Chess History on the Web

Excerpt from The Café de la Régence, by a Chess-player

Fraser's Magazine, Vol. XXII, July to December, 1840.
Part 5/7


Compared with the other cafés, seldom is the Régence graced with the presence of the fair sex; although women may be seen within its walls. Three ladies are of the company this very moment, and apology is due for my not having earlier noticed their existence. The lady, number one -- she with the crimson bonnet, scarlet gown, green feathers, and yellow ternaux -- is evidently lost in surprise at the scene. She has dropped in -- good soul! -- with her husband, to thaw their feet and share a bottle of very small beer on their route home, after a Sunday campaign unusually fatiguing. The lady has never seen chess played before, although in her sixtieth year; and classes the men as a species of skittles, cut down in dimensions to suit the degeneracy of modern muscle. She gapes around, in mute ecstasy of wonder, with a look of unequivocal contempt for the poor creatures who can express so much enthusiasm over a few toys of wood. Little drinking, and less eating, is going on; which adds in no inconsiderable degree to madame's astonishment at the enjoyment the party appear to take in their occupations. She has always respected dominoes; she will henceforth venerate them. She nudges her caro to empty his glass, before the lunatics around begin to bite!

Our dame, number two, a hale bourgeoise of forty-five, has been excepted by number one from her sweeping condemnation; for this fair person, très comme il faut, is actually engaged at dominoes with her beau; filling up the intervals between the games by stuffing herself with savoury biscuits, steeped in sugared madeira. Number two is shrill of voice, hearty of laugh, lusty as the Swiss giantess on the Boulevard du Temple. She is merry with wine and compliments, and shouts in the battle like the Mohicans raising their war-whoop. When she gives a yell of victory, her voice, like an essential distillation of the lungs of twenty Grisis, rises sublimely above the surrounding orchestra of sounds. The chess-players glance growlingly from their boards at the annoyance, the more intolerable as not coming from one of their corps; and the profane term of grosse vache is unhesitatingly muttered, as applicable to this, one of the three representatives of the women of France, by a vieux moustache, my next table neighbour, with most un-Paris-like politesse. The French, however, are not always particular about doing the pleasing, if their personal comforts are entrenched upon -- but let that pass. The fat lady cares little for aught, save herself and her friend. If they don't like her laugh, they can leave it; there is room outside, although inside places are the more comfortable on a snowy night. Number two is engaged in a domino-party of one hundred games, of which there are not above seventy-eight yet to be played out. The wily spirit of the sex teaches her that she is at present a nuisance; and she fancies herself a Joan of Arc in the species of warfare carrying on. Let her alone, silly Frenchmen; you ought to know woman better. Cease your murmurings; appear not to be aware of her presence; and triumph will open her gentle heart to the softer emotions of pity. It will cost her contented beau another glass of madeira, which she will drink in token of a general peace; and many a day hence will she laugh exultingly at the recollections connected with the night on which on which she gave the chess-players their on -- and something more. Good evening, madame, and pleasant slumbers! The youngest of the fair awaits her profile.

Number three presents, indeed, a study for an artist; for not only is she playing chess, but playing it well. Her bonnet of beaver, and quiet cloak of grey, cannot conceal a face replete with beauty and intelligence. A mere girl, you can read in her expressive eye that the mind within answers to the grace without. A suffused blush is on her cheek, and the smile of conquest plays tremblingly around her lip. Her antagonist, a fine young fellow rather overdressed, is clearly her lover; and, instead of calculating his moves, he has been looking in her bright eyes to the very verge of checkmate, happier in defeat than any other chess-player present in the height of triumph. The youth is nothing more than a small clerk, with a yearly salary of twelve hundred francs; the damsel, a superior kind of sempstress, just redeemed by chess from the class -- grisette. Oh! I can read their whole history at a glance. He has rented an apartment adjoining that of her parents; and, cultivating the intimacy, has taught her chess and love. Papa and mamma have consented, and the wedding will take place in the spring. Adieu, gentle girl! Peace be around thee forever; and may thy children play chess as well as their parents. So shall they be taught to shun dangers and frivolous amusements, and grow up a credit to the game which gave their father -- a mate!

A flying hint to the ladies. Cupid has no one arrow in his quiver more sharp at the point than chess. Let the unmarried, who wish to cross the pale, look to it. Had Beatrice played chess with Benedick, the gentleman would have been brought to cry "Ransom!" in half the time Shakspeare expends on bending him to his knees. You sit down to chess with a lovable kind of being. In the scramble to place the pieces, you both aim at setting up the same queen, and both miss the mark. There is a confusion of hands; and the lady's small white fingers are pressed in the clasp of her adversary before he recognises the mistake. He colours up -- she colours down -- both are confused. Depend upon it, he'll squeeze the hand again, if he can; and how may he help it?