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Thursday, April 14, 2016

James Mortimer

     I have not posted in a few days, mostly because of, among other more mundane things, Monday was my second cataract surgery. I am amazed at the results...for the first time in 60 years I can see without glasses, except for reading, of course. The actual surgery itself was next to nothing as I slept through the whole procedure which took 15-20 minutes. For reading, I purchased a half dozen non-prescription reading glasses that were on clearance for 99-cents at the local discount store to spread around the house at strategic locations and they work OK, but I turned loose of $20 at Target other day for a pair of ICU Eyewear reading glasses and they are well worth the extra money. They are sturdy and the scratch resistant lenses are of much better quality. If you need reading glasses then ICU is a good choice.
     On to Mr. Mortimer...James Mortimer (April 22, 1833 – February 24, 1911) was an American player, journalist, and playwright who spent the last 40 years of his life in Britain.
     Born in Richmond, Virginia, Mortimer graduated from the University of Virginia. As an attaché in the U.S. Diplomatic Service he was stationed in Paris from 1855 to 1860. Emperor Napoleon III awarded him the Cross of the Legion of Honor for his work. When Paul Morphy traveled to Paris in 1858, Mortimer met him and they became friends and as a result, Mortimer was one of the few who witnessed the famous 1858 Morphy match with Adolf Anderssen. 
     For those unfamiliar with the American Civil War, as the US was originally founded, the Federal government had very limited authority and, for the most part, people's loyalty was to their State. But, by the time of the Civil War the industrialized Northern states were leaning more towards a strong centralized Federal government whereas, in the mostly rural South, citizens still retained loyalty to their individual State. I have read that there were many reasons for the War; political, economic and social differences, taxation and States' rights, etc. While all those things did exist, they were only symptoms. The disease was slavery. Thus, Mortimer, as a Southerner, maintained loyalty to the Confederacy which led him to quit Federal service in 1860 and he remained in Paris working as a journalist. 
     He began his career as a journalist and at the age of 22 he was already the chief editor of a Philadelphia newspaper. In the same year, 1855, he was appointed attache of the United Slates Legation in Paris. In the following year he was sent as Vice Consul at Civita Yecchia, the port of Rome, then the capital of the Papal States. Three years later, in 1859, he was appointed second secretary of the American Legation in St. Petersburg. He left the diplomatic service in 1860 and returned to Paris, where he lived for the next ten years, resuming his profession of journalist as correspondent of the New York Express and other American journals. 
     When Napoleon III was deposed in 1870 Mortimer settled in England as did Napoleon. In London, Mortimer founded The London Figaro, the official newspaper of Napoleon's government in-exile. Although Napoleon died in 1873, Figaro continued as a magazine. It was often controversial and Mortimer made many enemies with his scathing theater reviews. 
     Once when sued for libel Mortimer chose to defend himself and acting as his own lawyer, he was unable to testify in his own defense. After he was convicted by the jury Mortimer was able to produce evidence to the judges that he had no personal knowledge of the libelous article, but it was too late. Rather than imposing the more common penalty of a fine, the court sentenced him to three months jail. Mortimer's public stature grew as a result because it was widely believed by the public that it was unfair. His imprisonment eventually caused him to sell Figaro and with that was the end of its excellent chess column written by Johann Lowenthal from 1872 to 1876 and World Champion Wilhelm Steinitz from 1876 to 1882.
     When Mortimer was released, he continued his career as a critic and a playwright. He wrote over 30 plays produced in London. 
     Mortimer had a very poor record in tournament play, nearly always finishing near the bottom of the field. At a London tournament in 1887, he finished last of ten players, losing all nine games he played. Still, Mortimer sometimes did play well in individual games against strong opponents. 
     In the London tournament of 1883, he beat Zukertort and Chigorin, but finished tied for last in a field of 14 with a score of 3–23. At London in 1886 he defeated Taubenhaus, Mason, Pollock, and Schallopp, but finished with a score of 4–8 and in 11th place of 13. At the age of 74 he played the 1907 Masters Tournament at Ostend and defeated Tartakower, Znosko-Borovsky, and Blackburne, but finished last of 29 with a score of 5–23. He also won tournament games against Bird and Mieses, and had draws with Steinitz and Mackenzie. It was said he simply did not have the temperament for the sustained effort required by tournament play. 
     Mortimer wrote two chess books published in London and the Mortimer Defense in the Ruy Lopez and the Mortimer-Frazier Attack in the Evans Gambit are named for him. 
     In his later years he was a regular participant in the City of London championship and regularly played in the Metropolitan Chess League. 
     In 1911 Mortimer, who was chess editor of the Daily Mail and the Evening Post, was traveling by train to the great tournament at San Sebastian. The train arrived in Paris at a late hour and he and his traveling companions went to the hotel and from there to the Cafe de la Regence. Upon arrival Mortimer was in high spirits and the next night he was also at the Cafe, but upon returning to the hotel he went straight to bed, saying he was very tired. The next morning he came down from his room complaining of having had a bad night and stated he was not feeling very well. Nevertheless, he insisted on leaving for San Sebastion at 10:30 a.m. thinking he would rest on the train during the eleven hour trip. It was not a good trip as he was very ill and upon arriving at the hotel in San Sebastion at a late hour, he went straight to bed and never left it. He died in the early afternoon the next day, presumably of pneumonia. 


  1. It is great to finally see another posting, interesting, informative, and entertaining. Thanks for the tip on reading glasses as well.

  2. Does the op get rid of floaters?

  3. Unfortunately, no. The doctor said floaters are common, esp in older folks. They were probably there before surgery but were not noticeable. With the new, clear lens which allows more light to enter the eye, they are now. I developed one in the right eye...it may go away, it may not.