Monday 19 September 2016

Charles Tomlinson F.R.S., Chess Career

The British Chess Magazine, November 1891

Charles Tomlinson F.R.S. (1808-1897), author of four chess books and numerous articles on chess which were published in various periodicals and encyclopedias, wrote a very interesting autobiographical article, when aged 82, which was published in The British Chess Magazine in November 1891, pages 489 to 502, and when he died an unusually long obituary was published in The British Chess Magazine for March 1897 pages 109 to 114. Much of this was taken from an article in Biograph and Review, London, 1881 with  additional chess related material from Tomlinson's own article of 1891.

Tomlinson was first and foremost a highly regarded scientist and a 24 page article entitled The Life and Work of Charles Tomlinson FRS: A Career in Victorian Science and Technology, by Frederick Kurzer was published in Notes and Records of the Royal Society of London, volume 58 for May 2004, pages 203 to 226. This is available online and gives extensive details of Tomlinson's academic and scientific careers. Although it  has only one paragraph on his chess activities, it does include much useful general information about Tomlinson. Some of the information in these articles is contradictory but I have distilled Tomlinson's chess career largely from these three articles and a few additional sources.

Tomlinson’s recollections are occasionally rambling and include much tittle-tattle, nevertheless, he gives a valuable and vivid portrayal of the 19th century chess scene. He had met, associated with, and played with many of the leading chess personalities of the 19th century. In particular he had close associations with Howard Staunton, with whom he corresponded for many years, Jacob Löwenthal, Rev. William Wayte and Ernst Falkbeer.

Tomlinson begins his autobiographical article by revealing that in 1863 he was asked by Daniel Willard Fiske, via Herr Löwenthal, to furnish a sketch of his life and an account of his writings on chess, as Fiske was preparing a bibliography of chess to be published at Leipzig, either in English or German. Fiske had already prepared an American chess bibliography which was included in The Book of the First American Chess Congress, New York, 1859, and several bibliographical articles by Fiske  were included in his Chess Monthly periodicals; some of these were later reprinted in Chess Tales and Chess Miscellanies, London, 1912, however the proposed full bibliography never appeared.

Charles Tomlinson was born in London on 27th November 1808 and learnt the moves of chess at the age of eight from his elder brother Lewis. He occasionally visited a chess club in Lincoln’s Inn Fields, and took kindly to the game, however he had no opportunity for studying the game as he recalls `chess books were as rare as other forms of literature, and the only one that I heard of was a translation of Philidor’s well known treatise´.

Nevertheless he progressed and, as stated, played with many of the prominent chess players of the time, generally receiving odds, although he played on even terms with Captain Evans and Aaron Alexandre for example. He published one of his wins, when receiving odds from Löwenthal, in his final chess book Chess, A Poem in Four Cantos, London, 1891, six of his games are included in his Chess-Player's Annual for the year 1856, and a loss, in 1844, against W. Henderson was published in The Bristol Chess Club, its History, Chief Players etc. by J. Burt, Bristol, 1883.

Tomlinson talks at length about Wolfgang von Kempelen’s Automaton Chess-Player and was enthralled by its exhibition in London in 1819. In the 1840’s Tomlinson published full details of the workings of the Automaton and included long extracts and diagrams taken from the pamphlet by Robert Willis, An Attempt to Analyse the Automaton Chess Player of Mr. de Kempelen, London, 1821.  Willis informed Tomlinson that he wrote his pamphlet at the age of 18 although he would have been 20 or 21 when it was published in 1821. 

Charles and his brother Lewis both had a desire for learning and were admirable achievers in life from humble beginnings. They were sent to work at 12 or 13 after their father died leaving their mother in straitened circumstances. Lewis eventually attended Oxford University before opening his own school in Salisbury, while Charles became an eminent scientist, philosopher, meteorologist and linguist. He made some important scientific discoveries and wrote around 50 books and 100 papers and articles on scientific matters. He was a member of several learned societies and elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1867. 

Tomlinson’s first employment was as office boy to the noted architect Joseph Woods, a good chess player and a member of the London committee in the correspondence match between London and Edinburgh which took place from 1824 to 1828. The committee occasionally met at Woods’ chambers, where Tomlinson lodged, and he would surreptitiously observe their deliberations. He recalls the commotion caused by the famous incident where the London Club tried to retract a losing move after it had already been posted to Edinburgh.
In 1830, not enjoying office work, Tomlinson moved into education and became a teacher of Latin and French. He later joined his brother at his school in Salisbury; he gave lectures at the local Mechanic’s Institute and helped to form a chess club there, becoming its president. Tomlinson was in correspondence with Staunton in the early 1840's and was able to gain a few subscribers for his newly launched Chess Player’s Chronicle. 

Tomlinson gives a lengthy account of J.H.Huttmann (spelt throughout the British Chess Magazine article as Hutman) and his chess divan where coffee and cigars were served to the patrons with the cigar wrapped in a paper containing a chess problem and gossip from the chess world. These papers were issued weekly from January to August 1840 and a paper with a chess game was also produced from March to August 1840. These two papers were then merged into the periodical The Palamede which continued until October 1841. Any copies of these papers or the periodical are very rare today.

It was here that Tomlinson met William Lewis, George Walker (`but never together as they were at feud´), Staunton, and `several provincial players of repute´. Later, following the demise of Huttmann’s, he met Ignatz Kolisch, Falkbeer and Robert Brien, and talks of Brien's quarrel with Staunton and his unfortunate speculation in the Chess Player’s Chronicle which he had purchased from Staunton for the sum of £200, although `not then worth as many shillings´, according to Tomlinson. He also played Elijah Williams, Henderson and John Withers of the Bristol Chess Club.

Tomlinson married Sarah Windsor, the younger sister of his brother's wife Maria, in Salisbury in 1839 and in 1842 moved back to London to become literary and scientific advisor to the London publishing house of J.W.Parker. He wrote a series of papers for Parker's Saturday Magazine, on the history, antiquities and curiosities of chess, followed by a series of easy lessons and a selection of chess problems. These papers were collected, revised and published in Amusements in Chess by J.W.Parker in 1845.

Tomlinson's story jumps ahead to 1855 when he attended the meeting of the British Chess Association at Leamington along with Bernhard Horwitz, Staunton, Capt. Kennedy, Löwenthal, Falkbeer etc., and it was here that several leading personalities were photographed by Signor Aspa and Mr. Russell. A well known group portrait, made up from photographs taken at Leamington, of Löwenthal, De Riviere, Wyvill, Falkbeer, Staunton, Lyttelton and Kennedy was published in the Illustrated London News in July 1855, page 59.  

Tomlinson sat on the committee, which was formed at Leamington, to consider a revision of the laws of chess.  Fellow members were Löwenthal, Clement  Ingleby, Wayte and Staunton, and the results of their deliberations were included in The Revised Code of Laws published in Staunton’s Chess Praxis, London 1860. 

Two further works by Tomlinson were published in the 1850’s; Chess: A Poem in Four Parts, London, 1854, already described in 1884 as very rare by The British Chess Magazine, p437, and The Chess Player’s Annual for the Year 1856, London, 1856. Tomlinson states that he did not receive sufficient encouragement to continue this Annual in subsequent years. 

Tomlinson wrote a very long article on various chess matters for the Quarterly Review, 1849, volume 85, pages 82 to 103, and he  briefly conducted the chess column in The Family Herald in May/June 1858 before handing over this responsibility to Löwenthal. (Tomlinson discusses this on pages 411 and 414 of The British Chess Magazine for September 1891 and the dates are taken from page 82 of Tim Harding's characteristically deeply researched book Eminent Victorian Chess Players, Jefferson and London, 2012, although Tomlinson's involvement is not recorded in Chess Columns: A List by Ken Whyld, Olomouc, 2002.)
He contributed the article on chess to Charles Knight's English Cyclopeadia in 1859, and two of his poems appear in Fiske's Chess Monthly for 1858 and 1859. After this there appear to be no further chess writings or information on Tomlinson’s chess career until his contributions to The British Chess Magazine, starting in 1884. He did supply the information requested by Fiske in 1863 but this was never published. He contributed a number of poems, articles and stories to The British Chess Magazine from 1884 to 1897 and in 1891 the BCM acknowledged his numerous and valuable contributions stating that his sketches and reminiscences are the most permanent section of chess literature.

Tomlinson had visited the Café de la Régence in Paris and was a regular at Simpson’s Divan from the 1820's. He gives a colourful account of the Divan in his essay Reminiscences of the Chess Divan which was published in The British Chess Magazine in February 1891. A much enlarged version of this article was included as an introduction to Chess: A Poem in Four Cantos, London, 1891. This last work is freely available as an ebook.

Although frequently addressed in print as Professor Charles Tomlinson, particularly by The British Chess Magazine, I can find no mention of this title in either Tomlinson's own writings or in the authoritative biographical article published by the Royal Society. Tomlinson referred to himself as `the Professor´ in one of his fictional stories in The British Chess Magazine (1892 p22 etc.) however, although he was undoubtedly an eminent scientist, I have found no evidence that the title was ever formally bestowed on him.

For someone who was so absorbed with chess and who had such strong connections in the chess world in the middle of the 19th century there are some surprising omissions from his chess curriculum vitae. For example, although he attended the Great Exhibition of 1851 many times and wrote an elaborate account of it for his Cyclopaedia of Useful Arts, London, 1852, he never mentions the Chess Tournament which ran along side the Exhibition. Furthermore there are no references in Tomlinson's writings to Paul Morphy's achievements, or his visits to Europe.
The portrait at the head of this article, taken from The British Chess Magazine, November 1891, facing page 489 is stated to be the only surving one, in  the Royal Society article, but there also exists another portrait of Tomlinson, taken in his earlier years:

Frederick Kurzer, in the aforementioned article for the Royal Society, summarises Tomlinson as `an exceptionally versatile scientist of the Victorian era, who, in a long career as an educator, encyclopaedist and researcher contributed significantly to the advancement of science and technology.´ To this we can add that, during his leisure hours, he found time to become proficient at chess and enjoyed the company of many of the leading chess personalities of the 19th century. His extensive writings on the game were informative, educational and entertaining,  and I will write about these in detail in my next article

© Michael Clapham 2016

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