Wednesday 12 October 2016

Robert Blair Swinton and his chess book

Chess for Beginners and the Beginnings of Chess, by R. B. Swinton, published by T. Fisher Unwin, London 1891.

Title page, first edition

Frontispiece, first edition

Betts 10-47 states that this was originally published by Little, Brown in Boston in 1890, however, other sources, including the Cleveland Public Library, date the Boston edition as 1891. A second edition (simply a reprint) was also published in 1891 and a third edition, another reprint with a two page index, was published in 1897. This had a slightly amended title Chess for Beginners and the Beginners of Chess. Betts 10-59 implies that this was an error but Swinton may have intended to change Beginnings of Chess to Beginners of Chess as he uses this phrase elsewhere in the book (p119).  Betts 10-61 gives details of a third edition published in New York 1898 but I can find no collection or library possessing this and it may be a phantom (or very rare).

Title page, third edition

This was the only chess book written by Robert Swinton about whom virtually nothing is known. and record that he was born in 1829, worked for the Madras Civil Service, married Elizabeth Dorothy Rundell in 1858, had seven children and died in 1912. Swinton wrote two other books; The Proceedings in the case of the Earldom of Mar: 1867-1885, London 1889, and An Indian Tale or Two, Blackheath 1899. He also wrote articles for the Dictionary of National Biography.

Chess for Beginners...aimed to provide a clear summary of the elements of Chess together with a knowledge of the history and literature of the game. Part I (94 pages) is the instructional section written in an informal chatty style, and Part II (104 pages) includes eight chapters on chess history and literature. 

The book received mixed reviews in The British Chess Magazine and The Chess-Monthly. The British Chess Magazine for January 1891, page 16, offered a few snippets of praise in an otherwise negative review.


While the review in The Chess-Monthly for January 1891, page 136, was more enthusiastic although written in a sardonic manner.

I was particularly intrigued by Swinton's footnote on page 172 and I will comment on this at length next time.

                                    © Michael Clapham 2016

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