Attacks on Howard Staunton

Edward Winter


Howard Staunton

On 30 September 1848 the Morning Post published a letter from Thomas Beeby to Captain Kennedy which concluded with a memorable effusion of sarcasm. Beeby offered to put up the funds for a match of 25 games between Kennedy and Lowe …

‘… such games to be published without note or comment, but upon the express understanding that, whatever may be the result, we hear nothing of indigestion, headache, indisposition, want of preparation, rust, or any other excuse, however ingenious, as palliative of defeat.’

Source: An Account of the Late Chess Match Between Mr Howard Staunton and Mr Lowe by T. Beeby (London, 1848), pages 5-10.


However, Beeby’s 28-page booklet reserved the sharpest barbs for Staunton:

‘Now, truly, this self-glorification is very ridiculous – you beat Mr Mongrédien and the other gentleman named, and straightway bedaub them with the most offensive flattery – the act however is insidious; the majority of those gentlemen are men of a high order of intellect, and by no means weak enough to be duped – they perceive the snake’s eyes glistening beneath the grass, and see that by your efforts to elevate them, your real object is to inflate yourself.

The fact is, no sane man places the slightest reliance on what falls from you, as a matter of opinion, because the man so eaten up by self-conceit, whose notions of himself are so exaggerated, cannot be a safe guide as to the capacity of others.’

Ibid., page 16.

Elsewhere (page 18), Beeby referred scornfully to Staunton’s ‘hebdomodal pop-guns’ and on that same page used a phrase which shows how much the English language has changed in the past century and a half: ‘a luckless wight yclept Turner’.

(K 1999)

Now an excerpt from page 14 of A Review of “The Chess Tournament,” by H. Staunton, Esq., a very scarce polemical work written by ‘A member of the London Chess Club’ (London, 1852):

‘We charge Mr Staunton with having used the press as a means of indulging his animosities; with having, as the editor of the Chess Player’s Chronicle, and the Chess Department of the Illustrated News, pursued steadily and unceasingly a policy of self-puffery, at the expense of everybody and everything; that in his notes to games, correspondence, and general remarks, he is guilty of the grossest partiality and unfairness; that he has unjustly endeavoured to depreciate the play and injure the character of rival chess-players; that by all this he has rendered the Chronicle a mere instrument for the indulgence of personal spleen and vanity, – so much so, that of late people only look into its pages for some new exhibition of the rancour and morbid self-love of its editor, having entirely abandoned the idea of examining it for any other purpose.’


The next passage appeared on pages 15-16:

‘From the commencement of the Chronicle, in 1841, we find Mr Staunton constantly excusing his defeats, never attributing the loss of a game to the skill of his antagonist, but only to his own “want of care and attention”, to “severe indisposition”, or, as a last resource, to the “intolerable tedium” of his opponent. We give a few extracts at random; the volumes abound with them. He is losing of course. “This game is given up by a supineness perfectly incomprehensible.” “Lost after having obtained advantages sufficient to decide the game at any time in his favour.” “This game is not very creditable to the skill of either party.” “The play on both sides is incredibly weak.” “This game would be discreditable to third-rate players at a coffee-house.” When he makes bad moves (that his opponent takes advantage of), “they can only be attributed to culpable inattention, arising from over confidence or want of interest in the struggle”; or “they are made mechanically, being utterly indifferent as to the result”. When his adversary extricates himself by a dexterous move from an embarrassing position, it is said to be “a lucky resource”. He comes at last and pleads “sheer exhaustion”, and no doubt has arrived at his ultimatum. What new excuse will be fabricated in the event of his sustaining fresh defeats, it is impossible to conjecture. We would advise him to take the matter into due consideration, as, from recent symptoms of “exhaustion”, there is every probability that his ingenuity in palliating or accounting for defeat will frequently have to be called into exercise.

A very different style, however, is adopted when Mr Staunton proves the victor. He says “he is at length roused into action”. “The game is opened with remarkable care and prudence on both sides.” It is said “to be remarkable also for the varied and interesting positions it assumes”. He is ever feeling temptations “to represent positions of such unusual interest upon diagrams”. “Their consideration will amply repay the student.” He makes moves “that require the nicest calculation”. What was, in the case of his opponent, “a lucky resource” becomes in his “a coup de ressource, which White was evidently quite unprepared for”. Having won a match of Mr Horwitz, he states that it must be highly gratifying to the chess community to be introduced to “so accomplished a master”. No one will deny the skill of Mr Horwitz, but the modest inference Mr Staunton leaves to be drawn from his own words must scarcely fail in raising a smile.’



Howard Staunton

A further extract (pages 16-19) from the booklet, and further execration of Staunton:

‘But these ebullitions of vanity are harmless when compared with others that he has penned at various times. His career as a professional chessplayer had, up to the year 1847, been a successful one, and therefore no occasion had up to that time arisen to call forth any very special marks of unfairness, inasmuch as a victor can afford to concede many things to a vanquished enemy. Towards the end of that year, however, Mr Staunton and Mr Lowe were engaged by Mr Ries, the proprietor of the Grand Divan in London, to play a match in celebration of the reopening of that chess saloon. Mr Staunton gave Mr Lowe the odds of the pawn and two moves, and lost the match – he was fairly beaten, and it was evident he could not afford to give the odds to Mr Lowe. No one would have thought the worse of Mr Staunton’s play because he had lost to Mr Lowe, giving such odds as “the pawn and two moves”; but from the moment of his losing the match he seems to have been afflicted with a monomania that the existence of his reputation as a chessplayer depended upon the utter annihilation of that of Mr Lowe! […] Before this match, Mr Staunton speaks of Mr Lowe as “long and favourably known to the frequenters of the Divan as a player of unquestionable talent”, and the Divan is stated to be the resort of the most eminent metropolitan players. After the match, both player and place are condemned together. In a note to a game, he says that the play “never rises beyond the dull level of Divan mediocrity”. We leave our readers to form their own opinion of the consistency of these remarks. An unceasing torrent of abuse filled for months the chess columns of the Illustrated News and the Chess Chronicle – all was poured upon the head of the devoted Lowe. We would here take the opportunity of drawing the attention of the reader to a little pamphlet by Mr Thomas Beeby (Gilpin, 6, Bishopsgate Street Without, 1848), which gives an account of this match, and in which the conduct of Mr Staunton in the affair is severely handled, and with such telling effect that Mr Staunton has never dared to venture a word in reply. Mr Lowe, however, has not been the only victim of Mr Staunton’s hostility. Mr Williams has lately been the object of his vituperation, and for the same reason – Mr Staunton was defeated by him – “Hinc illae lachrymae”. Nothing can be more true than a remark Mr Beeby makes. “To be continually praised by Mr Staunton is a proclamation of having been beaten by him, while to be the object of his attacks is a proof of having beaten him.” The sting of defeat was infinitely more mortifying in Mr Williams’ case than in Mr Lowe’s. In the latter, Mr Staunton could shelter himself to some extent behind the fact of having rendered odds to his opponent; but in the former, the fact of having been beaten even, by a player whom he had long affected to despise, could not be disguised by any ingenuity. A reference to the book under review will show the miserable subterfuges to which Mr Staunton resorts, to palliate his defeat in the Tournament by Mr Williams. The gravamen of the charges against Mr Williams is that “he practised a systematic delay over every move, and that he thereby so irritated his antagonist that he was compelled often to surrender games out of pure fatigue”. Was ever such a plea for defeat as this before offered in games of such consequence to the players as the Tournament games were? The excuse may be readily accepted in the case of games played merely for the purpose of recreation, but it becomes preposterous when urged as it has been by Mr Staunton. Moreover, had the charge been perfectly true, – had Mr Staunton, as he states, been compelled to surrender games out of pure fatigue, which Mr Williams utterly denies, – he would only have been beaten with weapons introduced by himself, and which he has long had the reputation of being an adept in using. His physical endurance in long matches has ever been a subject of remark among players, and conjectures have been hazarded that he owes many a victory to that useful quality. We may here remark that Mr Williams is now playing at the London Chess Club a most interesting and well-contested match, with Mr Horwitz. Sixteen games have been played, and of these the average duration has not exceeded three hours. We must make one or two more remarks upon the inordinate vanity and self-conceit of Mr Staunton. How he, with the commonest perception of what is decent or becoming in society, or with the smallest possible grain of modesty in his composition, can suffer things to be printed in his own magazine that he does, has long been the astonishment of the sober-minded portion of the chess world.’


Steinitz wrote at length about Staunton on pages 210-213 of the July 1888 International Chess Magazine. Below is a digest of salient quotes:

‘… this very Mr Staunton had made himself notorious as the literary persecutor of Harrwitz, Löwenthal and Anderssen, whom he assailed with personal hostilities in his various writings including actually the annotations of games.’

After writing that Staunton had ‘tortured poor Morphy’ over the possibility of a match between them, and in particular Staunton’s suppression of a key paragraph in a Morphy letter, Steinitz referred to ‘my having received similar treatment at the hands of this Mr Staunton’. 

‘This Mr Staunton was one of my first opponents in the Literary Steinitz Gambit and an editorial patient whom I had to cure … from his journalistic delusions …’

‘At that very time this Mr Staunton was again the almighty ruler of public opinion in the chess world and his performance against Morphy was remembered only by very few. In his usual manner he commenced attacking my play; a mode of warfare which, I can assure you, always left me indifferent. But finding that this did not draw sufficiently, he made during my match with Bird an assault on my private character by means of what I may call at least a combination of suppressio veri and suggestio falsi …’

‘… judging from the effect which the first shots from these journalistic batteries had on myself, I have always suspected, that Morphy’s subsequent apathy and hatred for chess, which was, I believe, not alone the first symptom but also the cause of decay of his powerful genius, must have originated from the treatment which he received from that Mr Staunton …’

Regarding his own grievance (the ‘falsifications in the Illustrated London News’) Steinitz contacted Staunton both publicly and privately:

‘My move turned out a very good one, I can assure you, for its first effect was that this very Mr Staunton, who had the audacity of mutilating one of Morphy’s letters and of refusing to publish the letter’s correction of false statements until a Right Honorable Lord interfered on his (Morphy’s) appeal; this very Staunton felt compelled to publish my letter in full the very next week, though with an alteration of the date in order to make it appear to some innocent people that I had used the “strong language” before writing the letter ...

The result of the publication of the letter was that though Staunton with his satellites and suckers tried with might and main to expel me [from the Westminster Chess Club], as I had of course anticipated, he soon discovered that he would not find the usual two-third quorum for such a purpose.

... This is my analysis of my first Club fight or contempt without silence gambit, which was a victory for me … Proof of my statement is that with the exception of two or three growling articles … I enjoyed complete literary peace for the rest of his life, about seven years long, from this very Mr Staunton, who had always fancied that he could aggrandize himself by assailing his rivals with the grossest falsehoods.’

(K 1999)


Howard Staunton

See too the letter from Steinitz to E.B. Cook, 17 June 1885, on pages 76-77 of The Steinitz Papers by Kurt Landsberger (Jefferson, 2002). For example:

‘... Staunton was most unscrupulous and those who followed him were even worse.’

An addition from pages 381-382 of Daniel Harrwitz’s British Chess Review, 1853:



Below is the relevant part of the Illustrated London News column referred to (5 November 1853, page 383):



From John Townsend (Wokingham, England):

‘The 1853 British Chess Review article reproduced in C.N. 11319 contains expressions such as “egregious falsehoods”, “ridiculous absurdities” and “rubbish”, all directed at Howard Staunton. One might expect that such truculent language would be accompanied by suitable substantiation, yet in the few examples discussed only a small amount of evidence was proffered, and it looks far from convincing.

Staunton is accused of a “gross falsehood” regarding his remark that Harrwitz intended “a love match” against Löwenthal. However, that Harrwitz did say something similar was later affirmed by Charles Tomlinson, a scientific writer and lecturer whose recollection of the controversy appeared on pages 50-51 of the BCM, February 1891, in an article about Simpson’s Divan:

“Harrwitz was so elated at having won the first two games that he declared in my presence that Löwenthal should not win a single game.”

Later Tomlinson witnessed a confrontation in Spring Gardens when Harrwitz denied the boast, whereupon both Staunton and Tomlinson were silent:

“Staunton simply smiled, and said nothing. Of course I was equally silent, from a reluctance to get into hot water with the Divan party.”

Tomlinson’s account implies that he could have rebutted Harrwitz’s accusation.

The accusation “slink his challenge” is used in connection with the abortive negotiations in 1853 for a Staunton-Harrwitz match, but that seems a biased summary of what took place. In an address to the Northern and Midland Counties Chess Association at its Manchester meeting in 1853 (see the Chess Player’s Chronicle, 1854, pages 187-189), Staunton explained at some length his reluctance to accept Harrwitz’s challenge, observing, in particular, that he had previously beaten him in a match and that the opponent whom he was really seeking was Adolf Anderssen. Nevertheless, negotiations did eventually get underway, but later broke down, after which a letter from Edgar Sheppard, Staunton’s second, which was published on page 61 of the Illustrated London News, 21 January 1854 gave the impression that Harrwitz’s side had defaulted and forfeited the £25 deposit “by the articles of agreement”.

Staunton’s attitude towards playing for money appears to have changed with time, and he is criticized for that. Nonetheless, in the case of an important match a worthwhile stake was customary, and it is arguable that he was justified in seeking one for a match with Harrwitz in which he had little to prove, having previously defeated him decisively.

The article supports Löwenthal’s side of the argument over the disputed Staunton v Löwenthal score but, in the absence of any evidence to explain the reasoning, is the comment really worth anything?

The final sentence contains a mysterious threat regarding “the existence of certain letters”, presumably containing some compromising information about Staunton. However, the letters have not so far been “unpleasantly forthcoming”, despite the passage of 166 years. Without them the remark seems no better than tittle-tattle.

The editor of the British Chess Review was Daniel Harrwitz, but was he solely responsible for this article? It is questionable whether someone whose native tongue was not English could have produced the article without help. Tim Harding discussed the involvement of Samuel Standidge Boden with the British Chess Review on pages 130-132 of his book British Chess Literature to 1914 (Jefferson, 2018).’


Note: Material above which we originally presented in Kingpin is indicated by the reference ‘K’, followed by the magazine’s year of publication.

Latest update: 29 May 2019.

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Copyright: Edward Winter. All rights reserved.