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Another View of Morphy
October 2005

Calli from found this passage in a book called The Story of the Mountain: Mount Saint Mary's College and Seminary.

Mount Saint Mary's College is located in Emmitsburg, Maryland. This excerpt is from the college history, Chapter 50: 1860-1861 (Civil War years)

Because it's written here doesn't make it true anymore than because it flies in the face of common beliefs, it's automatically false. It's just another view of Morphy...


We begin our quotations from Dr. Moore by presenting what he tells of student life in 1860: "Chess was the favorite indoor game, whilst handball, tenpins, prisoners' base, townball (the ancestor of baseball), the parallel bars and Flying Dutchman had their votaries outside. Checkers and dominoes were tabooed, as beneath the plane and dignity of Mountain intellectuality. A playing card, during the five years of my pilgrimage I never saw. Chess, said to have been invented some five thousand years ago, had many devotees at the Mountain in my time. William D. Byrne of Brooklyn, '62, more familiarly known as ' Mickey Byrne,' was the champion. Visiting ecclesiastics, military men and diplomats owned up to his skill, and fought shy of it. His namesake, William Byrne (V. G., Boston), H. P. Northrop (Bishop of Charleston), J. J. Griffin, John A. Watterson (Bishop of Columbus), John J. McCabe and J. J. Browne, all played strong, sometimes brilliant games. . . .

"The name of Paul Morphy was always mentioned amongst the chess contingent with becoming admiration and reverence. Only a few years had elapsed since he had returned home victorious over all the mighty men of Europe, so that his glory seemed to have reached away up into the dominion of the stars. William Duncan ex-'65, then a student of the Seminary, afterwards a Jesuit priest, knew Morphy well, both having been together for some time at Spring Hill College. ' Morphy,' said he, ' was not alarmingly brilliant as a student, and in book learning there were many of his class who surpassed him. But when he turned his knights and bishops loose and into a hostile contiguous territory, they cornered the king and all his courtiers in marvellously short order.'

"Having heard of two great amateur chess-players of the South, who spent rarely less than a day, sometimes a whole month, at one game, I was curious to know something about the champion's methods. ' Before beginning,' said Mr. Duncan, ' Morphy usually put his open hands up to his face so that the tips of his fingers touched the hair line at the top of his forehead; then, with a slow and deliberate motion downward, repeated a couple of times, he swept the cobwebs from his brain and was ready. The length of time it took to finish a game depended on his opponent; the faster he played the sooner the battle came to an end, invariably to Morphy's credit, though he seemed to move heedlessly and give his pieces away for nothing. It is to be regretted the great chess prodigy did not realize the truth that in all things human there is a limit beyond which it is unsafe to venture. Every one who knows chess is also aware that to play five games simultaneously, blindfolded at that, is to excite the envy and wrath of all the gods who dwell on Olympus. This is precisely what Morphy did, and he paid for it.'


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