In June-August 2000 the Bulletin Board of the Chess Café had a thread (items 212-1 to 212-37) entitled ‘Morphy & Edge’. After the thread ended, it remained on-line only briefly, but since there is much of relevance to A Debate on Staunton, Morphy and Edge, the full Bulletin Board texts are shown here, verbatim and without comment. We are grateful to the Chess Café for allowing us to reproduce them.
Corrections and further discussion points will be found not here but in our above-mentioned feature article.
‘Morphy & Edge
212-1 While recently browsing through the Oxford Companion to Chess (by Hooper and Whyld, second edition, 1992), I came upon the entry for Frederick Edge. In that rather long entry, at the top of page 120, it says: “Two months later, in March 1859, Edge wrote (in an unpublished letter), ‘I have been a lover, a brother, a mother to you ...’” The letter was to Paul Morphy.
Is anyone able to shed some light on this? A lover? What does that mean? Donald Montchalin [6-23-00]
212-2 The quotation continues “I have made you an idol, a god ...” Edge was saying that he had been the creator, guardian, and supporter of Morphy. Elsewhere he said that future generations would talk not of Morphy’s Edge, but Edge’s Morphy. It was a century after the letter was written before the word “lover” came to imply a physical relationship. Earlier it simply meant an admirer. In any case, Edge was clearly speaking metaphorically. Ken Whyld [6-24-00]
212-3 Mr Whyld wrote to me on 25 November 1982: “I have a great deal about Edge, some of which I have doubts about making available for publication (such as his claim to have been Morphy’s lover).” Edward Winter [6-24-00]
212-4 Ken Whyld writes in 212-2: “Elsewhere he [Edge] said that future generations would talk not of Morphy’s Edge, but Edge’s Morphy”. Is this a direct quote from Edge? When/where did he say or write this? Donald Montchalin [6-25-00]
212-5 Donald Montchalin writes “the Oxford Companion to Chess ... says ‘... in March 1859, Edge wrote (in an unpublished letter), “I have been a lover, a brother, a mother to you ...”’ The letter was to Paul Morphy.”
No, the letter was not to Morphy, although one can hardly blame Mr Montchalin for jumping to that conclusion. The Edge quote actually comes from a letter to Fiske, Morphy’s friend in New York. Edge was upset because he felt that he had been unfairly treated by Morphy. Edge was describing what he was tempted to say to Morphy. The complete letter appeared in the March-April 1987 issue of Chess Notes. I think that one of Edward Winter’s books contains a substantial portion of the letter.
Years ago, I tried to persuade Mr Whyld to indicate to whom the letter had been written. I felt that readers of the Companion might easily get the false impression that the quote represented a threat written directly to Morphy about the possibility of Edge revealing some dark secret to the world. Evidently, Mr Whyld was not convinced by my arguments.
Ken Whyld writes “The quotation continues ‘I have made you an idol, a god ...’ Edge was saying that he had been the creator, guardian, and supporter of Morphy.”
I do not see any indication that Edge was claiming to be “the creator” of Morphy. As far as I can tell, Edge merely felt that he was responsible for the public knowing of Morphy’s greatness. In this, he may well have been right.
Ken Whyld writes “Edge ... said that future generations would talk not of Morphy’s Edge, but Edge’s Morphy.”
Donald Montchalin writes “Is this a direct quote from Edge? When/where did he say or write this?”
In the December 1989 issue of Chess Notes, Whyld gave the quote as “It will not always be ‘Edge, Morphy’s friend’, but ‘Morphy, Edge’s’, and said that it was part of a letter that Edge wrote to Fiske on 7 November 1859. Whyld gave no context, but I would guess that Edge was predicting that someday, people would have a greater appreciation for how well he had served Morphy. Perhaps, also, Edge hoped that he would become famous as an author. He wrote a number of books.
I think that two things should be kept in mind with regard to these quotes of Edge. (1) The remarks were not intended for publication. Edge was probably just letting off steam. (2) A rather extravagant writing style seems to have been common in those days. Consider, for example, this statement that Staunton did publish: “Chess never was, and while society exists, never can be a profession.” I doubt that anyone expected such statements to be taken literally. A certain amount of over-statement seems to have been expected. Louis Blair [6-26-00]
212-6 Mr Blair is correct to point out (212-5) that the Oxford Companion to Chess gave the false impression that Edge’s letter was written to Morphy, as opposed to Fiske. Given that the full text of the document was reproduced in Chess Notes in 1987, the 1992 edition of the Companion was also incorrect to describe the letter as “unpublished”. For anyone without access to Chess Notes I add that page 256 of my book Chess Explorations gave the full paragraph containing the “lover” reference. Edward Winter [6-26-00]
212-7 I read Louis Blair’s comments with great interest. First, let me express my bewilderment: In my original inquiry, I said that the letter was to Paul Morphy. I said this because a reading of that section of the entry in question clearly gives the reader that impression. Re-reading it, I see little room for any other interpretation. Why, then, in his reply, would Mr Whyld, one of the authors of the book, not correct this misunderstanding? It seems crucial to the entire discussion!
Furthermore, in item 212-2 Whyld writes that in the March 1859 letter Edge “was clearly speaking metaphorically” in his use there of the word “lover”. However, in the next item, Mr Winter states that in a 1982 letter from Whyld to Winter, Whyld wrote: “I have a great deal about Edge, some of which I have doubts about making available for publication (such as his claim to have been Morphy’s lover).” The entire issue of what Whyld’s source for the quote is/was now seems very confusing. Could Mr Whyld please state clearly for us what his source is, i.e., what was his source/reason for saying in 1982 that Edge had claimed to be Morphy’s lover? Donald Montchalin [6-26-00]
212-8 Mr Whyld says: “It was a century after the letter was written before the word ‘lover’ came to imply a physical relationship” and that “[e]arlier it simply meant an admirer”. Surely this cannot be correct. Were Romeo and Juliet star-crossed admirers? Douglas Wickersham [6-26-00]
212-9 In the 1980s Chess Notes published in full two letters from Edge to Fiske. I am providing both of those C.N. items for Chess Café readers to peruse. [Links were given.] Edward Winter [6-28-00]
212-10 Donald Montchalin writes “Could Mr Whyld please state clearly for us what his source is?” I would warn Mr Montchalin that seeking the sources of Mr Whyld is an activity that can have puzzling and/or unpleasant results. In 1989, I wanted to know how Whyld and Hooper had concluded that “before [Morphy] went abroad [in 1858] he had decided to give up the game upon his return”. Without giving any source, Whyld wrote, “Morphy made a promise to his family before he sailed to Europe”. Since then, I have only been able to find one place where there is a discussion of any promise that Morphy made to his family before leaving for Europe: page 124 of Lawson’s Morphy biography. To judge from that page, the promise was concerned with preventing Morphy from winning money during his European trip and had nothing to do with what he would do upon his return.
More recently I have been seeking the source for another claim that appears to have been advocated by Mr Whyld. The details can be found in issues of the magazine CHESS over the last few years. (Page 47 of the October 1997 issue, page 48 of the May 1998 issue, pages 32-34 of the December 1998 issue, pages 23-24 of the May 1999 issue, page 37 of the June 1999 issue, page 41 of the August 1999 issue, and page 48 of the June 2000 issue.) It is not pleasant reading.
Having said all this, I have to add that, although there does seem to be some mystery about the source of the Edge quotes, several individuals do appear to believe that they are authentic. The appropriateness of some of Whyld’s comments about the Edge quotes is another matter. Louis Blair [6-29-00]
212-11 A few comments on the meaning of “lover” as used by Frederick Edge toward Paul Morphy:
This quote pops up now and then in discussions of whether Morphy might have been homosexual. Perusing David Lawson’s lengthy and heavily researched biography Paul Morphy The Pride and Sorrow of Chess (McKay, 1976), I found no mention of any homoerotic involvement in Morphy’s life, but I did see a good many incidents and traits that indicate normal heterosexual interest. Also, Edge was already married at the time he worked for Morphy, and he would almost certainly not reveal a homosexual relationship to a third party, in this case Fiske. These facts argue strongly against any homoerotic liaison.
Mr Wickersham in item 212-8 is correct to note that “lover” denoted romantic or sexual love centuries before Morphy, as it does today. One does also find the sense in which Edge used it, i.e. admiration or hero-worship, as in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, when the note warning Caesar of his impending assassination is signed “Thy lover, Artemidorus.” When that meaning disappeared from common usage is a question for lexicographers, though it would seem one still sees vestiges of it in “art-lover”, “music-lover”, “lovers of fine cuisine” and other such phrases.
One of the epistles says, “Burn this letter, Fiske, and forget the contents”. Can anyone tell us the story of how it was preserved for us to discuss today? Taylor Kingston [7-1-00]
212-12 Taylor Kingston writes “One of the [Edge letters] says ‘Burn this letter, Fiske, and forget the contents.’ Can anyone tell us the story of how it was preserved for us to discuss today?”
The only person who would have known exactly what happened is Fiske himself, and I’m afraid that we are about a century too late to ask him. However, I think that it is possible to make some pretty good guesses. As Mr Kingston has noted, “lover” was used in a nonsexual fashion, and I suspect that it never even occurred to Fiske that the letter might someday be taken as a suggestion of homosexuality. Fiske knew that Edge was very determined to refute all public criticism of Morphy, and, consequently, Fiske must have realized that Edge’s primary concern was that his own private criticisms of Morphy should not be made public. Since he had no intention to publish the letter, Fiske undoubtedly thought there was no harm in preserving the letter along with all the other correspondence that he kept in his files. Fiske was a very popular fellow, and, when he died, an effort was made to preserve a record of his life. Whole volumes of his papers and correspondence were produced. As far as I can tell, the Edge letters did not appear in those volumes, but it seems likely that they, along with other material, were archived somewhere, perhaps in the possession of some relative, and were eventually found by someone, perhaps Lawson, searching for material that mentioned Morphy. Louis Blair [7-2-00]
212-13 I do not see the intended relevance of Taylor Kingston’s reference to Julius Caesar. In 212-2 Mr Whyld made the apparently incorrect claim that until around the late 1950s (i.e. a century after Edge’s letter was written) “lover” meant an admirer and nothing else. My comment that appeared in 212-8 disposed of that. By the way, in the same spirit, mention may be made of that notorious 1928 novel by D.H. Lawrence, Lady Chatterley’s Admirer. Douglas Wickersham [7-2-00]
212-14 Douglas Wickersham writes: “I do not see the intended relevance of Taylor Kingston’s reference to Julius Caesar ... My comment that appeared in 212-8 disposed of [Mr Whyld’s apparently incorrect claim that until around the late 1950s ... ‘lover’ meant an admirer and nothing else].”
I do not think that Mr Kingston (in 212-11) was trying to defend Mr Whyld’s claim. I think that he was merely trying to point out that the word, “lover”, was sometimes used in nonsexual contexts.
By the way, those who have been following this subject might be interested in this passage from pages 28-29 of a pamphlet about Morphy that was written by his niece.
“Paul Morphy was exceedingly fond of grand opera and very seldom missed a performance at the old French Opera House on Bourbon Street, which was unfortunately destroyed by fire in 1920. During intermissions, he would call upon some of his lady friends who occupied boxes and invite them to a promenade in the ‘foyer’ where refreshments were served. He was a great admirer of the fair sex and took pleasure in walking up and down on Canal Street in the afternoon, always neatly attired, and never without his monocle and his small walking stick. Up to the time of his mental derangement he would simply give feminine charms an admiring glance, but in later years when his wonderful intellect became impaired, he would stop and stare at any pretty face which would strike his fancy. It must be said that he had very good taste, and did not give a second look to the plain and unattractive ones.” Louis Blair [7-5-00]
212-15 Clearly my note (212-2) was too brief for some readers. I am quite certain that Edge was not Morphy’s sexual partner, brother or mother. Quite obviously he had no part in creating Morphy’s chess genius, nor could he have done. He saw himself, in today’s terms, as Morphy’s agent or manager. The quotation reveals that he believed that it was he who had made Morphy into a “star”. There is an element of truth in that.
Previously it had been generally supposed that Edge was a dutiful servant, a trusty secretary, who faithfully recorded Morphy’s career in Europe. His book was regarded as a reliable account. My research established the fact that Edge was not a bystander but an active participant in the chess politics surrounding the tour. Indeed he shaped its pattern much more than did Paul himself. For example it was Edge who was responsible for Morphy defaulting at the tournament at Birmingham, where Staunton went expecting to meet him. In summary, his book could not be depended upon without corroboration.
I made a detailed study of Edge, including reading his non-chess books. Edward Winter also found out many important facts, and a fairly full picture of the man is to be found in the pages of Chess Notes.
Turning to the vexed quotation, there are two points to be made. I do not “claim”, but state as a fact that during the last half-century there has been a shift in the usage of the word “lover”. Any lexicologist will confirm this. Today, if we describe two people as lovers, we mean, unequivocally, that they have a physical relationship. This was not so earlier. No physical contact was implicit. I never claimed, as Douglas Wickersham imagines, that if such a relationship did become physical they ceased to be lovers. To show that any dog is an animal does not prove that any animal is a dog.
The second point is apparently more controversial. The Edge letter was addressed to Fiske, saying what Edge would say to Morphy had he the opportunity. We quoted it under our heading for Edge because it tells us a great deal about him. It tells us almost nothing about Morphy. There is no doubt in my mind that the quotation represents Edge’s true feelings. In my opinion there was no need, with limited space available, to elaborate the details of the letter’s addressee. Serious researchers into Morphy’s life know that, at the date of the letter, Edge was denied all access to Morphy. Of course I discussed this particular question carefully with my late colleague, David Hooper, and also the Oxford University Press editor, and had their support. I now find a fact that I consider to be almost irrelevant being described as “crucial to the entire discussion”. Perhaps Donald Montchalin will explain why this is so, in his opinion.
Louis Blair says that “years ago [he] tried to persuade [me] to indicate to whom the letter had been written”. In those days I gave much time I could ill-afford to a lengthy but fruitless correspondence with Mr Blair. I have no recollection of him asking this. Until it was revealed in Chess Notes that the letter was written to Fiske such a question had not been raised. A useful project would be to raise a few thousand dollars to buy and publish the remaining Edge-Fiske letters. Ken Whyld [7-9-00]
212-16 I for one appreciate Mr Whyld re-joining this discussion. He asks in his last post: “I now find a fact that I consider to be almost irrelevant being described as ‘crucial to the entire discussion’. Perhaps Donald Montchalin will explain why this is so, in his opinion.”
My initial comment quoted the Oxford Companion to Chess: “Two months later, in March 1859, Edge wrote (in an unpublished letter), ‘I have been a lover, a brother, a mother to you ...’” Surely you must be able to see the difference in impact, effect and even meaning depending on whether the letter was an actual one sent to and received by Morphy, or whether it was a description of a relationship sent to a third party? You may try to casually dismiss this as irrelevant, but it is not. It would appear that Mr Blair shares my view on this point. Donald Montchalin [7-10-00]
212-17 Mr Whyld gives us quite a blizzard of assertions, but, by far, the most important one is this: “it was Edge who was responsible for Morphy defaulting at the tournament at Birmingham, where Staunton went expecting to meet him.”
At one time, this was a speculation. Eleven years ago, apparently trying to defend this speculation, Whyld wrote, “Morphy appears to have been completely straightforward and honest, if somewhat secretive. He entered the Birmingham tournament before he left the USA, and the organizers put back the date to be sure that he would have arrived in time. Staunton came out of retirement and entered specifically to meet Morphy there. Morphy defaulted. Does that sound like Morphy’s way?” Since then, the speculation has apparently transformed into fact. Is there any justification for this?
All I know is that a number of assertions have been made by Mr Whyld in the past 20 years and obtaining information on his sources has been extremely difficult. I will now comment on other statements of Mr Whyld, but readers should not lose track of this first one. Please note if Mr Whyld ever comes up with any reason for presenting his view of Edge’s responsibility as if it were an established fact.
Before going on with Mr Whyld’s 9 July 2000 note (212-15), I should say a little bit more about what he wrote in 1989. I have never seen anyone other than Mr Whyld assert that the organizers of the Birmingham tournament put back the date to be sure that Morphy would have arrived in time. He has also told us that “the date was chosen specifically for” Morphy. This is hard to believe because the postponement of the Birmingham tournament was announced before Morphy’s arrival, and, to judge from the 26 June 1858 issue of the Illustrated London News, it was not known until after Morphy’s arrival that he would be willing and able to play at the newly selected time. There are other reasons for doubting Mr Whyld’s claim about the Birmingham postponement, but for now it perhaps suffices to note that the question was raised in the August 1999 issue of CHESS, and, so far, I have seen no response from Mr Whyld on the matter.
After telling us that “Edge was ... an active participant in the chess politics surrounding” Morphy’s tour of Europe, Mr Whyld somehow arrives at the conclusion that Edge’s Morphy book “could not be depended upon without corroboration”. I find it difficult to follow his logic here. Wasn’t Staunton also an active participant? Yet, Mr Whyld doesn’t seem to have any hesitation about accepting what Staunton said without corroboration. He tells us, for example, that Staunton entered Birmingham, “specifically to meet Morphy”, whereas, to judge from the account of one of Staunton’s own supporters, Staunton announced this after Morphy had said that he would not be playing at Birmingham.
Mr Whyld writes, “I made a detailed study of Edge, including reading his non-chess books. Edward Winter also found out many important facts, and a fairly full picture or the man is to be found in the pages of Chess Notes.” One thing I have not been able to find in Chess Notes or anywhere else is a description by Mr Whyld of anything specific and significant that might be found in Edge’s non-chess books.
Mr Whyld writes, “In my opinion there was no need, with limited space available, to elaborate the details of the letter’s addressee. Serious researchers into Morphy’s life know that, at the date of the letter, Edge was denied all access to Morphy”. None of the serious researchers is identified. I don’t know if Mr Whyld considers me to be serious, but I can tell you that I have never seen anything that would rule out the possibility of Edge sending a letter to Morphy in March of 1859.
Also, it is hard to accept Mr Whyld’s “limited space” excuse. One easy way to deal with the problem would have been to present the quote in this form: “I have been a lover, a brother, a mother to [him]; I have made [him] an idol, a god.” If indeed the purpose of the quote was to demonstrate that “Edge was ... an active participant in the chess politics”, it seems to me that the first 11 words might have been left out altogether. Another possibility would have been to use a different part of the letter, “never did man more devotedly serve another ... I have made you an idol, a god”. Of course, if Whyld and Hooper had done things differently, then there might never have been a rumor that a homosexual Edge-Morphy relationship was revealed in the Oxford Companion – a rumor, which, I suspect, has helped sales of the Companion.
One subject that Mr Whyld currently chooses not to discuss is his 1982 letter to Edward Winter, “I have a great deal about Edge, some of which I have doubts about making available for publication (such as his claim to have been Morphy’s lover)”. It would not have been difficult for Mr Whyld to have anticipated that, sooner or later, Edward Winter would remember Mr Whyld’s comment while writing for Chess Notes.
Mr Whyld writes, “We quoted [the Edge letter] under our heading for Edge because it tells us a great deal about him. It tells us almost nothing about Morphy”. And yet, it was in the Morphy entry that the quote appeared in the original edition of the Oxford Companion. No explanation for the quote was originally given. In the same paragraph, it was remarked that Morphy could have passed for a woman (something that would come as a surprise to those who have seen the pictures of Morphy that have survived). Somehow, under the hands of Hooper and Whyld, a quote mentioning Narcissus also found its way into that paragraph.
I think it is worth remembering that Frank Skoff is the one who eventually revealed to everyone the full contents of the letter and that it was written to Fiske, not Morphy. This was about three years after the Oxford Companion first appeared. Many, including Skoff himself, felt that it would have been irresponsible to use the quote to suggest homosexuality while leaving out the information about Fiske. Responding to Skoff’s comments, Mr Whyld rushed to tell us that the quote was not a statement of homosexuality. Curiously, I can not find any record of any occasion prior to 1987 when Mr Whyld felt moved to express this opinion.
Mr Whyld writes, “Perhaps Donald Montchalin will explain why [the details of the Edge letter’s addressee are ‘crucial to the entire discussion’], in his opinion”. Perhaps Mr Montchalin will, but it is difficult to see why he should bother. The point has already been made adequately by myself and Mr Kingston. To repeat, readers of the Companion might easily get the false impression that the quote represented a threat written directly to Morphy about the possibility of Edge revealing some dark secret to the world. Mr Kingston has noted that “Edge was already married at the time he worked for Morphy, and he would almost certainly not reveal a homosexual relationship to a third party, in this case Fiske. [This argues] against any homoerotic liaison.” If Mr Whyld can casually ignore such arguments, he can just as easily ignore anything that Mr Montchalin might say. It is all pretty obvious anyway, and I wonder why Mr Whyld writes as if he can not see the point.
Mr Whyld writes, “I do not ‘claim’, but state as a fact that during the last half-century there has been a shift in the usage of the word ‘lover’.” I don’t think that there has been much argument about that. The problem was with Mr Whyld’s statement that “Earlier [the word ‘lover’] simply meant an admirer.” Does Mr Whyld still stand behind that particular assertion? We can only note that, for the moment, he chooses not to mention it.
Mr Whyld writes, “Quite obviously [Edge] had no part in creating Morphy’s chess genius, nor could he have done.” Therefore, I hope that in the future Mr Whyld will refrain from telling people that “Edge was saying that he had been the creator” (etc.) of Morphy. Perhaps he will also agree that it is not a good idea to tell people that “Edge ... said that future generations would talk not of Morphy’s Edge, but Edge’s Morphy”.
Mr Whyld writes, “Louis Blair says that ‘years ago [he] tried to persuade [me] to indicate to whom the letter had been written’. ... I have no recollection of him asking this.”
I suggest that Mr Whyld consult pages 105 and 121 of the December 1989 issue of Chess Notes.
Mr Whyld writes, “I gave much time I could ill-afford to a lengthy but fruitless correspondence with Mr Blair”. Nobody should get the impression that the correspondence was something that I wanted. In 1989, Edward Winter suggested that Mr Whyld and I submit our conflicting views on various issues to the last issue of Chess Notes. There was a deadline, and, in addition to sending my arguments to Edward Winter, out of a sense of fairness to Mr Whyld, I sent copies directly to him so that he would have the maximum opportunity to respond before the deadline. The deadline came and went, and I thought that there would be an end of the matter. To my surprise, Mr Whyld continued to send me arguments. Since he was about as willing then as he is now to give sources for some of his claims, I saw little point to continue the discussion. Nevertheless, I did not want him to have the impression that I found his arguments unanswerable, so I did my best to point out what I thought were the flaws in his thinking. Eventually, the letters stopped, and I am sure that it was a relief for both of us. Chess Café readers can make educated guesses about why the correspondence was “fruitless” based on what they see here. Louis Blair [7-10-00]
212-18 Please forgive my bluntness, but my dear Mr Whyld, what in the world are you talking about?? I made two very brief comments about the use of the word “lover”. You now state that I am “imagining” something that was not there. I don’t think I will ask you how you arrived at that conclusion.
A number of fairly clear questions have been posed, mostly by Mr Blair. Your replies have either confused the issues or avoided them completely. I understand you have just returned from a trip to the mid-western United States. They have a custom there you might want to consider adopting. It’s called plain talk. Douglas Wickersham [7-12-00]
212-19 Mr Whyld says that prior to his research Edge’s book “was regarded as a reliable account” and it was not realized that “Edge was not a bystander but an active participant in the chess politics surrounding the tour”.
Both those claims seem to be incorrect as noted in Winter’s Skittles Room article. Writers like Brown, Diggle and Coles had expressed serious doubts about Edge’s reliability long before Mr Whyld did, and Edge’s book itself showed that he was an active participant and not just a bystander. For example, see the Edge quote about how he maneuvered Morphy into playing Anderssen. Donald Montchalin [7-13-00]
212-20 I thought that I was speaking plainly, but apparently my comments were too sophisticated for Mr Wickersham. In 212-13 he said that I made “the apparently incorrect claim” that formerly the word “lover” meant “an admirer and nothing else”. He then enters an amusing exegesis, referring to Lady Chatterley’s admirer. Look at 212-2 Mr Wickersham. It is your definition, not mine, that you have called “apparently incorrect”. Let me say it bluntly. Had Edge’s letter been published when it was written, nobody would have read a homosexual meaning into it.
Some years ago I ceased to respond to Louis Blair’s unstructured ramblings. When proved wrong, he “shifts the goalposts”, as we say in UK. Perhaps he will become a politician. However, I will deal with a couple of points, for those who lack the source material. He says that the Edge quote appeared in the Morphy entry of the original edition of the Companion. There was no Edge entry in that edition. It was only after that edition appeared that details emerged, mainly in Chess Notes, to make an entry for Edge useful. In his typically thorough way Edward Winter has made a useful summary elsewhere on the Chess Café pages. Secondly, I said in 212-15 that I had no recollection of Blair asking me to whom Edge’s letter [w]as addressed, adding “until it was revealed in Chess Notes that the letter was written to Fiske such a question had not been raised”. Mr Blair’s triumphant response, towards the end of the lengthy 212-17, is to tell me to consult pages in December 1989 issue of Chess Notes. That issue was two years and nine months after the letter to Fiske had been published in full.
For the sake of those who are serious scholars I give the titles of Edge’s other books. Slavery Doomed, 1860, is mentioned in Edward Winter’s column. England’s Danger & Her Safety, London 1864, is in the form of a letter to Earl Russell about the American Civil War. He says that, with reference to the British, “the feeling of the majority was in favour of the North – but the majority has no vote. The Governing classes favour the South, hence winking a blind eye at the building and fitting of warships for the South, although nominally neutral.” Edge was clearly a Unionist supporter. Great Britain and the United States, London 1869, is a similar letter, with a similar message, addressed to William Gladstone, in which Edge refers to Britain as “my home”. Major-General McClellan and the Campaign on the Yortktown Peninsula, London 1865, is an interesting account of events after Bull Run. Edge travelled on the same train as McClellan, who is subjected to a rather poisonous attack from Edge. He was given a pass to accompany the army and said he should “credit success to the fair and honourable tone adopted by the paper I represent in dealing with American affairs”.
Titles I did not read thoroughly are The Destruction of the American Carrying-Trade, London 1863; The “Alabama” and the “Kearsage”; an Account of the Naval Engagement in the English Channel, July 19th 1864, London 1864; A Woman’s Example and a Nation’s Work, London 1864 (about Florence Nightingale); Richard Cobden at Home, London 1868.
For those who are not serious scholars, perhaps a little light reading. Try Herman Charles Bosman, South Africa’s answer to O’Henry. In one of his short stories, The Kafir Drum, he describes a Boer’s attempt to understand the drumming system that in ancient times enabled messages to traverse the Continent within a few days. He says “You know yourself how ignorant the kafir is. I could never understand what the drum-men tried over and over again to explain to me. Even when a drum-man told me the same thing up to ten times I still couldn’t grasp it. So thick-skulled are they.” Ken Whyld [7-13-00]
212-21 In 212-5, I commented, “Years ago, I tried to persuade Mr Whyld to indicate to whom the [Edge] letter had been written. I felt that readers of the Companion might easily get the false impression that the quote represented a threat written directly to Morphy about the possibility of Edge revealing some dark secret to the world. Evidently, Mr Whyld was not convinced by my arguments.” Apparently not understanding the intent of the first sentence of my comment, Mr Whyld responded (in 212-15), “I have no recollection of [Mr Blair] asking this”.
Hoping that Mr Whyld would perceive the misunderstanding, I replied (in 212-17), “I suggest that Mr Whyld consult pages 105 and 121 of the December 1989 issue of Chess Notes”.
Apparently still not getting the point, Mr Whyld now writes, “That issue was two years and nine months after the letter to Fiske had been published in full”.
In the December 1989 issue of Chess Notes, I wrote (in part), “there really is no excuse for failing to mention that [the Edge quote] was part of a letter to Fiske”. Of course, I was not trying to persuade Mr Whyld to identify the letter’s addressee for my benefit. I was thinking of people like Donald Montchalin who might see the Edge quote in the Companion and get a false impression because they did not know of the information that was revealed in Chess Notes in 1987. Judging from subsequent editions of the Oxford Companion, Mr Whyld was not persuaded by my arguments.
Mr Whyld’s latest contribution, 212-20, does not give any justification for his assertion that “it was Edge who was responsible for Morphy defaulting at the tournament at Birmingham, where Staunton went expecting to meet him”.
212-20 does not give any justification for the assertions that “the organizers [of the Birmingham tournament] put back the date to be sure that [Morphy] would have arrived in time”, and that “the date was chosen specifically for” Morphy.
212-20 does not give any justification for the assertion that “at the date of the [Edge] letter [(25 March 1859)], Edge was denied all access to Morphy”.
Apparently, Mr Whyld thinks it is better to spend his time providing us with a quote from Herman Charles Bosman. However, the news is not all bad. At long last, we have some indication of what Mr Whyld found in Edge’s other books. I think it is worthwhile to compare this with what he has said in the past. According to Skoff, Mr Whyld wrote in 1987 that in Edge’s other books one could “find confirmation of [Edge’s] unreliability”.
Mr Whyld writes, “When proved wrong, [Louis Blair] ‘shifts the goalposts’, as we say in UK”. I am sure that many readers would love to see an example (backed up with an accurate quote) of an error that I made and refused to acknowledge. Will Mr Whyld generously help Chess Café readers to perceive my supposed goalpost-shifting ways or will he decide that this paragraph is more unstructured rambling to which he should not respond?
While reading Mr Whyld’s goalpost-shifting remark, I thought of my question in 212-17 about whether or not Mr Whyld still stands behind his statement that “Earlier [the word ‘lover’] simply meant an admirer”. So far, the closest thing to a response from Mr Whyld is this: “Let me say it bluntly. Had Edge’s letter been published when it was written, nobody would have read a homosexual meaning into it.”
I also thought of Mr Whyld’s 1982 letter to Winter, “I have a great deal about Edge, some of which I have doubts about making available for publication (such as his claim to have been Morphy’s lover)”. Five years later, Mr Whyld tried to convince the public that “the quotation is very clearly metaphorical and not a statement of homosexuality”.
We have seen Mr Whyld tell us “Edge was saying that he had been the creator, guardian, and supporter of Morphy”. And then there came “Quite obviously [Edge] had no part in creating Morphy’s chess genius”.
Mr Whyld told us recently, “Edge ... said that future generations would talk not of Morphy’s Edge, but Edge’s Morphy”. This makes an interesting contrast with the quote Mr Whyld attributed to Edge 11 years earlier: “It will not always be ‘Edge, Morphy’s friend’, but ‘Morphy, Edge’s’.”
Do Chess Café readers feel lucky to be able to read the notes of an expert on goalpost-shifting? Louis Blair [7-14-00]
212-22 I am honored that a point of mine is among the few that Mr Whyld has mentioned in 212-20, but I can’t find anyone who understands what he’s trying to say. So let’s sort this one out by taking it in easy stages:
(1) In 212-2 Mr Whyld wrote: “It was a century after the letter was written before the word ‘lover’ came to imply a physical relationship. Earlier it simply meant an admirer.”
(2) Given that the Edge letter was written in 1859, Mr Whyld is saying two things:
– It was only around 1959 that “lover” came to imply a physical relationship.
– Prior to around 1959 it simply meant an admirer.
(3) My contributions in 212-8 and 212-13 referred to the “star-crossed admirers” of Shakespeare’s time and, from 1928, “Lady Chatterley’s Admirer”.
(4) Those references demonstrate that:
– It was not only around 1959 that “lover” came to imply a physical relationship.
– Prior to around 1959 it did not simply mean an admirer.
If Mr Whyld really disagrees with anything in the above, I challenge him to specify exactly what, in plain language. Douglas Wickersham [7-14-00]
212-23 Winter’s article quotes a claim by Whyld: “Edge was a proven liar. ... The evidence against him is conclusive.” Winter also asks, “Can four or five thumping examples, absolutely clear-cut, of Edge’s alleged mendacity be set out ...?” But Whyld says nothing about this. I would respectfully request, Mr Whyld, that you back up your “proven liar” claim by providing “four or five thumping examples, absolutely clear-cut, of Edge’s alleged mendacity”. Robert Scott [7-14-00]
212-24 Robert Scott understandably writes, “I would respectfully request, Mr Whyld, that you back up your ‘proven liar’ claim by providing ‘four or five thumping examples, absolutely clear-cut, of Edge’s alleged mendacity’”. Nevertheless, it seems to me that there is an important question that should be considered first: what difference does it make? I don’t know for sure, but I get the impression that a lot of people consciously or unconsciously assume that if Edge could be discredited, the case against Staunton would dissolve. Mr Whyld is pretty up-front about it, telling us that Edge “unfairly blackened Staunton’s reputation”.
The truth is that almost all of the important points against Staunton can be established without relying on Edge at all. I’ve spelled out most of the details in 213-1 and 213-2 under the heading, Morphy-Staunton Match, above, but, to sum up, we know from many non-Edge sources that during the first nine months of 1858, Staunton led everyone to believe that (1) a match was possible, (2) Staunton wished for a match, and (3) Staunton was waiting for Morphy to “be forthcoming” with “representatives to arrange the terms and money for the stakes” – not very responsible behavior for someone whose health and work supposedly ruled out a match.
The late G.H. Diggle was a vigorous Staunton-defender and Edge-attacker. Nevertheless, he acknowledged that Staunton’s “conduct in many respects cannot be excused”. Recently, in CHESS C.P. Ravilious said that “one would have thought [that what Staunton said would be sufficient] to satisfy all but the most captious of critics”. After being reminded (by me) of some of the facts, he quickly added that Staunton had “behaved shabbily”. G.H. Diggle once told the story of how B. Goulding Brown (one of the earliest and fiercest of Edge-critics) told Diggle privately, “Don’t run away with the idea that Staunton comes out well”. Even Ken Whyld has admitted that Staunton “did make mistakes and may have been too haughty to admit them”. Louis Blair [7-15-00]
212-25 It is an unfortunate fact for the historical writer that he must tackle two things simultaneously; one is indirect sourcing, such as the written opinion of third parties (of which a feature of logic may apply) and the second has to do with the conception of what is understood at the time the material was written.
In this interesting discussion the point of logic that has not seemed to be invoked concerns perception and interpretation; the oar in the river appears bent, this is perception, to assert that it is or is not bent is interpretation. So a perception can be true but an interpretation of it either true or untrue. It follows that any interpretation cannot be a matter of simple assertion in the same way as direct impression.
Secondly, the “lover” reference is not resolved by saying before or after such and such a date – surely this depends on who speaks, and this word has moved in and out of fashion since Marlowe spake it.
Certainly Rimbaud spoke it much in London around 1870, and even if he plays around with the word it is evident from other context that he does not refer to any Venus Urania.
It would be an unusually diffident biographer who would not attempt (some) inference from his material and I have this sympathy for Mr Wylde, my initial point notwithstanding. Phil Innes [7-18-00]
212-26 What hath my simple question wrought? Alas, more questions, but nary an answer from on high. I am made to feel scorned, verily contemptible.
Perhaps Lord Kenneth would humor us with some direct answers:
1. In 212-2 why didn’t Mr W. correct the misunderstanding in 212-1 about the recipient of Edge’s letter, a misunderstanding caused by his Companion?
2. What was Mr W.’s documentary source for writing to Mr Winter in 1982: “I have a great deal about Edge, some of which I have doubts about making available for publication (such as his claim to have been Morphy’s lover)”? (212-7)
3. On what basis does Mr W. say (212-15) that “serious researchers into Morphy’s life know that, at the date of the letter, Edge was denied all access to Morphy”?
4. Can Mr W. substantiate his claim that Edge was “a proven liar” by quoting some clear-cut examples from any book by Edge? (212-23)
We mere commoners do yearn for enlightenment without more knavery. Donald Montchalin [7-18-00]
212-27 I’ve just been through the CHESS letters mentioned by Louis Blair in 212-10. He says they are not pleasant reading and I can’t argue with that. Mr Whyld wrote many things that he refused to back up and he twisted what Mr Blair said. He just wasn’t prepared to discuss Mr Blair’s real points.
Mr Whyld was also very aggressive and wrote about Mr Blair: “This is rich coming from a man who takes Morphy idolatry to new limits. Anything that does not suit him he forgets or disregards.” I didn’t see anything to justify those attacks.
Mr Whyld came across badly in CHESS, and he seems to have picked up here right where he left off. Douglas Wickersham [7-21-00]
212-28 Following the publication of various untrue statements about me by Mr Whyld in an interview (CHESS, November 1998, page 37), I pointed out in the December 1998 issue (page 44) that many years previously I had broken off all contact with him and that “I was simply one of a number of chess writers who, on various grounds, had become disillusioned with Mr Whyld”.
Hans Ree quoted those words on page 92 of the 3/1999 New in Chess, and on pages 97-98 of the 4/1999 issue I provided some further details. In particular: “The reason why, nearly a decade ago, we broke off contact with Mr K. Whyld was that so much of what we wrote to him was unpleasantly misinterpreted, distorted or otherwise mangled”.
Readers of the Bulletin Board have now been able to see Mr Whyld’s conduct for themselves. Edward Winter [7-21-00]
212-29 Edward Winter, Robert Scott, and Donald Montchalin have all indicated an interest in seeing a list of clear-cut examples of Edge’s alleged mendacity. None of the Edge-attackers seems to be very interested in producing such a list, but this is no surprise. Fifteen years ago, Frank Skoff wrote, “if anybody wants to discredit Edge by saying he is a liar, a fabricator of evidence, then have him list both the lies and the evidence for them. Secondly, indicate what effect those lies, if any, had on the events in question”. The response to Skoff’s challenge was not very different from what we have seen here in the Chess Café during the last month or so.
Attempting to find some indication of what might happen if Mr Whyld did respond to this challenge, I located this comment (also 15 years old): “Diggle’s article in the 1964 British Chess Magazine was what first alerted me to Edge’s duplicity (... What a good writer Diggle is). Later I checked Goulding Brown in the 1916 British Chess Magazine.” Looking at these magazines myself, I found two examples of Edge quotes, challenged by the Edge-attackers.
Example I (from page 89 of Edge’s 1859 Morphy book): “I have heard gentlemen at the London Chess Club, the Divan, nay, even at the St George’s, declare repeatedly [that Staunton will find means of backing out of his agreement to play a match with Morphy]. This language, repeated at every turn, necessarily caused Paul Morphy some anxiety. On myself, however, I can conscientiously declare it had no effect. I did not believe it possible that any man having so publicly accepted a challenge, would attempt to avoid a contest.”
Diggle felt that this was in conflict with what Edge wrote in a private 24 July 1858 letter to Morphy’s friend, Maurian: “No way now for Staunton to refuse. Accept he must, but play, will he?” (quoted on page 17 of the 1926 pamphlet about Morphy by his niece).
My reaction, to begin with, is that this is a pretty insignificant matter. Who really cares whether or not Edge ever felt a moment of doubt about the match? Moreover, it does not seem certain to me that Edge’s private question reflects a moment of personal doubt. Perhaps Edge, with his reporter’s instincts, was simply trying to depict the mood of those around him. Even if we reject this possibility and assume that Edge really did feel personal doubt on 24 July, it would hardly be a big deal if Edge forgot about it months later when he sat down to write his book.
Example II (from page 94 of Edge’s Morphy book): “Mr Staunton changed his tactics. ... Let [the reader] take up the files of the Illustrated London News from the time of Morphy’s arrival in England to his match with Harrwitz; let him examine the analysis [by Staunton] of [Morphy’s] games, the notes to the moves in that paper, and he will invariably perceive that the American’s antagonists could or might have won, the necessary inference being – ‘There’s nothing so extraordinary about Morphy’s play, after all’. [A change appeared in the criticism on the eight blindfold games at Birmingham. When the match with Harrwitz came off, Mr Staunton] who, previously, had scarcely a word of commendation for Morphy, now talked of ‘combinations which would have excited the admiration of Labourdonnais’.”
This is what inspired B. Goulding Brown to write, “I have [turned up the file of the Illustrated], and I find [Edge] a liar”. Diggle and Whyld both expressed strong sympathy for this point of view although they relented somewhat in the face of Skoff’s argument that, right or wrong, Edge believed that Staunton had been biased against Morphy during July and August of 1858. Whyld commented, “if so, [Edge] was not a liar, but a fool”. Diggle asked, “Can aggressive ignorance be thoroughly honest?”
I believe that much of the disagreement results from a difference of interpretation about what precisely Edge was trying to say. Diggle characterized Edge’s remarks as “an accusation that Staunton at first systematically disparaged Morphy”, but that is not how I read it. Edge realized and acknowledged that some commendation of Morphy appeared in Staunton’s columns during July and August of 1858. What bothered Edge was the failure of Staunton to declare that Morphy was remarkable – that he was (as one noted historian later put it) “easily the greatest player of his time”. Edge looked at what Staunton said in September (“PAUL MORPHY, THE AMERICAN CHESS PHENOMENON”) and wondered why some of it had not been said a month or two earlier.
I think that the Edge-attackers would argue that Edge was foolish to expect such comments in July and August. They say that Staunton’s July and August Morphy-criticisms were justified and that, lacking any chess ability, Edge should have accepted the opinions of his betters. The contention seems to be that Morphy’s ability was not truly apparent until September. Nevertheless, I would say that Edge’s belief in a July-August-Staunton-bias was understandable (and perhaps even justified). Edge might have noticed, for example, Boden’s July comment, “Let us do Mr Morphy full justice; he is beyond question, one of the finest players living; and we may fairly question whether he will meet with his superior”. There was also the hard evidence of Morphy’s success against one player after another. It must have infuriated Edge that it was not until September that this report by Staunton appeared: “Mr Morphy ... has ... added widely to his fame by the conquest of the two best players with whom he has yet contended – Messrs Löwenthal and Boden ... Against Mr Bird, [Rev. Owen], Mr Barnes, Mr Lowe, and other well-known members of the chess circles of London, he has been still more successful, in most cases having won every game played.” (Morphy’s encounters with all these players had taken place in June, July, and August.)
Still, it has to be admitted that some of what Edge said was inaccurate. During July and August, Staunton had written things like “[Morphy’s opponent] ought to have won without much difficulty”, but this sort of comment was not “invariably” Staunton’s verdict. As I’ve mentioned before, there was a certain general tendency towards over-statement in those days, and I doubt that Edge felt any need to be perfectly precise. At the time he wrote, Staunton’s comments would have still been fresh in people’s minds and probably many had saved them.
There remains the question of whether or not there really was any bias in Staunton’s commentary during July and August. Take a look at a sample Morphy game and see what you think. On 31 July 1858, Staunton’s column presented this game between Morphy (with the first move) and Löwenthal (#4 in their match) 1 e4 e5 2 f4 Bc5 3 Nf3 d6 4 c3 Bg4 5 Be2 Bxf3 6 Bxf3 Nc6 7 b4 Bb6 8 b5 Nce7 9 d4 ef 10 Bxf4 Ng6 11 Be3 Nf6 12 Nd2 O-O 13 O-O h6 14 a4 c6 15 Qe2 Re8 16 Qd3 d5
Here, Staunton made his first substantive comment: “Nothing could have been more obliging to [Morphy] than [Löwenthal’s 16th move], which enables [Morphy] at once to advance his king pawn, and open an irresistible bombardment upon the adverse king’s defence.” Now, almost everyone agrees that 16...d5 left Löwenthal with a bad position, but it seems to me that an objective author would have said something about the position before 16...d5. Max Lange (a German player and writer of the day) thought it was worth noting that by Morphy’s tenth move, he already had “a very good attack”. The modern author and grandmaster Chris Ward commented that even before 16...d5, Morphy had “a comfortable space advantage and much more besides”. (Notice, by the way, that Staunton’s comment is another example of that habitual over-statement that seems to have been regarded as acceptable back then. 16...Re5 would surely have been somewhat more obliging to Morphy than 16...d5.) Anyway, the game continued 17 e5 Nd7 18 Bh5 Re6 19 a5
Now we have an example of Staunton commendation, but notice how he used the opportunity to remind readers of some previous not-so-good play by Morphy: “Mr Morphy’s play in the present game is vastly superior to any he has exhibited in the previous three games. If [19 Bxa5], then follows [20 Qf5] and the attack becomes irresistible.”
19...Bc7 20 Rxf7
”Well conceived”, commented Staunton.
20...Kxf7 21 Qf5+ Ke7 22 Bxg6 Qg8 23 Bf2 Nxe5 24 de Rf8 25 Bc5+ Kd8 26 Bxf8 Rxe5 27 Qf2 Qe6 28 b6 ab 29 ab Qxg6 30 bc+ Kxc7 31 Rbl and Löwenthal resigned. So there you have it. Sure, there is some commendation for Morphy, but the overall message seems to be that the game was obligingly given to Morphy by Löwenthal, and, in perhaps one game out of four, Morphy manages to come up with a “well conceived” move or two.
Edge attackers like to say that Morphy really did not have any strong objection to Staunton’s behavior, and that the animosity depicted in Edge’s book was really just a reflection of Edge’s misguided grumbling. In this case, we do have some independent indication that Morphy’s view may not have been very far from that of Edge. Sixteen years later, talking about Staunton’s game commentary, Morphy remarked that Staunton “was at times too prone to indulge in personalities”.
After looking at these and other examples of Edge’s supposed dishonesty, my verdict is that Edge was simply human, and like many humans, in an argumentative situation, he might occasionally slip and make an unwise statement. I would think that Mr Whyld would be understanding about that.
Edge’s important anti-Staunton points involve things that appeared in the newspapers of the day or occasions where there were many witnesses. Nobody has produced any examples of anybody disputing any of Edge’s major points at the time they were made. All this “liar” stuff came decades later when Edge was not around to defend himself. Staunton was around during Edge’s attacks, but he never contradicted Edge on the important issues. Staunton’s comments on Edge consisted primarily of insults and quibbles over minor matters – a behavior pattern that I suspect Chess Café readers will recognize. Louis Blair [7-25-00]
212-30 This topic has taken a curious turn. It began, 212-1, with a straightforward question to which I gave a straightforward answer (212-2). By 212-14 I had become the subject of personal attacks and sarcasm some clearly motivated by malice. I made a fuller explanation, perhaps with a touch of irritation, 212-15. I was then subjected to more abuse, but did reply again, 212-20, partly to give specific information that might help those who are interested in facts rather than bear baiting. At the time I said to the editor that I would contribute no more on the subject, which by now had spread vastly beyond its original span. I am aware that silence is often taken by casual readers to imply defeat, but I have far too much to do with what is left of my life than worry about such opinions. Since then it has become an all-out war against me, and it is abundantly clear that some contributors are not at all concerned with establishing facts. Note, for example, the total lack of interest in seeing the dozen letters from Edge to Fiske that are still unpublished.
Let me begin with Louis Blair. He wrote to me first early in 1989 when he was a student at Carnegie-Mellon University. He was not in the habit of dating his letters so I cannot say exactly when, but it was in May. I replied and we had a normal exchange of letters until the episode mentioned at the end of 212-17. Read the last paragraph. Note the sentence, “Nobody should get the impression that the correspondence was something that I [Blair] wanted”. Also “To my surprise Mr Whyld continued to send me arguments”. Unfortunately for Mr Blair, I have retained the correspondence and can tell readers what really happened.
Mr Blair did indeed send to me a copy of his submission to Chess Notes, accompanied by an undated five-page letter. I sent him a copy of my response 21 September 1989, accompanied by a single-page letter in which I said, “I am sorry to see you describe your item as ‘your opening comments’ because I would find it quite difficult to make time for more discussion”. His response was an undated letter accompanied by a nine-page account of how he saw the matter. I replied, 8 October, 1-page, saying “I regret that I have no time for further debate, and have told Winter as much”. I added, “It seems to me that you have hardly scratched the surface of this topic but I hope you will persist” and I urged him to use “neutral language while presenting the evidence, even if you apply colouring to your analysis”. His response was a 15-page letter, 13 October, introducing for the first time an unpleasant tone. I replied, 1-page, on 23 October: “I was not at all pleased to receive your letter. I am desperately, desperately [both underlined] short of time. There is a need for a new biography of Morphy, and I thought that you had the ability and temperament to undertake it, if encouraged. Perhaps I was wrong. I asked for something like ‘clear & concise questions’ and instead had from you thousand upon thousand words going over the same ground. From many of your remarks, such as what you consider to be new in Lawson’s book, it is clear that you do not yet have the knowledge to debate at any depth, but I hope you will persist. Of course, that doesn’t prevent you from forming opinions, and expressing them, about what you know so far. There are (at least) two kinds of questions. What happened? What does it signify? The second kind rarely lends itself to unique answers, but that is the area of much of your quest.
Of course, it is interesting to debate such points, but seldom conclusive. However, you are misguided if you think that such questions have not been answered just because you do not like the answer. Almost all of your 26 objections are refuted by material available to you.” I concluded, “Please do not write again during the next 18 months unless you can confine yourself to one sheet of paper.” His undated response was 20 pages long. I sent him a single-page note, 7 November, hand-written on a train. After telling him that I had received but not looked at his epistle I added, “there are many areas of life where the gun-slinger instinct is valuable but history is not one. You not only have to ask questions before you shoot, but you need to consider the answer at length before you decide where to aim. It is useless just noting facts that agree with a pre-formed conclusion and discarding others. I hope you continue your studies and can do so with a more open mind than you have shown so far.” A 4-page letter from Blair, dated 6 November, crossed in the post with mine, and his next letter, 2 pages, was dated 15 November. On Christmas Day I found time to read the letters and respond, 3 pages. “My purpose in writing to you earlier was to encourage you to study Morphy objectively. I was not trying to ‘recruit’ you to my point of view, but to persuade you to keep an open mind. It is no encouragement when you respond with sarcasm about a typing error in a letter I have no time to read before posting, and on a page where you write “Moorphy”! Nor when you make fun of Hooper’s handwriting. He is old and suffers from an incurable ailment which makes writing or typing difficult.” I also objected to him calling me ‘dishonourable’ in Chess Notes. Blair replied 26 February 1990, 21 pages. In it he said, “I never once used the word ‘dishonorable’ or anything remotely equivalent to it in connection with you.” My final letter to him, 1 page, 6 March 1990 pointed him to Chess Notes page 127 where he referred to “K.W.’s dishonorable judgment”. I asked him, “Do you really think that the letter ‘u’ makes it not ‘remotely equivalent’? Or that my judgment can be dishonourable while I am not?”
Bulletin Board readers are invited once again to see what Blair wrote in 212-17. Who is forcing unwanted mail upon whom? The attacks on my integrity, which he has often repeated since in varied forms, justify my not having any dealings with him. Only rarely do I respond to his taunts. His inability to record even his own activities correctly, is sufficient reason in itself for my not wasting time by treating him as a serious writer on chess history. Chess history begins where Blair leaves off.
I had never heard of Douglas Wickersham until 212-8, and obviously he does not know me. He has a totally false picture of me, and I cannot imagine why he thinks that an unwarranted, ill-mannered and juvenile attack will encourage me to elucidate further what should be clear to him already. For the moment I give him the benefit of the doubt, and suppose that he has fallen in with bad company. Mr Wickersham, I will explain it yet again, in language so simple that a child can comprehend. Today, if we read that Bill is Mary’s lover we would understand this to mean that he had a physical sexual relationship with her. At the time that Edge’s letter was written no such meaning would be attached to the phrase. This is not an opinion, or an assertion. It is a fact. Look in any nineteenth- or early twentieth-century dictionary. Ask any lexicologist. Even today it is not easy to find a dictionary definition of “lover” in which a physical relationship is implicit. D.W. seems to believe, genuinely, that he has proved this wrong. What he has done is to make his own definition and then pick holes in that. Since it is there for all to see, I do not believe that he was trying to deceive, so I will explain, and hope that I am speaking plainly enough for him. I said in 212-2 that in Edge’s time “lover” simply meant an admirer. D.W. uses his own phrasing and says that I claimed it meant an admirer and nothing more. This is not at all the same thing as saying it meant nothing more than admirer. Am I going too fast for you? It can be explained in terms of Boolean algebra, but perhaps that is too frightening, so let’s be elementary. If I say that the phrase “Bill is a student of English Grammar” means nothing more than that he studies English Grammar, it is not the same as saying that he studies English Grammar and nothing more. You do not prove the statement wrong by showing that he also studies English Literature.
The statement does not say anything at all about what else Bill does. OK so far? To say, mid nineteenth-century, that Bill was Mary’s lover, did not imply that he had a physical relationship, but it did not mean that he could not, or that if he did he ceased to be a lover. Of course often the relationship developed carnally, but that was not implicit. Readers in 1928 would not take it for granted that Lady Chatterley’s lover copulated with her. D.W.’s “demonstration”, 212-22 (4) is flawed.
There is a more important element to this definition. When I said that the modern usage became so only a century after Edge’s letter, I did not mean that it happened in March 1959, and D.W. does not make an issue of that. Exactly when it happened I cannot say, but my feeling is that it was after 1940. I am one of an army of consultants for the Oxford English Dictionary, and my colleagues there would appreciate any documented and dated references to the word “lover” where a physical element is, of necessity, part of the definition. It does not need saying that the word can be used in a context that shapes its meaning, but I speak of what is within the word itself.
Edward Winter is an entirely different matter, and I doubt if he is proud of his allies. He is a highly intelligent and hard-working writer who expresses himself clearly. We exchanged correspondence for many years. Unlike in the one-sided dealings with Blair, we both, I believe, benefited form [from] these exchanges. He asked me to collaborate with him on his first major success, and after we had begun he twice asked me to extend my part. I have never ceased to pay tribute to his skill in bringing together that book. It is noteworthy that Mr Winter is not on speaking terms with its surviving writers. Our views on many, perhaps most, chess matters are quite similar, but in a few areas they are substantially different. We did indeed have a marked difference on one topic, and because of this Mr Winter threatened to tell the chess world what he knew about me. I am still waiting eagerly to know what that is. My life has no secrets. I do not live behind closed doors, nor fear to be seen at chess events.
Now look at 212-28. What was in CHESS November 1998 was not an interview, but a journalist’s account after having spent some time with me. No notes were taken at the time, or recordings made, but I do not think I was misrepresented. As Winter has not been kind enough to tell me what I said about him that was untrue, perhaps he will do so now (I do not see New in Chess). CHESS requested that the same journalist visit him and make a similar account, but he refused. Mr Winter continues “I was simply one of a number of chess writers who, on various grounds, had become disillusioned with Mr Whyld”. Well, I wouldn’t want anyone to have any illusions about me, but who are these others? I do not know a single one, except by extending the definition to include Louis Blair, who was hardly launched then, and who I had begged to stop writing to me. I do know that every week I have requests from writers, and I would sooner spend my time doing what I can to help them than dealing with a smear campaign that has reached the character assassination level. Can Winter give examples of my “unpleasantly misinterpreting, distorting, or otherwise mangling” what he has said. Can any reader find, anywhere, an example, of an attack by me on him that comes anywhere near to his slurs? When Hooper was dying, and I had been given his chess material, I offered to send to Winter, free of charge, a large box of material about Capablanca, including much unique material such as a tape recording of an interview by Hooper of Capa’s sister. I did this because I regard Winter as our leading expert on the Cuban’s life, and hoped that the material would be used. I even arranged so that he could indicate his willingness to accept the gift without having to contact me. I didn’t expect gratitude, but I thought he might have had the decency to respond in some way. Silence. Readers of the Bulletin Board can see Mr Winter’s conduct for themselves.
Finally, may I ask readers of BB why I should spend my time with questions posed by those who are too lazy to find out for themselves answers that are in the public domain, and who appear not to be interested in the truth anyway? Ken Whyld [7-26-00]
212-31 This is way off track. What are Mr Whyld’s non-responsive, defensive comments doing in the Morphy & Edge thread? Robert Scott [7-27-00]
212-32 Gentlemen, Gentlemen! To quote an American who celebrated his 15 minutes of fame in the not too distant past, “Can’t we all just get along?”
Please, let Mr Morphy’s spirit rest in peace and quiet!
After having read from the beginning of this section right down to the end (yes, I managed to stay awake through the whole, eek!) – where I decided I’d had ENOUGH – ahem – as I was saying, right down to the end! It seems to me that this is nothing more than one of those much-celebrated pissing matches where the judges (that is, the sidelined audience) determine who has pissed the farthest! One of those peculiarly masculine occupations that I recall quite fondly from my high school days ...
Knowing full well that I may take several pot shots for doing this post (should it be posted), I propose that both sides of this controversy have raised valid points and have scored points against each other. Oh goody! And so what? Gentlemen, really now! To what purpose? It doesn’t make a whit of difference to me – or to most of the readers here, I’d wager – whether Paul Morphy, that great chess genius, was a whussy or not! The chess is the point, not sexual orientation!
Darlings! You should consider settling this controversy the way women settle such matters. Observe:
Mabel: Paul Morphy was a whussy! Caroline, Janice, and Barbara: No! Mabel: Yes, really! Caroline, Janice and Barbara: NO! Mabel: Well, he peed funny! And I’ll have you know I’ve read a letter from so and so to so and so that says so! Caroline: Well, that may just mean he needed some surgery to unbend his – YOU KNOW!!! Mabel: (Clueless...) Janice: Mabel, you’re not a virgin, you’ve been married for 35 years and have 3 children and 242 grandchildren. You should know about these things! Mabel: (Clueless ...) Barbara: (in one last mighty effort) We’ve got the bill here, time to figure it out! Mabel: OH! Well! Why didn’t you say so?
Caroline, Janice and Barbara Refrain from further continent ... and then all proceed to argue about how to split the bill for lunch four ways. Plus tip. Take my word for it, darlings, we femmes ALWAYS come up with exactly the right percentage to split the bill and tip JUST SO ...
Of course I don’t expect most of you will understand, but hope springs eternal!
Now why can’t all the wit, vim, vigor and absolutely deliciously masculine (yum!) energy I’ve seen engaged in these last umpteen posts be directed at a topic such as the legitimacy of FIDE??? Or whether Alexei Shirov should have been the player-elect for the upcoming so-called “Brain-Games” (an oxymoron if ever I read one) Championship? Janet Newton [7-27-00]
212-33 Once again Mr Whyld writes to us without giving any justification for his assertion that “it was Edge who was responsible for Morphy defaulting at the tournament at Birmingham, where Staunton went expecting to meet him”.
212-30 does not give any justification for the assertions that “the organizers [of the Birmingham tournament] put back the date to be sure that [Morphy] would have arrived in time”, and that “the date was chosen specifically for” Morphy.
212-30 does not give any justification for the assertion that “at the date of the [Edge] letter [(25 March 1859)], Edge was denied all access to Morphy”.
The first one is particularly important. Edge-attackers have been speculating about this for years. When Hooper and Whyld talked about Edge’s influence in the first edition of the Companion, the phrasing that they used was, “Edge’s influence must be suspected”. In the book recommended by Edward Winter, The Kings of Chess by William Hartston, it says, “Morphy ... let it be known that he would not be playing in the tournament. His advisors (notably the ubiquitous Frederick Edge) appear to have convinced him ...” Notice that word “appears”! To Hartston it is a speculation. Somehow, in Mr Whyld’s mind, speculation has become fact. How? Alas, he seems determined to keep it a secret. If Mr Whyld has a genuine desire to “help those who are interested in facts”, this would be a golden opportunity. It would also be a simple direct way to demonstrate that “Chess history begins where Blair leaves off”.
Curiously, Mr Whyld justifies “not ... treating” me “as a serious writer on chess history” without identifying any of my supposedly misguided historical ideas and “goalpost-shifting ways”. Instead he considers it worth his time and ours to delve into our correspondence. I hope people will forgive me for going on about a subject of such limited interest, but since this is the subject that Mr Whyld has chosen for his attack, I can only defend myself by responding on this subject.
In 212-15, Mr Whyld wrote, “I gave much time I could ill-afford to a lengthy but fruitless correspondence with Mr Blair”.
In 212-17, I replied, “Nobody should get the impression that the correspondence was something that I wanted. In 1989, Edward Winter suggested that Mr Whyld and I submit our conflicting views on various issues to the last issue of Chess Notes. There was a deadline, and, in addition to sending my arguments to Edward Winter, out of a sense of fairness to Mr Whyld, I sent copies directly to him so that he would have the maximum opportunity to respond before the deadline. The deadline came and went, and I thought that there would be an end of the matter. To my surprise, Mr Whyld continued to send me arguments. Since he was about as willing then as he is now to give sources for some of his claims, I saw little point to continue the discussion. Nevertheless, I did not want him to have the impression that I found his arguments unanswerable, so I did my best to point out what I thought were the flaws in his thinking. Eventually, the letters stopped, and I am sure that it was a relief for both of us.”
Now Mr Whyld tells us that he “had begged” me “to stop writing to” him. I can say categorically that I never received any letter from Mr Whyld asking me not to write to him. From Mr Whyld’s description, one might easily get the impression that he hinted that he did not want me to write to him, but appearances can be deceiving. Let’s go through this one step at a time.
Mr Whyld writes, “Mr Blair did indeed send to me a copy of his submission to Chess Notes, accompanied by an undated 5-page letter. I sent him a copy of my response 21 September 1989, accompanied by a single-page letter in which I said, ‘I am sorry to see you describe your item as “your opening comments” because I would find it quite difficult to make time for more discussion’.”
Here it should be mentioned that Mr Whyld’s response (submitted for publication in Chess Notes) said in part, “There [is a] special [problem] that [needs] airing in connection with this Morphy discussion. ... Morphy ... has been idolized. Unfortunately logic and idolatry do not go hand in hand. ... This special problem is illustrated well by [one of] Blair’s [arguments]. ... When hero-worship takes over common sense seems to fly out of the window and the eyes mist over ... [Mr Blair’s view] illustrates well the special problem.”
I had no doubt that Mr Whyld would have liked the public debate to stop after his public insult, but this was clearly a ridiculous thing to expect. I, of course, sent to Chess Notes a response to Mr Whyld’s insulting submission.
Mr Whyld writes, “[Blair’s] response was an undated letter accompanied by a 9-page account of how he saw the matter”. The 9-page account was a copy of what I had sent to Chess Notes. As I mentioned in 212-17, in addition to sending my arguments to Edward Winter, out of a sense of fairness to Mr Whyld, I sent copies directly to him so that he would have the maximum opportunity to respond if he wanted. I assumed that Mr Whyld would continue to want such advance notice of my comments in Chess Notes. If I was wrong in that assumption, it seems to me that it would have been a simple matter for Mr Whyld to have let me know. He did not. Mr Whyld writes, “I replied, 8 October, 1-page, saying ‘I regret that I have no time for further debate, and have told Winter as much’.” Mr Whyld fails to mention that the letter contained some 20 lines of further argument on the various points that we had been discussing. I do not know precisely what the legalities are with regard to publicly talking about a private letter, but I will risk telling you that if you saw the number of questions in that letter, you would have a hard time believing that Mr Whyld was begging me to stop writing to him.
An additional complication, at this point, was that the Chess Notes debate was still in progress, and I was not sure whether or not Mr Whyld had sent or was going to send his additional 20 lines of argument for publication in Chess Notes.
Mr Whyld writes, “[Blair’s] response was a 15-page letter, 13 October, introducing for the first time an unpleasant tone”. It’s amusing to see how Mr Whyld’s version of events has me as the one who introduced the “unpleasant tone”. Evidently, to Mr Whyld, public talk of “hero-worship” taking “over common sense” doesn’t count. Anyway, as I said in 212-17, I did indeed try to point out what I thought were the flaws in his arguments. If Mr Whyld’s comments were going to be part of the debate, it seemed only fair to give him as much advance warning as possible about what my response would be. Again, Mr Whyld had not indicated that he had any objection to this practice.
Mr Whyld writes, “I replied, 1-page, on 23 October, ‘I was not at all pleased to receive your letter. I am desperately, desperately [both underlined] short of time. ... Please do not write again during the next 18 months unless you can confine yourself to one sheet of paper.” Here again, Mr Whyld’s description of his letter skips over about 20 lines of arguments and questions that would make it hard for anyone to believe that he realistically expected me to have no response at all. However, another point that I suspect Mr Whyld has never been aware of is that his 23 October letter was delayed in the mail.
Mr Whyld writes, “[Blair’s] undated response was 20 pages long”. This is probably an honest mistake on Mr Whyld’s part. What he is talking about here was not a response to his 23 October letter at all. G.H. Diggle had joined the Chess Notes debate. I had responses to Diggle’s comments as well, and Mr Whyld was mentioned. I was simply continuing my practice of giving Mr Whyld advance notice of what was going to appear in Chess Notes – a practice which, as far as I knew at that time, continued to meet with Mr Whyld’s approval.
Mr Whyld writes, “I sent him a single-page note, 7 November, hand-written on a train”. Again, Mr Whyld’s description of the letter skips over the part that would leave you with grave doubts about the notion that Mr Whyld did not want me to send him letters.
Mr Whyld writes, “A 4-page letter from Blair, dated 6 November, crossed in the post with mine”. I believe that this was more material giving Mr Whyld advance notice about what was coming up in my debate with Diggle. By the way, the page counts that Mr Whyld gives are very misleading. Much of what I sent him was handwritten and my words, when typed took up only about half as much space.
Mr Whyld writes, “[Blair’s] next letter, 2 pages, was dated 15 November”. It was only at this point that I read the one-sheet instruction in the 23 October letter and undertook to answer the questions and arguments that had appeared in the 23 October and 7 November letters. I began, “Your 23 October letter said that you did not want a response longer than a page. Your 7 November letter said nothing on this subject. I am assuming that you will grant me a page for each of these letters and have no objection if I combine the two pages into one letter. If I am wrong, there is nothing to prevent you from throwing out the second page.” As I mentioned in 212-17, I was surprised to receive arguments from Mr Whyld that were not part of the public debate, and I saw little point to continue the discussion. Nevertheless, I did not want him to have the impression that I found his arguments unanswerable.
Mr Whyld writes, “On Christmas Day I [responded], 3 pages. ‘... you respond with sarcasm about a typing error ... you make fun of Hooper’s handwriting ...’” Mr Whyld doesn’t mention that he also told me of his intention to send these accusations to others. Somewhat shocked, I no longer felt any obligation to conform to his page count limitations. If Mr Whyld was going to send attacks on my character to others, I would respond in full.
Mr Whyld writes, “Blair replied 26 February 1990, 21 pages.” The 21 pages were primarily for those who might have been misled by what Mr Whyld sent to others. As a courtesy that he did not really deserve, I put the comments in the form of a letter to Mr Whyld and supplied him with a copy as well.
In sum, as I described in 212-17, during this period, what I sent to Mr Whyld was either advance notice of what I was going to say about him in Chess Notes, or private responses to the private arguments that he sent to me. He never specifically said that he wanted me to discontinue either practice. When I became aware of his page limitation request, I tried to approximately conform to it briefly, but I abandoned it when I got word that Mr Whyld was sending his attacks on me to others.
If Mr Whyld had wanted the correspondence to stop, he had two easy ways to do it. (1) Clearly say that he wanted no more mail. (This was the approach used by David Hooper. I immediately stopped sending him letters.) (2) Stop sending me arguments. (This was the approach that Mr Whyld eventually did use, and again I immediately stopped sending letters.)
What Mr Whyld could not stop was the public debate about his opinions on Edge-Morphy-Staunton. I am sorry that that debate was inconvenient for Mr Whyld. At the time I started, I did not know that it was a problem for him. However, it seems to me that as a person who has publicly expressed controversial views and publicly ridiculed opposing views, he has to accept that he will be publicly criticized and that criticism may not always come at times that are convenient for him.
Other matters: (1) My supposed sarcasm about a typing error: I was not sarcastic at all. My letter contained reproductions of portions of Mr Whyld’s letter, marked with the symbol “>”, and no comments of my own appeared in the sections marked with this symbol. In the separate sections of my letter where I responded to what Mr Whyld said, I said absolutely nothing about Mr Whyld’s typing errors. Mr Whyld received no more sarcasm from me than he would get from a photocopying machine.
(2) My supposed making fun of Mr Hooper’s handwriting: Here is exactly what I wrote to Mr Hooper on the subject: “I had a great deal of difficulty reading your letter. I have enclosed a copy of what I think you wrote. Could you help me out with the passages that I could not read?” With this request, I included a photocopy of his two-page letter, with perhaps 15 words circled. Mr Hooper ignored my request and sent me a postcard containing little more than insults. Disappointed, I commented in my response, “I was able to read your post card. However, I am still mystified by certain passages in your letter of 17 October, as indicated in your previous letter. Nevertheless, I guess I was able to get the gist of what you were saying.” (This response contained a small mistake. I had meant to say “as indicated in my previous letter”.) I mentioned the problem to Mr Whyld in a brief hand-written comment added to one of my letters. (As best I can remember, I wrote, “Your hand-writing is better than David Hooper’s.”) I did this for two reasons (1) I thought that Mr Whyld might volunteer to help me understand what Mr Hooper had written. (2) I thought that, as a friend of Mr Hooper, Mr Whyld might have encouraged him tactfully to print in letters to others even if he wrote no more letters to me. Absolutely none of this was intended to make fun of David Hooper. I had a desire to know what he wrote. That is all. At the time, I had no knowledge of Hooper’s illness.
(3) My supposed “dishonorable” accusation: Mr Whyld wrote, “We believe we have ... revealed [Edge] as being ... dishonourable”. I responded, “it is far from clear what specific actions of Edge justify K.W.’s dishonorable judgment”. By this, I, of course, meant, “it is far from clear what specific actions of Edge justify K.W.’s judgment that Edge was dishonorable”. Trying to advocate a different interpretation, Mr Whyld chooses not to mention another passage that I wrote for the same issue of Chess Notes, “I must emphasize that I believe that K.W.’s mistakes have been honest ones and not conscious attempts at deception.” Louis Blair [7-27-00]
212-34 Douglas Wickersham’s muddling what I said, no doubt well-intentioned, has led astray some readers who have looked at his definition rather than my own. I never said that the word “lover” was not related to romantic love. Very obviously it always has been, and that would be the most common use. What I said was that formerly it was not an assertion of physical consummation. Ken Whyld [7-28-00]
212-35 I hope Chess Café readers have enjoyed this thread. Over the past month or so it has become the longest single thread since the Bulletin Board began over three years ago. However, it is clear that matters have strayed far from the original path. Accordingly, only two more comments will be posted in this thread, one from Mr Whyld and one from Mr Winter. After that, the thread will be deemed to have terminated and no more postings for this thread will be considered. Readers should place absolutely no significance in the order chosen (Whyld, then Winter) to end the thread. It is entirely arbitrary and my decision. On behalf of the Chess Café, I extend my thanks to all who have taken part in this lively debate. Hanon Russell [7-28-00]
212-36 Robert Scott’s politeness and brevity put him amongst the minority in this thread, and his questions certainly deserve a response. He asks in 212-23 for specific information, and in 212-31 implies that I should reply to other questions. Here are three reasons for my not doing so. Firstly, I entered this thread solely to respond to one question. Secondly, the whole wider matter was thrashed to exhaustion (mine at any rate) in Chess Notes. Finally, may I draw an analogy? Imagine, Mr Scott, that you are an auto mechanic, and you have a huge amount of work to do for your regular customers. A stranger comes to you and says that you are bad at your job and he is much better. He then tell you that he has car with a seized-up engine, and you must put everything aside, and work unpaid for a week to repair it so that he can insult you further. What would you say? Permit me to make one comment about your question. You ask for “thumping examples” of Edge’s mendacity. I dare say that if we were in conversation we could agree what is meant by “thumping”, but be assured that had I responded I would have been told that my examples were not “thumping” enough. I see only two kinds of lies – those intended mainly to gain, and those intended to spare pain. Another point. I came to see through the Chess Notes exchanges that when Edge told untruths about Staunton’s annotations, he was not lying, because he thought that what he said was correct. It was simply that he did not understand their technical nature. One day somebody will take an interest in the other letters, and see examples of Edge’s dishonesty.
I have mentioned the Chess Notes exchanges. A reviewer of one of Edward Winter’s books derived from Chess Notes regretted that he gave nothing from the Edge-Morphy debate. I don’t know why he didn’t, but I make a guess. One of Winter’s outstanding skills is his ability to bring a jumble of data into logical order, but even he would be challenged to produce two pages (say) of interesting and coherent information from a sprawling mass of repetitive and sometimes aimless debate.
Another reason for bringing the Chess Notes dossier into the arena is Louis Blair. Readers who have seen only this Chess Café thread can see that in no case have I been rude to anyone except in retaliation, but they may feel that I was excessive in Blair’s case. I am quite prepared to believe that he is a good man, and I judge him to be sincere and free from deceit or guile, even if obtuse. However, he plagued my life during a difficult year, and has since continued to drag me into his published articles. Sometimes I have responded, to avoid the “silence is consent” tag, but it has never been my wish. He will probably be around for 50 years after I am dead, and he won’t be able to do it then, so I beg him to think of me as gone, and write accordingly, without provocation. I am not trying to stifle discussion, as he says. Far from it. But I do not want to be part of it. If I may offer him parting advice, “Louis, write ten times shorter; think ten times longer”.
This should have been a brief thread, and perhaps would have been without the Chess Notes legacy. There are really only two questions arising from the quotation in 212-1. Is this a reference to homosexuality? I have always said that it is not. Is it important that it was addressed indirectly to Morphy? I think it is not, and that he would have said much the same to Paul if he could. Donald Montchalin thinks it is crucial, although he cannot say why. Although I don’t agree, I accept that it is a tenable view, and do not dismiss it. And then, suddenly, 212-26. Where did that fatuous and infantile item come from? Count Donald, I am not “Lord” or anything like it, even if you do beseech me to lighten your darkness. Chess players in every continent of the world know me personally, and would probably agree that I am generally cheerful, good tempered and tolerant. But that does not mean that if a jackass kicks me he can expect a pat on the head and a lump of sugar. Abuse seldom changes opinions.
It has been a joy to me in recent years to see the large number of people, many in USA, undertaking serious and skilful chess research into a wide range of topics. I am in touch with many of them, and in no case has there been, nor would you expect there to be, anything remotely like this kind of ill-mannered behaviour. Ken Whyld [7-30-00]
212-37 From personal e-mail messages I know that many readers have found this “Morphy-Edge” thread a startling eye-opener, although not concerning either Morphy or Edge. They have been struck by three things: the sheer quantity of items criticizing Mr K. Whyld, the performance of the aforesaid individual, and the absence of any support for him from a single reader.
Without more ado, I propose a clear-cut test-case regarding Mr Whyld’s veracity. In 212-28 I wrote that in the late 1980s “I was simply one of a number of chess writers who, on various grounds, had become disillusioned with Mr Whyld”. In 212-30 he denied this vehemently (“... who are these others? I do not know a single one”). How interesting.
My “Frederick Edge – Background Facts and Quotations” article twice referred to a public letter dated 17 November 1989 from Frank Skoff (a former President of the USCF) to me, as editor of Chess Notes, with a copy sent to Mr Whyld. As the following small sample shows, Mr Skoff repeatedly expressed his disillusionment with Mr Whyld:
“He thinks calling people names (including myself) somehow is proof by itself.”
“As usual K.W. cites no sources of evidence.”
“All I get is repeated conjectures ..., pejorative rhetoric, and personal attacks on myself.”
“It is astonishing how little value K.W. places on truth: He prefers its suppression at any cost. Why?”
“Like so many of his dogmatic and unsubstantiated utterances, it should be thrown into the waste basket until he can come up with the required proof.”
“Absolutely untrue, and the last sentence [by K.W.] is a damnable lie and an unwarranted attack upon my integrity ...”
“That ‘ill-judged’ phrase is K.W.’s lazy, non-documented, non-researched, grossly deceitful way of avoiding going over my lengthy analysis ...”
Q.E.D. End of test-case.
But before this thread finishes, with readers concluding that Mr Whyld has deservedly been routed, it is worth pondering whether, in fact, a defence of sorts might be constructed for him. Since nobody else has dared try, I shall see what I can do myself.
In 212-30 Mr Whyld stayed commendably sedate as he described what he had undergone by participating in this Bulletin Board debate: “personal attacks and sarcasm some clearly motivated by malice”, “bear baiting”, “all-out war against me”, “unwarranted, ill-mannered and juvenile attack”, “smear campaign” and “character assassination”. True enough, many readers had taken a palpable dislike to both the content (or lack thereof) and the tone of his sporadic postings, regarding them as a grating medley of dogmatism, obtuseness, distortion and aggression. But before we automatically accept those first, easy impressions, here is an alternative explanation: Mr Whyld is not remotely dishonest or dishonourable but merely forgets things. I implore readers to suspend their reservations and/or disbelief while we scrutinize the supporting evidence.
In 212-7 Donald Montchalin wrote: “Could Mr Whyld please state clearly for us what his source is, i.e. what was his source/reason for saying in 1982 that Edge had claimed to be Morphy’s lover?” The question cropped up a number of times, but Mr Whyld’s failure to offer a reply of any kind (even an obtuse one) is not necessarily due to any inability, embarrassment or darker motive. Who can discount the possibility that the whole business went clean out of his mind each time?
Mr Whyld was asked more than once why he had created the false impression, both in the Oxford Companion to Chess and at the Bulletin Board, that Edge’s letter was written to Morphy, rather than Fiske. Again, why jump to the conclusion that there was a scrap of sneakiness involved? It was perfectly natural for Mr Whyld’s memory to miss a cog here, given that for him, if no-one else, it is a matter devoid of significance. After all, even though the “lover” reference helped focus attention on the Morphy entry in the 1984 Companion, Mr Whyld has now reassured us (212-15) that “it tells us almost nothing about Morphy”.
Although a few correspondents tried to bully him into giving his source for the statement (in 212-2) that Edge had said that “future generations would talk not of Morphy’s Edge, but Edge’s Morphy”, Mr Whyld had his head turned the other way. Why should we precipitately conclude from his taciturnity that he is unable to specify the source? Since sources are, for Mr Whyld, of scant importance anyway (he prefers a declaratory approach to chess history), why hassle him when such a trifling matter may just have slipped his mind?
The present thread has nominally been about Morphy and Edge, but it soon became a test of Mr Whyld’s credibility, and it was he who made sure of that. More or less every statement in his original posting (212-2) was disputed or refuted by readers. A fortnight later (212-15) he had an insightful theory as to why: “Clearly my note (212-2) was too brief for some readers.” Eventually (212-20) he elucidated that some readers were “thick-skulled” for questioning what he had, at various times, claimed that “lover” might or might not mean. “Apparently my comments were too sophisticated for Mr Wickersham”, he wrote, taking it for granted that the rest of us had found them perfectly intelligible.
In 212-22 Mr Wickersham tried again, setting out his understanding of the situation and concluding: “If Mr Whyld really disagrees with anything in the above, I challenge him to specify exactly what, in plain language.” Such a challenge might be regarded as optimistic on two fronts, but Mr Wickersham’s presentation remained undisputed by anybody for 12 days until Mr Whyld returned to the fray in 212-30. He tried to be the quintessence of pedagogical philanthropy and addressed Mr Wickersham once more, without a trace of condescension: “I will explain it yet again, in language so simple that a child can comprehend.” “Am I going too fast for you?” “OK so far?” And thus he bestowed upon a crushed Mr Wickersham a lucidly logical lexicographical lover lesson: a 50-line explanation of his original two sentences, sentences which, he reassured us in any case, had been “straightforward”. In 212-34 Mr Whyld resurfaced with further unsolicited illumination of what he had and had not been meaning to say in that straightforward pair of sentences from 32 postings previously. As for Mr Wickersham, he had gone, without even submitting a brief note of thanks for Mr Whyld’s gracious master-class.
In 212-15 Mr Whyld claimed credit for establishing that Edge had not been dutiful, trusty and faithful (this may have been a momentary black-out, since it disregarded the earlier researches of Goulding Brown, Coles and Diggle) and for having demonstrated Edge to be an active participant in chess politics (a second apparent oversight, given that the selfsame point had been clearly made by Edge himself in his Morphy book nearly a century and a half ago). The requisite corrections were given by Donald Montchalin in 212-19, but let nobody dash to assume that Mr Whyld necessarily accepts correction here or anywhere else. His silence may not be as damning as it appears. Can we safely discard the possibility that he intended to give chapter and verse for his claims, in his usual painstaking way, but that, facing requests for substantiation of so many of his statements, he simply never got round to it? Or perhaps he genuinely wanted to joust with Mr Montchalin but forgot to, or could not remember what he would have said if he had not forgotten. Once the dim memory theory is admitted, it is possible to make sense of almost anything that Mr Whyld has written.
He has been under sustained fire in this debate from “thick-skulled” readers who have declined to take his word on trust and have nagged him for documentary evidence instead of falling into line with his belief that his own statements, unlike those of Edge, do not require independent corroboration. (Mr Whyld pronounced that grand conclusion on Edge in 212-15, out of the blue, apparently forgetting to present any logical or factual reasoning.) In 212-26 Mr Montchalin reacted irreverently to the absence of replies on a range of issues, and in mild retaliation Mr Whyld (212-36) called the item “fatuous and infantile” and the questioner a “jackass”. Even less surprisingly, he decided to deny his tormentor the pleasure of any answers. Crushed, Mr Montchalin has not been back to ask Mr Whyld anything else, but it is doubtful whether he will ever forget his experience at the Bulletin Board.
Let’s contrast that with Mr Whyld’s comportment when a questioner is courteous. In 212-23 Robert Scott challenged him to substantiate his claims that Edge was “a proven liar” and that “the evidence against him is conclusive”. Mr Whyld eventually responded in 212-36. He applauded Mr Scott’s “politeness and brevity” (which is fair enough, those being the manifest hallmarks of Mr Whyld’s own submissions) and added that “his questions certainly deserve a response”. Having thus given Mr Scott a pat on the head and a lump of sugar, Mr Whyld duly provided his response, thoughtfully structured with a “firstly”, “secondly” and “finally”. However, the response was only a response about why there would be no response.
Part of Mr Whyld’s response as to why he would not respond to requests that he substantiate his earlier claims that Edge was “a proven liar” and that “the evidence against him is conclusive” was truly momentous. He said that if he were to give examples of Edge’s lies, other people would reply that they were not lies. (Then we would have a debate, and where would that leave us?) But even an ally of Mr Whyld’s may fear for him here. Imagine that I were to call Mr Whyld a proven liar. (I stress the word “imagine” – after all, do not forget that I am trying hard to defend him.) So, I call Mr Whyld a proven liar. He responds by demanding that I either substantiate or withdraw the remark. I seek refuge in silence. He presses me. Still silence from me. He challenges me again. So then I deploy my knock-out argument. I calmly declare that I am not going to give examples of his lies, because, if I did, that would merely offer him and other people the opportunity to claim that they were not lies at all. Brilliant. I am home and dry.
Mr Whyld’s lengthy exchanges with Mr Blair are also an area in which I should like to put in a word or two in his defence. In 212-27 a reader stated that Mr Whyld had made unjustified attacks on Mr Blair in CHESS and that Mr Whyld had come across badly in that magazine’s Morphy-Staunton discussion. But Mr Whyld’s silence does not necessarily imply any acceptance by him that Mr Blair has, on any issues at all, run rings around him in CHESS or at the Bulletin Board. It is also worth recalling that in 212-21 Mr Blair asked Mr Whyld to substantiate his “shifting the goalposts” charge and even invited Mr Whyld to point out any errors that he, Mr Blair, had refused to acknowledge. Mr Whyld, the victim here of either forgetfulness or ensnarement, was mute. But then in 212-30 (i.e. the item in which he described the trauma of participating in the Bulletin Board in view of the smear campaign and the character assassination) he bounded back – not, of course, with any list of errors committed by Mr Blair but with a broad sweep, or swipe: “Chess history begins where Blair leaves off.”
Another characteristic put-down of Mr Blair came in 212-36, again free of any patronizing tone and based solely on a desire to be nice and helpful: “If I may offer him parting advice, ‘Louis, write ten times shorter; think ten times longer’.” Yet it is worth recalling that when the late G.H. Diggle concluded his contribution to the Chess Notes debate on Morphy-Edge-Staunton he did so by announcing his intention to “hand over the torch of further research to the younger generation, so ably represented by Mr Blair”. Does anyone doubt that Mr Whyld himself would, in all fairness, have quoted those words here if he had remembered them?
For my own part, I must admit to difficulty in understanding how any amount of amnesia could explain Mr Whyld’s errant references to me in 212-30. After all, at no stage – before, during or since – in this Morphy-Edge thread has Mr Whyld disputed anything I have written about Morphy or Edge. Momentarily straying yet again from his declared intention of dealing only with the questions raised in 212-1, Mr Whyld accused me, apropos of nothing whatsoever, of ignoring his offer to send me “free of charge, a large box of material about Capablanca”. A cynic might see that as a self-evident decoy and smokescreen, but let’s look at things from Mr Whyld’s perspective. Since I had pointed out in 212-28 the similarity between his conduct at the Bulletin Board and how he treated me, and others, a decade ago, he naturally felt obliged to lash out at me with something, however extraneous or tasteless, that offered a sporting chance of making him look good and me bad or allowing him to change the subject. But in his haste he may have forgotten that – from my point of view, if not his – there was an obvious issue of principle involved. After I broke off all contact with him, about a decade ago, he nonetheless pestered me – perhaps through forgetfulness – with several letters, and I naturally ignored them all. It would hardly have been appropriate for me to abandon that principle in one specific instance, i.e. just so that I could enrich my archives with a box of Capablanca material free of charge. Those are the facts, but who will say that Mr Whyld had a single devious thought in his head when he pitched Capablanca into the Morphy-Edge thread? Forgetfulness may have played a role here too, although it is, admittedly, hard to see how.
Also in 212-30 Mr Whyld – forgetfully or otherwise – gave us this: “As Winter has not been kind enough to tell me what I said about him that was untrue ...”. I did tell him – publicly – on page 44 of the December 1998 CHESS, i.e. in the very source that I had only just mentioned in 212-28. In the same sentence of 212-30 Mr Whyld asked to be told what was in New in Chess last year, since he does not see the magazine. In writing that, he presumably forgot that a few lines later he referred disparagingly to “questions posed by those who are too lazy to find out for themselves answers that are in the public domain, and who appear not to be interested in truth anyway”.
Anyone who is interested in truth would be hard put to deny that in 212-30 Mr Whyld collapsed altogether. He affirmed that (at the end of the 1980s) he and I had “a marked difference on one topic” (emphasis added), but he has omitted to recall that during that period he sent me a stream of untruths, distortions and insults on a whole range of topics, one example being an unforgettable (for me, at least) suggestion that I had given Women in Chess by John Graham an insufficiently hostile review because it came from my own publisher. Can Mr Whyld really have forgotten all this, along with every “untruth”, “falsehood” and “distortion” that he was addressing to Frank Skoff at around the same time? (Needless to say, “untruth”, “falsehood” and “distortion” are Mr Skoff’s words.)
A staunch would-be advocate thus finds himself petering out when it comes to Mr Whyld’s suggestion that he does no more than defend himself or, at most, indulge in justified retaliation, in the face of “slurs”. If only that were true. The final words of his final posting were a complaint about the “ill-mannered behaviour” he has endured at the Bulletin Board. But who has used the terms “thick-skulled” and “jackass”? He likes to cast himself as the victim but is the instigator far more often than he is able either to admit or recollect. (For example, throughout most of the 1990s I managed to ignore him, but in the late 1990s he took the initiative three times to propagate untruths about me, i.e. in his reviews of Chess Explorations and Kings, Commoners and Knaves and in his interview in CHESS.) As regards content too, Mr Whyld’s imaginings are in stark contrast with the public record, which shows watertight, factual criticisms of him but unsubstantiated, spurious criticisms by him. We have all seen here how unpleasantly he reacts (assuming that he reacts at all) when asked merely to specify his source for a given statement, so it is, in a sense, perfectly logical that he should positively flail anybody who dares criticize him (e.g. for not specifying his source for a given statement). And since – Mr Whyld being Mr Whyld – that flailing will inevitably contain preposterous statements, which his adversary will then challenge him to justify, which he will omit to do, probably piling on fresh abuse, also groundless, it is easy to see how the vicious circle he creates can continue ad infinitum.
Despite all that, he portrays himself not as the perpetrator of “character assassination” but as its victim, even in this thread. The confusion in Mr Whyld’s mind may result from the fact that when he attempts character assassination he tends to commit hara-kiri.
An abundance of other examples could easily be added, but the above will certainly suffice. So, is Mr Whyld’s problem forgetfulness or dishonesty? In other words, should we speak of dozens of aberrations or just one huge general one? Readers are invited to decide for themselves. One thing, though, is undeniable: this thread has been a memorable spectacle. Don’t forget it. Edward Winter [8-1-00]’
Afterword: As noted at the start of the present article, all corrections and further discussion points arising from these Bulletin Board posts are given not here but in A Debate on Staunton, Morphy and Edge. The first three are dated 13 December 2020.
Copyright: Edward Winter. All rights reserved.