Saturday, January 31, 2009

How the Poms Lost America

From King, Queen & Knight - A chess anthology in prose and verse, compiled by Norman Knight and Will Guy, published by Batsford, 1975, (p. 110):

On the day preceding the night on which George Washington had determined to cross the Delaware and attack the British at Trenton, an Englishman in the neighbourhood dispatched his son, with a note to General Rahl (sic) to warn him of the approaching danger.

The General, being deeply absorbed in a game of chess when the note was presented, without withdrawing his attention from the game, throughtlessly put the note in his pocket.

After the battle next day, when General Rahl was brought in mortally wounded, the note was found unread in his pocket.

GOVERNOR RODMAN M. PRICE (1831-1904)
of New Jersey, in a speech to the Natural History Society of Newark, NJ.

The Battle of Trenton was fought on 26 December 1776, at a time when hitherto the British had been successful in their campaign against their revolting American colonists.

"Until that hour", says George Bancroft, in his
History of the United States of America, "the life of the United States flickered like a dying flame". And from the English side, "All our hopes", exclaimed Lord George Germain (afterwards Lord Sackville), "were blasted by that unhappy affair at Trenton." The action certainly marked the turning of the tide and the beginning of the American successes. Consequently General Rall's unforunate preoccupation in a game of chess may be said to have lost the British their first empire and to have altered the course of history.

I've had King, Queen & Knight for years and I think I've read it twice now. It's a fascinating read. There are sections on - "Chess and War", "Chess Quarrels", "The Humour of Chess" and also "Chess and Love" - among many others. If you can get your hands one, grab it!

While the example I gave above came from "Chess in History", here's one from "Chess and War" (p. 166).

It has also been imagined that playing at chess is of use to a soldier, because the stratagems, etc, used in that game, bear some resemblance to those used in war: and yet it does not appear, from fact, either that able commanders have been generally distinguised for their skill in playing chess, or that the best chess-players have therefore made commanders.

JOSEPH PRIESTLEY (1733-1804)
Miscellaneous Observations relating to Education (1792)

1 comment:

Chessbuff said...

I wouldn't advise Napoleon and Alexander to play a best of seven match. Those games could irrevocably change their reputations for the worse.