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Essay (published in the XXIVth volume of the Archæologia, page 203, &c.,) the most puerile legends, apparently of monkish origin, prevailed on that subject.
In the wake of the above goodly array of illustrious names we may now place that of Mr. Bland, a gentleman distinguished for his acquirements in Oriental languages. His "Essay on the Persian Game of Chess," as he is pleased to call it, contains much new and interesting information from sources that were either unknown or inaccessible to Hyde, to whose works Mr. Bland's essay forms, (with some drawbacks), not an unworthy supplement. It consists of 70 octavo pages accompanied by four plates containing diagrams of the various forms or innovations attempted from time to time to be established by the people of the East, on the original standard or regular chess board of sixty-four squares. We may further mention that the essay was not published separately for sale, and that it forms the first paper in the 13th volume of the "Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland."
Mr. Bland, like some other wise men, endeavours to establish a theory of his own respecting the origin of chess, a glimpse of which may be caught by his opening paragraph, in which he remarks "Whatever difference of opinion may exist as to the introduction of chess into Europe, its Asiatic origin is undoubted, although the question of its birth-place is still open to discussion, and will be adverted to in this essay. Its mere design, however, is to illustrate the principles and practice of the game itself from such Oriental sources as have hitherto escaped observation, and especially to introduce to particular notice a variety of chess which may on fair grounds be considered more ancient than that which is now generally played, and lead to a theory which if it should be established would materially affect our present opinions on its history."
He then proceeds with a descriptive analysis of five rare Oriental manuscripts on the game; one in Persian, belonging to the Asiatic Society; one in Persian, and one in Arabic, belonging to the British Museum; and two Arabic MSS. in the private library of a distinguished amateur.1 The remainder of the essay presents us with a variety of entertaining anecdotes of Oriental chess, explanations of their technical terms, together with numerous quotations from Persian and Arabian authors, in prose and verse, containing recondite and playful allusions to the game.
1 John Lee, Esq., LL.D., of Doctors Commons, and Hartwell House, Buckinghamshire.-See Appendix C.
Such is a brief outline of Mr. Bland's essay, a perusal of which will reward the reader with much that is new and instructive. Setting aside his theory, which we feel bound out of respect for our own character to examine a little in detail, Mr. Bland may be fairly considered as "Twiss in the East." Before, however, we come to argue the theoretic point with Mr. Bland, we shall here insert the concluding paragraph of his work, which will receive, we are sure, as it merits, the hearty approbation of every lover of chess.
"Though of trifling importance to real science or professed literature, there is an interest in chess and its history which repays a more critical investigation than it has yet received. Learned antiquaries have illustrated its existence of the last ten centuries, but there are still links wanted to connect it with its earliest origin, and to complete our knowledge of this ancient and universal game which presents so remarkable an instance of etymologies surviving the Babel of ages, and historically as in philology, constitutes one of the most intimate points of union between Europe and the East.
Considered merely as a chapter in the social history of mankind, Chess is equally worthy of admiration; a game which having estab lished its mimic images in defiance of the persecutors of idolatry has triumphed alike over the denunciations of Coranic moral, and the zealous rage of the Byzantine Iconoclast, and for whose support law and theology have been strained alike by Muslim Mulla, and by Western Priest; from which kings have given names to their sons and to the cities they have founded, nor hesitated to ascribe their glories to its practice, when they made it a principle in the education of their children, and which, as an image of war or an exercise of wisdom has been the royal sport of lawgiver and conqueror, from the Haruns and Cosroes of the East to the Charlemagnes and Canutes of our own times.”
While we allow Mr. Bland the most ample credit for varied and extensive Oriental scholarship, we cannot at the same time compliment him on his notions of the nature of a sound argument, or of a logical deduction. The case to be argued is as follows:-On our side of the question, all the writers of Arabia and Persia, of any name or rank, agree, nem. con., that Chess was invented in India, and introduced into Persia in the 6th century of the Christian era. Mr. Bland, on the other side, on the vague and doubtful authority of one single writer, of comparatively recent date, maintains that Chess, in the complex and monstrous form called Tīmūr's Game, was originally invented in Persia, and thence transferred to India, and after a
series of ages brought back to its original birth-place. That there may be no mistake about Mr. Bland's theme, we shall here quote it in full, and for many reasons we deem it worthy of being printed in Italics. At p. 6, he observes, "To this opinion the author of our Persian manuscript (that belonging to the Asiatic Society) places himself in direct opposition, maintaining Chess in its perfect and original from to have been INVENTED IN PERSIA, and taken to India, from whence it returned in its abridged and modern state. The fact whether the game existed first in a larger or a smaller form, of course mainly affects the question. If the Great Chess were the original, there would be a strong argument in favour of the author's peculiar view." 1
On this point we shall briefly join issue with Mr. Bland; and first, with regard to the general argument, we unhesitatingly maintain that the assertion of one single anonymous scribe, in direct opposition to that of a host of writers of the highest consideration, both Persian and Arabian, can never be admitted as of any weight in the scales of history. This is more particularly the case when we consider that most of the Persian and Arabian writers to whom we allude, lived much nearer the period in which the disputed fact took place, than Mr. Bland's anonymous writer. When we further consider that all the historians of Persia and Arabia, nobly and honourably disclaim the merit of an invention that would certainly prove gratifying to their national vanity, could they conscientiously lay claim to it, we can only smile at the simplicity which seeks to establish a theory on a solitary and doubtful exception to a very general rule. Mr. Bland seems to be well aware of the extreme weakness of his case, as we shall show by several instances. Mr. B. quotes the words of Sir William Jones, “If evidence be required to prove that Chess was invented by the Hindus, we may be satisfied with the testimony of the Persians, who, though as much inclined as other nations to appropriate the ingenious inventions of other people, unanimously agree that the game was imported from the west of India." After this he states (page 63), "Now we have just heard a perfectly opposite assertion from one Persian writer, and there may be many others of a similar opinion." The words in italics show that Mr. Bland is obliged to beg the question, which is an unerring symptom of weakness. He afterwards says, "The Exceptio probat regulam' does not apply here." Now we should be very glad to know on what plea Mr. Bland claims ex
1 See Postscript at the end of this article.
emption to this hackneyed maxim (which maxim, by the way, we hold to be downright nonsense), in his own case. If the common saying be true in general that the “ exception proves the rule," of course Mr. Bland must bow to its decision. We shall, however, treat our author with every reasonable indulgence ; we will even concede to him that the "exception never does prove the rule;" but, at the same time, we must remind him "non facit exceptio regulam,”—“the exception never can be admitted as the rule." His mode of reasoning-if reasoning it may be termed-reminds one irresistibly of that adopted by a certain universal-peace-propagating gentleman, who has been figuring of late in the columns of the Times. This gentleman having heard, or discovered, that, out of 70,000 militia-men, one man whose organ of acquisitiveness may have been somewhat largely developed, had, in a rather irregular manner, appropriated to himself an old lady's goose, concludes that the remaining 69,999 men who did not steal an old woman's goose were nevertheless persons of very questionable honesty. In like manner, Mr. Bland, having just met or fancied he met with a perfectly opposite assertion (to that of Sir W. Jones) from one Persian writer, jumps at once to the conclusion that there may be many others of the same opinion, and hence, &c. quod quidem absurdum est, as the mathematicians say.
Having thus pointed out what appears to us to be very unsound reasoning, on the part of Mr. Bland, in favour of his new theory, attempted to be founded on the Persian origin of Chess, we may now add that, strange as it may appear, his conclusions, even if he had succeeded in establishing his point, would have been altogether incredible. They would have simply amounted to this--that a lively and highly civilized people like the Persians, after having invented and for ages enjoyed such a fascinating recreation as the game of Chess, should have afterwards, most unaccountably, lost every trace of their own unique and ingenious invention; and that it should have been restored to them in the sixth century by their neighbours, the Hindūs, as a most rare and cunning device of the latter. Now, we appeal to Mr. Bland, as well as our readers, whether this is at all probable ? Is it not utterly at variance with every known fact hitherto furnished by historical evidence on the subject?
It is one of the characteristics of Chess, that it takes firm root in every soil where it is once established. It found its keen and zealous votaries, not only in the splendid palaces of Chosroes, of Harūn, and of Tīmūr, but in the rude and primitive tents of the pastoral Calmuc, the roving Tartar, and the Bedouin Arab. We are not aware of a single instance of any people, worthy of the name and designation of
human beings, that once got a knowledge of this mimic warfare and afterwards either forgot or neglected so attractive an acquisition. From the luxurious Court of Byzantium to the sterile rocks of the Hebrides, and the ice-bound region of the Ultima Thule, the game appears to have spread with the rapidity of light, and to have flourished with vigour, without ever losing ground, for nearly the space of a millennium.
We have already hinted that Mr. Bland appeared to us to be himself well aware of the very slender ground on which his theory stood. This is evident, from numerous instances we could produce, only, from want of time and space, we must confine ourselves to a small number. In the first place, it seems to be a point of great importance with him to confer on his anonymous author, (that of the MS. of the Asiatic Society), the highest possible degree of antiquity. He says, in a note, page 16, "Al Rāzī, quoted in the preface, died A.D. 922 or 932, which date is the only limit we can assign to the age of the MS." Now, it is a great pity it did not occur to Mr. Bland that this would be proving a vast deal too much, which we ourselves always look upon with suspicion, as tantamount to proving nothing. Unfortunately for him, the author himself furnishes us with a few broad hints respecting certain periods of time previous to which, he could not, with any propriety, have lived. For example he quotes the great historical poem of Persia, the Shāhnāma, or "Book of Kings," by Firdausi, the Homer of his day. Now, Firdausī died in A.D. 1020, a century after Al Rāzī, an awkward fact which "lops us off at one fell swoop" 100 years from the author's pretended antiquity. But this is not all. In another place the author mentions repeatedly Khwaja 'Ali Shatranji, or "Master 'Alī, the Chess-player," (par excellence), who was the Philidor of Timur's court at the end of the fourteenth century! Thus, the anonymous author, by his own shewing, (and we do not profess to know of any better authority), has been brought down a trifling matter of 500 years or so on the wrong side of Mr. Bland's assigned limit.
We are aware that Mr. Bland endeavours to make out that the "Khwaja 'Ali Shatranji," above mentioned, "was a poet of Maverannehr," or Transoxiana. To this we reply, that even if he had been this poet, (of whose celebrity either in poetry or in Chess we know nothing), it would have very little mended Mr. B.'s case. The poet must have lived about A.D. 1300, more or less. The Atash-Kadah, one of the few biographical works that mention his name, states that he lived under the dynasty of the race of Jangis Khan, or the Moguls,