THE LIFE AND CHESS OF PAUL Morphy                                                                                                                                                                                 Löwenthal's Memoir




( from Morphy's Games of Chess, London, 1860 )

by Johann Löwenthal

     The presentation to the chess-playing public of more than one hundred and fifty games contested by Paul Morphy against the best players of Europe and America would scarcely be complete unless accompanied by a Memoir, however brief, of the young genius who has so suddenly risen up in our midst, and fairly fought his way, through a host of formidable competitors, to the chess throne of the world. If in the composition of such Memoir, we were to confine ourselves simply to the chess life of Paul Morphy the record might be a very brief one - almost as brief as the celebrated “Veni, vidi, vici” of the Roman conqueror, and much to the same effect. We might write “Paul Morphy is in his twenty-second year, has played chess from his childhood, and has beaten all who have ventured to enter the lists with him,” and then we might resign our pen. But in every life there i8 more than one element, however much that one may prevail over the rest. The web of each human existence may be compared to a woven fabric, in which one material predominates in weft aid warp, but blended threads of many hues wind in and out, checkering the prevailing uniform tint and giving variety to its general aspect. Curiosity is a constant element in the action of the human mind. The public scrutinize a man brought prominently before them as a dealer or buyer examines manufactured goods. When an individual becomes great in any department of life, those who walk in the same path wish to know something more of him than relates to that common pursuit with which they are already acquainted, and which has in the first instance called their attention to him and stimulated their curiosity. They ask to be told of the general as well as tire special man. They inquire from what race he has sprung; what his home has been; how he has been educated; what he is outside the arena in which he has become "great." They seek for some signs of character in the sense in which it has been defined by a countryman of Paul Morphy’s — Emerson, who tells us that character is that subtle force which impresses us with the idea of what a man is capable of rather than leads us to think of what he has done.

     The outer life with which the biographer deals consists of actions. The superstructure of inference must bear its due proportion to the basis of facts, which is the present case is but a narrow one. Paul Morphy is as yet too young to have played his part on the great stage of life. He has yet to take his place in the world of men—a chart upon which the chess-world is but a speck—a microscopic intellectual island amid oceans and continents. If ho were taken from among us on the morrow, his name would descend to posterity in company with those of the greatest of the chess masters of the past; if he live out the ‘‘three score years and ten,’’ those qualities which have thus early rendered him great in chess may signalize his name in one or more of the mans’ fields on which the battle of life remains to be fought.

     In person the subject of our Memoir is short and slight, with a graceful and dignified, though unpretending, bearing. lie has black hair, dark brilliant eyes, small expressive features, and a firmly set jaw, the latter lending on aspect of determination to the whole countenance. Over the chess-board he is cool, collected, and concentrated; and so easily are his greatest and most prolonged efforts made, lie seldom or never ex any traces of fatigue. In his intercourse with the world he is courteous and unassuming, and exhibits a tact surprising in one so young, and manifests that appreciation of motive and character which generally mark those who are distinguished in any walk of life.

     Of Paul Morphy, except as a chess player, we know but little. He comes on the father’s side of a Spanish family long settled in Louisiana. The name "Morphy" certainly does not sound like a Spanish patronymic, it rather reminds an Englishman of a name not at all unusual in the sister isle; and we should not he surprised if some enthusiastic Hibernian chess-player were to propound the theory that Paul Morphy is descended from ancestors of Irish birth. This of course is mere speculation, but it is a fact that many sons of Erin have emblazoned their names on the page of continental history, risen to high rank in the military service of Spain, and founded powerful families. However, Paul Morphy's father was of reputed Spanish descent, and of his mother’s family there is no question.  She was of French descent, arid her family had long been resident in one of the West Indian Islands.

     Morphy's father, during the latter years of his life filled the office of Supreme Judge of the State of  Louisiana. Paul was born in the city of New Orleans, on the 22nd of June, 1837, so that he is now in his twenty-third year. We have not any information which would lead us to believe that in his earlier years he was unlike most other children, except that when exceedingly young he played at chess. His father was a chess player of considerable skill and his uncle, Mr. Ernest Morphy, was generally considered the chess king of New Orleans.

     From a recently published Memoir we learn that in 1847, when the boy had completed his first decade, his father taught him in the moves, and his uncle gave him a lesson in the art of play. Paul was an apt pupil: in a few months he was able to contest a game with either of his relatives, and soon entered the lists against the strongest opponents like could meet. In 1849. 1850, and 1851, Mr. Morphy achieved a series of triumphs over the stoutest player in the ‘Union, among whom were Messrs. Ernest Morphy,  Stanley, and Rousseau. It is said that out of above fifty games fought during these years with Mr. Ernest Rousseau, his young antagonist won fully nine-tenths.

     We are told that even at that time the boy gave evidence of genius and originality. He did not rest upon precedent, nor pay any great regard to established forms of openings but used to get rid of his pawns as quickly as possible, regarding them as encumbrances which prevented the free action of his pieces. A very short experience combined with his rapid insight into the principles of the game, soon corrected that habit without impairing the boldness and decision from which it sprung. When only thirteen years of age he was a really good player. At that early age he was victorious in one or two games with the Editor of this work, who was then paying a short visit to New Orleans, and though the latter was at that time depressed in mind and suffering in body, and was also prostrated by the climate, yet the achievement of the young Paul argues a degree of skill to which it is wonderful that a child could have attained. This circumstance was not known in Europe, where the name of Paul Morphy had not been heard of, till a short time before the assembling of the American Chess Congress on the 5th of October, 1857, when, as if to shadow forth his coming greatness, the fact was stated in a London newspaper.

     Paul Morphy’s boyhood was profitably employed, for he enjoyed the incalculable advantage of a systematic education. He was sent at an early age to the Jefferson Academy in his native city, where he received an elementary education befitting the son of a gentleman; and in 1850, he proceeded to a college near Mobile, in Alabama, where he distinguished himself in several departments of study. In 1854, he graduated at this college; but remained another year, during which time we are told that mathematics and law almost entirely engrossed his attention. At length, having chosen the legal profession, he concentrated his uncommon mental powers upon those studies necessary for the career of a barrister.

     We need scarcely enter into the details of the American Chess Congress, with which our readers may be already familiar; but, connected as that event is with the chess fame of our hero, we may notice some of its principal results. The power of American chess players had been but lightly regarded in the Old World. Those who were considered the best were estimated as far inferior to the first rank of Europeans, and if any one had predicted a chess champion from America he would have been laughed to scorn. The Congress, however, showed that the traditional names were not the names of power; th9.t the unknown were superior to the known; that there was unsuspected latent chess talent in the mind of Young America. The grey-beards were fairly pushed from t pedestals. Youth and genius proved far more than a match for age and experience. All went down almost without a struggle before the conqueror from New Orleans, and second in the contest stood Paulsen of Iowa, till then never heard of beyond his own locality, and who was only a few years older than Paul Morphy.

     The triumph of the young master did not produce any feeling of jealousy. His superiority was so evident that all idea of rivalry was at once felt to be absurd. It was clear, not merely that he beat those to whom he was opposed, but that he beat them so decisively that they never had a chance of turning the tide of conquest. Whoever sat on the other side of the board the result was from the first certain, and the proportion of games he won over those he lost enormous. Out of about one hundred games with the strongest players of the States only three were decided against him. The Americans were in ecstasies at the brilliancy of the star which had arisen in their midst. They at once placed the victor of their tournament in the same rank with the greatest of the great masters. The American chess players regarded him as invincible. They challenged the world to produce his equal, and backed their defiance by money worthy in amount to accompany the transfer of the Chess Crown.

     It was now time for Europe to revise its notions of American chess play; but Europe did this rather slowly. The Old World clung to its traditional prestige, and in most quarters the idea of the sceptre being wrested from its veterans by so young a hand was freely ridiculed. That Paul Morphy was a good player there was no attempt to deny. The published games which found their way across the Atlantic forbade the committal of any absurdity of that kind, but that he was the peer of Deschapelles, of Labourdonnais, or Philidor, none would without proof admit. That his triumph had been an easy one was granted, but then he had only been opposed to second-rate men—and it was not difficult to maneuver brilliantly in the presence of a weak enemy. Besides, said some of the analysts, his combinations were not sound, and Paul Morphy would find himself in a very different position when brought in contact with the great players of another hemisphere. The enthusiasm of the Americans was considered natural, characteristic, and excusable; but it was deemed simply enthusiasm, which would have to be corrected by fact. A great voice answered to the American defiance, that if Mr. Morphy would make the voyage to England, he would find antagonists worthy to lift his glove, and enter the lists against him.

     Shortly afterwards it was stated that Mr. Staunton would defend the chess reputation of ancient Albion against the young champion of the West.

     It was at length agreed that the great contest which was to decide the question of supremacy between the Old World and the New, should take place in England. This was only fitting. The onus of making the necessary advances lay with the young and aspiring, not with the veteran and celebrated. The age of chivalry had not yet passed; chess had its knights-errant, and Paul Morphy decided to leave his transatlantic home — to make the voyage to Europe, in order to meet his new antagonists upon the checkered field on which, in the great continent of the West, he could find no compeer. The occasion was propitious; the Birmingham meeting would take place shortly after his arrival; the prospect presented an opportunity of contest with players of great fame; but, above all, he looked forward to a struggle with that famous representative of English chess, whose name was known and whose reputation was established wherever the votaries of Caïssa dwelt.

     Paul Morphy arrived in London in June, 1858, and his reception was, as it deserved to be, of the most cordial character. At the great clubs — the St. George’s and the London — he met with that courteous hospitality which English gentlemen know so well how to render; but, for awhile an impression obtained that he would not repeat his American triumphs in Europe. The fatigues of the voyage had doubtless told upon him. The strangeness of the new stage, on which he was called to play so prominent a part, no doubt produced an unfavourable effect, and his first games did not alter the pre-judgment of English chess players, namely, that within the four seas of Britain he would find antagonists more than his match.

     That delusion however was presently dispelled. With whomsoever he played it was found that he came off victorious; and a formal match was soon arranged, the result of which showed that the Americans had not overrated their young champion. The arrangements for the contest with Mr. Staunton progressed but slowly; and pending their completion, the Editor of this work put forward a challenge to play a match, for which the stakes were immediately supplied. The result was that Paul Morphy added another laurel to his wreath: at the conclusion of the contest the score stood thus —Morphy 9, Lowenthal 3, drawn 2. It was a saying of Napoleon’s, that he is the best general who in war makes the fewest mistakes, and Paul Morphy’s play is perhaps even more remarkable for its correctness than for its power and brilliancy: even into his blindfold play an error scarcely ever creeps. During the excitement of the above-named match, the placidity and courtesy of Mr. Morphy occasioned as much admiration as his skill. The utmost good-feeling prevailed between the combatants and their friends throughout.

     This decisive victory conclusively settled Paul Morphy’s position in the highest order of chess players, and justified “Alter” in accepting the odds of Pawn and move from the youthful victor. The results of this combat were still more marked. Seven games in all were played, of which “Alter” did not score a single game. Paul Morphy won 5, and 2 were drawn. At the Birmingham tournament Mr. Morphy did not enter the lists, but he displayed his extraordinary proficiency in blindfold play by conducting eight games simultaneously against strong players, without seeing the boards. We have already observed that remarkable correctness is a characteristic of Paul Morphy’s play, and these blindfold games indicate the same absence of errors already referred to.

     While mentioning the subject of blindfold play, we may remark that Paul Morphy’s opinion of it is similar to that entertained by Labourdonnais and other great masters. He regards it as a tour de force, the requisites for which are the habit of playing chess, memory, and imagination. To these essentials we should add the faculty of abstraction, and the power of picturing on the retina a representation of the chess board and the pieces, as their position alters at every successive move. This last qualification is the one which will be the least frequently found among men. The power of photographing a picture in the mind—not in vague, dim, shadowy outline, but in all its minute details—is extremely uncommon, and where it exists goes far-to constitute what is called genius.

    After the Birmingham tournament there was only one object which detained Paul Morphy in England. That object was to play with Mr. Staunton. The chess-playing public are already aware of the circumstances which pre vented that match from taking place. The facts are briefly these. Soon after Paul Morphy arrived in this country, the money for the stakes of the English champion was sub scribed by various members of the English chess circle. It only remained to name a day and arrange the preliminaries. From time to time the fixing of the period was postponed Mr. Staunton alleging that urgent literary occupations pre vented him from practicing chess, and that he was unable to afford the time necessary for the match. During the Birmingham meeting, however, a promise was given to appoint a day, but matters remained in status quo till Paul Morphy had departed for France, and then Mr. Staunton, for the same reasons which he had given for the delay, declined to play at all. Upon this there ensued a controversy into which we do not intend to enter.

     At the conclusion of the Birmingham festival Mr. Morphy proceeded to Paris, and among our Gallic neighbours added to the laurels he had gathered in England. His arrival caused great excitement in the Café de La Régence. The habitué of the place and the chess players of Paris hung over the board on which he played with the most profound attention and his blindfold play excited the highest admiration. A match was at once arranged between Mr. Morphy and Herr Harrwitz, the winner of the first seven games to be the victor. This match however was riot played out, though it went far enough to place the result beyond doubt. Victory waited for the American. Eight games were played, of which Paul Morphy scored 5, Herr Harrwitz 2, and 1 was drawn. At that point Herr Harrwitz was compelled by illness to resign. Only two European players were left who could be expected to measure themselves against the young American - Herr von der Lasa, the accomplished chess writer, and Herr Anderssen, the victor in the great Inter national Tournament of 1851. The former was unfortunately called away by his diplomatic duties to a remote quarter of the globe; but the latter consented to emerge from his studious retirement in the University of Breslau (where he fills the post of Professor of Mathematics), to visit Paris, and meet the knight who kept the list against all comers. The arrangements for the match were simple, and were concluded with the utmost facility. Seven games were to be won by either combatant, and the two masters sat down to the struggle. At the conclusion, the score stood thus—Morphy 7, Anderssen 2, drawn 2.

     Having thus encountered and defeated every living player of celebrity, with the solitary exception of one with whom he could not obtain a meeting, Mr. Morphy felt that his mission in Europe had been fulfilled, as far as it was possible. His thoughts turned homewards; and he shortly made arrangements to re-cross the Atlantic.

     His departure from Paris was the source of much regret to his continental friends, and his brief second visit to London was a source of equal pleasure to the chess players of Great Britain. His subsequent movements are thus described in a sketch which accompanied a life-like steel plate portrait of Paul Morphy, published in connection with the “Illustrated News of the World.

“From this moment the progress of Mr. Morphy was through a series of ovations, in which chess became but a mere accessory to personal, but well- deserved compliments. The St. George’s and the London Chess Clubs each invited him to a public banquet; and all parties of chess players (for chess players, like politicians, are split into sections) laid aside their differences, and united to do him honour. Those parties were attended by many of the aristocracy of rank and talent; and his countrymen will not fail to recognize the cosmopolitan spirit in which their hero was received. To Mr. Morphy these entertainments must have been very gratifying; but with a degree of good taste that demands notice, he declined numerous other invitations of the same kind. During his second brief sojourn in London, his time was occupied with Mr. Löwenthal in the preparation of an important literary work*, and occasional private visits to the clubs. He had many and strong inducements to return to the United States. His fellow-countrymen had raised him a magnificent honorary testimonial, and were preparing to welcome his re-appearance in a manner which indicated an exalted sense of his character. Reasons, we believe, still more cogent pressed him to leave Europe. Mr. Morphy, as we have shown, does not look upon chess as an employment, but an amusement; and he is desirous of applying his intellectual powers to the profession he has adopted. Let us hope that in such a sphere he may become as widely known and as generally esteemed as he is in what passes under the description of the ‘world of chess.’ His success in that sphere is without a parallel. it is little more than twelve months since he embarked at New York for England. Never was a reputation so soon and solidly established. He came among us with a local, and returns with an universal fame.  His movements in America were recorded in fugitive paragraphs: his marvelous exploits in Europe will become matter of history. If to the renown he has achieved as a chess player he can add the future reputation of a great lawyer, he will supply one of the most curious and suggestive illustrations of the exceptional versatility of genius that humanity has produced. We have firm belief that a career of more than national usefulness is open to Paul Morphy.”

     The Americans are, it is scarcely necessary to say, exceedingly proud of their representative in the world of chess; and since his return home his merits have been worthily recognized. On the 25th of May, 1859, a vast assembly met in the chapel of the New York University, in order to present him with a testimonial, consisting of a magnificent set of gold and silver chess men and a board of rosewood inlaid with cornelian; and since that time he has been entertained at a grand banquet at Boston, Massachusetts. Other honours have been showered upon him, too numerous for us to detail.

     Who may next dispute the palm of chess-chieftaincy with Paul Morphy we cannot tell, but we may quote the opinion of 
M. St. Amant, once the opponent of Mr. Staunton. That distinguished player is reported to have said that Paul Morphy “must in future give odds to every opponent or play single handed against several in Consultation.”

      The precise character of Mr. Morphy’s play will be better understood and appreciated from the games and analysis which constitute this work, than from any description of it which we can give in Memoir. We may observe, however, that its general features are carefulness, exactitude, concentration, invention, and power of combination. The game of chess may be divided into three parts: the opening, in which a position is striven for; the mid game, in which the position is used; and the end game, in which the results are obtained. The openings depend upon knowledge, and here Paul Morphy with a quickness and accuracy of perception which appears like intuition, seizes upon and employs the best methods developed by the latest analyses. In the turmoil of the mid-game his great natural powers in attack and defense are displayed; and the end game he plays with all the mathematical precision of a veteran. He has in the course of a few years attained a position amongst the greatest masters, and long will posterity admire the genius whose marvelous exploits are recorded in the following pages.

* The work referred to is the present volume.