Thursday, August 4, 2011

Chess, Hoyle, and a bibliographer's speculation

I was reading Manfred Zollinger's bibliography of gaming literature before 1700 (discussed here). One entry intrigued me and made me speculate about a connection with Hoyle 125 years later.

The entry is number 70 for The Famous Game of Chesse-Play by Arthur Saul and John Barbier. It was first published in 1614, but it is the second edition of 1618 that is of interest. Bound into the book is a sheet titled "A Briefe of the Lawes of Chesse-Play, set downe more at large in the books, with the reasons of them." The sheet lists twenty laws that are, as suggested by the title, presented in more detail in the book itself. Below the laws reads "You may paste this briefe, on the backe-side of your chesse-borde."

Interestingly, some of the laws of chess differ from the modern game.  For example law 8:
You may not make a pawne a queene, so long as you have your first queene, but you may make it any other piece that you have lost.
The laws now allow multiples queens. On the other hand, the laws of castling (9-12) are consistent with current rules, though castling is called "shifting."

One must, I suppose, ignore the difficulty of consulting the laws during a game if they are pasted to the bottom of the board. Francis Cogan had a better idea when he advertised the Laws of Whist "proper to be framed or made screens of" on March 5, 1743. As I noted in my earlier essay on the Laws of Whist, no copies of the Cogan publication are known, though three copies printed later by Thomas Osborne survive. Further, evidence from surviving copies of Osborne editions of Hoyle show that the Laws, once present, were removed and presumably hung above the whist table.

I can't help but wonder if Cogan was aware of Saul's laws of chess when he created his Laws of Whist. There is no way to know, but a bibliographer is entitled to the occasional speculation.

Hoyle, by the way, did write about chess himself. His treatise on Piquet, first published in 1744 included "some rules and observations for playing well at chess." The Piquet treatise was reprinted a number of times and later incorporated into Hoyle's Games. In 1761, Hoyle wrote An Essay Towards Making the Game of Chess Easily Learned, By Those Who Know the Moves Only, Without the Assistance of a Master. Osborne published the single edition and somehow the work escaped the attention of pirates and Irish reprinters, although an Italian translation appeared in 1768. It remains the only 18th century edition of Hoyle devoted solely to chess. 

Of the two copies of Saul (1618) in the United States, the copy at the Huntington Library retains the plate. The copy at the Houghton Library at Harvard does not. Look for an early 17th century chess board with the missing Laws pasted to the bottom!

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