Item of the Day: Chess Analysed (1750)

Full Title: Chess Analysed: or Instructions by which a Perfect Knowledge of this Noble Game May in a short time be acquir’d. By A. D. Philidor. London: Printed for J. Nourse, and P. Vaillant, in the Strand, M.DCC.L. [1750]

THE

PREFACE.

So many ancient Authors have spoken in praise of the Game of Chess, that it would be needless for me to say much of it.

Don Pietro Carrera, who in the Year 1617, published a large Volume concerning the Origin and Progress of this Game, has at the same time given us a List of those authors, which is too long to be inserted in this Preface. I will however mention the most celebrated; Herodotus, Euripides, Sophocles, Philostratus, Homer, Virgil, Aristotle, Seneca, Plato, Ovid, Horace, Quintilian, Martial, Vida. The Invention of this Game is by Carrera attributed to Palamedes, and he proves it from the above-mentioned Authors; it is true that several others are of a different opinion; some say it was known before his time, others that it was invented by the Philosopher Serses, Councellor to Ammolin, King of Babylon, in order by this new, engaging, and speculative Game, to divert that Prince from the Cruelties he was naturally inclined to.

The Egyptians are said to have ranked this Game in the Number of the Sciences, and that, at a time when themselves were the only learned People; their Reason I suppose to be founded on this Principle:

Scientia est eorum, quae consistunt in Intellectu.

It is no Wonder to see so many different Opinions, about a Game of so long standing, and whose Author cannot be known to any Degree of Certainty. There are however some who will not allow it to be above 300 Years old, tho’ a few make it to be somewhat older; and perhaps they would not grant that, if the very Chessmen with which Charlemagne used to play, were not still extant in the Royal Repository of the Abbey of St. Denis.

Euripides, in his Tragedy of Iphigenia, tells us, that Ajax and Protesilaus played together at Chess in the Presence of Merion, Ulysses, and other famous Greeks. Homer, in the first Book of his Odyssey, relates, that the Princes, Lovers of Penelope, used to play at Chess at the Door of that fair Lady.

But not to trouble the Reader with any thing more about the Origin of this Game; it will be allowed by all, to have contributed to the Amusement of the greatest Heroes for many Ages past; and those of our Days take no small Pleasure in it.

Virtue and Heroism were the two distinguishing Characters of Charles the XIIth, King of Sweden; the Allurements and Temptations of Vice had no Power over him; he could even abstain from those things, which by most Persons of Rank are esteemed as no other than the Conveniencies [sic] of Life; he had an Aversion to gaming, and had strictly forbid it his Army, and among his Subjects; but Chess was expected in a particular manner; he took so much Delight in it, that he encouraged the Learning of it among all his Courtiers. Voltaire tells us, that while that Prince was at Bender, he played at it every Day with his General Poniatoski, or with his Treasurer Grothusen. . . .

 

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Filed under 1750's, Culture, Eighteenth century, Leisure, Posted by Caroline Fuchs

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