"O Life, what art thou? Life seldom answers this question. But her silence is of little consequence, for schoolmasters and other men of good will are well qualified to answer for her. She is, they inform us, a game. Which game ? Bagatelle ? No, Life is serious, so not bagatelle, but any game that . , . er . . . is not a game of mere chance ; not Baccarat, but Chess ; or, in moderation, Bridge ; yes, or better still, Football with its goals and healthy open-air atmosphere and its esprits de corps"
"Games of mere chance must, it is true, be excluded from this charge. They have abandoned any pretence of Free Will, and consequently their irony is too mechanical to be endorsed by Life’s ; Life may also be mere chance, but she has evolved the imposing doctrine of effort and reward to obscure her purposelessness, and any game that mirrors her must do the same. Let us therefore turn to games of skill, and in the first place to Chess.
"I play the Evans.
"The invention of a naval officer, the Evans Gambit is noted for its liquidity. A heavy current rapidly sets in from the south- west and laps against the foundations of Black’s King’s Bishop’s Pawn. The whole surface of the board breaks into whirlpools. But sooner or later out of this marine display there rises a familiar corpse. It is mine. Oh, what have I been doing, what have I been doing ? The usual thing. Premature attack, followed by timidity. Oh, why didn’t I move out my Rook’s Pawn ? Be- cause as always I was misled by superficial emotions. No, not as always. It must be that the Evans doesn’t suit my style. Henceforward I play Old Stodge.
"I do so. There is nothing liquid about Old Stodge. He smacks of the soil. On either side runs a dreary ridge of Knights and Bishops. Between them is a plain (whence the term of Giuoco Piano) where the Pawns butt one another like rams. The powers of earth move slowly to the shock, then topple over with alternate and uninspiring thuds. It’s supposed to be an exchange, But when the lines of the new landscape emerge from the dust, what familiar corpse is disclosed ? Mine. Oh, what have I been doing ? The usual thing. My character has come out. If I go down to the depths of the sea, it is there ; if I seek . the heart of the hills it is there also. Chess, which severely eliminates accident, is a forcing house where the fruits of character can ripen more fully than in Life. In Life we can always blame the unknowable for our failures, wave the hand to some horizon, shake the fist at some star. But surely when we make the same mistakes in the Evans, Old Stodge, the choice of a tie, a row in the office and a love affair, the same defect must be to blame — character ; for which, the men of goodwill hasten to remind us, we are entirely and eternally responsible.
"Since there are these two elements in life, the uncontrollable and that which we are supposed to control ; and since games of chance exaggerate the former and Chess the latter — what game reflects their actual proportion ? "
EM FORSTER Abinger Harvest