Friday 1 April 2016

Chess Encyclopedias

Prompted by noting the complete lack of information in any chess encyclopedia about Thomas Long, who was  a prominent chess personality of the 19th century, when researching my article posted on 17th March, I decided to check the English language chess encyclopedias to ascertain their usefulness and reliabilty to chess bibliophiles. 

The works consulted, in order of publication date, were as follows:

Dictionary of Modern Chess by Byrne J. Horton, New York, 1959. (Horton)
The Encyclopedia of Chess by Anne Sunnocks, London, 1976. (Sunnocks)
An Illustrated Dictionary of Chess by Edward R. Brace, London, 1977. (Brace)
The Encyclopedia of Chess by Harry Golombek, London, 1977. (Golombek)
The Batsford Chess Encyclopedia by Nathan Divinsky, London, 1990. (Batsford)
The Oxford Companion to Chess, Hooper and Whyld, Oxford 1992. (Companion)

There are many chess histories and bibliographies providing as much, if not more information on chess books and writers than in the above list but I have concentrated on A-Z dictionaries and encyclopedias for this excercise.

In examining these six reference books I have, so far, only checked the references to chess writers and their works up to and including the 19th century; I will look at the 20th century later. This is obviously a fairly narrow examination of these encyclopedias and my findings are in no way a criticism of these books as a whole but simply a guide to their usefulness to antiquarian chess book collectors.

I drew up a fairly arbitrary, but representative, list of 50 chess authors from the 16th to the 19th centuries, and examined the scope and depth of information (if any was included) on each of these in the six reference books.

Horton, published in 1959, was a pioneering work of its type, there being no earlier book of this nature in English. The prefatory pages repeatedly refer to `the authors´ without stating who these are, however Betts (9-4) states, in his description of the edition published in London, that B. J. Horton was assisted by James B. Horton and Dorothy Bawden Horton. `The authors´ acknowledge assistance from various people including Arthur Bisguier, Kenneth Harkness, I. A. Horowitz, Edward Lasker and Cecil J. S. Purdy.

The book has over 800 entries in its 224 pages and includes many references to chess literature, but in my 50 author test the book only mentions 23 and the majority of these entries are very brief. There is no mention for example of William Lewis, George Walker, Bilguer, Vida or von der Lasa. The book did, however have the best coverage of Franklin Young.

Diametrically opposed reviews of this book were included in Chess and The British Chess Magazine in 1959. The reviewer in Chess, presumably B. H. Wood, calls the book `worthless´ and `intolerably wordy´ with `serious omissions and errors´ in a lengthy and hard hitting review on pages 11 and 12  of  Volume 25, October 1959. While D. J. Morgan in The British Chess Magazine on page 335 of volume 74 for November 1959 describes the book as `highly meritorious´ and `accurate on the whole in scholarship´ and sums up `it will be a valuable addition to any club or earnest student's library´. Morgan does, however, also point out various shortcomings of the book.

Sunnocks was originally published in 1970 but I have researched the second edition published in 1976. Anne Sunnocks acknowledges contributions from M. Euwe, Dr. J. Penrose, A.J. Roycroft, B.P. Barnes, B. Cafferty, Elaine Pritchard, D. Hooper, A.J. Hodgkinson, D.J. Morgan, Sir Richard Clarke and A.S.M. Dickins. The book has 619 pages, with an index and many illustrations, and claims to be the first encyclopedia of chess in English while acknowledging earlier Russian and French works. The book includes 24 of my 50 test authors  and generally has lengthier entries than Horton or Brace. However, Sunnocks is the only book not to mention Stamma or Benjamin Franklin and has no entries for Cozio, Vida, John Cochrane, Daniel Fiske, or Franklin Young for example.

Brace has over 2,000 entries in its 320 pages; it has no index or illustrations but there are many chess diagrams. It does however, have an `extensive system of cross references to guide the reader from one related entry to another´. William Hartston was an advisory editor and Glyn Thomas also assisted with the research. My 50 author test was passed on only 24 occasions and the entries are generally brief. Carrera, Gianutio, Lolli, Salvio, Selenus, Vida and Fiske, for example, did not merit entry.

Golombek is an oversize book of 360 pages, with an index and bibliography, and many illustrations. Harry Golombek was the editor-in-chief assisted by associate editors Professor Divinsky, William Hartston, Wolfgang Heidenfeld, Raymond Keene, Kevin O'Connell and Andrew Soltis. Contributions are acknowledged from David Hooper, Stewart Reuben, John M. Rice, John Rogers, Arthur Roycroft and Jonathan Webber. Almost every entry is initialled by its author. The book claimed to be `the most ambitious and authoritative [encyclopedia] available to the chess enthusiast anywhere in the world´, and it is certainly an improvement on the three previously mentioned works. 

31 of my 50 test chess writers are included, with good coverage of about a third of these and brief details of the others. All of the omissions from the other works mentioned above are included in Golombek but this book does not mention Alexandre, Cessolis or Twiss for example

Batsford is another oversize book of 247 pages with an index and some illustrations. The only acknowledgements are for the illustrations and so this appears to be the work of Nathan Divinsky alone. Golombek, which was also published by Batsford 13 years earlier, has 50% more pages, many more entries and generally longer articles than Batsford. The overall impression is that Golombek is superior to Batsford perhaps because of the double column layout rather than the triple column layout of Batsford. However, in my 50 author test Batsford came out slightly ahead with 34 authors mentioned and the coverage of Bilguer, La Bourdonnais, Fiske, Greco, Lewis, Staunton and Steinitz for example being more comprehensive than in Golombek. Carrera was the only major omission from my arbitrary list. 

However, standing head and shoulders above all of the previous five works is The Companion. This was first published in 1984 but I have used the New Edition of 1992, although a quick check of both editions did not reveal any major differences in my list of authors. There are numerous acknowledgements in the New Edition to correspondents, mainly for new research and corrections, and the help of many contributors is also acknowledged in the first edition, however the main work was undoubtedly carried out by Hooper and Whyld. This book is simply far more scholarly, comprehensive and accurate than any of the previous works. 40 of my 50 test authors are included, almost all with extensive coverage which is far superior to anything in the other encyclopedias. 

The Companion is the only work to include Saul, Bertin, Gossip, Wormald, and del Rio for example but, surprisingly omits Franklin Young. The other 9 omissions from my list of 50  (which are also omitted from all of the other works) are: Amateurs (Traité Théorique et Pratique du Jeu des échecs),  Severino, Rev. E.E. Cunnington, E. Hoyle, Wm. Kenny, R. Lambe, T. Long, J.A. Miles, and T.B. Rowland. 

Unfortunately the six reference works contain many errors and the entries are often incomplete and therefore cannot be completely relied upon. The Companion is not excluded here, for example its entry for La Bourdonnais, (unusually under B), fails to give the title of his only chess book (excepting the periodical Le Palamède), Nouveau Traité du jeu des échecs published in 1833 and 1834, and it repeats H.J.R. Murray's error in stating that George Walker had only around 300 chess books in his library. From Walker's several bibliographical catalogues it is certain that he had many more than this.

One further point, it is clear that there has been much copying of information from one encyclopedia to another and in particular the entries in Brace and Sunnocks are often suspiciously similar; see the entries for von der Lasa and Mason for example.

In conclusion, my findings only confirm what we already knew, that The Oxford Companion, while not without its faults, certainly knocks its competitors into a cocked hat.

Finally I would mention Jeremy Gaige's Chess Personalia, A Biobibliography, Jefferson, 1987, as the first port of call in researching any chess personality, as this not only includes vital details about virtually any chess person of note but also has very useful references to further reading about each subject.

                                        © Michael Clapham 2016


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