THE LIFE AND CHESS OF PAUL MORPHY                                                                                                                                                                                    Back in New Orleans


The latter part of Morphy's trip home is unclear. He arrived in New Orleans on or about December 12, almost three weeks after leaving Baltimore. How and where he spent that time isn't known. But what is known is that while in Europe, Morphy resigned to only play Americans at odds of Pawn and  move, something he extended to the rest of the world before returning to America and before leaving New York, he had raised the ante for any American player to Knight odds.

But according to Charles Buck's Paul Morphy: His Later Life (1902, Newport, Kentucky)

shortly after reaching New Orleans Morphy issued a final challenge offering to give odds of Pawn and move to any player in the world, and receiving no response thereto, he declared his career as a chess-player finally and definitely closed, a declaration to which he held with unbroken resolution during the whole remainder of his life.

Buck's book, based heavily on gossip and interviews of Morphy's relatives and acquaintances, has been so severely criticized for it's lack of scholarship that's it's value is questionable. Two examples of unsupported "fact" given by Buck might be:
     1) "...he [Morphy] became so enamoured of a wealthy and handsome young lady in New Orleans and informed a mutual friend of the fact,
         who broached the subject to the lady; but she scorned the idea of marrying 'a mere chess-player.'"
  - There is no substantiation at all for the above.
     2) Buck states that Zuckertort met Morphy on Canal Street in New Orleans in 1882 and handed him his card. Morphy pocketed the card
         without a glance and addressed Zuckertort by name in French. Zuckertort, surprised, asked Morphy how he knew his name and how
         he knew that he spoke French. Morphy replied, "I met you in Paris in 1867 and you spoke French then."
   - The problem is that Zuckertort wasn't in New Orleans in 1882.

But whether Morphy publicly proclaimed, or simply made a conscious decision, to forsake competitive chess, it seems that from 1860 on, with just a few exceptions, his public chess playing was over. He did, however, continue his chess column in the Ledger. Acording the Sergeant in Morphy's Games of Chess:

Morphy intended to publish, with his own annotations, all the games of the La Bourdonnais-Mac Donnell matches, considering them the finest recorded examples of chess. He got as far as publishing fifteen games and then stopped.

But, according to Lawson in Paul Morphy: the Pride and Sorrow of Chess:

... Morphy's association with Bonner and the Ledger ended in August 1860. However, during the year in which his chess column ran, Morphy annotated thirty-five Labourdonnais-M'Donnell games and others, including a few of his own, undoubtedly fewer than his readers would have liked.

Whether due to his "incorrigible laziness," as Fuller would later claim or to his under-estimated non-interest in chess which Maurian asserts is true, Morphy's chess columns were very matter-of-fact annotations allowing for no reader interactions such as letters or comments, a fact for which the Ledger received complaints from it's subscribers. Bonner eventually encouraged letters from readers but had to hire W. J. A. Fuller, supposedly consulting with Morphy, to answer them.

Morphy's chess involvement by 1860 was limited to his chess column and a minor controversy over an attempted chess hoax.


Morphy's Annotations

Here is a .pgn containing that purports to be 31 games with annotations by Morphy. The games came from , the great online historical game database where the games are supplied by the members. While the variety and quality of the games there surpass any other online database, one must keep in mind that the accuracy of the data isn't assured. By visiting the site, one might get a better insight into many of these games through the comments supplied by many of the diligent and capable members.

 ~ the "Morphy - Deacon" games


The Deacon controversy provided a diversion that kept Morphy's name in the limelight even though he wasn't playing any public chess. It's a bit complicated and convoluted, but basically insignificant since it was doomed from it's inception. Both Lawson and Sergeant devote a chapter to this affair showing why it was doomed to failure.

Frederich Deacon, commonly called Frederic or Frederick,  was a strong Belgian amateur living in London. Some of his matches indicate his relative strength:
1851 Deacon-Lwe  +7-2=1
1852 Deacon-Mayet   +5-2
1863 Steinitz-Deacon  +5-1=1

December17, 1859 an article in the Illustrated London News advertising Staunton's soon-to-be released Guide to Chess, published two games, a King's Gambit and an Evan's Gambit contested by Frederick Deacon and Paul Morphy, each contestant winning one.

 "...immediately upon seeing these games, Morphy pronounced them forgeries, asserting he had never played at all with Deacon. He also stated that one of the games was shown to him in London by the French player, de Riviere, as having been won by him [Riviere] from the Englishman [Deacon] and in this Mr. Morphy was corroborated by M. de Riviere before his statement reached Europe." - Forney's War Press, Philadelphia, 1864

Morphy wrote to W. J. A. Fuller on January 19, 1860

Dear Mr. Fuller,
The two games published by Staunton in the Illustrated London News of December 17th were not played with myself and Deacon. I never contested a single game with Deacon, either on even terms or at odds. Had I played at all, I would have given him the Pawn and Move at least, as public estimation does not rank him as a player equal to Owen, to whom I yielded those odds successfully. One of the games published in the Illustrated London News - the Evan's Gambit - was shown to in London by Riviere as having been played between Deacon and himself. I do not know who Deacon's competitor was in the other game but must repeat that someone has been guilty of deliberate falsehoods in both instances.
                                                                                                                                  Ever yours,
                                                                                                                                  Paul Morphy

New Orleans Delta, January 22, 1860

The games published in the Illustrated London News of the 17th December last and purporting to have been played between Messrs. Morphy and Deacon; were certainly never played by the former gentleman, indeed, he never played a game with Deacon. If we did not know who the chess editor of in the Illustrated News is, we might suppose that here he committed an error, but being aware that the Chess Department of that paper is under the care of Howard Staunton, we do not hesitate to say that he willfully attributed games of inferior quality to Mr. Morphy, well knowing they had never been played by him. This is in perfect accordance with his course heretofore, but it's needless to say that no one will be gulled by this new dodge of Mr. Staunton, as it will be duly exposed, we hope, by all chess publishing papers.

Chess Monthly, March, 1860

We are obliged to state that the games in question are forgeries, and that Mr. Morphy never played any games whatsoever with Mr. Deacon. Had he contended with the gentleman, he would have given him Pawn and move at least as public opinion does not rank him as a player as high as Mr. Owen to whom Mr. Morphy successfully yielded these odds.

Deacon's letter:

                                                                                                                   May 9, 1860.   3 Hales Place
                                                                                                                   South Lambeth
Dear Sir:
   In answer to your letter of yesterday, I need hardly say how happy and thankful I am to give the particulars of my playing with Mr. Morphy; to bear out gentlemen who have so fairly, and to their honor, preferred believing in the fallibility of memory, rather than in loathsome may I not say impossible crime.
   On the night when Mr. Morphy played his blindfold game at the London Chess Club, Mr. Lowenthal and myself accompanied Mr. Morphy and his brother-in-law from the Club, as far as Charing Cross; on leaving them, both Mr. Morphy and his brother-in-law pressed me to call upon them at the "British Hotel." This invitation was repeated a day or two afterwards at the St. James Chess Club, and on the following Monday I called upon them at that hotel. I was accompanied by my cousin, Col. Charles Deacon, and Mr. Morphy received us very courteously, and showed us a game he had played at Paris, and then played two games with me, the first of which he won, and lost the second.
   One of the waiters came in the room several times, and my cousin was present while Mr. Morphy played with me. Our visit was made at about half-past ten in the morning, and we left at about two o'clock. On the evening of that day, I took down the games, together with some others, although I only put Mr. Morphy's name to the game I had won of him, and that game my cousin distinctly remembers, with some remarks which were made during and after the play'. These games were played exactly as they were published in the London Illustrated News.
   Col. Deacon is now in Westmoreland, but I will write to him, by to-day's post, and he will give you his corroboration of these circumstances.
                                                                                                                            Believe me, sincerely yours,
                                                                                                                            Fred. Deacon

A war of words broke out. Staunton, who published the games, at worst knowing they were forgeries or at least accepting them without question, whereas they should have raised a red flag, brought the power of his pen to bear against Morphy who was taking no part in this affair beyond his original denial of having ever played Deacon.

Illustrated London News, March 31, 1860:

The games were published, accompanied by annotations from the pen of the English player, Mr. Deacon, in our paper of December 17, 1859. Upon their reaching America, Mr. Morphy flatly denied that he had ever played a single game with Mr. Deacon. This denial might be pardoned if expressed in gentlemanly terms on the ground that the American had forgotten, among battles with so many eminent opponents an encounter with one so little known. But Mr. Morphy, not content with denying never having played with Mr. Deacon, condescends to deprecate his skills and asserts, in the most offensive manner, that "someone had been guilty of deliberate falsehood..."
Now apart from the incredible stupidity and grossness of such a charge, what is most remarkable in the affair (giving Morphy credit for really having forgotten his play with Mr. Deacon) is the surpassing vanity of that gentleman... if there has been any deliberate falsehood in the matter, it originated on the other side of the Atlantic.

Morphy's credible witnesses, his brother-in-law John D. Sybrandt who was also the Swedish and Norwegian Consul in New Orleans and Jules Arnous de Riviere, one of the most respected editors and chess players in France along with Morphy's own reputation of integrity as well as for his famed memory completely overwhelmed both Staunton's and Deacon's weak and ultimately unsupported cases. Wilhelm Steinitz, much later, mentioned similar attempts by Deacon for trying to falsify games between the two of them.

Sergeant subscribed to B. Goulding Brown's theory that the Morphy-Deacon games actually took place and that Morphy's failure to recognize, or admit, them as such, was an indication of the "first signs of that mental illness which was to make a tragedy of his last years."
Even besides the nonsensical explanation for the games if they had been actually played, Sergeant's de facto acceptance of  Brown's position is a mystery since Brown's writings on virtually anything having to do with Morphy are seeped in adverse bias and misrepresentation, while Sergeant's own writings indicate his belief that Morphy's mental illness was minimal and only manifested late in his life.

...and the incident became an interesting, confusing but ultimately unimportant footnote in chess history.

According to Philip Sergeant,  Morphy had opened a law office at 12 Exchange Place and had cards printed  up (according to David Lawson, none of this happened until after Morphy returned from Paris) but after two months, he closed shop and took off for New York supposedly to catch a ship to Paris where his mother and his sister, Helena, had already gone to visit his other sister, Malvina who had moved there permanently. But it would be some time before Paul would leave for Europe.  He arrived in New York no later than June and stayed through October. During that time his contract with the Ledger ran out and Ledger owner, Robert Bonner, finding that chess was not as popular as he had hoped, especially with Morphy not playing anymore, chose not to renew the contract which was extravagant by any measure.
Morphy was staying at the Fifth Avenue Hotel and he visited the New York Chess Club fairly regularly but only played perhaps a dozen games either at Knight or Rook odds. Louis Paulsen, who was also in New York, tried in vain to secure a match with Morphy at even terms - which Morphy wouldn't even consider. When he counter offered to play Paulsen at Pawn and Move odds, Paulsen hesitated, uncertain whether this was more advantageous to odds-giver than to the odds-receiver. Morphy meanwhile, not wanting to play at all, wrote that he was getting "heartily tired of the subject" of arranging a match Paulsen.


Just as Morphy's appearance stirred up excitement about chess in America, his sudden retirement caused a noticeable void:

A July 1861 article from a New York newspaper stated:

The Chess-mania which seized upon the whole nation when Morphy's brilliant star first rose on the horizon, was violent and exaggerated; and as his star rushed up into the zenith of its world-wide renown, and then with equal rapidity withdrew itself from the public gaze in the obscurity of private life from which there seems small prospect of re-appearance, the fever died away with it, and it's not to be wondered at that Chess Clubs and Chess Columns, that owed their existence to the excitement of the day, should dwindle away and disappear.


Then on November 6, 1860, Abraham Lincoln was elected president of the United States and within weeks Southern states were discussing secession. On December 20, 1860, South Carolina left the Union followed by Mississippi on January 9, Florida on January 10, Alabama on January 11, Georgia on January 19 and Louisiana on January 26.


                    Signing the Ordinance of Secession of  Louisiana,  January 26, 1861
                    by Enoch Wood Perry Jr. (1831-1915)             1861       Oil on canvas

Any plans Morphy might have had to settle into a quiet, leisurely professional career as an attorney were completely disturbed  on April 12, 1861 when General Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard, the Great Creole, commanded the artillery attack on Fort Sumter.

Paul held strong anti-secessionist views, but at the same time, the Morphy's owned slaves and were distinctly Southern aristocrats whose way of life was threatened by Northern conquest. Many Southerners, even those predisposed to being against secession, viewed the Civil War more as a war of aggression in which they had no choice but to support their state and therefore, the Confederacy. In any case, it seems at the onset of the war, Paul Morphy did visit Richmond, which had been established as the Confederate capitol on May 21, 1861, and  he met with Pierre Beauregard with whom he was undoubtedly already acquainted,  possibly hoping to serve as a non-combatant or in some diplomatic capacity. His brother, Edward, had already joined the Louisiana Tigers - the Seventh Regiment of New Orleans - which recruited from the finest families in New Orleans. While it's known for certain that Morphy went to Richmond in October 1861, many of the details of the trip are a mystery.

The October 24 issue of the Richmond Dispatch conclusively places Morphy in Richmond:

RICHMOND CHESS CLUB -- A meeting of the members of the Club will be held in their rooms over the J. P. Duval Drug Store,  THIS EVENING (Thursday,) 24th inst., at 8 o'clock.
     Mr. Morphy has kindly consented to be present.

and in the same issue

Paul Morphy -- This distinguished gentleman has been in our city for some days and has received visits and attentions from a number of our citizens to whom his unassuming dignity and agreeable manners has made his society very pleasant. He is a fine specimen of Southern gentleman. From a notice in another column, it appears he is expected to visit the rooms of the Richmond Chess Club this evening.

Mrs. Burton Harrison of Richmond mentions Morphy in her memoirs, Recollections Grave and Gay:

Early in the war Paul Morphy, the celebrated chess player, whom we knew in Richmond, accepted a commission to purchase for me in New Orleans, whither he was returning, a French voilette of real black thread lace, the height of my ambition. When the veil arrived, as selected by himself,  we voted Mr. Morphy an expert in other arts than chess.

Morphy did visit the Richmond Chess Club that evening and played at least ten games at Knight odds, winning eight.

According to Gilbert R. Frith of Staunton, Virginia, and president of the State Chess Association of Virginia as related in the Columbia Chess Chronicle August 18, 1888 and January 24, 1889, Paul Morphy had an intriguing encounter involving a painting, entitled, The Chess Players by Moritz August Retzsch (most likely a copy of the painting shown below).

"The arrival of the noted player excited, even at that troublous time, a keen interest among the lovers of the kingly game. An invitation was extended to the champion, and, with himself as the center, a coterie of notables assembled for an evening's play  at the home of Mr. H. (Reverend R. R. Howison) ...  While at supper Morphy's attention was attracted by a picture which hung prominently upon the wall, Mephistopheles playing a game of Chess with a young man for his soul. The Chessmen with which his Satanic Majesty plays are the Vices; the pieces of the young man are, or have been, the Virtues -- for alas! he has very few left. In bad case, indeed, is the unhappy youth, for his game, as represented, appears not only desperate, but hopeless, and his fate sealed. His adversary gloats in anticipation of the final coup, and the gleaming smile on the face of the latter intensifies the despair which that of the young man shows.
     With the close of the supper, deeply interested, Morphy approached the picture, studied it awhile intently, then turning to his host he said modestly: 'I think I can take the young man's game and win.'  'Why, impossible!' was the answer, 'Not even you, Mr. Morphy, can retrieve that game.'  'Yet I think I can,' said Morphy. 'Suppose we place the men and try.'  A board was arranged, and the rest of the company gathered round it, deeply interested in the result. To the surprise of everyone, victory was snatched from the devil and the young man saved."

In 1994 John T. Campbell claimed to have unearthed the actual picture, a lithograph,  owned by the Reverend Howison and promised to donated enlarged photographs of the picture to the U. S. Hall of Fame, a promise seemingly unfulfilled.
He wrote in the November/December 1994 edition of the Virginia Chess Newsletter:

The version of the tale accepted within the Howison family differs slightly from the popular legend. Rather than "defending the young man's position," Morphy is said to have played several games from a position based upon the lithograph as a form of handicapping. That is, as a change of pace from his usual custom of conceding rook, queen or other material odds versus amateur opponents, Morphy simply concocted a starting position resembling that in the picture. Then his fellow dinner guests took turns trying out the Black (superior) side against the champion. There is no indication how Morphy performed win/loss-wise against this handicap. 

Through the years, scholars have offered differing interpretations of the chess position in the Retzsch original. It's no easy task because the pieces are stylized and not readily equated to regular chess pieces, plus the view angle makes it hard to be certain which squares they occupy. The discovery of the 'authenticated' Morphy lithograph could rekindle speculation, although the issue loses much of its significance if we accept the Howison family version of the tale, there being no claim that Morphy defended a position directly from the picture. In any case, the now-established fact that Howison family descendants possess such a lithograph argues that the "Devil and Paul Morphy" legend has its basis in truth. 

Gilbert R. Frith also states that Morphy was "an officer on Beauregard's staff." How much credence can be put in that is questionable. Frances Parkinson Keyes in her historical novel, The Chess Players, portrayed Morphy as being rejected by Beauregard when seeking the position as his aide-de-camp and then recruited as a spy by Judah Benjamin whose wife was related to the Morphys, and finally working directly under John Slidell (who was also married to a Creole) in France. Lawson claims there's nothing for Keyes to base this on and since Morphy waited a year between visiting Richmond and going to Paris and then returned a year before the war ended, the entire spy story doesn't even make sense.

In Reminiscences of Paul Morphy By George Haven Putnam (Adt. and Bvt.-Major, 176th regt. N.Y.S. vols.) a different view of Morphy, living in New Orleans before leaving for France, is shown:

     In 1857, a convention was held in New York of the International Chess Association, or of players representing the Associations of the States. I was at the time but a youngster, but I had interested myself in chess and I secured the opportunity of visiting from time to time the rooms of the New York Chess Club where the tournament was being held.
     There came to the convention with the proper introductions from the chess authorities in Louisiana a good looking young lawyer named Paul Morphy. This name had not before been known among the chess players of the country, but the youngster made clear with his first game that he was a master of the art. He fought his way through, defeating one opponent after the other, until he came out at the close of the tournament victor and with an exceptional number of won games to his credit.
     One of his sturdiest opponents was another youngster whose name had not previously come up in chess circles, Paulsen, who came from Wisconsin and whose heritage was Swedish.
It is my memory that in this tournament, Paulsen came out second to Morphy. I recall also that he made a new precedent in the playing of games out of sight of the board. I think that he carried on at one time no less than twelve such games with a large majority of wins
     The table on which Morphy won his successes in the New York Chess Club was given by the club to its President, John Treat Irving. Later it was given by Mr. Irving, with a silver plate recording its use by Morphy, to the Century Club, where it now rests.
     One or two volumes were promptly brought into print giving the report of the Morphy games, and one of these I carried in my haversack through the years of the war.
     My regiment happened to be among those that took part in 1862 in the occupation of Louisiana, and I had occasion during two years of the campaigns in Louisiana to be in and out of New Orleans. A friend in one of the New England regiments, also a chess player, pointed out to me one day crossing Carondelet Street the figure of Morphy. This must have been in 1863.
     Morphy was walking with the lagging step of an ill man. He did not die until some years after the close of the war, but I was told that at the time I saw him he was already an invalid. I think his death finally came from softening of the brain. The doctors had forbidden chess and he seems to have had very few other interests or amusements.
     There was also, however, upon him a special pressure of trouble. While a loyal citizen of Louisiana, he was opposed to secession. He did not believe that the Republic ought to be broken up. The men of the good families in New Orleans, a group to which young Morphy certainly belonged, were nearly all members of the "Louisiana Tigers," the Seventh Regiment of New Orleans.
     Morphy had refused to join with these old-time associates in the attempt to overthrow the Republic. This brought him into social isolation. The girls were said to have scoffed at him. He ought, of course, to have done what other Southerners, objecting to secession, did. He should have made a home for himself in Paris, or somewhere in England. He remained, however, in New Orleans, boycotted and ill, and the last years of his life brought to him nothing but sadness.
                                                                                                                              New York, January 19, 1923


One problem with Mr. Putnam's recollection above with the statement:  "This must have been in 1863."

Putnam was born in 1844. His father was George Palmer Putnam, founder of G. P. Putnam Son's Publishing House, where George Haven eventually  ran. At the time he saw Morphy, Putnam was only 18 or 19.

Although Morphy was in New Orleans during its capture in April 1862 and its occupation under Butler beginning in May, on October 10 1862 Morphy packed his valuables and gained incognito passage, accompanied by his friend, Charles Maurian on the Cuba-bound Spanish steamboat, Blasco de Garay, with the ultimate destination of Paris. Besides the insufferable idea of living under Yankee, particularly Butler's, rule and of being required to take the oath of allegiance to the Union or face exile and confiscation of property, Morphy had other possible reasons for leaving New Orleans. Paul's mother and his sister, Helena, had already moved to Paris; his anti-secessionist views as well has his non-participation in the war probably made him unpopular in his own city; the Confederacy had passed its first Conscription Act in April of 1862, making Paul potentially liable to be drafted (although New Orleans was in Union hands, putting residents out of reach for conscription).



         Benjamin "Beast" Butler by Matthew Brady

The Denouement