Lord Russell – Leaders of European Chess — ACM v2 (May 1899)

ACM v2 N11 (May 1899) p464-465
Rhoda A. Bowles


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Here is a detailed interview of Lord Russell, a significant patron of British chess, and of Steinitz during his early years in London. The Steinitz–Anderssen (1866) match:

Leaders of European Chess.

LORD RUSSELL OF KILLOWEN, G. C. M. G.. Lord Chief Justice of England; President of the Metropolitan Chess Club.

By Rhoda A. Bowles.

“High Church and no steeple, dirty streets and proud people.” Thus did the witty Dean Swift epigrammatically describe Newry, the town in Ireland which claims Lord Russell as one of its sons. Whatever reason the people may then have had for proud feelings they may now with” justice ” swell with pride, for Newry lias contributed to the service of the Empire one of the most illustrious and distinguished Irishman of the Victorian era.

Lord Russell was born in 1832, and was educated at Dublin University. He chose the Law as his profession, and after a brief ex-experience [?-sic?] as a solicitor, quitted Ireland to try his luck at the English Bar. The numerous forensic triumphs which he subsequently achieved, culminating fittingly in his elevation to what is generally considered to be the most dignified and honorable legal post under the Crown, is well known. It is not, however, so generally known that his Lordship is a keen “chessist,” and it was to learn something of his chess experiences that I sought an interview. I entered the Law Courts boldly, but when once within its sombre and awe inspiring precincts, I began to feel tremors at the prospect of facing the lion in his den, but my equanimity was restored by the simple expedient of a visit to the room where his Lordship was holding Court, and where by courtesy of the attendants I obtained a capital seat to hear and see all that was going on. His Lordship was just summing up a case, so lucidly, that even I, who knew nothing of what had previously passed, could grasp the salient features of the dispute. The jury returned a verdict for the defendant without retiring from the box, and everyone, particularly his Lordship, seemed so cheerful at the conclusion, which he declared to be “a proper and conscientious verdict,” that I felt quite cheerful too, and quite ready to face the ordeal of a chess cross examination of the most powerful cross examiner of his day.

When ushered into the Chief Justice’s private room, I was received with delightful geniality by his Lordship, who cheerily remarked: “Ah, so you’ve come to cross examine me, have you?”

I expressed the hope that he would permit it to be a self examination by way of a chat about his experience of chess, and led the way by the enquiry as to when he first learnt to play. His Lordship replied:

“I really cannot say, for I have played as long as I can remember, and when a junior at the Bar, like the juniors of to-day, had plenty of time to devote to the game which has always commanded my keenest interest. It is true that I do not play much now, but I closely follow all that is going on around us. Chess seems to have grown tremendously since I was a young man, and the Chess Clubs have multiplied tenfold. My own particular Club is, as you know, the Metropolitan, which has achieved a remarkable record during its comparatively brief career—9 years. For five successive seasons it secured the league championship of London, besides defeating in two out of three fifty aside matches, the formidable City of London Club. Among its members are those accomplished players, Atkins, Mortimer, Muller, Herbert Jacobs. Blake, Gunston, Mitchell and many others equally good. I think chess one of the most intellectual pastimes of the day. Man must have amusement, and amusement has been described as ‘but a change of occupation:’ then why not let that change be one which will benefit the mind as well as rest it. I always find a game of chess thorough relaxation.”

“Has your Lordship ever taken part in any tournament?”

“No, but I have been the means, or shall I say the partial means, of getting up some very interesting encounters. I remember many years ago, when Anderssen was playing in London, Steinitz, who at that time was comparatively little known in England, visited London. There was much talk about his play, but many of us thought that Anderssen’s was an altogether superior style, and wishing to compare them, I, in conjunction with several other chess enthusiasts, which included such well known men as De Vere, Barnes, (who has since gained high legal distinction), Boden (who was a water color painter of no mean order, indeed some of his work was exquisite in its minuteness), there was Gossip also, and Hewitt, and poor Fred Lewis, (brother to Sir George Lewis), who is now dead. Well, we put up between us enough money to back Anderssen against Steinitz. The match was played at Hummuns in Covent Garden, and lasted about a week. It was a great disappointment when Anderssen succumbed to Steinitz’s pertinacity by eight games to six. We never got over the feeling that he lost by underrating Steinitz’s strength. Of course Steinitz was a fine player, otherwise he would not have secured later on, and held for so long the Championship of the World. Still I always maintain that Anderssen was the finer player, and I much regret that death took him from our midst before this was fully tested. Ah, me.” sighed his Lordship, “in thinking over those days, it brings back vividly to the mind those very happy and delightful hours I spent at the game. I was a member of the Westminster club then, and we used to have whist and chess parties galore. I remember how Bird used to come and play with me. I also remember seeing Morphy play. What a genius he was. How I marveled at some of the brilliant combinations he made. By the way,” said his Lordship, with a humorous twinkle in his eye, “don’t you think his proper name was probably Murphy? Naturally you will uphold the American title, but I cannot help suspecting that there must have been some true Irish blood in that young genius. Then there is Pillsbury, whom I have met, and think him a nice young fellow, who has already done wonders and seems well in the running for the Championship of the World. Do you know if he is coming over for the forthcoming tournament?”

“Oh, yes,” I replied. “The Americans are confident that he will repeat his Hastings achievement, and carry off first prize, especially as he enjoys better health now than he did during the recent continental contests.”

“Well,” resumed his Lordship, “it will be a fine contest with Lasker, and the other chess giants. I think it will prove the greatest tournament ever held. Its success cannot be doubted with that greatest of chess lovers. Sir George Newnes at its head. As one of the Tournament Committee, I feel we may congratulate ourselves upon having so certain an augury of success, as the acceptance by Sir George of the Presidential Chair.”

When saying good bye, Lord Russell spoke of the remarkable spread of chess among women, and referred regretfully to his absence from London during the time the Ladies’ International Congress, of which he was a patron, was held. He had hoped to have been present, and said he was greatly pleased at the growing popularity of the game among the fair sex. A few words appreciative of American dispositions concluded a most cordial interview with one of Ireland’s truest sons, and most perfect gentlemen.


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