That Crazy Paul Morphy

 . . . That  Crazy  Paul  Morphy . . .

     Over the years I've invested many thousands of hours reading, researching and writing about Paul Morphy, the Chess King.  I've paid my dues, been in the trenches, so to speak, gritty dirt under my fingernails, following each and every clue, examining, evaluating and concluding.

     I've shared a good bit of my findings (500 pages worth), retaining only the unpublishable-for-whatever-reason, hopefully adding to the general knowledge concerning this remarkable man.  As a result of all this my antennae tend to quiver slightly at the mere mention of his name. 

     As famous as Morphy was in his day and as well documented as were his activites during his chess period, much of what is known about his private life is second-hand. Some of these sources are reliable, some less so, some nonsense. Determining which are which can often be tricky.  Unfortunately, most folks today don't learn about Morphy through even these second-hand sources, but through third and even distant fourth hand sources. Very, very few of these are 100% accurate in aligning what is known to what they present and the great majority have only passing respect for facts.

     The other day I was perusing the articles and blogs on and read an interesting posting by the always entertaining Dr. Kurt Godden called Chess is Bad for Your Mind.  In this posting, Dr. Godden, without trying to draw any real conclusions, presented some well known chess players who had mental problems (though I feel  he left out probably the best examples: Alvis Vitolins, Lembit Oll and Karen Grigorian), one of which was Paul Morphy.

     damn antennae.

     I'm really very uncomfortable inserting corrections on an individual's blog. Open forums seem the much more appropriate place for that sort of thing. I'm also aware of the danger of appearing sanctimonious.  But in weighing all this against letting some things pass unopposed, I feel the obligation to chime in nonetheless.  My reasoning is simple. While I realize that such things are highly specialized and, as such, I don't expect everyone (or anyone) to understand all the implications and fine points, at the same time, by allowing them to go unchallenged, especially on a deservedly popular blog, I, myself, contribute to the barrage of mis-information concerning Morphy.   

     So, I made my corrections to Dr. Godden's posting. My intentions honorable and my corrections accurate, I blundered - in one of my corrections - in a more sublte way which Dr. Godden pointed out to me in the most gentlemanly manner:  I mis-read some of his words.

    When I lose a serious game of chess, I always analyze my game to improve my understanding. When the game is lost through an obvious blunder and not worth analyzing, I try to analyze the cause of the blunder so I can hopefully avoid it in the future. Likewise, I tried to analyze my blunder in posting my corrections.

     What was written was:

Another strange vignette regarding Morphy, also attributed to his niece, is that he used to pace the porch saying (in French), “He will plant the banner of the Castille on the walls of Madrid, screaming, ‘The city is conquered and the little King will have to go.’”

    My immediate thought was to laugh at the idea of Paul Morphy screaming. The fact is, I've encountered many tales of Morphy screaming (and worse), both on his veranda and in the streets of the French Quarter. Below is an example of the type of vapid information one finds about Paul Morphy on the web - and this is from a site that advertises tours of New Orleans: 

     New Orleans Haunted House Tours

One strange haunted tale tells of Paul Munni, a world-class chess master. Munni was said to have went insane while living in the beautiful home. In his crazed wild insanity, Munni ran naked from the house, to Ursaline Street with an large axe, He was looking to kill anyone he would find. And the first to cross his path would die. The police subdued him and that's where the tale ends.

Most tales aren't nearly this mangled but this does illustrate what I find myself up against at times.

Part two of my blunder was the word "screaming" inside the quote from Regina Morphy-Voitier's booklet, the "Life of Paul Morphy..."  Mrs. Voitier never said that, so the misquotation, which I replaced with the actual quotation:

"Another mania which lasted a while, was walking up and down the long verandah of his home, his hands behind his back and muttering these words in a low voice: "II plantera la banniere de Castille sur les murs de Madrid au cri de Ville gagnee, et le petit Roi s'en ira tout penaud." (He will plant the banner of Castille upon the walls of Madrid to the cry of victorious city, and the little King will go away looking very sheepish). He did not know that he was being overheard, nor was it ever known what he meant by these words."

threw me off. 

     In my corrections I explained how Morphy would never have "screamed."  But, of course, Dr. Godden never wrote that. It took several civilized exchanges between us before I realized my blunder - a conditioned reaction, rather than a careful examination.


Second-hand sources detailing the advent and development of Morphy's so-called madness can be found on my page entitled The Denoument: Morphy Madness.



  • 8 years ago


  • 9 years ago


    unfortunately, i do not know of the Morphy of whom you speak, however, Batgirl, i read a reply you wrote to Ms. Bobette's poem, and i was transfixed. to me, you seem to be someone that i could just sit and listen to for hours, rapt and enthralled. much like a class of fourth graders listening to a police person speaking to them in school. if you ever want a game, i would feel honored to be thrashed soundly by someone of your obvious intelligence. =) until later...
  • 9 years ago


    "was fluid in both English and French."


    /speaking of corrections

  • 9 years ago


    I'm neither a scholar nor a historian, but I do appreciate the suggestions.

    One thing, however, still needs to be cleared up. The translation within Mrs. Voitier's quotation isn't my translation. It appears in her booklet as part of the above quotation (just as written). Regina Morphy, like her uncle, was fluid in both English and French.

  • 9 years ago


    I am a recent member to this chess site.  I am simply overwhelmed by your scholarly-written blog containing such well defined commentary, analysis, argument and rebuttal.  Extremely entertaining and enlightning.  Thank you.
  • 9 years ago


    The two of you expemlify the fine community of this amazing website.  Thanks!
  • 9 years ago


    p.s.  Please do not refer to me as "Dr. Godden".  That manner of addressing me is only required of my children. 


  • 9 years ago


    I can confirm that Sarah Beth and I had a civilized exchange, and she asked if I wanted her to post a sort of meta-correction to her original correction.  I responded that I didn't think it was worth it, but I guess she felt obliged to make this public explanation, and I do appreciate it. 

    Since the passage in question involves an English translation (which I had simply obtained from elsewhere on the web), I am happy that Sarah Beth has given both the French and the English.  Comparing the two above, I do believe that she got the translation correct. 

    My thanks to the genteel and scholarly batgirl, who is always entertaining and informative in her own right!

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