I was introduced to the Club by Dr. Raphael, and played several games. In the evening I was entertained by the gentlemen of the club at a supper which was presided over by General Preston.

On the 16th of April I reached Cincinnati, and on presenting my letters of introduction met with a most cordial reception. My warmest thanks are due to Dr. Schmidt, the editor of the German Republican, himself a player of no small power, who introduced me to the leading amateurs, and did all he could to help me. Dr. Schmidt was fairly entitled to the first place among the Cincinnati players, and next to him were Mr. Phineas Moses and Mr. Smith. Among the most enthusiastic lovers of the game I may mention Messrs. E. Brookes, Hopel, Eggers, Cooper, Baker, Salomons, and Paice. These gentlemen met at each other’s houses, and I played with them giving odds. A match was soon afterward arranged for me with the leading players consulting together. The first game was played on the first of May at the house of Mr. Moore, and others at the houses of Messrs. Brookes and Smith. The gentlemen consulting were Messrs. Schmidt, Smith, Moses, Brookes, and Moore. I won the first three games and the match. I was also engaged in private matches with Mr. Smith and Mr. Cooper. Mr. Smith had great Chess talent, and a little study and perseverance would have placed him among the best amateur players.

At Mr. Hopel’s I played and won a blindfold game, and on another occasion two games simultaneously without sight of the board, and won them both. My antagonists were Messrs. Cooper and Salomons.

On the 10th of May I left Cincinnati, and after spending two days at Louisville reached New Orleans on the 18th. On the 22d I delivered my letter of introduction to Mr. Rousseau, and was by him introduced to Mr. E. Morphy and several other amateurs. Matches were arranged between Mr. Rousseau and Mr. E. Morphy and me. On the 26th I played with Mr. Rousseau (not match games), and won 5 games, all we played.

On the 27th I met Paul Morphy, then a youth, and played with him. I do not remember whether we played in all two or three games; one was drawn, the other or others I lost. The young player appeared to me to possess Chess genius of a very high order. He showed great quickness of perception, and evinced brilliant strategic powers. When I passed through New York on my way to the get:   international tournament in London, I mentioned him to Mr. Stanley, and predicted for him a brilliant future.

The intense heat of New Orleans, which from the first had enfeebled me both physically and mentally, produced severe illness and incapacitated me from playing. It was not until the 15th of June that I was able to undergo the fatigue of travelling, and on that day I left for Cincinnati, where I arrived on the 22d, and remained during the rest of my residence in the United States.

My old friends received me with open arms, and through the kind assistance I was enabled to establish a Cigar Divan in connection with the Chess Club. I commenced under the most favorable auspices. In a short time more than 40 members had joined the club, and there was a prospect that that number would be greatly increased. Mr. E. Brookes was the President and Dr. Schmidt the Secretary, and to those gentlemen and the other Chess-players of Cincinnati I owe a debt of kindness I may never be able to pay but shall never forget.

Early in 1851 I was tempted to leave Cincinnati to take part in the International Tournament about to be held in London. It was my intention to return to my Cincinnati friends, by whose help I was enabled to take the journey; why I did not do so involves an explanation too long delayed, and which I may perhaps now be permitted to make.

I arrived in London very ill; an old wound in my leg had broken out afresh, and the long and rapid journey had worn me out. My ill success in the Tournament is on record. It was nothing more than might have been expected. In my weak state everything took a morbid hue. I estimated my defeat too highly; I thought a beaten man would be looked coldly on, and I felt I could not go back to those friends at Cincinnati whom I had left with such high hopes and glowing anticipations. Improved health has brought clearer views and the consciousness that I wronged those to whom I owe so deep a debt of gratitude.

In justice to myself I must say that my play in America was much below my usual strength. The circumstances under which I arrived there, the difficulties of my situation, the dark uncertainty of my future, my position as a stranger in a new country, of the language of which I was ignorant, and my weakened constitution, all contributed to  render me incapable of efforts I could have made at previous periods.

My general impression of Chess in America was that there was great latent ability in the players, but a deficiency of theoretical knowledge,  and a want of a high standard of play. I did not meet throughout States the equals of those great players to be found in every European country; but the people had in them at once the logical calculating power of Northern races, and the quick perceptions and warm impulses of the South, and required only opportunity and practice to take a high place in the world of Chess. One attribute of American play struck forcibly, quickness. here in Europe a match game occupies a whole day; but in America I have played three or four at the same sitting.


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