He was born in Mulhouse in Alsace region of France - around
1800 give or take a few years - where the
Schlumberger family operated a large winery that is in operation today. They
were also industrialists who operated fabric mills in the area. Schlumberger
was a leading French player (his German name comes from the fact that Alsace
lies next to Germany and has often changed alliances throughout history
between France and Germany. During Schlumberger's life, Alsace was French.
In America, his German acquaintances called him the Swiss, since at
one time the area around Mulhouse was Swiss territory).
He's best known for his chess in America where he arrived on October 1, 1826
under a contract to operate Maelzel's automaton, the Turk. He was the Turk's
last operator (previous operators during its European tour had been Johann
Allgaier in Germany, Boncourt, Wéiyle, Aaron Alexandre and
Jacques-Francis Mouret in France, Elija Williams and William Lewis in
England - additionally, the possibility of Lloyd Smith). Surprisingly,
he was to replace an young French woman who, for lack of chess players in
America, was the operator when the Turk premiered on April 13, 1826 at the
National Hotel, l12 Broadway, NY. She was only capable of playing
pre-established endgames. Schlumberger had his own peculiar experiences. He
almost gave away the secret of the Turk when some school boys reportedly saw
him exiting the cabinet after an exhibition. Then on January 30 and 31,
1827, the Turk played a game against a certain Mrs. Fischer. Mrs. Fischer
won the game. After the game Maelzel explained that the Turk had only ever
lost three games; once in Paris, once in Boston and by Mrs. Fischer in
Philadelphia. The game, published in the newspapers, was possibly the first
published game by an American woman chess player.
Edgar Allen Poe wrote in his
famous exposé of the Turk:
There is a man, Schlumberger, who
attends him wherever he goes, but who has no ostensible occupation other
than that of assisting in the packing and unpacking of the automaton. This
man is about the medium size, and has a remarkable stoop in the shoulders.
Whether he professes to play chess or not, we are not informed. It is
quite certain, however, that he is never to be seen during the exhibition
of the Chess-Player, although frequently visible just before and just
after the exhibition. Moreover, some years ago Maelzel visited Richmond
with his automata, and exhibited them, we believe, in the house now
occupied by M. Bossieux as a Dancing Academy.
Schlumberger was suddenly taken ill, and during his
illness there was no exhibition of the Chess Player. These facts are well
known to many of our citizens. The reason assigned for the suspension of
the Chess-Player's performances, was not the illness of Schlumberger. The
inferences from all this we leave, without farther comment, to the reader.
Schlumberger was educated in Paris. He was a fine
mathematician, spoke French and German as his native tongues and was
fluent in English. He had a fondness for books and literature. Starting
his adult life in his family business, he and his brother shared the
responsibility of the Parisian dépôt to that business. Due to a
business reversal (St. Amant claimed, probably incorrectly, it was
Schlumberger losing his patrimony gambling at chess) Schlumberger left the
business and started teaching chess at the Café de la Régence to support
himself. Since he started as Professeur des Échecs, in all
likelihood, he had been spending an inordinate amount of time playing
chess - perhaps time that should have been spend on his business
responsibilities. Around 1823
Pierre Charles Fournier de Saint Amant sought out
Schlumberger for lessons in improving his chess. At that
time Schlumberger was receiving Pawn and move from La Bourdonnais
and played even with Mouret and Boncourt. The Parisian players somehow
found the name Schlumberger distasteful and would only refer to him
as Mulhouse. Making a living as a chess professional was precarious
at best. When he was approached by a representative of Maelzel to emigrate
to the United States with the steady job as the Director of the Turk,
Schlumberger jumped at the chance. Maelzel most likely paid for his
relocation and they contracted his salary at $50 per month. Besides his
work as Director of the Turk, Schlumberger seems to have had contracted to
perform in the positions of Assistant, Secretary and Clerk. Eventually he
also became Maelzel's possibly only friend and confidant.
Schlumberger's disembarked in New York City and arrived in
Boston on the 1st of October, 1826. His arrival was not kept secret since
Maelzel had decided that such a thing was futile. Instead Schlumberger
mingled with the cream of the Bostonian players: Samuel Dexter, Robert T.
Paine, Benjamin Lynde Oliver, all three
attorneys, Mr. Piquet, the French consul and Dr. Benjamin D. Greene.
Schlumberger knew Dexter from la Régence He proclaimed Mr. Oliver Boston's
best player. Maelzel started the tradition of dining with Schlumberger and
playing chess while they ate. Maelzel was every bit addicted to chess as
his Director, though Maelzel was only an average player. However, Maelzel
was a particularly strong endgame player, even better than Schlumberger
Schlumberger was a tall man of over 6 feet with a large,
muscular, well-proportioned figure. He had a finely shaped head with dark
brow hair and chestnut eyes. He did, however walk with a slump ("a
remarkable stoop in his shoulders" - E. A. Poe).
While he dressed appropriately in social situations, he was known to be
somewhat disheveled when playing chess. He considered himself stronger at
draughts than at chess.
Initially, the Turk had been playing endgames only:
first operated by the French woman who was the wife of an operator of one
of Maelzel's other attractions, and, after she vanished, by some hastily
selected and trained recruits. Schlumberger's arrival was was a relief to
Maelzel. The American public was more eager to see the Turk play full
games, such as it had in Europe, than just the endgames. On October 16,
1826 the Turk gave its first full game demonstration. Schlumberger had
undergone a four day crash course in the operation of the Turk. It's not
surprising the he lost a game that day to "a mere youth." However, Maelzel
was less forgiving the following week when Schlumberger lost a game to Dr.
Benjamin Greene. While Maelzel specifically announced during his opening
speech that the Turk was not invincible, he considered losing the next
worst thing after having its secret uncovered. In all the cities they
played - New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Richmond, Washington, New
Orleans, Cincinnati, Pittsburg, Havana - Schlumberger seldom lost whether
playing as the Turk or as himself.
On November 9, 1837, Schlumberger and Maelzel sailed to Havana, Cuba.
While there he
contracted Yellow Fever and died in April of 1838.