« PreviousContinue »
Al Mamun, though very fond of Chess, was not a firstrate player. He used to say, "It is wonderful that I, who rule the world from the Indus in the East, to Andalus in the West, should be unable to manage the thirty-two chessmen included within a square space of two cubits' by two." There is an anecdote of him, recorded in the British Museum Persian MSS. which ad
mirably shews his good sense. 'He was one day playing with one of his courtiers who appeared to be moving negligently on purpose to let the Caliph win. Al Mamun perceived it, and in great wrath upset the board and men, saying to his opponent' You want to treat me as a child, and to practice on my understanding.' He then addressed the lookers-on, saying, "Bear witness to the vow which I here make, that I will never again play Chess with this person.
Al Mu'tasim, the third of Harun's sons, succeeded his brother Al Mamun in A.D. 833. He was a distinguished Chess-player. Two of his problems have been handed down to us; one which we have already presented to the reader in our eighth chapter, and the other which occurred to him in actual play, is given in the Asiatic Society's MS. fol. 146, but unfortunately the side of the diagram next to the Caliph is effaced, so that we cannot say where his King was placed or what additional piece or pieces he may have had on the horizontal file
Al Mu'tasim has been designated by historians the
The lineal measures of all nations were originally derived from the members of the human body, thus a hand, a foot, a cubit, &c., will be found in every language, though in no two languages are the terms identical. The ancient cubit in particular was an exceedingly vague measure, varying from thirteen to eighteen of our inches, according as it was assumed either from the elbow to the wrist, or from the elbow to the top of the middle finger, both of which lengths apply to the Arabic words dhira' employed in the original of the above passage.
"Octonary Caliph," owing to the following remarkable coincidences of the number eight applicable to his life and reign. He was the eighth in descent from 'Abbās the founder of the dynasty. His reign was distinguished by eight important victories. Eight sons of sovereign princes were enrolled in his service. He possessed eight thousand male and eight thousand female slaves. He was proprietor of eighty thousand horses. He had eight sons and eight daughters. He left in his coffers eight millions of golden dinārs, and eighteen millions of silver dirhems. He lived to the age of eight and forty years. He reigned eight lunar years, eight months, and eight days. Lastly, his Chess-board, which constituted the delight of his leisure hours, contained eight times eight squares; the pieces on either side were eight in number, so were the Pawns.
The 'Abbaside Caliphate had attained its utmost splendour under Harun; his three sons Al Amin, Al Māmūn, and Al Mu'tasim; and his grandson, Al Wāthik (vulgarly called Vathek). This last, the son and successor of Al Mu'tasim, reigned from 842 to 847, was a liberal patron of learned men, and a cherisher of the arts and sciences. He is said to have so mildly and justly ruled his people, that not a single beggar was to be met with throughout his wide domains during his whole reign. The 'Abbaside dynasty continued to flourish at Bagdad, though with diminished splendour, for four centuries after the death of Al Wathik; and it would require from us a bulky volume to enumerate the names of eminent Chess players, and the copious allusions to the game found in the Arabian writers' of that
1 Mr. Bland in his Essay justly observes-" A history of celebrated Eastern Chess players would form an interesting chapter of biography, and a desirable complement to a treatise on the literature of Chess. Abundant materials are
period. Many of these have been recorded by Hyde, to whose very learned but very ill digested work, De Ludis Orientalibus, we refer our readers.
In the Christian year 1171, the renowned Salah-udDin, better known to us as Saladin, founded the Ayubite dynasty in Egypt and Syria, having thrown off his allegiance to the Caliphs of Bagdad, whose Wazir or viceroy he had previously been. At his court we find that the game of Chess was held in high repute, and judging from one circumstance we conclude that he was himself a player. The fine old Arabic manuscript in the British Museum, as we have already stated, is dedicated either to Saladin himself, or to his successor, most probably the former, for he was the only distinguished man of the dynasty which lasted no longer than for the brief period of eighty years.
In the seventh century of our æra, the Arabs, or as they are better known in the west, the Saracens, swept like a whirlwind along the north of Africa, (taking note of Naples and Sicily in their way), as far as Fez. Early in the eighth century they crossed the Straits of Gibraltar, and established themselves in the sunny plains and shady groves of Andalus. In the course of time the court of Cordova equalled, if not surpassed, in splendour and magnificence its gorgeous rival in Bagdad. The Ommiade Caliphs of Spain were most generous patrons of the arts and sciences, and under their liberal and enlightened sway Arabian learning shone with a
supplied by the names which occur in anecdotes relating to the game." In this I heartily agree with Mr. Bland, and I may add that no one is better qualified for the task than himself; but it is a department which I refrain from entering on, my endeavours being limited to the History of the origin the theory, and the practice of the game. The few notices of individuals which I insert, are intended more or less to serve as so many isolated landmarks pointing out the progress of the game westwards from the banks of the Ganges to the shores of the Atlantic.
brighter lustre, and continued to flourish to a later period, than in the far-famed schools of the East. Cordova, Seville, and Granada rivalled each other in the magnificence of their academies, colleges, and libraries; and the same may be said of Toledo, Malaga, Murcia, and Valencia.
We must now draw our chapter to a conclusion, and in so doing, we beg to throw out in the meantime, as a mere suggestion, that in all probability Chess was introduced by the Arabs into South Italy, Spain, and France in the eighth century of our æra. It is a mere inference (for we have no positive proof), but it is a very legitimate one, as we shall see hereafter in our chapter on the introduction of the game into Western and Central Europe. We have seen that the Arabs were intimate with the game early in the seventh century; and we are free to infer that they carried their knowledge of it, along with that of other arts and sciences, wherever their conquests extended.
We are much less acquainted with the treasures of Arabian literature now mouldering in the gloomy dungeons of the Escurial library, and elsewhere in Spain, than we are with the productions of the East. We have excellent authority, however, for saying that in the twelfth century Spain possessed more than a million of manuscript volumes, the produce of Arabian genius, in all departments of human knowledge. These were mostly destroyed by the bigoted and ignorant monks, and the still considerable number that escaped from the ruthless hands of these "Holy Vandals," lie buried and unnoticed in a few obscure libraries and monasteries. It is to be hoped that Spain, the land of the Cid, of Cervantes, and of Ruy Lopez, will yet rouse herself from her present state of lethargy, and unfold to an admiring