In an article published in the March 1913 Chess Amateur and the June 1913 American Chess Bulletin columnist Robert Buckley wrote of Steinitz: “Enraged he became sub-human. During the Paris Tourney of 1867, in a trifling dispute, he spat on his opponent, an English player, who promptly knocked his head through a window, the subsequent extrication a sight for the gods.”Harold C. Schonberg writing in the book Grandmasters of Chess told it this way: “When enraged he became subhuman. During the Paris Tournament of 1867, in a trifling dispute, he spat on his opponent, a British player – some say it was Blackburne – who promptly knocked his head through the window.”
In Chess Magazine, January 1975, Wolfgang Heidenfeld wrote, “This may, or may not, be true. But in order to lend substance to a thin story which might otherwise be disbelieved, the author inserts his comment “some say it was Blackburne”. This makes it interesting – or does it? Bad luck, chum: Blackburne did not even play in Paris, 1867.”
Then in the next issue Paul H. Little wrote, “A few years later, at a City of London Chess Club game, it was said that Blackburne so angered Steinitz that he spat at the “Black Death”, who promptly knocked his head through a window.”
So what really happened? Paul H. Little’s pointed out that Schonberg’s book wrongly cited the incident as taking place at Paris, 1867 however Steinitz’s magazine, International Chess Magazine, Steinitz himself referred to the incident. Steinitz angrily accused Blackburne of being a bullying man-handler. Blackburne made an insulting remark, Steinitz spit at him, but missed whereupon Blackburne punched him in the face with his fist. It happened at the City of London Chess Club.
L. Hoffer’s Chess Monthly in the May 1889 issue referred to Steinitz as “Quasimodo” and wrote: “Another reason why we do not follow the advice of friends to treat Quasimodo with silent contempt is that he is not so charitable himself as to expect it from those he constantly maligns. Did he hold out his left cheek when Blackburne gave him a smack on the right, both here at Purssell’s and during the Paris Tournament at the hotel? He did not take the chastisement meekly, but tried to retaliate with his cane, which Blackburne broke in twain and threw in the fire; and did not he attempt, in his impotent rage, like a fish-fag, to spit into his adversary’s face, just as he is doing now in the International?”
Steinitz’ response to Hoffer was published in the November 1889 International Chess Magazine where he referred to Hoffer as “Dreckseele”: “Allow me to tell you, Dreckseele, that you lie again deliberately with your usual Long Champs lying insolence, when you talk of Blackburne having merely smacked my right, “both here at Purssell’s and during the Paris Tournament at the hotel”. Here is my version, Dreckseele. Blackburne suffered some 22 or respectively 11 years ago even more frequently from fits of blackguardism on the J.Y. Dreck principle, which you and all your Dreck chums worship, than he does now. And on one occasion at Purssell’s about 1867, in a dispute between us, he struck with his full fist into my eye, which he blackened and might have knocked out. And though he is a powerful man of very nearly twice my size, who might have killed me with a few such strokes, I am proud to say that I had the courage of attempting to spit into his face, and only wish I had succeeded, Dreckseele.
And on the second occasion, in Paris, we occupied adjoining rooms at the same hotel, and I was already in bed undressed when he came home drunk and began to quarrel, and after a few words he pounced upon me and hammered at my face and eyes with fullest force about a dozen blows, until the bedcloth and my nightshirt were covered with blood.
But at last I had the good fortune to release myself from his drunken grip, and I broke the window pane with his head, which sobered him down a little. And you know well enough too, Dreckseele, if any confirmation of anything I say were needed, that the same heroic Blackburne performed a similar act of bravery on a sickly young man, Mr. Israel, who died some years afterward, and whom he publicly gave a black eye at Purssell’s during his first match with Gunsberg.
And you also know, Dreckseele, that this gallant Blackburne struck in a similar manner, publicly, in the City of London Chess Club, the secretary, Mr. Walker, as nice a little gentleman as I ever met, who was even a head and shoulder shorter in stature than myself, and who has also, I am sorry to learn, died since. And I may tell you, moreover, Dreckseele, that this brave Blackburne, whose blackguardly fisticuff performances you want to glorify at my expense, has never to my knowledge struck a man of his own size, unless it were in the case of an assault on board ship, during his journey to Australia, for which he was fined £10 at the police court, on his landing in Melbourne. And if your valiant Blackburne, Dreckseele, is not thoroughly ashamed of such performances by this time, he would deserve to be spat upon by any gentleman, just as I spit upon you now, Dreckseele … And in my opinion, Dreckseele, poor Blackburne cannot redeem himself otherwise than by giving you a sound thrashing, Dreckseele, for having without his authority, I assume, dragged his name and a falsified account of his conduct toward myself into the controversy, thus compelling me to give my version of his performances, most reluctantly, I must say, for I am thoroughly ashamed of it on behalf of chess in general, but in no way, Dreckseele, on my own account personally.”
From Steinitz’ account we see there were two separate punching and spitting incidents. Also, the Paris tournament was the one in 1878, not 1867. Steinitz did not play in Paris, 1878 but he was there.
So we have Blackburne, the drunken pugilist and Steinitz, the heroic spitter. Note that Steinitz not only spit in person, but he also spit at people in print…in the above article he told Hoffer, “…just as I spit upon you now…” And Fischer, the serial biter. Interesting.