MORPHY, Paul (1837Ś1884)
'The Pride and the Sorrow of Chess'. For a brief moment he appeared on
the chess scene and brilliantly defeated the world's leading players.
In the flower of his youth he withdrew from the game, if not indeed
from life itself, and he died at the end of a long decline.
Born in New Orleans on 22nd June 1837, the second son of a High Court
judge, he learned chess at the age of 8. Four and a half years later
he played three games against L÷wenthal, winning two and drawing one.
Chess did not interfere with his studies. He was an apt pupil, gifted
with a fine memory and fond of dramatics and music. He passed his
examinations with honours, graduating in law at Louisiana University
before he was 19. Soon afterwards his father died.
Not yet permitted to practice law, he gave his time to chess. He came
first at the New York tournament, 1857. He crossed to Europe, and in
1858 he decisively beat L÷wenthal, Harrwitz and Anderssen,
respectively the best players in England, France and Germany. He also
defeated the other leading players of London and Paris, except for
Staunton, who, out of practice and past his best, declined a match.
Morphy attached some importance to a public declaration that it was
through no fault of his own that a match had not come about; but neither
then nor since has anyone doubted that Morphy had proved himself by far
best player the world had yet seen.
Lionized and feted, he lingered in Europe and the northern states,
length returning home in response to the pleas of his mother in
December 1859. He commenced editorial work for The Chess Monthly; he
conducted a chess column in the New York Ledger for a year, ending on
4th August 1860, for the sum of $3,000. He went north again, returning home
in November. This was the end of his chess career.
Two and a half years had passed since he had come to man's estate, when
he should have attended to his profession; when, as his mother and
family had expected, a grown man and a southern gentleman who might
in his leisure hunt or shoot, would not have demeaned himself
taking seriously a board game, let alone giving public displays. And his
mother now extracted a promise from him, which he kept, never
to play chess in public.
Louisiana seceded in January 1861, and the Civil War soon followed.
Morphy finally set up as a lawyer in November 1864. One story has it
Morphy was deeply wounded by a lady's scorn: she would not marry a
mere chess player ". Dapper, well- dressed, short of stature,
a beardless face and small white hands "veined like those of lady",
uncommunicative, disliking outdoor activities, Morphy was not the model of
a southern beau. Moreover, almost alone amongst those of age, he did
not enlist in the Confederate cause.
The economy of the South was shattered, and his practice failed. stifled by
his environment, deprived of chess, in which however he maintained a
secret interest, unsuccessful in law and in life, he lacked the
strength of character either to overcome his difficulties in the South or
to opt for chess somewhere else. He became increasingly alienated, refusing to meet people, and emerging from his mother's house only to take a
walk or to go to the opera. Delusions of persecution followed, the sad
end came when he died of a stroke on 10th July 1884.
About 35 books and pamphlets have been written about Morphy. These include a novel,
The Chess Players, by Frances Parkinson Keyes,
and a 23-page essay in The International Journal of Psycho Analysis,
1931, by Dr. Ernest Jones.