William Ewart Napier

Lockdown and subsequent restrictions have given me time to browse the dustier reaches of my chess library, including Napier's Paul Morphy and the Golden Age of Chess, a compilation of his three booklets Amenities and Background of Chess, each a selection of 100 lightly annotated games to amuse and provide an educative ABC. Horowitz edited this combined work and commented:

"Among the bright and pleasurable writings on chess, perhaps the brightest of all were the three booklets which W. E. Napier produced on his Amenities and Background of Chess-play. The overall impression of these booklets is one of intense artistry: the games are artistic gems; his reflections on them have verve and profundity; his anecdotes are fascinating; yet none of these surpass the felicity of his language."

Something not apparent from the Dover edition is Napier's extraordinary feat of providing thrughout the original booklets a justified column of text using a mono-spaced typeface.  If the import of that isn't clear, have a look here:


To do so at all is quite an achievement; in such graceful prose is very remarkable.

Winter (linked above) gives several toothsome quotations; I rather liked his remark in the Introduction (given in full at ChessGames) about the unappreciated chessplayer:

"twice afflicted--like those Puritan women who endured the same hardships as the men, and, intrepidly, had also to endure the men."

As well as his own wit, Napier sprinkles bon mots by other players, among whom Teichmann clearly had a splendid twinkle in his remaining eye.

Napier was of master strength, and I guess Grandmaster strength, coming ahead of many of the great masters of his day, although for many years I knew him only as the man who lost a brilliant game to Lasker (who remarked, "It was your brilliancy, but I won it").