Friday, May 10, 2013

One of the privileged few

He was one of the privileged few to witness the celebrated 1858 match between Adolf Anderssen and Paul Morphy

Ray Keene on James Mortimer, The Spectator, 30 March 2013
He was one of the privileged few who witnessed the famous Anderssen-Morphy match

Jeremy P Spinrad on James Mortimer, Chess Café, 21 February 2006

On Wednesday we mentioned a piece Ray recently wrote in the Spectator.

An interesting and detailed column it is too, which leads one immediately to wonder - where did Ray crib it from?

The answer, in the first instance, is - as anybody reading the opening quotes will have gathered - a piece written for the Chess Café seven years ago by Jeremy P Spinrad. Despite the considerable contribution made by Mr Spinrad's piece to the one produced by Ray, it goes curiously unmentioned - unless of course we count Ray's borrowed line as some kind of hommage.

Ray, as I recall, does not enjoy the closest of relationships with the Chess Café. Nevertheless his Spectator piece enjoys a very close relationship with the Chess Café piece that pre-dates it. Of the various snippets of information in Ray's article, the following at least can be found in Spinrad:

  • Mortimer's service in the US diplomatic corps
  • His presence (see above) at the Morphy-Anderssen match
  • His friendship with Morphy
  • The curiosity of his receiving so many tournament invitations despite unimpressive results
  • His having defeated Zukertort, Chigorin and Lasker
  • His Cross of the Légion d'Honneur
  • His appointment as Figaro editor by Napoleon III
  • His having competed in three events at Simpson's 
  • His having died in San Sebastian when covering the tournament there as a reporter
  • The date of his obituary in the Times.

This is quite a lot. Most of it is worded rather differently in Ray's piece than in Spinrad's, though in the best traditions of Raygiarism the copier has been too lazy to cover his tracks on every occasion.

Although it is quite a lot, it is not everything, since there are some facts that Ray produces which are not, or not directly, found in Spinrad. These would include:

  • Mortimer's refusal to divulge the identity of a source, leading to his imprisonment
  • His production of "more than thirty" pieces for the London stage
  • His cause of death, pneumonia.

Where did Ray get these from? A clue is given by Spinrad's mention, in his section on Mortimer's disastrous court case, of the Oxford Companion To Chess*, a book of which I happen to have the first edition.

As you can see, their entry on James Mortimer has all three items, including the refusal to name his source**.

We are still missing Ray's claim that while in the big house, Mortimer taught chess to his fellow prisoners, but if we follow the advice at the foot of the last clipping and see their entry for PION COIFFÉ, we find this.

I've excised the game (it goes beyond the bottom of the page) but in the second paragraph we have "Mortimer encouraged chess playing when he was in Holloway gaol". Not entirely the same thing, you may think. Then again "not entirely the same thing" could be the motto on Ray's coat of arms***.

As far as I can see the only substantial piece of information not already accounted for is the year in which Mortimer's legal problems caused the sale of the Figaro and hence brought about the end of the "outstanding" (Ray) and "excellent" (Oxford Companion) chess column by Steinitz. This was 1882, which appears neither in Spinrad nor in my edition of the Oxford Companion.

It does, however, appear in the second.

But how do we know for sure that this is where Ray mined his material? I mean it could be just another in the long series of coincidences which have characterised Ray's career in journalism. In this instance, the coincidence would be that in James Mortimer's entry, somebody linked to the Chess Café piece just two postings before an entry by none other than our old friend.

Manifestly, Ray got it all off Spinrad - and the Oxford Companion which Spinrad cites. Nevertheless, neither the Oxford Companion nor Spinrad are mentioned in Ray's piece.

Obviously, a piece of journalism will not normally mention every source that it consults. However, if you're going to borrow practically the entirety of your piece from two particular places, it would be customary, shall we say, to say where you're borrowing from.

Particularly if you can't even be bothered to avoid using the other guy's phrasing.

[*Coincidentally, this volume also featured in the heavily-plagiarised Times obituary we wrote about last year.]
[**Although Spinrad, in fact, has a different account of the case.]
[***It's a little-known fact that Ray is an "expert in the field".]

[Thanks to Gordon Cadden and Jonathan.]

[Ray Keene index]

1 comment:

Jon H said...

Let no one else's work evade your eyes,
Remember why the good Lord made your eyes,
So don't shade your eyes
But plagiarize, plagiarize, plagiarize -
Only be sure always to call it please 'research'."

[From Tom Lehrer's song "Lobachevsky"]