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Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Saint-Amant...an Interesting Fellow

Saint-Amant in 1860
     Whenever I saw the name Saint-Amant my thought was of some French guy who was always getting thumped by Morphy or Staunton, but it so happens he was actually a pretty interesting guy and not a bad chess player. 
     Pierre Charles Fournier de Saint-Amant (September 12, 1800 – October 29, 1872) was a leading French master and an editor of the chess periodical Le Palamede. He is best known for losing a match (+6 -11 =4) against Howard Staunton in 1843 that is often considered to have been an unofficial match for the World Championship. For complete details of the match visit Chess Archaeology.  It's interesting that although Saint-Amant was a notoriously slow player, he was the first player to suggest a time limit.  
    Saint-Amant learned chess from Wilhelm Schlumberger, who later became the operator of The Turk. He played at the Cafe de la Regence, where he was a student of Alexandre Deschapelles. For many years he played on level terms with Hyacinthe Henri Boncourt who was one of the leading players in France in the years between 1820 and 1840. 
     Boncourt was a strong player, but not quite in the class of the leading players of the day; he received odds of Pawn and two moves from Deschapelles and La Bourdonnais. In 1834–36 Boncourt led a Paris team that won both games of a correspondence match against the Westminster Club, then England's leading chess club. After La Bourdonnais' death in 1840, he was considered the country's best player. In December 1841 he revived Le Palamede (at its inception in 1836 it was the world's first chess periodical), which ran until 1847. 
     I was wrong about Saint-Amant always getting defeated by Staunton because in their two matches he did score nine wins which was a pretty decent accomplishment and as far as I could determine he only played one game against Morphy...a consultation in Paris in 1858.
     In 1858, Saint-Amant played in the Birmingham, England tournament, a knockout event. This international tournament commenced in Birmingham on the occasion of the British Chess Association's annual congress. The final match was held in London. 
     In the first round Saint-Amant defeated a player named Beetlestone 2-0, but then he was knocked out in the next round when he lost by a score of 1-2 to the eventual winner, Ernst Falkbeer. This interesting tournament included, among others, Paul Morphy, Henry Bird, Howard Staunton, Jacob Lowenthal and John Owen. 
     In the first round Bird lost to Robert Brien and Morphy to C.F. Smith. Morphy had just arrived in England and had initially signed up to play, but withdrew before it began. Due to his late withdrawal and the lack of an available replacement, Morphy’s name was included in the initial drawing of lots and his first round games were forfeited to his opponent who lost to Brien in the second round. Also in the second round, Staunton was eliminated 2-0 by Lowenthal. Returning to Paris, Saint-Amant was present at Morphy's reception at the Cafe de la Regence and that's when he played the consultation game. 
     Outside of chess, Saint-Amant was a government clerk in Paris from an early age. He then served as the secretary to the governor of French Guiana from 1819 to 1821.  He was fired from that position after he protested against the slave trade that still existed in that colony. After that, he tried his hand as a journalist and actor, then became a successful wine merchant. 
     Saint-Amant was a captain in the French National Guard during the 1848 revolution. For his role in saving the Palais des Tuileries from destruction by a mob, he was made its Governor for a few months. In 1851–52, he was the French consul to California. Upon returning to France he spent some years writing well-regarded works on the French colonies and a treatise on the wines of Bordeaux. 
     Writing in Chess Monthly in 1886, Theodore Tilton described Saint-Amant as an elegant dandy who was “awfully exquisite.” There was a tradition in the Cafe de la Regence that his seat was near a front window in order that “his handsome features might be seen in the best light.” Tilton wrote that he would play every afternoon until he heard the “sharp rat-a-tat of his wife's parasol on the outside of the window-pane, summoning him home to dinner.” At her beckoning, he would arise, bow to his opponent and then he “skipped away on tiptoe after the imperious parasol, as it flitted around the corner." 
     In America, Tilton was an abolitionist and you can read an interesting article about his activities involving the lady chess player Elizabeth Cady Stanton on the Skaneateles, New York website
     From 1860 to 1871, Tilton was the assistant of Henry Ward Beecher, a Congregationalist clergyman, social reformer and speaker who was known for his support of the abolition of slavery, his emphasis on God's love and in 1875, his trial for committing adultery with Tilton's wife. 
     After the Civil War, Beecher supported social reform causes such as women's suffrage and temperance and also championed Darwin's theory of evolution, stating that it was not incompatible with Christian beliefs. 
     Beecher had a reputation as a womanizer and in 1872 Woodhull and Claflin's Weekly published a story about his affair with Tilton's wife, Elizabeth. In 1874, Tilton filed adultery charges against him for the affair and the trial, one of the most widely reported US trials of the century, resulted in a hung jury. After the trial Tilton moved to Paris, where he lived for the rest of his life. You can read about the scandalous affair in the Google book The Beecher Trial.
Elizabeth Tilton

     In the 1880s, Tilton frequently played chess with fellow American exile (actually an ex-Confederate) Judah Benjamin, until the latter died. Benjamin (August 11, 1811 – May 6, 1884) himself was an interesting character. 
     He was a lawyer and politician who was a US Senator from Louisiana, a Cabinet officer of the Confederate States and after his escape to the UK at the end of the Civil War, an English barrister and rose to the top of his profession before retiring in 1883 and moving to Paris.
     Benjamin was the first Jew to be elected to the US Senate who did not renounce his Jewish religion and the first Jew to hold a Cabinet position in North America. Benjamin doesn't seem to have been a very nice man. He was known for his view that slavery should continue. He based that on his belief that citizens had a right to their property as guaranteed by the Constitution. It was his opinion that it was as wrong for Northerners to rob him of his slave as it would be for him to steal their horse. 
     In 1861 Saint-Amant retired to Algeria and met an untimely end there in 1872 when he died after being thrown from his carriage. 
     For information about Saint-Amant's opponent Charles Stanley see my post on him HERE


  1. It may just be the distorting effect of the passage of time, but didn't people--not just chess players--seem to live stranger and more interesting lives back then?