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Brahmans are silent on the subject, partly because the change was a matter of no importance in their eyes, or most probably because it took place after the Sanskrit had become a dead language; consequently we need not feel any surprise at what Sir William Jones states when alluding to the Shatranj, which, by the way, he fancies to be the same as the game played by Philidor. In his discourse already cited, he says-" Yet, of this simple game, so exquisitely contrived, and so certainly invented in India, I cannot find any account in the classical writings of the Brahmans." Now, the reason for Sir William's disappointment is obvious enough; "the classical writings of the Brahmans" had been, in all probability, composed many centuries before the separate existence of the mediæval game. Sir William then states-" At present I can only exhibit a description of a very ancient game of the same kind (the Chaturanga); but more complex,, and, in my opinion, more modern, than the simple Chess of the Persians." Here we see an instance of a great mind's falling into an inconsistency from having hastily adopted a paradoxical opinion at the outset. We are told that the Chaturanga is " a very ancient game," and yet "more complex and more modern than (the Shatranj) the simple Chess of the Persians;" and this was stated by Sir William when he had before him written authority in favour of the remote antiquity of the former, and none whatever respecting the latter!
The change of the original word Chaturanga into the Arabic, Persian, and Turkish term “ Shatranj," has been satisfactorily explained by Sir William in the same discourse, where he states-" By a natural corruption of the pure Sanskrit word, it was changed by the old Persians into Chaturang, or more commonly Chatrang; but the Arabs, who soon after took possession of their country,
had neither the initial nor final letters of that word in their alphabet, and consequently they altered it further into Shatranj, which found its way presently into the modern Persian, and at length into the dialects of India, where the true derivation of the name is known only to the learned." I cannot agree, however, with Sir William in his next sentence, where he states-" Thus has a very significant word in the sacred language of the Brahmans been transformed by successive changes into axedras, scacchi, échecs, chess, and, by a whimsical concurrence of circumstances, given birth to the English word 'check,' and even a name to the Exchequer' of Great Britain." Now, I maintain that it is not the Sanskrit word Chaturanga from which scacchi, échecs, chess, &c., are derived; but the Persian word, "Shah" (King) which we find in use to this day among the Arabs and Persians, in the same sense as our word "check." In fact, we ourselves frequently use the literal translation of "Shah" in actual play, when, instead of "check," we say "the King," or simply “King." So the French often say, "Au Roi;" and the Germans beat us all in exactness, for they really possess the identical word, "Schach," which they employ to denote the game itself, as well as our word "Check; while the term Schach-matt (which we have corrupted into Check-mate), is, both in pronunciation and meaning, the Persian and Arabic expression, "pur et simple."
Introduction of the Game into India, in the Reign of Naushirawan. Arrangement of the Pieces on the Board. Their Moves and Powers.
THE earliest and best account of the Shatranj, or medieval Chess, to which we have as yet attained access, is that given by the poet Firdausi, who flourished in the latter half of the tenth century. We know, however, that during the eighth and ninth centuries of the Christian era, the acute Arabs, under the munificent patronage of the Caliphs of Bagdad, had made rapid and distinguished progress in the theory and practice of the game. A physician named Abul 'Abbas, who died A.D. 899, wrote a treatise on Chess; and within the next half-century lived the celebrated Al Suli, who may be considered as the Arabian Philidor, distinguished at once as the finest player of his time, and also as the author of the best work, till then existing, on the game. We also read of Lajlāj and 'Adali, among the early masters, each of whom wrote a treatise on the subject; but it is very doubtful whether any of these works be now extant, their merits being superseded by performances of more recent date. It is possible, however, that one or other of them may
still exist in the Imperial Library of Constantinople,' or in the Libraries of Delhi and Lakhnau.2
It may be proper
To return to Firdausi. to premise that the great epic poem, called the "Shāhnāma," or "Book of Kings," is really a versified history of the Persian empire, from the earliest times down to our seventh century. In fact we have similar works of our own, though on a much smaller scale-viz., "Albion's England," by the good olden poet Warner; and the "Scottish Chronicle," by Wyntoun. The authenticity of the " Shāhnāma," as a mere history, is not liable to any objection which may not equally apply to the works of Homer and Herodotus, or to those of Virgil and Livy. We know, from various authorities, that the more enlightened of the Persian kings, from time to time caused to be compiled the annals of the monarchy down to their own respective reigns. Naushīrawān, in particular, attended to this duty, so worthy of a Prince; and the compilation, thus carried on at uncertain intervals, was brought to a close under the reign of Yazdijird, the last of the Sassanian race, near the middle of the seventh century. The work was called by the Persians “Bāstānnāma," or or "Book of Antiquity." This is most probably
1 I remember distinctly, when the Turkish ambassador and his secretary visited the Westminster Chess Club somewhat over twenty years ago, they both told me that they had, in the Imperial Library of Constantinople, many manuscript works on chess, almost all in the Arabic language. The secretary played a little, and I remember helping him to beat a member of the club, by telling him the best moves when at a loss. We conversed in Persian, which every well-educated Turk speaks, more or less pure, as we do with regard to French.
2 Since the above sentence was penned, the Spirit of evil has been at work both in Delhi and Lakhnau. It is greatly to be feared that the valuable libraries of both places have been destroyed or scattered to the four winds of the heavens. It it to be hoped, that of Constantinople will have a better fate, should the cloud now lowering in the north, ever burst over that devoted city.
the work alluded to by Agathias,' as having been in his time translated into Greek, by the interpreter Sergius.2 It would seem, also, that it was known to the Arabs, under the title of "Siyaru-l-Mulūk," or "History of the Kings." Towards the close of the tenth century, the renowned Mahmud of Ghazni commanded the poet Firdausi to versify the Bāstān-nāma, which was accordingly done; and this stupendous poem, consisting of one hundred and twenty thousand verses, the labour of thirty years, was entitled the "Shāhnāma." The Greek and Arabic versions, as well as the original " Bāstān-nāma,” are probably now lost to us for ever; but the "Shahnāma"-like the " Iliad," the "Eneid," and the "Paradise Lost"-is immortal.
I have been thus particular in describing the nature and character of the Shāhnāma, that the reader may perceive the exact degree of credit due to the extracts which I am about to translate from that work. Be it observed that the events narrated had been registered, in plain prose, in the annals of Persia, at the time when they took place, some 450 years before Firdausi wrote. That the poet has embellished them is quite natural and probable;
1 Vide Agathia Historia Lib. IV. cap. 30, &c.
2 Sergius, I mean the scribe, not the saint of that name, was eminently skilled in the Greek and Persian languages, and held the rank of First Interpreter at the court of Naushīrawān. At the request of his friend, Agathias the historian, he asked permission of the Persian authorities to have access to their historical records, preserved in the Royal archives, that he might translate the same into Greek. This was readily granted by Naushirawan, by whom he was held in high estimation; and, accordingly a Greek version of the history of Persia was transmitted to Byzantium. Now I would ask, is it not probable, or at least possible, that the game of Chess, which created such sensation at the Court of Chosroes, may have been known to so inquisitive and distinguished a man as Sergius? During this period, when there existed such a close intercourse between the two courts, may not the game have reached Byzantium even before it found its way among the roving Arabs? I do not assert this as a fact, for I have no historical evidence to bear me out; I therefore throw out the hint as a bare possibility.