In 1852 Emperor Napoléon III (Emperor from 1852
to 1870) put into motion his long term plan to renovate Paris. He appointed
Georges-Eugène Haussmann (1809-1891) prefect of the département of the Seine
and commissioned him to oversee the renovation. He transformed the dark
medieval Paris into a true City of Lights, changing over half of the city's
buildings in the process. Narrow streets became boulevards; bridges were
built; both the water supply and the sewer systems greatly improved.
The process consumed the entire reign of Napoléon III.
The Café de la Régence where Morphy gave his
famous blindfold exhibition in 1858 was not the same Régence of Philidor and
Bourdonnais. It too had been renovated and relocated.
In 1852 the Café de la Régence lost its original home on Place du Palais-Royal,
where it opened in 1681 as one of the first coffee houses in Paris. It found
temporary quarters on Rue de Richelieu for two years, then moved permanently
to the Rue Saint-Honoré, where it remains to this day, though under a
different name. The removal of the Café from its time honored location
symbolized its removal from the history of chess. When the immortal American
master Morphy gave a fantastic exhibition in the Café's new home in the late
1850's, playing eight blindfold games simultaneously, it was the visit of
Morpheus, and the Café de la Régence has slept peacefully ever since.
-Paul Metzner, Crescendo of the Virtuoso, p.53
La France Pittoresque published an
article in 1882 entitled Les cafés artistiques et littéraires de Paris.
In this article is mentioned not only the renovation, but a number of the
frequenters of the Café.
from a cleaned-up machine translation:
Located formerly at the corner of the
street Saint-Honoré and the place of the Palais Royal, this establishment
had famous customers and chess players of a remarkable strength. These
included Deschapelles, Bourdonnais, Philidor, Saint-Amant, General
Bonaparte (this last was not a particularly great chess player). Alfred de
Musset was, until incapacitated by his disease [Musset's Disease - an
ailment of the heart brought on by heavy drinking], one of faithful of la
Régence. He was a strong player. Knowing the habits of this famous author
of the tales of Spain and Italy [more famous as a French poet], people
from foreign lands, as well as from the provinces, ones came to the
Cafés just to watch him play.
On the long terrace in edge on the place
of the Théâtre Français , one sees only foreigners, English, Americans.
Scandinavians, Germans. The Norwegians, the Swedes, the Danes are there as
on their own premises. The newspapers are received: from Stockholm,
Copenhagen and Christiana, and the compatriots of Mrs. Nilsson devote
themselves to literary or political discussions in this language that very
little of French include/understand.
Having crossed so noisy a terrace, one can enter a small room where
the chess players sit at their tables. There, no sharp discussions, not
even a movement. One only hears the small sharp snap of a chess piece as
someone makes a manœuvrer. Formerly one did not smoke in this room; but
the love of the tobacco grew popular even with the chess amateurs; the
cigarettes, cigars and even pipes form clouds of smoke there at times. The
chess players are so absorbed, that very often forget to eat that which
they paid for; sometimes forget to drink the grog that they ordered or, as
they never look at anything other than the battle field, – i.e. the board
where they deploy their skill – if they drink, they sometimes accidentally
drink their opponent's order, swallowing a coffee or beer mouthful to the
cream, mixing the wormwood with the American grog. These blunders amuse
the gallery who laugh at the grimaces of the inattentive players. On the
walls of the small room about which we speak hang medallions bearing the
names of: Bourdonnais, Philidor, Deschapelles, PH Lopez [?], Greco, P.
Stamma, Macdonald, G Lolli, G Selenus; then the date of the foundation of
the Café , 1718, and that of its restoration, 1855.
With the right end of the terrace is the
entry to a much larger room where the most serious games are played. By
around six o'clock, all the tables are occupied. On one of them the
name of Bonaparte is engraved ; it was brought from place of the Palais
Royal to the new establishment. The future emperor himself had this marble
M . Grévy, the president of the Republic, was a long time one of the
enthusiasts of Régence. He either played or followed the games. One
often sees there Mr. Paul Bethmont or Mr. Audren de Kerdrel, senator. A
deputy, Mr. Fernand Gatineau, remain on the terrace as chess doesn't seem
to really interest him.
Those players of which one follows the games with the most attention are:
Mr. de Rosenthal, a Pole; Mr. Festhamel who, in the Monde Illustré,
the National Opinion, and in the Century, poses the
most difficult chess problems; M. le vicomte de Bornier; according to the
hearsay of the experts, the author of la Fille de Roland has
in just a short time become of a remarkably strong; Mr. Chaseray,
appraiser, who sits endlessly in front of a chess-board at l'Hôtel
des Ventes; the sculptor Lequesne ; Mr. Baucher, the son of an equestrian
professor; Mr. Charles Jolliet, whose voice fills up the room; Mr. Auguste
Jolliet, from France, Mr. Prudhon of the same theatre; Mr. Séguin; Mr.
Charles Royer, a well-read man who wrote the very remarkable forewords for
several volumes of Lemerre. Mr. Royer is the nephew of Mr.
Garnier-Pagès, whom one saw sometimes at Régence with his long white hair
falling down on his immense detachable collar; Mr. Maubant, of the
Comédie-Française ; Mr. de la Noue, son-in-law of the former minister for
the Empire, Mr. Billaut; a retired officer and Mr. Coulon, who pushes his
with military sang-froid.
Harper's New Monthly Magazine
Vol. LXXVIII, APRIL 1889, No. CCCCLXVII
Leaving the noisy brasseries of the Latin Quarter, we will re-cross the
Seine, and direct our steps toward Montmartre, the Bohemia of modern
Paris. On our way, however, we will pay a visit to the Café de la Régence,
on the Place du Theatre Francais, the great rendezvous of the French
chess-players. The present café is not the one where Bonaparte played, or
even Alfred de Musset. The historic Café de la Régence was pulled down
when the Place du Palais Royal was transformed, and the name and the
habitués of the old café were transferred across the street to the present
establishment, together with the table on which Napoleon used to play
chess before he was Napoleon, or even First Consul. This café, thanks to
its proximity, is naturally the resort of the actors of the Comedie
Francaise; it has also its champion domino-player and its champion
billiard-players; but its chief glory is chess, in which game the Régence
has boasted a long line of champions, beginning a hundred and fifty years
ago with Philidor, and continuing through Mouret, Deschapelles,
Labourdonnaise, Saint Amant, Kiezeritsky, Neumann, Harrwitz, and
Rosenthal, who has now abandoned the Régence, and left the chieftain-ship
Finally, a paraphrased article from
In the early 1700's chess players met at
the Café Procope in Rue des Fossés at the front of the old center of
the Comédie Français, owned by the Sicilian nobleman, Francois Procope.
The Café Procope was a gathering place for chess players, men of letters,
adventurers and spies of the police. Cafés were true cultural centers
where, beyond playing and drinking, discussion about art, literature,
philosophy and politics abounded. When the Café de the Régence, opened in
1718 in t the Palais Royal, it became the center of the cultural life of
France. Additionally, the chess players moved there en mass.
The Café opened at the eight in the
morning and its first customers were the habitual players who crowded
looking to play billiards, checkers, dominoes and, naturally, chess. By
noon the premises was a dense cloud of smoke from mixed tobacco and
smelled of alcohol, with the waiters needing to force a passageway
through the thick crowd to the small tables where, in the course of the
years, alternated such personages like Voltaire, Rousseau, Diderot,
Robespierre and Napoléon.
With to the Café was born also a new
personage: the professional player - like Legal, he could be
employed by the owner of the premises in order to play with anyone looking
for a game, or he could be a customer himself, playing for money.
Such were the Italian Verdoni and Philidor, who divided his life between
the twin professions of musician and chess-player. In the successive
century, Deschapelles and the Bourdonnais were likewise. To attract the
weaker players, professionals usually played at odds, giving Pawn & the
move or two - even a Knight or a Rook. In the Café and the chess clubs
this custom remained in vogue even into the first decades of the 1900's.
Into the middle 1800's. Paris was the pace for chess and the Café de the
Régence hosted some of the more important matches of the age such as the
return match between Staunton and Saint-Amant . It was just this
challenge, which ended in an English victory, that marked the beginning of
the decline of French dominance. By royal decision, the Café de the
Régence moved to la Place du Théâtre Français and all hope of it's former
glory faded. In 1858 Morphy visited the Café and defeated with ease
all the strongest local players. The golden age of French chess was gone.
Chess now spoke English and, before long, will have begun to speak German.
Archives by Title
Sarah's Serendipitous Chess Page
The Life and Chess of Paul Morphy
Sarah's Chess History Forum
chess - general
chess - history
Mark Week's History on the Web
Chess Journalists of America
Chess History Newsgroup
Chess Tourn. & Match History
Super Tournaments of the Past
La grande storia degli scacchi
Bill Wall's Chess Pages