Thursday, 22 September 2016

Charles Tomlinson F.R.S., Chess writer

Regular readers will realise that a primary purpose of these articles is to exhibit items from my collection and today I am displaying what I consider to be my most attractive chess book. This is a specially bound copy of Amusements in Chess by Charles Tomlinson, published by John W. Parker, London, 1845, and was awarded as a prize in the English Mechanic Problem Solution Tourney of 1885.

The book is beautifully bound in half leather and marbled boards with fine gilt rules. The spine is in six compartments with gilt titles, decorations and ruling in the raised bands.

All edges are richly gilded:

Inside are very attractive endpapers:

This copy is inscribed by the noted problemist James Pierce:

The contents of the book are in three parts: 

I  Sketches of the History, Antiquities, and Curiosities of the Game. Pages 9-144
II  Easy Lessons in Chess. Pages 145-286
III A Selection of Chess Problems, or Ends of Games. Pages 287-352

In his Preface Tomlinson gives a detailed account of the origins of this book; he had contributed a long series of articles on various aspects of the game which were published over four years in The Saturday Magazine, and these had been revised and rearranged into the present volume. 

Tomlinson's detailed history includes no original research but is taken from previous writers including Dr. Thomas Hyde, Sir William Jones, James Christie, Joseph Strutt and Sir Frederick Madden.  The author reaches no definite conclusions as to the origin of the game or of its introduction into Europe, but presents the various theories being discussed at the time. After chapters on the Character of the game and the Origin of the powers of the pieces, Tomlinson then discusses chess writers and players. 

He gives details of various ancient manuscripts on the game before surveying the classic printed works of Caxton, Vicente, Lucena, Damiano, Vida, Ruy Lopez, Gianutio, Salvio, Carrera, Gustavus Selenus, Greco, Saul, Bertin, Stamma, del Rio, Ponziani and Lolli. Many of these players and their books are discussed at great length and long extracts from some of these works are included. Tomlinson therefore had access to a number of early treatises, the details of which he found in the `copious catalogues´ of John Cochrane and George Walker. He does not say where he was able to examine these works but some of the information that he gives, including extracts from the works of Pope Innocent III and Caxton, was taken from the bibliographical works of Richard Twiss, Chess, published in London in 1787 and 1789.

Title page from Chess by Twiss, 1789

There is a Biographical Sketch of Philidor and a long chapter on The Automaton Chess-Player, with several line drawings illustrating its operation, taken from Robert Willis' pamphlet An Attempt to Analyse the Automaton Chess Player of Mr. de Kempelen, London, 1821. Part I of the book is completed by chapters on The Knight's Move, The Powers of the Pieces and Pawns and Chess without the Board

Page 87

The first five Lessons in Part II of the book give general instructions and the laws of the game. The next nineteen Lessons discuss the various openings illustrated with complete games, and the final three Lessons are on end game play.  This part of the book is interspersed with 41 problems on diagrams. 

Part III includes 50 problems or ends of games, all illustrated with diagrams and an Appendix contains all of the solutions. The book is adorned throughout with very attractive and clear chessboard diagrams:

The book also has several illustrations of the chessmen designed by Flaxman and subsequently produced by Wedgwood:

Page 10

Amusements in Chess was successful and, according to Tomlinson, received favourable notices from Howard Staunton and Elijah Williams. In one of a series of long articles on the History and Literature of Chess, signed B.S., in The Chess Player for October 1853, edited by Kling & Horwitz, the book was described as the best collation of chess researches which has yet appeared. These articles are reprinted in Chess Christmas by Ken Whyld, Olomouc, 2006.

The Chess Player, front cover, November 1852

Tomlinson's other major chess work is The Chess-Player's Annual for the year 1856, published by Arthur Hall, Virtue and Co., London, 1856. 

Front cover
Title page

The book is dedicated with `peculiar pleasure´ to the chess patron Lord Lyttelton, F.R.S., and in the preface Tomlinson declares that `should the public support the work, it will afford him unmingled satisfaction to continue it´. He also reveals that this book was written during an enforced break from his scientific duties due to an illness.

While Tomlinson's Amusements in Chess was compiled largely from the works of others, the preface to The Chess-Player's Annual promises that this volume was `prepared on the principle of admitting nothing that has once appeared in print´. He does not entirely adhere to this but most of the games and problems had not previously been published.

The book includes a varied mixture of Tales, Essays, Dialogues and Sketches, Poetry, Anecdotes, Games (28), Problems (31) and Studies (5). There are also 75 Chess Aphorisms sprinkled throughout the book; some examples of these words of wisdom:

The majority of the material in the book is by Tomlinson but there are also contributions from Capt. H.A. Kennedy, T.E. Cour, Mortimer Collins and various problemists. The studies were provided by Horwitz and Kling. 

Separating fact from fiction is sometimes difficult with Tomlinson's writings, as he can relate  an episode in a very convincing manner. Take for example his story of the distinguished blindfold player Richard Rooke Rookewarden, in The British Chess Magazine for 1891 pages 380 to 388, which apparently fooled some readers. For further details see the feature article A Chess Hoax at Edward Winter's Chess Notes.

An essay in The Chess-Player's Annual, entitled A Consultation Game, narrates the story of a game, at Tomlinson's house, in which he consulted with three friends, against Herr Löwenthal. He identifies the friends only as Beta, Gamma and Delta, referring to himself as Alpha. Much interesting dialogue between the antagonists is related in the story and eventually, the game, being undecided, was adjourned to the following week.

To Tomlinson's surprise, when Löwenthal returns he is accompanied by Howard Staunton and, while he does not take part in the resumed game, Staunton `rattled away in his pleasant style´, joined in the general conversation, and related various anecdotes. 

Page 155

Perhaps this is a mixture of fact and fiction but, in any event, it gives an insight into how Tomlinson remembers Staunton in conversation. The alleged match between Staunton and Alexandre is discussed by John Townsend on pages 110 to 112 of his book Historical notes on some chess players, Wokingham, 2014.

In another pleasing article entitled A Reminiscence of Mr. Huttmann's Chess Soirées, Tomlinson reveals that many of Huttmann's papers were consigned to him when Huttmann left the chess world. Some of the matter contained therein was used in his Amusements in Chess and further material, including a number of problems by William Bone, was now included in the present volume.


All in all, a very entertaining Annual and it is unfortunate that Tomlinson did not receive sufficient encouragement to continue this work in later years.

Tomlinson also wrote Chess: A Poem in Four Parts, London, 1854, and this was republished in 1891 with the title Chess: A Poem in four Cantos. This included additional material including an essay Reminiscences of the Chess Divan; he also produced many articles on chess for a number of publications. Details of these will be included in a later article.

                                      © Michael Clapham 2016

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