THE LIFE AND CHESS OF PAUL MORPHY                                                                                                                                                                                         The Returning Hero




 Paul Morphy arrived in New York on May 11, 1859.








New York Harbor, circa 1860

He had taken the steamer Persia from Liverpool. However, he had been originally scheduled to travel on the Niagara a few days earlier but was persuaded to spend a few extra days in England. The Boston Chess Club had planned on giving him a "welcome home" dinner and sent a delegation to Halifax, Nova Scotia to greet the Niagara since they hadn't received the word of his change of plans. Paul was met in New York by Willard Fiske who accompanied him to St. Nicholas Hotel. The New York Chess Club had recently moved to it's new site at the New York University. On the evening of his arrival in America, Paul dined with his New York acquaintances at the Metropolitan Hotel after which they retired to the chess club.

The first person Paul had played on his first visit to New York in 1857 was Frederick Perrin, the secretary of the Brooklyn Chess Club. Perrin was once again the first person to engage Morphy in a game - in fact, four games, but this time at Knight odds, out of which Perrin won one game. But Perrin was unconvinced that anyone should be able to beat him at such odds and challenged Morphy to a match  (whoever would win the first five games). Morphy accepted and the match began the following evening with the eventual outcome of Morphy winning five games, allowing only one draw.  That morning Morphy, Sybrandt, Lichtenhein, Graham and Dodge (these last two are unfamiliar) visited the Morphy Chess Rooms, a newly opened chess divan at Fourth St. and Broadway where Morphy accepted an invitation to a public dinner in his honor. From then on, Morphy's itinerary remained full, leaving him little time to recover from his trans-Atlantic journey.

Paul Morphy by Jules Emile Saintin



On Saturday, May 14, Morphy played five games in his hotel room at Knight odds, winning all, against Dr. James Stone. He then visited the Union Chess Club, winning two games each from club members Isidor and Bennecke at Knight odds. Sunday, Morphy went to Hoboken for a dinner engagement with Gen. Cook. On Monday, May 16, he resumed his match with Perrin.

 Jules Emile Saintin see note began his miniature painting of Morphy, first displayed at the 35th Annual Exhibition of the National Academy of Design in 1860.

On Tuesday, May 17, he played two games at Knight odds, winning both, against Dr. Horace Richardson, president of the Boston Chess Club. Then on Thursday, he played James Thompson a game at Knight odds. When Thompson lost, he challenged Morphy to a nine game match at the same odds. Morphy finish his match with Perrin on Saturday, May 21 and on Monday began his match with Thompson and they played their first game which was won by Thompson. The match was interrupted by some planned banquets in Morphy's honor both in New York and Boston but resumed on June 6. Thompson won the second game also. The next four games went to Morphy. Thompson won the seventh game; the eighth game was a draw and on June 17, Morphy won the ninth and final game, securing the match with 5 wins, 3 losses and 1 draw. Because of the closed nature of the games and of Thompson's reputation as a chess player, Löwenthal wrote to Fiske:

I am decidedly of the opinion that his (Morphy's) winning the match at the large odds of a Knight to a player like Mr. Thompson, is the most marvelous feat which ever a master of his rank has performed. Neither La Bourdonnais, M'Donnell nor Philidor could ever have accomplished a similar task.

Testimonial Banquets see note

On May 25 at 8:00 pm in the large chapel of the New York University, Colonel Mead see note presided over the crowded ceremony.

"every nook and cranny of the building was occupied, and even ladies were compelled to stand in the passages, so great was the desire to be present on the eventful occasion." -New York Herald, May 26, 1859.

Even a policeman was needed to clear the path for Morphy and his escort, Colonel Mead, to enter the building.

Speeches were made and Morphy was presented first with a chessboard and pieces see note, then with a custom designed watch.

After the presentations, Morphy was taken to the prestigious Century Club at 495 Broadway where he was presented to the members following a reception. Today there is a mahogany chess table at the Century Club, one on which Morphy played during the 1st American Chess Congress. It was given to John Treat Irving (nephew of Washington Irving) who, in turn, donated it to the Century Association. A silver plate commemorates its significance:

This table was used by Paul Morphy at the rooms of the New York Chess Club in 1857. On it he frequently played Paulsen, Marache, Thompson, Mead and other celebrities of that period. This table was presented to the Century Association in 1875 by John Treat Irving.

The New York Daily News devoted almost its entire front page the next day, May 26, to Morphy, while the New York Times devoted 4 of its 6 front page columns to him.

May 26 brought Morphy another testimonial dinner. The members of the Union Chess Club feted Morphy at Buhler's Restaurant, located on the corner of 8th and Broadway. Listed among the seventy people present were Col. Mead, Theodore Lichtenhein, James Thompson, Perrin and Fiske. Morphy was presented an elegant wreath designed in the shape of laurel leaves, weighing 12 oz. and made of sterling silver.

On the evening of May 27, Morphy, accompanied by James Lorimer Graham, Jr. (Graham was an influential millionaire who made his fortune in real estate. He also at one time was the New York Postmaster and the United States consul-general for Italy. He maintained a huge and famous private library which he donated to the Century Club) rode to Boston, arriving the next morning,  Saturday May 28, where they stayed at the Revere House. In the afternoon they went to the Boston Chess Club for a reception in Morphy's honor. In the evening, Morphy played two games at Knight odds: one against  Mr. Broughton, the other against Dr. Richardson. Afterward, the Germania Band played for their entertainment.

After resting on Sunday, Morphy spent Monday sight-seeing, visiting Cambridge (where he met with Prof. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow),  Brighton, Watertown and Waltham (where he toured the  American Watch Company).

Later, the same evening, Morphy played chess at the Boston Chess Club where a large group of prominent personages gathered to watch him play. Among them was Longfellow who, in his second volume of his Journal and Letters, mentioned:

May 30th:  In the evening went to town to see Paul Morphy play, at the Chess Club. A crowd of ladies and gentlemen. Morphy played serenely, and with a delicate, nervous touch, as if the chessboard were a musical instrument. A slight youth, pale and quiet.  T [Longfellow's brother-in-law, Thomas Appleton] said he reminded him of Chopin.

June 1:  The Paul Morphy dinner was a brilliant affair. Holmes presided; and of course there were endless speeches. Judge Shaw, Sparks, Agassiz, and so forth.

2d.:  Dined with the homeopathic doctors in the armory of Faneuil Hill. In the morning, Morphy and two handsome youths from New York came out and sat an hour. also Murdock, the tragedian.

On May 31, Morphy was again feted by the Boston Chess Club, this time at the Revere House with 140 invited guests. Among those presents were: Dr. Horace Richardson (president of the Boston Chess club), Jared Sparks, President Walker of Harvard College, Prof. Pierce of Harvard, Speaker of the House Charles Hale, Rev. Dr. Huntington, Prof. Lowell, Chief Justice Shaw, Joel Parker, Prof. Agassiz, Prof. Longfellow, Rev. T. Starr King, Henry Wilson, Mayor Lincoln, Joshua Quincey, Jr., Edwin P. Wipple, James Fields, and B. F. Thomas. Oliver Wendell Holmes gave the introduction. 18 speeches were given and James Russell Lowell wrote and delivered a 100 line poem for the occasion.

Morphy left Boson for New York on June 3 and resumed his match with Thompson as noted above.

Morphy's growing reluctance towards chess was becoming quite obvious. While in Boston, he only played a few games  


The Boston Gazette on June 4, 1859 noted:

Mr. Morphy has thus far played but three games since his arrival in Boston, all of which he won. It is hoped and expected that he will, before the close of his visit, give further opportunity for our players to cope with him.


In a letter to Fiske on June 1, J. A. Graham, Jr. mentions the complaint made about Morphy playing so few games.

Morphy played but one more game, a consultation game against G. Hammond, the long time New England champion who was assisted by other Boston Chess Club members: Ware, Rabuski, Stone and W. Everett.

The game, available in the viewer on the left, is also one of the few exceptions, since it was a consultation game, to Morphy's intentions not to play any American player at less than Knight odds.

The Athenaeum Club of New York had a birthday party for Paul on June 22 during which he was made an honorary member while his board and chess pieces see note were put on display on the second floor of the club.  His name was usurped and used in advertising cigars and hats. A Brooklyn baseball team was even named the Morphy Baseball Club, of which he was made an honorary member.

Once back in New York, Morphy's reluctance to play was no less.
The June 25, 1859 edition of Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper gave this observation:

Mr. Morphy accompanied by Mr. Frère, the secretary, Mr. Fiske, and other gentlemen, arrived at the club and, after introductions, was solicited to play a game. Mr. Morphy, with that good sense, which, nonwithstanding his youth, has characterized his deportment since he has sojourned among us, declined observing, "it was too hot, he played at chess as little as possible; he had to play the great game of life," and with many other observations of similar character, remained passive. Some members of the club seemed disgusted. They had brought the "lion" there, and why should he not be lionized? Why would he not play - show his teeth? Again and again he was solicited. Again and again he did refuse. Mr. Frère at last came to his rescue. Dinner was ready. Mr. Morphy seemed relieved. Mr. Frère asked him to accompany him home and partake of refreshments, which had been provided for himself and friends. Mr. Morphy gladly complied and to Mr. Frère's home they went and partook of a right royal dinner. In the evening Mr. Morphy played two games with Mr. Knott and one game with Mr. Marache, in all of which games he gave the large odds of the Queen's Knight, winning all in dashing style. Not less than five hundred Chess players attended during the day and evening.

Morphy had been offered, and accepted, the position as Chess Editor of the New York Ledger see note  when he first arrived in New York but this seemed mainly because he found the terms of the offer so favorable and not because he found writing about chess irresistible. His first column appeared in August, 1859 and in August, 1860, he ended his association with the Ledger

Morphy was being bombarded with invitations from all over - invitations to visit cities, invitations to be the guest of honor at numerous affairs. He felt he didn't have time for any broad scale touring and planned on visiting those cities, such as Philadelphia, Washington, D. C. and Baltimore, along his route back to New Orleans. Philadelphia, in fact, had been making extravagant plans to entertain Morphy in similar fashion as New York did, but, while Morphy did intend to visit the city, he seemed unenthusiastic to the idea and wrote to the the organizers:

Brevoort House, New York, July 21, 1859            

Professor George Allen,
My Dear Sir,

In my last communication to you I stated it was not in my power to specify any period at which to visit your city. My engagements here have been such, that I have, up to this day, found it impossible to determine upon any definite time for the acceptance of your invitation. In view of this fact, and for other reasons, which will readily suggest themselves to you, I feel compelled to decline any public reception in Philadelphia.

I shall, however, avail myself of the earliest opportunity to pay a friendly and unceremonious visit to the members of the Athenaeum.

With high regard,
Paul Morphy


The Brevoort House

When the Brevoort House opened in 1854 on Fifth Avenue between East 8th and 9th Street, it was considered at the time to be New York’s finest hotel. In the 1860's the Hotel grew in fame as a stopping place for titled Europeans. It was razed in 1954.

Rev. M. D. Conway wrote charmingly about his encounter with Morphy at this time in his autobiography:

Despite all my freedom there was a curious survival in me up to my twenty-seventh year of the Methodist dread of card-playing. The only indoor game I knew was chess. There was a flourishing Chess Club in Cincinnati and I entered into matches with keen interest. For a time I edited a weekly chess column in the Cincinnati Commercial and wrote an article on chess which Lowell published in the Atlantic Monthly. Whenever in New York I hastened to the Chess Club there, and watched the play of Lichtenhein, Thompson, Perrin, Marache, Fiske (editor of the Chess Monthly), and Col. Mead, president of the club. This was at the time when the wonderful Paul Morphy was exciting the world. In July, 1959, I called on him at the Brevoort House, New York. He was a rather small man with a beardless face that would have been boyish had it not been for the melancholy eyes.

He was gentlemanly and spoke in low tones. It had long been out of the question to play with him on even terms; the first-class players generally received the advantage of a knight, but being a second-class player, I was given a rook. In some letter written at the time, I find mention of five games I was beaten with these odds, but managed (or was permitted) to draw the sixth. In the same letter I find the following -

"When one plays with Morphy, the sensation is a queer as the first electric shock, or the first love, or chloroform, or any entirely novel experience. As you sit down at the board opposite him, a certain sheepishness steals over you, ad you cannot rid yourself on an old fable in which a lion's skin plays a large part. Then you are sure you must have the advantage. You seem to be secure, - you get a rook - you are ahead two pieces! three!! 

Gently, as if wafted by a zephyr, the pieces glide around the board, and presently as you are about to win the game,  a soft voice it  your ear kindly insinuates, Mate! You are speechless. Again and again you try, again and again you are sure you must win; again and again your prodigal antagonist leaves his pieces at your mercy, but his moves are as the steps of Fate. Then you are charmed all along - so bewitchingly are you beheaded: one had rather be run through by Bayard, you know, than spared by a pretender. On the whole I could only remember the oriental anecdote of one who was taken to the banks of the Euphrates, where by a princely host he was led about the beautiful gardens and bowers, then asked if anything could be more beautiful,. "Yes," he replied, "the chess-playing of El-Zuli." So having lately sailed, I told you, down the Hudson, having explored Staten Island, Hoboken, Fort Hamilton and all the glorious retreats about New York, I shall say one thing is more beautiful than them all, - the chess-play of Paul Morphy."

This was in July, 1959. I had already received the domestic instruction that it was possible to give too much time to an innocent game, and the hint was reinforced by my experience with Morphy. I concluded that, if, after all the time I had given to chess, any man could give me a rook and beat me easily, any ambition in that area might as well be denounced. Thenceforth I played only on vacations or when at sea.


As his New York visit was nearing an end, Morphy visited Niagara Falls, played more games at Knight odds, particularly with James Thompson and even played a pair of Rook odds game with the celebrated pianist, Arthur Napoleon de Santos.

Porter's Spirit of the Times, November 5th, 1859.

Mr. Morphy's Congé. - Thursday, Oct. 27th, was the time appointed for Mr. Morphy to say farewell to the New York Chess-Club, as he is about leaving the city. The Club was crowded to see the great chess-player's last appearance in our own chess-circles. Mr. Morphy played two games, at odds of the Rook, with Arthur Napoleon, the great pianist, winning both games but the young artist showed considerable chess-talent and the games were very interesting. On Friday evening a supper was given to the Champion, at Jones' Hotel, by several of his friends, members of the chess-club. Mr. Morphy will leave behind him, besides the memory of his extraordinary victories, reminiscences of his kindly manners and courteous conduct.

During his stay in New York several books about Morphy were published:

The Exploits and Triumphs in Europe of Paul Morphy by Fredrick Milnes Edge
Twee Merkwaardige Partijen by M. M. Couvée
Morphy's Games by Thomas Frère 
Paul Morphy's Match Games by Charles H. Stanley


Finally, on October 30, Morphy left New York, planning to stop first at Philadelphia, then at Baltimore.




He arrived in Philadelphia the next day and visited the Athenaeum Club where Lewis Elkin (pictured on right) introduced him to the members. Morphy played and lost two games at knight odds against William G. Thomas, then won two games from Thomas at pawn & two move odds. Two days later, Morphy played Dr. Samuel Lewis, B. C. Tilghman and several others, all at knight odds, winning every game.

In spite of his refusal to attend a testimonial dinner such as in New York, Morphy was apparently given a testimonial of some sort. On November 4 The Pennsylvania Inquirer reported that, "The next move Mr. Morphy makes will be to the Brown Stone Clothing Hall of Rockhill and Wilson...where he will get himself a new and elegant suit."


Morphy played William Thomas again on November 7, again two games at knight odds but with the provision that Thomas answer 1.e4 with 1....e5. 

Morphy won both games. On November 11 Morphy made an exception to his decision not to give any more blindfold demonstrations and played a four board blindfold simul, Philadelphia's first ever, at the Academy of Music for the benefit of the Mt. Vernon Fund (established by The Mount Vernon Ladies Association in 1853 to purchase, restore and preserve Mount Vernon). The Philadelphia Evening Bulletin of November 12, 1859 gives this perspective:

     On Mr. Morphy's return from his triumphant foreign campaign, last Spring, it was announced that he wisely determined to abandon the exercise of his extraordinary gift of blindfold play, regarding it very justly, as injurious in its effects on the brain, and therefore, we should suppose, likely to weaken the general force of his play.
     In departing form this sensible resolution, for a single occasion, and yielding gracefully to the behests of the enthusiastic Vice Regent of the Mount Vernon Association, Mr. Morphy at once testified his practical interest in the noble object of the Association and afforded a rare treat to the chess playing community of Philadelphia.
     It was arranged that four blindfold games should be played simultaneously at the Academy of Music. The four gentlemen who offered themselves willingly as victims on the shrines of Caïssa and Mount Vernon were Wm. G. Thomas, Esq., B. C.
Tilghman, Esq., Samuel Smyth, Esq., and Samuel Lewis, M. D.
     Four of the large Athenaeum chess tables were arranged across the front of the stage, and at a few minutes after six the players seated, and Mr. Morphy was introduced to the audience by Rob't. Rogers M. D., Dean of the University of Pennsylvania, in a very neat and appropriate manner.
     Mr. Morphy then took his seat in a comfortable arm-chair, placed in the middle of the stage where he could be distinctly seen and heard, and where he could not see the boards.
     The games were begun by Mr. Morphy announcing in a clear, smooth voice, which we presume was heard throughout the house, "Pawn to King's fourth on all tables." His moves were carefully repeated by R. H. Jones, Esq., who deserves much credit for the careful manner in which he superintended the four games. It will be observed by an inspection of the games below, that Messrs. Thomas and Tilghman, with much more chivalry than prudence, boldly accepted open games, while their more wary, if not more successful comrades, played close defenses.
     The progress of the games was watched with breathless interest by the spectators. Chess boards were in operation in various parts of the house, and a battery of opera-glasses were leveled at the battle-field. Mr. Morphy's manner was perfectly quiet and collected - occasionally he paused long over the move but we were satisfied he was not engaged in reforming the position before his mind's eye, but in working out his combinations as he would have to do over the board.
     The result will be seen below. Mr. Tilghman first, then Dr. Lewis, then Mr. Thomas and, last of all, Mr. Smyth went down before the irresistible force of Mr. Morphy's lance and each in turn gracefully resigned his seat amid the plaudits of the spectators. The whole four games were concluded about half-past nine o'clock, and the audience retired highly delighted at this remarkable demonstration, and wondering more than ever over the extraordinary mental powers, whose exercise they had just witnessed.

Morphy played two more games with William G. Thomas at knight odds, drawing the first and winning the second. Hardman Philips Montgomery, the Philadelphia lawyer who was considered the strongest player in the city and who participated in the First American Chess Congress, sat down with Morphy to play but refused to accept odds. They never played.



On the morning of November 17, Morphy left Philadelphia, arriving in Baltimore that afternoon and registered at the luxurious, six-storied, 200 room Barnum's City Hotel where he was welcomed by members of the Monumental and the Baltimore chess clubs. In return the next day Morphy visited the Monumental Chess Club and played two of its members: A. B. Arnold and S. N. Carvalho, as well as three members of the Baltimore Club: Walters, Nicholson and Gill, all at knight odds, winning all the games. The following day Morphy visited te Baltimore Chess Club, but since it was too small, the group of 100 moved to Maryland Historical Society library. Morphy played Miller, Zimilini, White, Williams, Dr. Cohen and Dr. Baer, all at knight odds.



Solomon Nunes Carvalho offered to paint a portrait of Morphy over the weekend.

According to the Jewish Virtual Library:

Solomon Nunes Carvalho [pictured right] (1815-1894)  was born in Charleston, South Carolina, into a Jewish family of Spanish-Portuguese descent. Carvalho worked as both a painter and a photographer. During the winter of 1853-54, Carvalho accompanied the explorer John C. Frémont through the territories of Kansas, Colorado, and Utah searching for a railroad route to the Pacific. The daguerreotypes that Carvalho took on this expedition no longer exist. It is believed that the copy daguerreotype of an Indian village that came to the Library with the Brady collection was made from one of Carvalho's daguerreotypes.

This painting is now part of  the Maryland Historical Society collection.

On Monday afternoon Morphy also played a game against Chapin B. Harris, an invalid who very much wished to meet the world champion.

On Wednesday, November 24, 1859 Morphy left for home.

Back in New Orleans