Page images

I may here add, at the same time, a correct account of the reason why Timur's fourth son was called Shahrukh, an event which happened as follows:-"It came to pass, once upon a time-that is, on Thursday, the 20th August, in the Christian year 1377 (I am enabled to be thus particular through the minute industry of 'Ali of Yazd), that Timur was deeply engaged, as was his wont, in a game at Chess with one of his courtiersthe place, the imperial palace in Samarkand. In the course of the game his Tartaric Majesty was just about to make his move, when, behold! the chamberlain suddenly entered and said, "Sire, may your shadow be extended; your favourite wife" (I am afraid I ought to have said concubine), "has this moment been safely delivered of a son." On hearing these good tidings, Timur, who appears to have taken matters in general very coolly, made his move, and, as usual in such cases, exclaimed, Shāh-rukh," which move, the contemporary historian Arab Shāh assures us, completely demolished the adversary's game. Now, the coincidence of the felicitous Chess coup aforesaid, and the announcement of his son's birth, at one and the same instant, appeared to Timur, and to all the courtiers and men of wisdom then and there present, as an omen highly favourable to the future fortunes of the newly-born prince. It was therefore decreed that the latter should be named Shāh-rukh, a name that might serve as a memorial of the auspicious event that took place at his birth.

Our story is not yet quite finished. When Timur and the astrologers, had just settled upon the prince's nomenclature, as above stated, it so happened that a messenger arrived in haste from the north, and said, Sire, the new city which you some time back ordered to be built


[ocr errors]


on the plain beyond the Sihun,' is now completed in all its parts, and it only remains for your Majesty to pronounce its name.' Timur said in reply, "Let its name be Shahrukhiya," which may be translated "the city of Shah-rukh." This new city, like all sublunary things, flourished for a time and then decayed. Its very name is now unknown and expunged from the map. A ruined village, called Finaket, occupies its site; and, as if it were to crown its misfortune, I believe it is in the hands of the grasping Muscovites. Could a more lamentable fate possibly befall what was once a flourising Tartar city?

I may add that Hyde gives another version of the above story, on the authority of Ducas, a Byzantine historian, who (as he states) wrote about A.D. 1400.2 According to this Byzantine, "Tīmur and his son (who must have been then twenty-five years old), were playing Chess at the moment when Bajazet was brought captive into their tent. The son gave the check Shah-rukh to his father at that instant, and Timur ever after gave the former that name." Now, I believe the story of this mendacious Greek is not worth one moment's considera. tion compared with the positive testimony of Timur's own contemporary historians. I have mentioned it,

1 The Sihun, called by the Western people Jaxartes, and now called Sirr, flows from the south-east into the northern extremity of Lake Aral. The city Shahrukhiya was situated on a spacious plain at some distance from the northern bank of the river, about 170 miles to the north of Samarkand. It is strange that Hyde, and after him the Dutch savant Manger, should, in defiance of the Arabic text of Arab Shah, to say nothing of geographical truth, have placed the city "on this side" of the Sīhūn, instead of "beyond the Sihun." The Oriental author wrote with reference to Samarkand, and very properly used the expression "beyond the Sihun," i. e., to the north of that river.

2 Ducas must have written subsequently to A.D. 1402, as it was in that year that Bajazet's forces were defeated, and himself made prisoner by Timur, on the plains of Angora.

[ocr errors]

Ducas says

however, for a very different purpose. that the Italians at that time called the Shah-rukh "Scacco-rocco.' Now this leads to a few queries, viz., Does the term Scacco-rocco occur in any of the early Chess manuscripts of the south—I mean those written before 1500? If so, what was its precise import? When did the terms "Castle, Tower, Tour, or Thurm," come into use on this side of the Alps? In accounting for such an anomaly as a tower on the Chess-board, people content themselves by saying that it originated from the castle on the elephant's back. I believe this conclusion to be erroneous. It was not the piece which we call the Rook that had the castle or howdah on his back, but the Bishop, which in the East is called the Fil or Elephant to this day, and as such may be seen in one of Hyde's plates.' Is it not much more likely, then, that the Italians were the first that brought the figure of the tower on the board-not from the "Elephant and Castle," but simply because the word rocca or rocco does mean a castle or fortress in their language? It is astonishing what absurdity people will be guilty of in order to attach any known signification, no matter how ridiculous, to a foreign term. An Italian could no more pronounce the Oriental Rukh than he could fly; so he naturally converted it into Rocco, thus giving it a signification, and at the same time eschewing the guttural sound of the kh, so shocking to an Italian ear. On the same principle, we ourselves have changed it into "Rook," which, if it means the "cornix frugivora," as Hyde learnedly hath it, is to the full as ridiculous a notion as the Italian castle.

1 Hyde (in p. 137,) gives us neat engravings of the Chessmen belonging to the elaborate Indian board alluded to in our 90th page.


9th.-Hyder Ali's Chessboard.

Another variety of the Great Chess is mentioned in the journal of one of the officers belonging to Colonel Baillie's unfortunate detachment,' which was surrounded and captured by the famous Hyder 'Ali, of Mysore, in the year 1780. One of the prisoners kept a journal, &c., during the period of their captivity, which was published in London, 1789, in 8vo., and entitled "Memoirs of the War in Asia from 1780 to 1784." Under May 3rd, 1780, is the following entry. "Visited by a black commandant who played a game at Chess with Captain Lucas: this game was brought from India into Europe. In India there are three kinds of Chess: two of these are much more complex than the game of that name played in Europe. In one of them, the men, or figures, amount to sixty; and the movements are proportionably various. It very seldom happens that an European is fit to contend with a native of India, whether Persce, Gentoo, or Mussulman. Captain Lucas was highly honoured by the black men on account of his skill in Chess."

1 This detachment consisted of 3,000 men, including only two companies of European infantry, and sixty European artillerymen, with ten field-pieces. On their march to join the main body, which was then at some distance, under General Sir Hector Monro, they were surrounded by the Mysorean army, consisting of 30,000 cavalry and 8,000 infantry, disciplined by French officers. After a severe action, that lasted for several hours, Colonel Baillie's native troops had either fallen or fled; and his whole force was reduced to less than 400 Englishmen, of whom many were wounded. This gallant band, however, managed to occupy the ridge of a hill, where they formed in square. Their powder and shot being all expended, the officers fought with their swords, and the men with the bayonet. At last their case became quite hopeless, and they surrendered. The termination of the affair, as usual with Asiatics, when with ten or twenty to one in their favour they happen to gain a short-lived triumph, was a cowardly butchery of one-half of the English, and a horrible captivity to the rest. Of 86 officers, 36 were killed and 34 were wounded and mangled. Had it not been for the humane interposition of the French officers, who compelled the Great Savage to show a little civility, not a man among the English would have been allowed to live.

It is evident that the journalist was no Chessplayer, otherwise he would have given us a more satisfactory description of this monster game. We may infer, however, from the number of pieces engaged-thirty on each side-that it was a mere modification of Timur's game, having an additional piece and Pawn on each side. This would require a board of 12 squares by 10, so as to include the new pieces and Pawns. It is very probable that this game was concocted by Hyder's courtiers to gratify that barbarian's vanity. Having heard read to him (for he could not read himself), that Timur the "victorious in war" was partial to the Great Chess, it is most likely that he commanded his men of skill to furnish him with a still greater Chess. I never heard of this game in India or elsewhere except in the above extract.

« PreviousContinue »