THE LIFE AND CHESS OF PAUL MORPHY                                                                                                                                             Dr. Meredith's observations on Morphy


 Dr. L. P. Meredith's Letter in the Cincinnati Commercial

New Orleans April 16, 1879.

During my visit to the South, after seeing the sights of the crescent City,
I was seized by the desire to inform myself in regard to its chess affairs - to see or meet
Morphy, or learn the particulars about him. Having satisfied my curiosity in these
respects, I have thought that the relation of what I have learned may be interesting
to others and sufficiently respond to your suggestions in reference to a letter about
My anxiety to learn all I could about Paul Morphy led me to examine the Direc-
tory and wander to the place designated as his residence, No. 89 Royal Street, a plain
house of the old style, with a broad double door, without step or vestibule, opening
right to the sidewalk. The establishment of a jeweler takes up all of the lower front
except the entrance-door. I made some preliminary inquiries of a neighbor, who told
me that Mr. Morphy was at home, in good health and able to see people, he had been
afflicted mentally but was better; he walked out a good deal. In answer to a ring at
the bell, a negro female appeared, who told me about the same things, and added
that he was in, and that I could see him. She went away to announce me, leaving
me to observe the broad hall with cemented floor and walls, and look through the
archway at the end into a flowering court beyond. The colored damsel returned say-
ing that she was mistaken; that Mr. Morphy had gone out with his mother, but that
I could see him at another time. I have since came to regard it as very a fortunate
circumstance that I failed to see him while misunderstanding the true nature of affairs.
I learned from undeniable authority that he utterly repudiates chess; that when ad-
dressed on the subject he either flies into a passion or denies that he knows or ever
did know anything of the game. Occasionally, I hear, he admits that he used to play
chess some, but not enough to justify persons in attaching notoriety to him. He pro-
fesses to be a lawyer of prominence, and, although he has no office, no clients, and
spends hours promenading Canal St. daily, he imagines himself so pressed with busi-
ness that he can not release himself for the briefest time. The great case that absorbs
nearly all his attention in an imaginary one against parties who had charge of an
estate left y his father. He demands a detailed, explicit account of everything con-
nected with their administration for a number of years, and they pay no attention
to his demands and repeated suits, because it is supposed, of the trouble, and because
everybody else interested is satisfied and knows there is nothing coming to him,
he already having expended more than his expectancy.
At certain hours every day Paul Morphy is as sure to be walking on Canal Street
as Canal Street is sure to be there to walk on. People shun him for the reason that
the least encouragement will result in being compelled to listen for hours to the
same old story that everyone knows by heart -- that relating to his father's estate.
He talks of nothing else, and apparently thinks of nothing else.
His personal appearance is not all that striking and were it not for his singularity
manner, he would rarely be noticed in a thorough-fare. He is of less than medium
height and thin in body; his face is yellow and careworn, showing every day of his
forty-two years of age; and destitute of a beard except an effort at a moustache on a
thick upper lip; his eyes are dark gray, large and intelligent. He is always, while on
the street, either moving his lips in soliloquy, removing and replacing his eye-glasses,
and smiling or bowing in response to imaginary salutations. His scrupulously neat dress
renders him a much more agreeable object of curiosity than he would be if he were
indigent in his attire.
Physicians regard him as a very peculiar case, amenable to treatment, possibly,
if placed under their care; but no opportunity is afforded, as he regards himself as
sane as any man, is harmless to society, and is well cared for by willing relatives.
Medical experts who have made mental phenomena a study, also say his chess
strength is probably not at all impaired, possibly increased from a long rest, and that
if he were so inclined he could astonish the world with his wonderful powers more
than ever. Judging, however, from his long retirement from the chess arena, and from
his persistent devotion to his insane idea, it is only a reasonable inference that Paul
Morphy is forever lost to the chess world, and that he will continue to keep buried
those talents that would benefit the world and gain honor for himself, together with
the wealth he wants and needs, and which he is striving for so energetically in a way
that is visionary and hopeless.
On the street in New Orleans, last month, I frequently saw Mr. Morphy but I
was longer in his presence, and had a better opportunity of studying him at the old
Spanish Cathedral on Easter Sunday than elsewhere. He paid devout attention to the
services, and appeared thoroughly familiar with all the ceremonies, always assum-
ing the kneeling posture, and moving his head and lips responsively at the right
time, without apparently taking a cue from any of the worshipping throng. At
one time an untidy person brushed his back, and he seemed distressed for
some moments with the idea that his coat had been soiled, endeavoring to brush it
with his handkerchief. I caught an inquiring look from his eye, and my glance must
have satisfied him that his coat presented a proper appearance, as he immediately
composed himself and resumed his attentive air, even spreading his handkerchief
on the aisle and kneeling on it.
I have spoken of his imagined salutations, and his pleasant bow and smile, and
graceful wave of the hand, in response. This must have occurred twenty or thirty
times as he stood behind a massive column  for a few minutes, in a position in which
it was impossible for any one to see him from the direction in which he looked. In
the speculations regarding his mental derangement it has been natural to attribute
it, in a great measure, to an over-exertion of brain power in his wonderful feats at
chess, but nothing has ever been found to establish positively such a conclusion. His
astonishing achievements appeared to cost him no effort. Analyses that would require
weeks of laborious study on the part of the greatest masters, he would make as rapidly
as his eyes could look over the squares. His eight or ten blindfold games, played
simultaneously against strong players, appeared to require no more attention than
the perusal of a book or paper. With rare exceptions, he appeared to know intuitively
the strongest moves that could be made. His uncle, Ernest Morphy, during his visit to
Cincinnati many years ago, told me how Paul, when a child, would suddenly drop
his knife and fork at the table and set up on the checkered table-cloth a problem
that had suddenly sprung into his head, using the cruets, salt0cellars and napkin
rings for pieces. I asked his if his nephew was remarkable for anything else than his
peculiar aptitude for chess, and I recollect that he stated, among other things, that
after his return from a strange opera he could hum or whistle it from beginning to
     At school, and afterward at college, Paul Morphy was always criticized for his
continuous study and aversion to youthful sports, he never taking part in out-
door games or athletic exercises. So it seems that chess is not to blame for his present,
singular condition, except as it represents a portion of the mental operations in
which his brain was constantly employed.                                                                    
It is unquestionably an instance of a brain excessively developed at the expense
of the physical man, having the mind expanded to the utmost bounds of sanity, and
ready to wander outside its limits on the occurrence of some peculiarly exciting cir-
cumstance, and this happened, probably, in the sudden realization that what he had
considered a competency was expended, and that he had become, for the present at
least, dependent. After this he was in no condition to reason - to see that he had
lived extravagantly while abroad and after his return, and that his expenditures were
in excess of his share of his father's estate. He imagined that he had been defrauded,
intentionally or through mismanagement; hence the litigious course he has pursued.
Possibly his aversion to chess came through associating it with his misfortunes, his
heaviest expenditures having occurred while away on his victorious tour through
Europe. Some have thought a complete restoration of his normal mental condition
might follow a rendering of the particularlized account he demands from trustees
or administrators, for he is wonderfully acute with figures, and might be convinced if
incontrovertible calculations were placed before him. Why it is not done is not
known; whether on account of an impossibility, the amount of labor and trouble, or
because of an indifference that is thought justified through the entire satisfaction of
other interested parties. I understand that he has a right to demand such an account,
and that he could enforce it, probably, if he were not regarded as insane, or if others
would join his cause for the sake of humoring him. It is said, to the reproach of cer-
tain lawyers, that they would advise and encourage him in his hopeless case as long
as he had money to fee them, but that now they will not give him a hearing.
 Suggestions in reference to medical treatment amount to nothing, because he
acknowledges no ailment. Efforts have bee made to induce him to travel, that his
physical health might be benefitted, and that his mind might be diverted from its
absorbing subject; but he regards this as playing into the hands of his enemies, says
his absence from New Orleans is just what they are scheming for, and avows his in-
tention of remaining to defeat them on their own ground.
It is distressing to admit that Paul Morphy is hopelessly lost to the intellectual
world. Must that superhuman mind be forever devoted to the pursuance of such a
petty, insignificant object, when it is capable of exerting such wondrous power? The
gratitude of all mankind awaits him who can devise some means for giving flesh
and strength to that attenuated body, and restoring the equilibrium of that disturbed
brain, thus replacing this shining star in the brilliant galaxy from which it has fallen.

Dr. L. P. Meredith