Saturday, 17 June 2017

Philidor by Pohlman

There were many Philidorian texts published following the death of the great player in 1795, but perhaps the most extraordinary is Chess Rendered Familiar by Tabular Demonstrations of the Various Positions and Movements as described by Philidor: with many other Critical Situations and Moves, and a Concise Introduction to The Game, by J. G. Pohlman, London 1819.  

The frontis has an engraving of Ferdinand and Miranda playing chess, and usually includes these lines from Shakespeare's The Tempest below the illustration:

Mira. Sweet Lord you play me false.
Fer.   No my dear love. I would not for the world.

However, there is a variant frontis without these lines:

Only one of the twelve copies so far examined lacks these lines.

This book includes 2,352 chess-board diagrams, six to a page, representing openings, and games from Philidor. This was a remarkable feat of typesetting and printing.

There is an unusual and interesting depiction of the king and queen in these diagrams, the queen definitely has a feminine appearance compared to the masculine king. 

The essence of the -typically for the time- long-winded Preface is that Philidor's book was difficult and time consuming to follow, and that by presenting Philidor's games with a diagram for every move, the author has greatly facilitated the understanding of those games.
Pohlman's book commences with a thirty page Introduction to the Game of Chess which gives basic instructions, rules, maxims, and the laws of chess. This Introduction seems to be a mixture of material taken from Peter Pratt's Studies of Chess and the anonymous An Easy Introduction to the Game of Chess, the 1816 edition of which was by the same publisher as Pohlman's book, Baldwin, Craddock, and Joy. 

This is followed by Philidor's Preface to his Treatise on the Game of Chess giving the text from the first English edition of Chess Analysed published in London in 1750. This Preface includes Philidor's frequently quoted remark regarding pawns; "they are the very life of this game", but he also touches on the equally important maxim that learning a few opening moves by rote leads nowhere in chess without an understanding of why the moves were made, and of the position arrived at.

Philidor also makes some harsh criticisms on other aspects of the game such as the en passant rule and the permissibility of a player having more than one Queen on the board, which he regards as most ridiculous. He is also critical of the works of Carrera, Greco and Bertin. Philidor's forthright views are worth showing in full:

Then follows the 392 pages of chess-board diagrams. These represent, firstly  the moves of the games, different mates and ends of games taken from Philidor's final work; Analysis of the Game of Chess, London 1790, with Philidor's notes to these games reworded and placed at the end. Secondly, eight games played by Philidor without sight of the board, and one other, and thirdly, Critical Situations and Moves taken from Stamma.  

There is very little information to be found on Pohlman; major libraries name him as John George Pohlman but he is not mentioned in any of the usual chess reference works.

Pohlman published works on other games including Whist Rendered Familiar, London 1821 and 1827, A Practical Treatise on the Game of Draughts, London 1819, The Game of Draughts, London 1823 and The Polish Game of Draughts, London 1811 and 1815.

The title page of the latter work states that Pohlman was employed by the Audit Office and was the author of Tables of Exchanges, Interest and other Calculations, and the Annual Statement of the London Course of Exchange. He also wrote other works of an arithmetical/financial nature. Pohlman begins the Preface to this work as follows; "The Translator, during his travels and residence on the Continent, had frequent opportunities of seeing the Polish Game of Draughts admirably played, and everywhere preferred to the common game...."

How successful Pohlman's Philidorian book was is difficult to say, there were no subsequent editions and his format of a diagram per move was not repeated for many years. Will H. Lyons was already describing the book as scarce in the 1890's and the fact that this book is not recorded in some early bibliographies indicates that only a small number were sold and that it was not widely known.

Chess Rendered Familiar is not recorded, for example, in John Cochrane's Catalogue of Writers on the Game of Chess, published with his Treatise in 1822, nor is it listed in the Bibliographie Chronologique des Éditions Publiées de L'Analyse de Philidor on pages 300 to 306 of C. Sanson's Analyse du Jeu des Échecs par A. D. Philidor, Paris 1871, which lists 65 editions of Philidor from 1749 to 1870.
                                            © Michael Clapham

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