What Annihilates Men?
Chess: Passion, fight, or seeking power for domination?
The passion for playing chess is one of the most unaccountable in the world. It slaps the theory of natural selection in the face. It is the most absorbing of occupations, the least satisfying of desires, an aimless excrescence upon life. It annihilates a man. You have, let us say, a promising politician, a rising artist, that you wish to destroy. Dagger or bomb are archaic, clumsy, and unreliable–but teach him, inoculate him with chess! It is well, perhaps, that the right way of teaching chess is so little known, that consequently in most cases the plot fails in the performance, the dagger turns aside. Else we should all be chess-players–there would be none left to do the business of the world. Our statesmen would sit with pocket boards while the country went to the devil, our army would bury itself in chequered contemplation, our bread-winners would forget their wives in seeking after impossible mates. The whole world would be disorganised. I can fancy this abominable hypnotism so wrought into the constitution of men that the cabmen would go trying to drive their horses in Knights’ moves up and down Charing Cross Road. And now and again a suicide would come to hand with the pathetic inscription pinned to his chest: “I checked with my Queen too soon. I cannot bear the thought of it.” There is no remorse like the remorse of chess.
It is a curse upon a man. There is no happiness in chess–Mr. St. George Mivart, who can find happiness in the strangest places, would be at a loss to demonstrate it upon the chess-board. The mild delight of a pretty mate is the least unhappy phase of it. But, generally, you find afterwards that you ought to have mated two moves before, or at the time that an unforeseen reply takes your Queen. No chess-player sleeps well. After the painful strategy of the day one fights one’s battles over again. You see with more than daylight clearness that it was the Rook you should have moved, and not the Knight. No! it is impossible! no common sinner innocent of chess knows these lower deeps of remorse. Vast desert boards lie for the chess-player beyond the gates of horn. Stalwart Rooks ram headlong at one, Knights hop sidelong, one’s Pawns are all tied, and a mate hangs threatening and never descends. And once chess has been begun in the proper way, it is flesh of your flesh, bone of your bone; you are sold, and the bargain is sealed, and the evil spirit hath entered in.
The proper outlet for the craving is the playing of games, and there is a class of men–shadowy, unhappy, unreal-looking men–who gather in coffee-houses, and play with a desire that dieth not, and a fire that is not quenched…
Excerpt from “Concerning Chess,” by H. G. Wells (in Certain Personal Matters, London, T. Fisher Unwin, p.140)
H. G. Wells (1866-1946), English author, futurist, essayist, historian, socialist, and teacher.
He is now best known for his work in the science fiction genre (novels The Time Machine, The War of the Worlds, The Invisible Man, The First Men in the Moon and The Island of Dr. Moreau). Together with Jules Verne and Hugo Gernsback, Wells has been referred to as “The Father of Science Fiction”.
“Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe,” H. G. Wells once said. But others said, Wells was quite the fascist and insane powermonger.
Wells was also a wargamer and chess player. In this amusing little tongue-in-cheek essay (written in 1898), Wells expresses both the joy and horror found in succumbing to the siren call of the Royal Game.
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“By some ardent enthusiasts Chess has been elevated into a science or an art. It is neither; but its principal characteristic seems to be – what human nature mostly delights in – a fight.” — Dr. Emanuel Lasker
Or perhaps power to dominate?