Wednesday, 1 April 2009

Historical Animosity

When I first began to take an interest in chess history, on of the first controversies I came across was whether Howard Staunton deliberately avoided playing Paul Morphy and if so, why? At the time (mid 1980's) most of my sources were older chess books from the USA and the overwhelming consensus was that he did. Indeed most theories about Morphy's subsequent nervous breakdown attached at least part of the blame to Staunton's behaviour in this regard. Later on I came across the alternative viewpoint, that his duties as a Shakespearean scholar prevented him from either playing a match, or seriously preparing him for one. Of course the alternative theory came mainly from British chess circles.
While the arguments defending Staunton have been made more recently, the American animosity towards him seem to go a long way back. The preface to A Treasury of British Chess Masterpieces by Fred Reinfeld (published in 1950), contains the following damning quote

There is no Staunton game - it takes too much time to find a game by him which one can enjoy

An astonishing claim, and one that I suspect was motivated by historical spite, rather than an objective understanding of the game.

1 comment:

TrueFiendish said...

Then the title maybe should have been "A collection of enjoyable games". As it is, the book is full of the most overblown hyperbole and overstatement imaginable. Shakespeare, Dickens and other greats of literature are invoked to praise games. Exclamation marks pepper each page. It would pass for comedy these days.