CHESS & CHESS-PLAYERS :
consisting of Original Stories and Sketches.
by George Walker
London, Charles J. Skeet, Publisher,
27, King William Street, Charing Cross.
The English play more chess than the French; but the latter can boast of players with whom we have never been able to cope. We love to start with an apparent paradox. Our neighbours on the other side of the herring-pool have always possessed players of so high a pitch of excellence, that they may be fairly styled phenomena; but of artists a grade lower, Britain could at any time shew six for one. The fact is, whatever be the pursuit taken up by the French, there are among them to be found individuals capable of carrying that pursuit to an excess inappreciable by souls of less ardent temperament. The best astronomers, chemists, cooks, mathematicians, dancers, architects, and military engineers, are French. And so it is with chess; while we are content to knock under, and as veteran soldiers, keep our places quietly in the ranks.
The sceptre of chess, in Europe, has been for the last century, at least, wielded by a Gallic dynasty. It has passed from Legalle to La Bourdonnais, through the grasp, successively, of Philidor, Bernard, Carlier, and Deschapelles. It is of the last-named potentate we are about more particularly to speak, -- he being in every respect one of the most extraordinary creations of the past or present day.
No pen is more tenacious than our own of committing the slightest infringement on the delicacy of private character, and none more deprecate the tearing the veil from off domestic life, and exposing a gentleman's household gods to the gaze of the impertinent, provided he intrudes not himself and his affairs upon the public. It is not merely because an individual attains eminence in his particular walk that he should be set up in the pillory, with his family shivering in the cold around him. Only with the public character of the eminent have we an acknowledged right; because the glory of fame is a joint-stock concern, to be shared duly between the individual and the body politic of all civilization.
The laurelled hero has knelt at the bar of public opinion, and is ordered to rise "good man and true". He is called to the front of the stage, that the pretty women in the boxes may pelt him with roses. In recognising his excellence we share his triumph, and become the jealous guardians of his future fame. When we meet him in the market-place, we point him out to our children, that they, too, may be able to say hereafter, they "have known the man".
What chess-player has not heard of Deschapelles? And where dwelleth the follower of our magic art who will refuse to kneel at bidding, "en preux chevalier", to do homage in all devoir to his chivalrous leader? A health to the king of chess! the lord of the ebon and silver field, -- the terrible and the mighty! A health to Deschapelles, and pass the bowl round, while we briefly sketch forth his long career of glory.
M. Guillaume Le Breton Deschapelles (the latter being his "nom de terre") was born some sixty-seven years back, with a brain of so perfect an organization for the acquirement of games of skill, that it may fairly be said, the world never, in this respect, saw his equal. Whatever game he at any time took up, he immediately fathomed, and this in a manner so comprehensive, as to rank him in each particular pursuit, not merely as first-rate, but as THE FIRST. Chess, billiards, Polish draughts, trictrac, and whist, were acquired by him with the same facility with which smaller men learn cribbage or dominoes. At a glance, he could take hold of that which to souls of different organization would have required the study of years; and in three days he had the capacity of going farther, in whatsoever sport he practised, than others could attain in a lifetime.
In early youth, M. Deschapelles did not discover that he was possessed of the faculty in question. His father was gentleman of the bedchamber to Louis XVI.; and his elder brother, as an equally attached partisan of the monarchical system, filled the same situation subsequently at the court of Charles X. Deschapelles himself, on the other hand, was strongly imbued with the revolutionary spirit of the day; and, his principles being well known, he was spared the persecutions to which his family was exposed from the leading chiefs of the first revolution. When the youth of Paris went forth, in their pride of country and fever of blood, as volunteers against the Prussians, M. Deschapelles marched in the van.
In an early engagement with the enemy, he was unfortunately one of a foot regiment which was exposed to the overwhelming shock of a large body of Prussian horse. His skull was laid bare by a sabre, and a second gash traversed his face diagonally from brow to chin. His right hand was severed from his arm at the wrist, and as he lay stretched on the ground in his sad state, fainting and bleeding apparently to death, by way of climax, the Prussian regiment rode over his body. M. Deschapelles recovered, by a miracle; and we leave it to the scientific physiologist to say, whether these sabre wounds of the head had any share in exciting his brain to that fervent pitch of imagination, without which genius lives not.
Once more in Paris, a cripple, and shorn of his right hand, M. Deschapelles received support from the government of the day, and was transferred to the commissariat; of which branch of the army, as an active member, he subsequently made the chief campaigns of the consulate and the empire, under the especial protection of Fouche.
Chess-players ourselves, we shall dwell but lightly on M. Deschapelles acquirement and practice of other games; nor need we care for the charge of anachronism, incurred, we doubt not, justly, in our memoranda. Beginning with trictrac, a most difficult and complicated game, elder parent of backgammon, we record the fact, that M. Deschapelles is even now considered the first player in France; in which country trictrac is more played than in any other in Europe.
As a billiard-player, M. Deschapelles suffers under the disadvantage of having but one hand; nevertheless, as a mere practical player, he is allowed to be of the third or fourth grade of force; and as a judge of the game is universally placed first in the kingdom. "M. Deschapelles knows the game better than any man in France," said, in our hearing, M. Eugene, the Kentfield of Paris at the present day.
The mode in which Deschapelles acquired Polish draughts is very curious. For a long time this scientific game had been popular in France; its head-quarters being the Café de Manoury, from whence the amateurs of draughts were, however, at one time, temporarily expelled during the first French revolution, from their being a body of men at that time too poor in pocket to answer the purpose of a wealthy coffee-house keeper. During their wanderings in the desert, they settled for a time in an "entresol" near the Café de Manoury, and there the banner was pitched, under the heading of M. Chalon, the first player of Polish draughts at that time in France, and author of some curious printed problems on the subject. This gentleman was the successor of Blonde, Manoury, and others of the élite, and gave odds to all with whom he played, -- daily keeping the lists for hours against all comers.
Deschapelles took it into his head to play Polish draughts. He walked one fine day into the sanctum, learned the moves and laws by looking on for half an hour, and then challenged M. Chalon to play. The latter gave the odds of two men, and they played thus daily for a few days, when the odds were diminished to one man. After a month, they were brought down to the half man; and at the end of three months M. Deschapelles challenged Chalon to play even. They did so, and the former was the Conqueror. Chalon wished to continue; Deschapelles declined, in the following pithy terms:-
"I have looked through your game," said he, in his peculiarly quiet tone, "and I find but little in it. At one time, played by gentlemen, it might have been worth practising; but it is now kicked out from the drawing-room to the ante-chamber; and my soul is above the place of lacqueys. In three months I have become your equal, in three months more I could give you a pawn; but I renounce the pursuit, and bid you farewell. I shall never play draughts again!"
This mode of speech may be termed gasconade, but it is characteristic of the man, and we can but view it as emanating from the simplicity of a Hercules, in the knowledge of his vast strength. Conscious pride is not boasting. The braggart is he who threatens that which he cannot execute. "M. Deschapelles boasts; but, then, the devil of it is, he acts up to what he boasts!" quoth M. Chalon, sententiously, as his conqueror walked forth from the arena.
The difficulty of acquiring Polish draughts is almost commensurate with that of learning chess. As a proof of this, the renowned Philidor, though he played Polish draughts for many years, and worked hard at the game, was never equal to those, like Chalon, of the first grade. There were always draughts-players who could give Philidor odds; and this determined him, probably to confine himself to chess, in which, like the lion of the desert, or the eagle of the Alps, he reigned without a rival. The Polish draught-players have long since returned to the Café de Manoury, and the most skilful player there told us (in the flesh, some six weeks back), that he should consider seven or eight years a reasonable time to be spent in getting up to the odds of one pawn!
The best proof of M. Deschapelles transcendent skill in whist is, perhaps, to be gathered from the fact of his having won several thousand pounds at that game; on the interest of which he now chiefly lives. His fame as a whist-player is, indeed, European, and is echoed from the halls of the Travellers' and the Crockford's, to the salons of the German spas, in all of which M. Deschapelles is ranked as the first living whist-player. Since the breaking up of the Salon des Etrangers, he now chiefly plays in a private club. So great is the confidence of his followers, that we have been gravely informed a quarter of a million of money could be deposited to back any match of whist he might undertake; and this seems the less improbable, as we know of several wealthy bankers who are proud to enrol themselves on his list of devotees.
A match was made some years back, between the British Lord G---- and M. Deschapelles, at whist, for two hundred thousand francs; but was stopped, ere commenced, by our countryman's just fear of the thing being viewed in Downing Street as infra dig. -- a consideration naturally influenced by the discovery that the money on the part of the French player was to be forthcoming in shares. It is understood that M. Deschapelles is at length about to favour us with the publication of his Treatise on Whist, on the manuscript of which, we know he has laboured at intervals during the last twenty years.
Such a work will be indeed a treasure; and we are informed (and most cordially do we wish such annonce may be correct) that so comprehensive is the Treatise on Whist of M. Deschapelles, that it will run to an octavo of 800 pages! It is curious to see the veteran collect the cards with his ONE LEFT HAND, sort, play, and gather them in tricks. M. Deschapelles now plays shorts. From cards, pass we to their progenitor -- CHESS.
It has been well said, "there is no royal road to learning"; but M. Deschapelles laughed the proverb to scorn, and arrived at the temple of Caissa by a path which we can only consider as first-speed "railroad". Endowed with so peculiar an aptitude for acquiring games, our hero did not learn, but seized on chess at once. By a sudden and mighty impress, he stamped it on his brain, and bore it ever afterwards, bodily, within him, perfectly developed in all its parts.
"I acquired chess," said he to us, in the presence of fifty amateurs, "in four days! I learned the moves, played with Bernard, who had succeeded Philidor as the sovereign of the board; lost the first day, the second, the third, and beat him even-handed on the fourth; since which time I have never advanced or receded. Chess to me has been, and is, a single idea, which, once acquired, cannot be displaced from its throne, while the intellect remains unimpaired by sickness or age."
At first reflection, it would appear ridiculous to say the greatest chess player of the age had acquired his skill in four days; but M. Deschapelles asserts it as a fact, and we are therefore bound to believe him. We heard a wag whisper, that, like the interpretation put by Dr. Buckland on the seven days of Moses, each day must have meant, at least, a year, or more; but we seriously protest against ill-natured scepticism. It is so delightful to sneer at enthusiasm, particularly on the part of the small-souled and envious! We view the brain of M. Deschapelles as a phenomenon, and not, therefore, to be measured by ordinary rules. Besides, his assertion, however startling, is really borne out by the extraordinary fact, with which Paris and London rang loudly at the time.
When the question of M. Deschapelles' chivalrous challenge to give pawn and two to the best English player (of which more anon) was on the tapis, in the month of May, 1836, the French champion, who had not played a single game, nor even touched a chess-board, for fifteen years, felt some curiosity to know what effect this long interval of inactivity would have on his chess faculty. To test this, he suddenly walked into the Paris Chess Club; and, without the slightest preparation, sat down to play with M. de la Bourdonnais, at that curious variety of chess known as "the game of the pawns", in which the one player removes his queen, and is allowed, instead, a certain number of extra pawns. Deschapelles and De la Bourdonnais played four games at this sitting, even, -- that is to say, eight pawns being allowed alternately for the queen. Of these games Deschapelles won two, drew one, and lost one! Can words add to this astonishing feat?
Stimulated by some "good-natured" remarks of the by-standers, as to the game of the pawns not being the ordinary game, M. Deschapelles renewed his visit to the club once more during the week, and played three games of the usual species of chess with M. St. Amant, giving the latter the pawn and two moves. Of these games each party one won, and the third was drawn. Be it remembered, that St. Amant, a few weeks afterwards, played in London with our first players, even, and beat them all round. M. Deschapelles was now satisfied that his chess organ existed unimpaired; and has never played since, to the deep regret of his contemporaries.
The truth of phrenology is strongly borne out by the conformation of Deschapelles' forehead; in which the organ of calculation is more considerably developed than in that of any other human being we ever saw. A high and sharp ridge stands forth as the boundary of his fine, square forehead; attracting, at the first glance, the earnest attention of the disciples of Combe and Spurzheim.
We may here remark that M. Deschapelles never studied the theory of chess, nor looked at any work existing on the subject. With the usual openings he is, therefore, comparatively unacquainted, and has to find the correct move always in play. In some pools of chess which he once played, even, with Cochrane and La Bourdonnais, he found this to be a disadvantage, and was compelled to play more slowly than either of his two antagonists. Indeed, quickness of play was never the forte of M. Deschapelles; he always having been much more "English" in this respect than La Bourdonnais, his successor; who is the quickest player we ever looked over. Deschapelles' wonderful talent is the most keenly excited in crowded positions on the board. Here, that which is Cimmerian darkness to the bystanders, is to him light as noon.
Could we acquire chess as easily as it would appear we might, from his mode of speaking on the subject, much joy were ours. "For my part," says Deschapelles, "I look neither to the right nor to the left; but I simply examine the situation before me, as I would that of two hostile camps, and I do that which I think best to be done. I want to checkmate; I do not want to capture, to defend, nor to attack. I repeat, I want to checkmate, et voilà tout."
On this phenomenon chess-player's first dropping from the clouds, he was immediately hailed as the greatest artist since Philidor. The Paris players, at this time, were temporarily removed from the Café de la Régence, owing to a prejudice against the latter locale, arising, naturally enough, from the fact of the café's having been the constant resort of Robespierre. The head-quarters of the chess amateurs were, however, not far away from the old spot; and there, at the head of the veteran band, was the youthful Deschapelles installed as lord of the ascendancy; playing constantly, save when his duties called him to more stirring scenes; which, indeed, was the case for the greater part of his time, thanks to the restless energies of his mighty master, Napoleon.
Having perched himself, at one bold bound, on the very topmost branch of the tree, Deschapelles invariably gave odds. He may be said to have formed the modern school of French players; the chief of his pupils being M. de la Bourdonnais, Mouret, &c. With the former of these artists, Deschapelles played many hundred games, either giving eight, and receiving seven, pawns for the queen, or else allowing pawn and two, at the ordinary variety of the game. When, falconlike, he found the young bird strong enough to plume its wings and fly alone, Deschapelles retired altogether from the arena, and left the mantle of inspiration to be draped around the broad shoulders of his worthy successor, De la Bourdonnais. For the want of similar models of excellence to play up to, we doubt whether England will ever possess a really first-rate player. Certainly, since the days of Philidor, none, save the late Mr. M'Donnell, have appeared, to us, to hold a just claim to the appellation.
We proceed to give one of M. Deschapelles' chess adventures, in his own words:-
"I never thought, nor do I believe, that a player of my force could ever appear from the chilly regions of the north. A southern sun can alone organize a brain of sufficient chess-genius to cope with me. In proof of this, hear what happened in Prussia. After the battle of Jena, in 1806, our army entered Berlin. The ladies there, having expressed wonder at our rapid march, were told politely, by one of the French officers, 'We should have arrived here even twenty-four sooner, had we not met with some slight obstacles on the way!' -- these slight hindrances being an army of 300,000 men, whom we were forced to get past! Well, I lodged at the house of a colonel of the Prussian national guard, who, the very first evening, took me to the celebrated Berlin chess club, instituted by the great Frederic himself.
"A numerous party of amateurs were assembled to receive me; the lists were pitched, the arms in order. The three strongest heads of the club were opposed to mine. Before playing, in the course of some preliminary conversation, I asked whether any foreigner of my acquaintance had ever enjoyed the honour of an introduction. The reception book being produced, displayed a number of names, French, English, and so forth, but not one whom I knew. 'Which party has been chiefly victorious, yours or your visitors?' demanded I. 'Oh!' replied they, cavalierly enough, 'our club have always come off winners.' 'Very well,' replied I; 'such will not be the case this time.' 'Why?' 'Your club must lose!' Fancy the sensation produced by these words! They all gathered round, and a noise like a Babel broke forth; from which issued such expressions, from time to time, in German, as, 'Oh, what insolence! What presumption! We'll punish him!'
"Before playing, it is necessary to settle the terms. I at once declared I never played even, and offered the pawn and two. 'What is your stake?' was the question. 'Whatever sum you please,' answered I; 'from a franc to a hundred louis.' They now said they never played in the club for money. I thought to myself, if that be the case, why ask me what my stake was? But I let that pass; and the three best players sat down to play against me. Not only did I insist on their consulting together, but I further authorized every member of the club to advise them as he might think fit. It was agreed we should play even, in other respects; and as they obstinately refused odds, I resigned myself and them to fate.
"The move was drawn for, and gained by me. I played the king's gambit. They took and defended the pawn. Feeling a little sore at what had passed, I thought the less ceremony was necessary; so on the eleventh move, I got up, and told them, in an off-hand way, that it was useless to continue the game, as I had a forced mate in seven moves, which I detailed to them. I then appeared as if about to leave the room, accompanied by my host, and a friend, a cavalry colonel in our service; who, being very fond of chess, had come to take part, as second, in the duel.
"The members of the club crowded round, and, changing all at once their tone, asked me politely to favour them with another trial. Finding my gentlemen, this time, so much more modest (a quality which pleases me), I softened, and remained to play another game; in which, having the move, they began by advancing the queen's pawn two squares. The contest was rather longer than the first, but I was again the conqueror; and such being the case, could not help taking upon myself the tone of a master, and pointing out to them different moves, of the effects of which they had shewn themselves ignorant, and which I advised them to study.
"The corps d'armée to which I was attached left Berlin, but we again occupied that city after the battle of Eylau; and, in the public walks, I met with several members of the club, who entreated me to visit them a second time. I told them frankly, I had no objection to doing so, but should decline again playing even with them; that such a sorry joke should be carried no further; and that I would only resume the engagement on their taking such odds as I was prepared to offer. 'What are those odds?' asked they. 'The rook!' answered I, without hesitation. 'And would you play for money, giving us the rook?' 'Yes, for a hundred louis, as I told you before.'
"Again did they decline any stake, and, at least, acted with prudence in so doing. We played three games. I drew the first, won the two others, and the next day left Berlin for Hamburg. I did not expect much from them; Berlin is so cold! Besides, for twenty years, I gave the pawn and two moves to the first players in Europe, be they whom they might, when they presented themselves; and would do so still."
To hear M. Deschapelles narrate his chess doings, with the real spirit of military frankness, is one of the pleasantest things in the world. That he has preserved none of the games, or curious chess positions, which have occurred to him, is to be deplored, when we know how vast a chess acquaintance he has enjoyed, the circle with whom he has played, including the leading players of his time, as well as those who have been famous in more important matters, -- as Ney, Fouché, Junot, and Louis Buonaparte. We own we think he underrates the skill of the Germans; and regret he never played with Allgaier, Silberschmidt, or Witholm. Deschapelles once challenged Stein to play at the Hague; but the latter preferred resting on his reputation, and declined accepting the invitation.
It is currently rumoured in the French metropolis, but we know not whether on certain grounds, that M. Deschapelles revenged France on Marshal Blucher, by teaching the latter, to the tune of thirty thousand francs, that he knew much less of manoeuvring troops on the field of chess, than on the plains of real war. If this be true, Blucher is not the only German who has paid high for the lesson of experience in chess; witness Count d'Armstadt, and others we could quote, as fitting companions in folly.
In the year 1821, Mr. Lewis, the writer on chess, went over to Paris, for the purpose of playing a match at Frascati's with Deschapelles. The necessary arrangements were made by M. la Bourdonnais, as umpire; and the odds of the pawn and move were unwillingly agreed to be yielded by the Frenchman, he wishing to give instead, pawn and two, and to play for a larger sum than his adversary chose to consent to. Of the three games constituting this match, two were drawn, and one was gained by our countrymen. It is certain that M. Deschapelles was not in play on this occasion; for we find him over-looking winning moves, and in other respects wanting in his usual fertility of resource.
He was taken unawares by an opening of the game he had never previously encountered; and, from the fine attack Mr. Lewis invariably acquired thereby, the wonder is that the latter did not gain a more honourable triumph. M. Deschapelles felt his real superiority; and on the match being over, challenged his opponent to a renewal of hostilities; offering publicly to give him pawn and two moves in a match of twenty-one games, and play for any sum of money which might be required. Mr. Lewis declined playing a second match, whether at the odds of pawn and move, or pawn and two moves; and was, doubtless, justified in following out the adage of "let well alone."
Messrs. Brand, Cochrane, and other first-rate English players, were all defeated by Deschapelles, at the odds of pawn and two; and it is matter of wonder Deschapelles never followed up his conquests by fighting us islanders on our own ground. We are happy to believe it is not improbable he may come to London, even during the present winter. He admires British institutions; and should, therefore, favour us with the visit so long due, though never as yet granted to the solicitations of his English friends.
Although Deschapelles was one of those who took the lead in establishing the Paris Chess Club, he accepted no part in the match played by that society, in correspondence, with the Westminster Club. His name was, however, invaluable, as an auxiliary towards inducing recruits to join the newly raised tri-colour. Tired of the heat, the noise, and the crowd who throng the Café de la Régence, it was quite a relief for the elect to find themselves established in a suite of lofty and spacious rooms. We are glad to find this honourable society flourishing as it deserves; increased and increasing in vigour, in numbers, and in talent; including in its list of members Mery, Lacretelle, Jouy, and other literati; headed by Boissy d'Anglas, and a numerous sprinkling of nobility.
And let us, en passant, congratulate the amateurs here, of our noble and soul-stirring recreation, upon the prospect which at length dawns upon us, of having a first-rate chess club at the west-end of our own metropolis. For years has the attempt been made, at intervals, to institute a similar society, and hitherto has that attempt uniformly failed. But the time is now come when, based upon solid grounds, a fabric is, even as we write, rising out of earth, destined to meet and to withstand the heavy storms of time and chance. Prosperity to the Westminster Chess Club! Remodelled and improved in its constitution, there can be little fear of its success, backed as it is by the first chess talent of the metropolis, at the head of so formidable a phalanx of amateurs. When first established in Bedford-street, this society looked well; but its locale was far too eastern for the aristocratic patrons of the science.
Overshadowed as it has been for the last two years, it now again proudly erects its head, determined to shew that it has but stooped to rise with increased vigour. Removed to first-rate rooms (in Charles Street, Waterloo Place), with but a three-guinea subscription, and no entrance fee, our hopes and wished are unalloyed by doubt. London shall and will at last have a chess club, commensurate with the improvements of the age, and secure of support from all true lovers and patrons of chess, both in town and country. Return we to our record.
Constituted as is the frame of M. Deschapelles, overflowing with the fervent feelings of enthusiasm, in age, which the most romantic have conceived in youth, an indomitable love of liberty in the purest sense of the word has more than once led him into trouble. On every subject Deschapelles speaks out as he thinks, reckless of consequences; and "age cannot tame" his ardent devotion to the cause of civil and religious freedom all over the world. In 1832, having, somewhat imprudently, suffered himself to be named president of a sort of republican society, termed "the Gauls", he incurred a government prosecution, and was even imprisoned, au secret, for two or three months. This said band of "Gauls" were none the better, in our opinion, for enrolling among their members that Italian chess-player, Signor Lavagnino, so well known in London.
No case could be made against Deschapelles, and he was honourably acquitted. On the examination of some of the "Gauls", we find the question constantly put by the public prosecutor, as to whether it was not understood that M. Deschapelles was to be declared dictator! This appears to be in the highest absurd, and was very properly ridiculed by the galerie.
M. Deschapelles' political opinions were expressed as follows, in a conversation we lately held together: "I am," said he, "of no country. Shew me a good man, and I will try to be his brother. But were I to choose, though I have never seen England, and understand not your language, I ma more a Briton than anything else. I love your country, in the firm belief that your admirable political constitution gives to man all of liberty which he is as yet sufficiently civilized to enjoy without running into licentiousness." Is this a man to be reasonably obnoxious to the powers of the state? No. He is more of a philanthropist than a politician, -- a Howard rather than an O'Connell. It is a trait of his life deserving record, that his elder brother, who was attached to the court of Charles X., and fell into comparative penury after 1830, has been ever since, together with his family, wholly supported by Deschapelles.
To shew the facility with which the hero of our sketch can turn his mind to any occupation which may take his fancy, we may state that, having a few acres of ground in the Fauxbourg du Temple, M. Deschapelles has there struck out an improved mode of cultivating melons, for which he has received more than one honourable prize. His fruit is first in the market, and not unfrequently adorns the table of Louis Philippe. M. Deschapelles may be quoted as being superior to Cincinnatus, inasmuch as melons are more refined than cabbages!
It is now about two years since M. Deschapelles sent forth his celebrated challenge to all England, in which he offered to come to London, and to give the odds of the pawn and two moves to any British player, without exception; the joint sum staked on the issue of the match to be a thousand pounds. He declared himself driven to offer this cartel, which first appeared in the French chess magazine, Palamede, in consequence of an English newspaper (Bell's Life in London), having appeared to fling some doubts on the truth of his having given the Berlin players the rook in 1806. We have reason to know that M. Deschapelles was misinformed on the point, and that the journal in question meant nothing more than to tickle him good-humouredly into action, and on the plan of poking up the lion with a pole to hear him roar.
Be this as it may, M. St. Amant made his appearance in London, as the herald of Gaul; and, not satisfied with hurling the glove in the faces of our first players, himself inserted the challenge formally in Bell's Life, -- thus happily making the source of his discontent to serve as the medium through which satisfaction was demanded. The thing was met in a proper spirit on the part of the London Chess Club. A Committee was formed, the five hundred pounds were subscribed in half an hour, and a player of established public reputation was engaged to play the match on the part of our country.
At the moment when all were eager for the event, the whole transaction unhappily fell through on this simple point. The London club very properly (as we thought then, and still hold) demanded that, as a starting point, it should be admitted that the challenge originally emanated from the side of France. On the other hand, M. Deschapelles refused all discussion on this part of the topic, and insisted it should not be reopened. Before giving an extract from M. Deschapelles' closing letter, we take leave to express our sorrow that so promising a beginning sh
ould have terminated so badly. Deschapelles still maintains that we were wrong in attempting to revert to the point, which, by commencing a discussion of terms, we had tacitly waved; as also by suffering an outrageously long time to elapse between certain letters, and in not at once declaring the name of the gentleman who was to be his antagonist. Opinions differ, and we choose not to revive unpleasant, and now most needless, discussion.
M. Deschapelles shares in our regret, and is particularly sorry for the abrupt termination of this affair, on account of the consequent non-establishment of the finely conceived code of laws put forth by him to regulate the expected tournay; and forming, as he says, "an everlasting monument of chess legislation!"
From Deschapelles' letter it will be seen that he is still prepared to give pawn and two to all comers who may choose to demand these odds; and this he has recently told us viva voce, although he has so long retired from the field of war. We proceed to give a part of his last letter respecting the famous challenge, the wording of which is too characteristic for us to mutilate by translation. It is addressed to the committee of Parisian amateurs who acted in the negociation on his part, and runneth thus:-
"Messieurs, -- Il y a plus de trente ans qu'il existe de ma part un défi permanent au jeu des échecs. J'offre le pion et deux traits.
"Je n'y ai mis d'intérêt que celui de soutenir l'école Francaise, et de créer de belles parties; et si j'a consenti à y engager 500 livres sterling, c'est en vue d'eviter le reproche de forfanterie, et pour satisfaire celui qui, ramassant le gant, se déplacerait poru la gloire et le profit.
"Depuis ce jour, je ne sais combien d'apparences se sont élevées, combien de champions se sont
présentés; mais j'affirme qu'aucune réalité ne les a accompagnée, et qu'au moment du combat, sous un prétexte ou sons un autre, aucun n'a voulu exposer quelque chose qui en valut la peine.
"D'ailleurs, chaque fois je me suis prêté a ce dont j'etais prié, y mettant surtout de la complaisance; et ne prodiguant par les efforts de l'attention pour le stérile plaisir de froisser des amours propres.
"Dans le conflit actuel, né d'une attaque de la presse Anglaise, je n'ai cru d'abord rien trouver qui dut me faire sortir de mon insouciance, et j'ai laissé courir sans même en prendre connaissance, les vaines démonstrations qui pouvaient s'en suivre.
"Cependant, la chose sembla prendre une tournure intéressant; un comité était nommé de part et d'autre: le prix au défi etait fixé, et les fonds deposaient. On prétendait, et l'on vint m'assurer qu'il ne s'agissait plus que de résoudre les difficultés d'exécution.
* * * * * *
"Des négociations étaient donc entamées, lorsque tout d'un coup l'Angleterre se ravisa et, se rejetant en arrière, reprit une question de forme insignifiante déjà expliquée pour en faire un ultimatum. (*)
"Retombée inopinément dans les pretextes, je dus juger que l'affaire actuelle ressemblait aux précédentes; qu'elle ne contenait rien de réel, et qu'elle ne méritait plus que je m'en occupasse. Seulement je me trouvais désobligé, car je m'étais livré a discrétion, et l'on m'y maintenait sans réciprocité; me faisant subir une position que pour rien au monde je n'aurais voulu infliger a autrui.
"De quoi eut servi de donner satisfaction sur un point à qui eut conservé seul le droit de rompre sur plusieurs autres? Un ultimatum est inique quand il n'engaea qu'une partie. Avant tout, il fallait se mettre d'accord sur les conventions. Alors Londres et Paris auraient un droit égal de tout terminer par un oui, ou un non.
* * * * * *
"Voici ma reponse de cloture avec la commission Anglaise, et ma proposition sous une forme définitive: -- Je donne le pion et deux traits, si un adversaire Anglais se présente. Je m'entendrai avec lui seul. Sa capacité m'est d'avance un garant de son équité; car l'une marche volontiers de pair avec l'autre.
"Recevez, Messieurs, l'expression de mon amitié et de mon haut estime.
To this letter no reply could be made by the London Club, it being accompanied by an announcement that the Paris committee was dissolved; and so terminated the negociation, to the disappointment of the numerous admirers of our scientific game. May an opportunity be yet afforded our bravest and our best, of meeting M. Deschapelles on the champ clos of the Westminster Chess Club; there to cross blades, and break a lance to the contending shouts of St. George and St. Denis, for the sake of chess, and of the bright eyes of English beauty, we most are bound to love and bow to.
(This paper was written 1839. M. M. Deschapelles and De la Bourdonnais are both since dead.)
(*) We repeat, that we here take part with the London Club. It was an important point to fix the origin of the challenge, lest it might be supposed England would publicly admit inferiority by asking odds. If a player offer the rook, no honour is lost by putting his pretensions to the test; but to ask for the rook would be tacitly to avow considerable inequality. Deschapelles told us personally that the challenge in the Palamede, and in Bell's Life, came from him; but as the signature was wanting, this could not be authenticated, nor admitted, on the part of the metropolitan players. London meant play, and would willingly make the match de novo, were a similar challenge offered by M. Deschapelles, or by any other player in the world.