Friday 11 March 2016

A New Treatise on Chess by George Walker: the book that growed and growed.

A New Treatise on Chess by George Walker was first published by his family firm, Walker and Son, in London in 1832. The book contained [4], 80 pages.

1832 edition title page
Walker stated in his one page preface `It has been often remarked as a matter of surprise, that, while so many elaborate works on Chess, are from time to time issuing from the press, — no good compendium of small size and price, has hitherto made its appearance. Whether or no this deficiency arises from the reluctance of scientific players to publish in so unpretending a form, certain it is, that such a book has always been in great request ; — and to supply this desideratum, is the object of the present publication.´

George Walker, Westminster Papers, December 1876

The contents of the book are broadly as follows:

Pages  1-20: Six chapters on a description of the chess-men, technical terms   used at chess, remarks on and values of the pieces, instructions for beginners, laws of chess adopted by the London Chess Club, and an introductory game with explanatory notes to every move.

Pages 20-51: Discussion of the openings over 15 chapters.

Pages 51-68: Checkmates, drawn games and various endings.

Pages 69-80: 52 Critical situations and problems, many are taken from actual play and the first twelve are by George Walker. Solutions to most of these are given after each problem.

A year later in 1833 an enlarged and improved second edition was published by Sherwood, Gilbert, & Piper and the book had doubled in size to include xvi, 160 pages. 

1833 edition, detail from cover

1833 edition, title page

Walker included a dedication to Samuel Newham, a six page preface and a three page list of contents. The book is also sprinkled with references to `most of the leading practical works on Chess, of every age and tongue´ 

These included:

The famous Game of Chesse-playe by Jo. Barbier, 1640.
The Royall Game of Chesse play by Greco, 1656.
Il Giuoco Incomparabile degli Scacchi by Ponziani, 1782.
del Giuoco degli Scacchi by Carrera, 1617.
Observazioni Teorico pratiche sopra il Giuco degli Scacchi by Lolli, 1763.
The pleasaunt and wittie playe of the Cheasts renewed by Rowbothum, 1562. Libro da imparare giuocare a Scacchi by Damiano 1512. 
Also works by Lucena, Cochrane, Ercole del Rio, Ruy Lopez, Stamma, Allgaier, Bertin, Salvio, Gianutio, Cozio, etc. etc. 

It is clear from these references that Walker had a very rich chess library by the time that he was 30 years old.     

The contents of the 1833 second edition are broadly as follows:

Pages 1-27: The six introductory chapters similar to the 1832 edition with the Laws of Chess as adopted by the London and Westminster Chess Clubs.

Pages 27-112: Discussion of the openings over 16 chapters including additional chapters on Captain Evans's Opening (which was briefly mentioned in the chapter on the King's Knight's Game in the first edition)  and The Muzio Gambit (which was passed over in the 1832 edition as Walker had recently published his New Variations on the Muzio Gambit, London 1831.)

Pages 112-146:  Checkmates, drawn games and endings.

Pages 146-160: Fifty problems and ends of games, (the first fifty from the 1832 edition) with the solutions now at the end of this section.

Eight years later, in 1841, a third edition of A New Treatise on Chess was published and the book had very nearly doubled in size again, containing xvi, 296 pages. This time the book was dedicated to Augusta Ada, Countess of Lovelace. The twelve page preface is forthright and self-laudatory, but also inspirational in encouraging the popularity of the game. Walker discusses at length the rights and wrongs of taking material from other author's works and he particularly berates Sarratt for using much material from earlier works without acknowledgement.

1841 edition, title page

The sections on introductory matter, openings and endings were each, more or less, twice as long as in the 1833 edition, the section on problems was omitted and the book now included a 36 page Bibliographical Catalogue of Printed Books and Writers on Chess to 1841. This contained 420 entries, many of which listed several editions of the work referred to. This catalogue was a slightly enlarged version of the one included in Walker's Philidorian magazine in 1838 which listed 403 entries. Walker included notes to many of the entries and this is a very  interesting and useful bibliography for chess bibliophiles.  I will write about this bibliography in a separate article.

Walker evidently upset a few of his contemporaries with the publication of the third edition of his New Treatise, as a 20 page pamphlet was soon after published entitled A Few Observations on A New Treatise on Chess: By George Walker, Third Edition, by A Society of Amateurs, London 1841. This highly amusing pamphlet (which is available on Google Books) reviews Walker's book in a very sarcastic and disparaging manner and rivals the acerbic vilifications of any modern day critic. 

For example:

´Mr. Walker is well known, if we may believe his own assertions, as a very admirable, nay, the very best writer, there ever was, is, or will be, on the game of chess, draughts, cribbage, etc; it will be sufficient for us to prove that he is pre-eminent at chess, having done which, we will take his word for the others.´
Further, after commenting that the work abounds with French and Italian words and phrases ´for which no adequate English ones could be found´, the authors hoped that ´in a future edition, Mr. W. will treat us with a little Greek, if he will also give us a few Persian or Arabic words and phrases it will be rendering a great service to the chess world....´

A fourth and final edition of the work was published in 1846 with a new title; The Art of Chess-Play: A New Treatise on the Game of Chess

1846 edition, detail from cover showing the Szen Position

1846 edition, title page

The book was dedicated to the Members of the St George's Chess Club and now had a total of xx, 380 pages including an additional 56 pages on the openings and, for the first time, 27 pages on games at odds. The Bibliographical Catalogue was considerably enlarged to include 498 entries. 

1846 edition, Bibliographical Catalogue

The book concluded with a four page letter from Mr. G. Walker to the editor of Bell's Life regarding his dispute with William Lewis over how much material they had taken from each other with or without acknowledgement.

Walker's original 80 page treatise had grown, over 14 years, to 380 pages but, alas, was swept away the following year, along with all other similar works in the English language, by the appearance of Staunton's Chess-Player's Handbook.
                                         © Michael Clapham 2016


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