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Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Daniel Willard Fiske, a man of many accomplishments

     Fiske, a highly accomplished individual, was born in New York in 1831.  In 1857 he was the champion of the New York Chess Club. He organized the First American Congress in 1857 and published the first American chess magazine Chess Monthly (co-edited by Paul Morphy). The magazine began in January, 1857, and ended in May, 1861. He authored The Book of the First American Chess Congress and Chess in Iceland.  Fiske's Cornell University webpage HERE gives many details of his achievements.
     Fiske was raised in Syracuse, New York where he was a boyhood friend of Cornell president Andrew White and was one of few people privileged to greet the president as "Andrew." He entered Hamilton College in 1847 and was suspended in his sophomore year for breaking into the chapel and carrying off firewood. After he graduation studied in Copenhagen, supporting himself by writing letters to the American press. He wintered at the University of Upsala in Sweden and delivered a series of lectures on American writers. 
     He first visited Iceland in 1885 and later, in 1900, founded the Reykjavik Chess Club. He was the editor of the first Icelandic chess magazine, published in Venice, Italy in 1901.  See the article Grimsey: Island of Chess Players
     After returning to America, from 1852 to 1859, he served a librarian in the Astor Library in New York, a year as Secretary of the American Geographical Society and another as Secretary to John Lothrop Motley, Minister to Austria.  In 1859, because of his fascination with Iceland, he donated his 1,200 chess books to the National Library of Reykjavik. 
     In 1861 Fiske was appointed as an Attache to the American Embassy in Vienna. In 1868, he became the first librarian of Cornell University and was also professor of languages. 
     His European experience gave him social polish and an adaptability that made him at home and welcomed from Iceland to Egypt.  Being well trained and a book collector qualified him to not only establish Cornell's Library, but as an excellent journalist, he also supervised Cornell's publications and served as their unofficial Director of Public Information. As professor, he taught German, Swedish and Icelandic and even offered a course in Persian. He reported the campus news for the city's press, but his most important contribution was his work with Library. Fiske believed that Cornell's collection should be a reference library and he tried to obtain, by gift or purchase, any library he could.  
     In 1880 Fiske married Jennie McGraw, daughter of multi-millionaire John McGraw, a lumber merchant. She died a year later from tuberculosis. In her will she left Fiske $300,000 (the equivalent of over 6.5 million in today's dollars), her brother $550,000 (over 12 million today) and much of the rest of the money (over 50 million dollars today) to Cornell University. Due to University by-laws, Cornell could not accept the full amount of the gift. When Fiske realized that the University had failed to inform him of this restriction, he launched a legal assault to reacquire the money, known as The Great Will Case. Read more on the case HERE
     In 1883, he severed all connections with Cornell University and moved to Florence, Italy where he became a book collector and dealer. 
     Fiske was a nervous, volatile, bad tempered and easily angered man who could never forget or forgive a slight or an insult.  At the same time, he was also known for his hospitality and generosity. It's probably the latter personality traits that caused Mark Twain to write of Fiske, "He was as dear and sweet a soul as I have ever known. His was a character which won friends for him, and whoso became his friend remained so, ever afterward." They met in the 1870s. Fiske restored a villa while living in Florence, Italy and Twain spent considerable time in Europe and Fiske found a place for him to stay near him and they were neighbors for several years until Twain's wife died. 
    Fiske died on September 17, 1904 at Frankfort-on-theMain, Germany.  An interesting article titled A Chess Whodunit by Edward Winter is available HERE.
     His opponent in the following game was Napoleon Marache (June 15, 1818 – May 11, 1875) who was born in France and moved to the United States at about the age of 12. He learned to play chess around 1844 and immediately became a devotee. He began composing chess problems and writing about chess the following year. In the mid-19th century, he was both one of America's first chess journalists and one of its leading players. In 1866, he published Marache's Manual of Chess which was one of the country's first books on chess and also one of its first books on backgammon. He is perhaps best known today for losing a famous game to Paul Morphy. 
     In this game Fiske demonstrates good technique and tactical ability. The first American Congress (won by Morphy) was a knockout affair and in the first round Fiske was eliminated by Marache, winning two and losing three. 

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