62. The rise of chess in France and the Netherlands
Let us move to the year 1700: what can we say about board games? Well, Europeans frequently played draughts, tables and morris, three deeply rooted board games. They hardly played chess.
In the 18th c. there was a change. This age is relatively recently behind us, and for this reason the rise of chess is traceable. I described the rise of chess in France; this happened in the 18th c. Two modern chess playing historians described the rise of chess in their native country, rather detailed, in both countries in the 19th c.: Hans Scholten studied the situation in the Netherlands, Richard Eales in England. We miss studies in and from other European countries.
In this chapter I summarize the rise of chess in France and the Netherlands. In chapter 63 I’ll give a short description of the rise of chess in England.
The start of European chess lies in France. Certainly, some French people ‒men, never women‒ played chess, but until the late 17th c. only in small closed groups, with the consequence that for the general public chess was invisible (chapter 37, chapter 44). Just before the 18th c. chess became in sight because this closed groups shifted their gatherings to the open of the coffeehouse, a meeting for representatives of the better social circles. Members of these circles picked up the game (chapter 61). In the 18th c. chess remained a social pastime, a pastime beside other pastimes as draughts.
Chess historian Richard Eales [1985:98], relying on the publication of methods which helped a player to play chess better, sketched for the 17th c. a more favourable climate. In 1669 ‘Le Jeu Des Eschets; Traduit de l’Italien de Gioachino Greco Calabrais’ came out, in 1674 the last edition of the book written by the Spaniard Ruy Lopez. In 1689 Greco’s work was reprinted; it remained a standard work until mid-18th c. With the dissemination of these methods France grew into Europe’s chess center, replacing Italy, Eales supposes.
In Paris in 1873 a chess club was founded under the patronage of Count of the Provence, the later Louis XVIII. The number of members, all noblemen, was restricted to hundred. The motive to join the club was not chess but the wish to find oneself in the company of Paris’ greatest, to be seen. The club was only granted a short life [Eales 1985:117].
More than once André Philidor visited London for three months or longer, Londen was even the place where he died (chapter 45, chapter 47, chapter 51, chapter 55). Eales considers Philidor as the man by whom first Paris and then London blossomed into European chess centers [1985:119], the start of the development in the 19th c., when chess slowly grew from a pastime to a game played as a serious trial of strength. Eales’ aim is to describe the rise of chess in England but in passing he paid attention to chess in France. I borrow his information.
For a long time the French played chess as a pastime: quick games where the stronger played was supposed to allow his opponent an odds, for example a pawn or a knight. There were a few players who studied the game and for that reason showed a better game [Eales 1985:131-2].
About the year 1835 these stronger players from Paris agreed to meet each other on regular times, so there was a kind of club, but it led a precarious existence. In the 1850s chess players even broke up their meetings in Café de la Régence, after all for a long time the meeting place for chess playing Parisians. There was no market for chess books; if they were written it was impossible to find a publisher. The few French chess players hardly maintained connections with England, where chess flourished [Eales 1985:133,142]. Could the difference in social perception between the Englishman and the Frenchman responsible for this? Eales [1985:140] quotes, in translation, the Frenchman E. Esquiros in the 1860s. The Frenchman, Esquiros says, seeks company for the sake of meeting. The Englishman, perhaps less sociable, requires a peculiar goal, and here this goal was chess [Eales 1985:140].
François Conradin Malte-Brun (Fr.) 1845
In The Netherlands the rise of chess took place in quite another way than in France. In the 18th c. the Dutch elite was strongly oriented towards France; it was for instance all the vogue to import French literature. In this way chess playing Dutchmen discovered André Philidor’s chess manual, which was translated (chapter 42). This was the prelude of the breakthrough of chess in the 19th c.; Hans Scholten described the rise in detail (chapter 56, chapter 58). The beginning lies around 1800, when male members of the higher middleclass sought an excuse to gather and found the solution in a rather unknown game: chess. Scholten documented how a pastime of the big city fanned out to smaller cities and to other sociale groups. During the greater part of the century chess in the Netherlands had a function of an enjoyable way to have social contact; it lasted until the 1890s before chess became a sport.