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P. W. S. Reviews R. M.-V.
June 2005

Philip W. Sergeant wrote this review of Regina Morphy-Voitier's pamphlet, Life of Paul Morphy in the Vieux Carré of New Orleans and Abroad for the April 27, 1927 issue of British Chess Magazine.

Mrs. Regina Morphy-Voitier is a niece of the great master, being the daughter of his elder (and only) brother, Edward. She writes with authority about her uncle where his private life is concerned for she was a constant visitor to "the Morphy house," 89, now 417, Royal Street, New Orleans. It was not here that Paul was born, but at what is now 1113 Chartres Street. In 1840 or 1841, however - Mrs. Morphy-Voitier gives both dates - Alonzo Morphy purchased the Royal Street house. When he died in 1856, his widow kept it on until her own death, a few months after her famous son's. For all but the years of infancy, therefore, Paul lived the whole of his New Orleans life at this house in Royal Street. Photographs of both this and the Chartres Street house are among the illustrations to the Life.

One does not discover anything new about Morphy the chessplayer herein. But about the man there is much that is interesting to all admirers of this extraordinary genius. The niece breaks through the reticence which the family has hitherto observed about his last years and speaks of the eccentricities of her uncle. She is well advised in so doing; for silence on the part of relatives has allowed the growth of some legends for which there seems to have been very little foundation. For the absurd suggestion that chess had anything to do with Paul Morphy's mental decay there is no support whatever.

Mrs. Morphy-Voitier confirms the story that the Morphys were originally Irish Murphys, who two centuries ago migrated to Spain and underwent a slight transformation of name. Paul's great-grandfather, Michael Morphy was a captain in the Royal Guards of Spain, we are told.*  His son Diego migrated to America and there married twice, his second wife being a Miss Louisa Peire, daughter of a Huguenot family living at Charleston, South Carolina. By her he had two sons, Alonzo, the father, and Ernest, the uncle, of Paul; and three daughters. Alonzo, born at Charleston in 1798, in 1820 married Miss Louise Telcide Le Carpentier, of New Orleans, the town in which he was trained for the Law and had begun his successful career.

The late David Janowski, in conversation with the present writer not many months ago, insisted that the Latins never produced a great chessplayer. If such-and-such a player was great, then he wasn't Latin! No doubt with regard to Morphy, Janowski was thinking of the family's Irish origin. But Morphy's mother's and grandmother's families both originated from France. About his great grandmother there seems to be no information. The Latin element in his blood, however, was certainly strong.

Mrs. Morphy-Voitier relies considerably on C. A. de Maurian - She uses always the de in his name, as also the Le in that of the Le Carpentiers - in her account of her uncle. She has in her possession certain material written by him and sent to her by his widow. This, or at least the bulk of it, has never before been published, we believe. Chessplayers will note that it does not bear out the theory advanced by some enthusiasts, that Paul played very little chess except the games which we have. On the contrary, in his early days, before he met Rousseau, "after easily vanquishing the inferior amateurs who frequented his father's house, [he] began to cope successfully with the best." He was also taken by his father and uncle to the Exchange Reading Room of New Orleans, where he played James McConnell. At Spring Hill (St. Joseph's College), which he and his brother entered at the end of 1850, he played little until 1853, when, by the accident of their being in the infirmary at the same time, he started giving lessons to de Maurian. For two years after this the two boys played a considerable number of games together, Morphy conceding odds which gradually diminished as de Maurian improved.

We could extract much more from this work, though it only extends to 40 pages; but we think it fairer to the author to commend it to all our readers, with the assurance that they will find it a valuable addition to any books which they may have about Morphy. The two portraits given of him are alone of great interest.

A few errors may be noted: "Lichtenstein" on page 12 should be "Lichtenhein." "Fred R. Edge" on page 16 and "Fred B. Edge" on page 19 should be "Fred M. Edge" -Frederick Milns being Edge's front names. And on page 8 is the statement from de Maurian quoted correctly? He is made to say of Rousseau and the boy Morphy that "they contested about fifty games, of which Mr. Rousseau lost fully one-tenth." Hitherto it has been accepted that Morphy won fully nine-tenths - and therefore Rousseau won, not lost, one-tenth.

*In reply to an enquiry, Mrs. Morphy-Voitier informs us that she has seen no document herself, as the early papers were in the possession of the older branch of the family (the issue of Diego Morphy's first marriage) and many of them have been lost or destroyed; but she has always heard that the story of the Irish origin was correct.

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