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On the Invention of Chess in India-according to the Arabs and Persians.


I HAVE already expressed my conviction that what the Arabs and Persians consider as the "Invention of Chess," means merely the very natural modification of the 'Chaturanga" into the "Shatranj." It is curious, too, that in this conviction I am confirmed in an indirect way by the author of a Treatise on Chess, an imperfect MS. of which is now in the possession of the Asiatic Society. Unfortunately, this work is incomplete, and the author's name is not known. It is evident, however, that he lived either during the reign of Timur or somewhat later; for he gives in his work eighteen problems (of which some will appear hereafter,) which occurred in actual play to "Khwaja 'Ali Shatranji," the Philidor of Timur's Court. This anonymous author has given the three following different accounts of the Invention of Chess, which I have slightly abridged. He differs from all other writers in this :-"That Sassa, the son of Dahir, did not invent the game of Chess; but that he merely modified an older, and-as he thinks-a more perfect form of the game. He is also singular in asserting that the Hindus

1 An account of this MS. will be given in our next Chapter.

did not invent the older game; giving as his sole reason for thus differing from all previous writers, "that the Hindus were a dull and stupid race, incapable of doing such a thing." This he repeats in, I believe, half-a-dozen places, without the least variation. He, for some reason or other, like Mill the historian of India, entertained a morbid antipathy towards the Hindūs, and conferred the honour of the invention on the Greeks!!! It must be said in his favour, however, that he nowhere claims it for his own nation, as Mr. Bland in his "Persian Chess," very rashly asserts.' But let us allow the author to speak for himself.


"They relate that immediately after the invasion of Alexander the Great, there reigned in India a King, by name Kaid. He was very powerful and wealthy, and liberal and brave. He was passionately addicted to war, and always proved victorious over his enemies. In the course of time he became sole master of the whole of the land of Hind nor did there remain in that extensive region a single King or Prince inclined to dispute his authority. At length, when he no longer had an enemy left to conquer, he was necessarily compelled to cease from war, which to him had become a second nature. Now this King was endowed with high principles of justice, honour, and truth, for which noble qualities he was adored by his servants and subjects. While occupied in subduing the neighbouring kingdoms, his ruling passion was fully gratified in the pursuit of conquests, and in the acquisition of fame, which he considered as the only means of happiness in this world. To him, now that no enemy remained,

1 For a review and critique on Mr. "Bland's Essay," see Appendix A.

peace became intolerably irksome; but his sense of justice would not permit him to involve in the miseries of war those who had already submitted to his authority. All his people, from the very highest to the lowest, passed their days in the enjoyment of peace and prosperity, while he himself had fallen a prey to sorrow and affliction to such a degree that he lost all relish for food and drink, and looked upon death as his only relief.1

"This King had a Minister, by name Sassa, a man of profound wisdom and penetration, to whom he communicated his miserable condition, saying, 'Day and night my mind is harassed with the thoughts of war and strife; when in the hours of the night sleep overpowers me, I dream of nothing but battle-fields and conquests; and in the morning, when I awake, I still think over my imaginary combats and victories. Now you are well aware that I have no longer one single enemy or rebel in my whole dominions with whom to contend. It is utterly repugnant to justice and commom sense, to go to war without any cause. If I were to do so God would be displeased with me, and a severe retribution for my evil deeds would soon overtake me, even in this world; for is it not said that ' a kingdom governed by falsehood and oppression is void of stability, and it will soon pass away?' Tell me, then, O Sassa, for great is thy wisdom, what am I to do in

1 Sir Thomas Erpingham, the hero of Colman's "Merrie Tale" of "The Knight and the Friar" seems to have been similarly affected after he had returned from his wars and victories in France. The Christian Knight however appears to have hit upon a remedy of his own, somewhat different from that of the Hindu man of battles.

"What's to be done," Sir Thomas said one day,

"To drive ennui away?

How is the evil to be parried?

What can remind me of my former life?

Those happy days I spent in noise and strife!"

The last words struck him-" Zounds," says he, "

a Wife"

And so he married.

order to regain my peace of mind, and obtain relief from my present state of weariness and disgust ?"

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"When the wise Sassa had heard from his Sovereign this detail of his grievances, he instantly bethought him of a rare game, known to him by report, the invention of an ancient Grecian sage, by name Hermes, which had recently been introduced into India by Alexander and his soldiers, who used to play at it at times of leisure. This was, in truth, the Shatranji Kamil," or Perfect Chess' of which the Hindus had acquired a crude notion; but not one of them could play it correctly, because they were a stupid and ignorant race of people. This much, however, Sassa had learned, that the Game of Chess, the invention of Hermes, the Grecian sage, represented an exact image of war, such as might have been carried on between two Kings; and consequently that it might, in reality, prove to be a seasonable remedy in the case of his own Sovereign. Then said Sassa to the King, Sire, grant me a little time in this important business, and I believe I shall be able to accomplish something in your behalf, so that you may still enjoy all the excitements of war, and the delights of victory, while at the same time your servants and subjects may live safe and secure in the enjoyment of peace and prosperity.' At this proposal the King was highly pleased; he granted the Minister the time required, and said to him, 'On that day when you shall have relieved my mind from its present state of misery, I will freely confer upon you whatever boon you may ask.'

"Sassa immediately sent messengers in quest of the chess-board and men, which were accordingly procured

1 By the so-called "Perfect Chess," the anonymous writer means the Great Chess, commonly known as Tīmūr's game, of which an ample account will be given in our eleventh chapter.

for him. Inasmuch as he was a man of great penetration, he soon succeeded in discovering the moves of the pieces, and the nature of the game. This done, he said to himself, Verily the inventor of this game was a profound philosopher; the sages of Hind could never have accomplished this; nor are they capable of understanding it. Now, if I were to present the game in this perfect state, before my own sovereign, assuredly he would never learn to play it, neither would his mind find any delight therein. Let me then simplify this rare invention of the Grecian sage, so that it may fall within the scope of the Royal understanding and capacity; for hath not our prophet Muhammad (on whom be peace), said to one of his companions, 'you must address yourself to mankind in accordance with the nature of their intellects and the extent of their capacities.

"Hereupon, Sassa, the wise Minister, reduced the fifty-six pieces of the 'Perfect Chess' to thirty-two in number; having thus discarded twenty-four pieces from the great board of the Grecian sage. All that had been difficult in the original game he rendered easy; and he conferred on all the Pawns the very same privileges, viz., that of becoming Farzins only, on reaching the opposite extremity of the board; and not that of becoming a Rook, a Knight, or a Fil, according to circumstances, as in the older game. And he made the board to consist only of eight squares by eight, that is altogether sixty-four squares the form in which it is now used; and then he presented it to the King. The latter soon acquired the theory and practice of the game, and night and day it formed his supreme delight, so that he thenceforth gave

1 The author overlooks the trifling circumstance, that Muhammad his prophet (on whom be peace), was not born till some seven or eight centuries after the period here alluded to.

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