Page images

languages of Europe became a little cultivated, and translations from the classical writers began to be made for the use of the people at large, the "Ludus Latrunculorum," or "Ludus Calculorum," was generally translated as "the game of Chess," in order to give the thing the greater dignity. Now, we here see how one error re-acts upon another so as to multiply itself beyond any assignable limit, the refutation of which would now be mere waste of time.


In the second place, a host of writers of respectable literary abilities have, each according to his own preconceived notions (founded absolutely on nothing), attributed the paternity of Chess to various nations and tribes who themselves never laid any claim to the honour. For example one man writes a quarto 2-to prove that Chess was invented by the Scythian shepherds, nobody knows how long ago; and that, in the course of time, this game was communicated to Palamedes, at the siege of Troy, who quietly took to himself the honour of the invention. All this is sheer imagination. Who were the Scythian shepherds? Why, they were the fathers of the savage Cossacks. Had he taken the Chaldean shepherds instead, 1836, 8vo., says, alluding to Chess, "Latrunculorum ludus inventus est à duce (quodam) ut, cum miles, intolerabile fame laboraret, altero die edens, altero ludens, famis oblivisceretur." The passage is quoted from Bellonius, an author with whose works I am unacquainted.

1 Of this second species of hallucination here follow two specimens. In the Translation of Seneca's work by Dr. Thomas Lodge-Folio, London, 1614, we have " He was playing at Chess, (ludebat Latrunculis,) at such time as the centurion who led a troop of condemned men to death, commanded him likewise to be cited," &c. &c.-Again, Du Cange the great medieval antiquarian gravely says, "Lucanus in Paneg. ad Pisonem a decrit elegamment le jeu des Eschecs"!!! Now it is well known that the poem alluded to has nothing whatever to do with Chess; and this is the way by which errors arise and spread.

2 “An Inquiry into the ancient Greek game supposed to have been invented by Palamedes," &c. &c. 4to., London, 1801. The work is said to be the production of a Mr. Christie, an auctioneer of that time. It may be characterized more fanciful than sound."



there would be a little less absurdity in the matter but the Scythian shepherds! this is too ridiculous. Another writer insists that Chess was invented either at Babylon or Palmyra-I forget which-because the queen has such great power in the game. This is the greatest dreamer of the whole host. He evidently did not know that the word Queen was never heard of in Oriental Chess; and even if she were, the piece so called by us was one of the weakest on the board, even in Europe, till the beginning of the sixteenth century, as may be seen in any of the old writings on the game. Finally, another writer 2 of higher qualifications than all the rest put together, tries hard to confer the honour on the Persians, an honour to which not one single author of that nation lays claim. I pass over the pretensions of the Irish, the Welsh, and the Jews, as "matters well worthy of confirmation," to an expression. borrowed from our Transatlantic



It is evident, then, that these two causes, to which others might be added, have tended to render the history of Chess an inextricable labyrinth. An ordinary writer intending to give a popular lecture on the subject, is compelled, as it were, to give the following stereotype paragraph, or something like it, in commencing his discourse "Some historians have referred the invention of Chess to the philosopher Xerxes; others to the Grecian Prince Palamedes; some to the brothers Lydo and Tyrrhene; and others, again, to the Egyptians. The Chinese the Hindus, the Persians, the Arabians, the Irish, the


1 In honour of Semiramis, or of Zenobia.

2 "Persian Chess," &c., by N. Bland, Esq., M.R.A.S., 8vo., p. 70. 3 The Irish and Welsh pretensions will be noticed in the Appendix.

4 I do not think the Welsh absolutely claim the invention of the Game. It is mentioned in the "Laws of the Howel Da," &c., that is, if it be Chess which is there alluded to, a point on which the learned of Cambria by no means agree.

Welsh, the Araucanians,1 the Jews, the Scythians, and finally, their fair Majesties, Semiramis and Zenobia, also prefer their claims to be considered as the originators of Chess. But the testimonies of writers in general prove nothing except the remote antiquity of the game.2

[ocr errors]

Now if, instead of echoing each other, writers were to reflect for a moment on what they are saying, or rather repeating, they would soon find theirs is far from being the proper course "for having the matter cleared up,' as the " Standard-bearer" has it. A brief inquiry after the truth would convince them that the "philosopher Xerxes," and the "brothers Lydo and Tyrrhene," were, like Mrs. Harris, persons of questionable existence, the mere myth of some jovial mediæval monk. They would have found, moreover, that there is not a particle of evidence that either the Grecian Prince Palamedes, or any other Grecian prince or peasant of ancient times, knew anything of Chess; and that neither the Persians, nor the Egyptians ever did possess or prefer any claim whatever to the invention. Finally, they would have found, on a very small degree of reflection, that the presumed antiquity of Chess among the Irish, the Welsh, the Jews, the Araucanians, and all other such enlightened and civilized communities, is nothing else than the "baseless fabric of a vision."

If we calmly inquire into such plain facts as come within our reach, setting aside all foolish prejudices and partialities, we shall find that the history of Chess naturally falls under three distinct periods. The first is that of the ancient Hindu game, called Chaturanga, in which

1 The claim of the Araucanians, being a little curious and highly suspicious, shall be noticed in the Appendix.

2 The germ of this stock paragraph is to be found in a work entitled “The Incomparable Game of Chess."-London, 1820. It is an imperfect translation from the Italian of Ponziani, by J. S. Bingham, Esq., as he styles himself.

the moves and powers of all the pieces employed were the same that prevailed in Asia, and Europe, down to the close of the fifteenth century of our era. The origin of this form of the game is lost in the depths of remote antiquity; but there can be no question, as we shall afterwards show, that it was invented in India. The board consisted then, as it does now, of sixty-four squares. The game was played by four persons, each having a King, a Rook, a Knight, and, lastly, a Bishop (then represented by a Ship,) together with four Pawns. The two opposite players were allied against the other two, and the moves were decided by the turn of an oblong die having four faces marked with the numbers two, three, four and five; the two and five being opposites, as were the three and four. The only peculiarity in this primæval game was that the King might be captured as well as any other piece, as we shall see in our third Chapter. This, we must remember, was merely Chess in its infancy, and the capture of the King was certainly in conformity with the usages of actual warfare, though we may look upon it as having a tendency to spoil the game. The very simplicity and imperfection of this primitive Chess, furnish the best possible proofs of its being the original. Its duration may have been from three to four thousand years before the sixth century of our era.

The second, or medieval period, in the history of Chess, occupies a space of about one thousand yearsthat is, from the sixth to the sixteenth century of our era. At the commencement of this period the improvement made in the game is very decided. The board and the powers of the pieces still remain the same, but the two allied forces have each united on one side of the board, whilst the adversaries have done the same on the other. One of the allied Kings then becomes a subordinate

piece, called by the Persians and Arabs Farzin or Wazir, i.e., counsellor or minister-with only half the power that he had previously possessed as an independent Sovereign. At the same time the Rook and Bishop change places, the former being transferred to the corner of the board, and the Bishop to the place he now occupies. Finally, the die is dismissed, and the whole game is reduced to a pure trial of mental power and intellectual skill.

The third, or modern period, commences with the sixteenth century. The change made here consists, first, in extending the power of the Bishop, allowing him to command the whole diagonal, instead of every third square as formerly; secondly, in giving the Queen or Minister the enormous power of the Rook and Bishop combined; and, lastly, in allowing the Pawns to advance one or two squares at pleasure, at the first move. Το these improvements we may add that of castling the King, either according to the Italian method or that of the Anglo-French school. It is just probable that our go-ahead posterity will introduce some further modifications-such, for instance, as giving the Queen the additional power of the Knight. This, like our modern improvements in the implements of war, will tend to shorten the duration of a game, "a consummation," sometimes, "most devoutly to be wished."

In the following chapters it is my intention to trace the origin, and to describe the precise state of the Game of Chess both in the primæval and medieval periods. This is a task hitherto unaccomplished, simply because it has never been undertaken by a person who happened to know something of Chess and of Oriental languages at the same time. Hyde, for example, commits several mistakes, owing to his ignorance of Chess. Sir William

« PreviousContinue »