Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Some unanswered questions about Howard Staunton

I'm playing a correspondence game against an English player, John Townsend, who takes an interest in chess history and particularly in Howard Staunton. I spotted John's name in Edward Winter's column and when I mentioned this to him, he showed me his website. As I could see he was asking for assistance with certain questions, I asked if he would like me to post about it here.

As you'll see from the site, John is carrying out research into Staunton's life and there are certain questions to which he has, as yet, been unable to discover the answers. These include:
1. Was Howard Staunton his real name? (He is reputed to have attended Oxford University yet no such name can be found among its attendees: he was also possibly illegitimate which may, I suppose, have led him to hide and change his identity.)

2. He was interested in the theatre (later in life he was a noted Shakespearean scholar) and claimed to have taken the part of Lorenzo in The Merchant of Venice. Where and when was this performance and what was his stage name?

3. Can he be located on the 1841 census?
Obviously these are questions that would demand a substantial degree of specialist historical knowledge in order to answer them - indeed, to know where to look in the first place - but it is possible that among our readers there are people who possess such knowledge or are acquainted with others who may do so.

Anyway, there is an email address on John's site where people may contact him (or replies can of course be posted here) and if anybody is able to help it would surely be appreciated.

3 comments:

Chessbuff said...

I can see why the absence of Howard Staunton's name in the 1841 census can be perplexing. It was said that the census of 1841 was the best since it started in 1801/02 because it included names. Later census had more information than before. So, where could have he have been? It was said that one did not have to be at home to participate. Anyone traveling would have been included in the census for the household he/she was spending the night at. Anyway, Staunton appeared in the later census until his death in 1874. As for his Shakespearean interest, I checked the catalog for the N.Y. Public Library and it showed that Staunton was busy in the 1860s editing and reproducing Shakespeare's works via the newly discovered technology called photo-lithography. In fact, he supervised a facsimile edition of the First Folio in the 1860s. Take note that the publication dates were in the 1860s and that means that he worked on them before that, at a time when research wasn't as fast as today's pace. So, he could very well had a lot of things on his mind when Morphy visited in 1858. Staunton remains a mystery.

Anonymous said...

Maybe he was out of the country.

Anonymous said...

Staunton was indeed very busy in 1858. I have seen one of his letters written in that year in which he has to decline an invitation from a friend because of work pressure. He received £1,000 from the publishers, Routledge, to edit the complete works of Shakespeare and was under contract to complete it on time. Long before 1858, Shakespeare had replaced chess as his main interest. It was not an excuse to avoid playing Morphy. I don't think he was afraid to lose at chess, otherwise he would not have played in the Birmingham tournament that year. Morphy had been been expected to play there too, but he changed his mind when he heard that Staunton would be there. Morphy's first round game was awarded to his opponent, Smith, when he didn't turn up.