Popular Science Monthly/Volume 15/June 1879/The History of Games
|THE HISTORY OF GAMES.|
BEFORE examining some groups of the higher orders of games, with the view of tracing their course in the world, it will be well to test by a few examples the principles on which we may reason as to their origin and migrations. An intelligent traveler among the Calmucks, noticing that they play a kind of chess resembling ours, would not for a moment entertain the idea of such an invention having been made more than once, but would feel satisfied that we and they and all chess-players must have had the game from one original source. In this example lies the gist of the ethnological argument from artificial games, that, when any such appears in two districts, it must have traveled from one to the other, or to both from a common center. Of course this argument does not apply to all games. Some are so simple and natural that, for all we can tell, they may often have sprung up of themselves, such as tossing a ball or wrestling; while children everywhere imitate in play the serious work of grown-up life, from spearing an enemy down to molding an earthen pot. The distinctly artificial sports we are concerned with here are marked by some peculiar trick or combination not so likely to have been hit upon twice. Not only complex games like chess and tennis, but even many childish sports, seem well-defined formations, of which the spread may be traced on the map much as the botanist traces his plants from their geographical centers. It may give us confidence in this way of looking at the subject if we put the opposite view to the test of history and geography to see where it fails. Travelers, observing the likeness of children's games in Europe and Asia, have sometimes explained it on this wise: that, the human mind being alike everywhere, the same games are naturally found in different lands, children taking to hockey, tops, stilts, kites, and so on, each at its proper season. But, if so, why is it that in outlying barbarous countries one hardly finds a game without finding also that there is a civilized nation within reach from whom it may have been learned? And, what is more, how is it that European children knew nothing till a few centuries ago of some of their now most popular sports? For instance, they had no battledoor and shuttlecock and never flew kites till these games came across from Asia, when they took root at once and became naturalized over Europe. The origin of kite-flying seems to lie somewhere in southeast Asia, where it is a sport even of grown-up men, who fight their kites by making them cut one another's strings, and fly birds and monsters of the most fantastic shapes and colors, especially in China, where old gentlemen may be seen taking their evening stroll, kite-string in hand, as though they were leading pet dogs. The English boy's kite appears thus an instance, not of spontaneous play-instinct, but of the migration of an artificial game from a distant center. Nor is this all it proves in the history of civilization. Within a century, Europeans becoming acquainted with the South Sea Islanders found them down to New Zealand adepts at flying kites, which they made of leaves or bark-cloth, and called mánu, or "bird," flying them in solemn form with accompaniment of traditional chants. It looks as though the toy reached Polynesia through the Malay region, thus belonging to that drift of Asiatic culture which is evident in many other points of South Sea Island life. The geography of another of our childish diversions may be noticed as matching with this. Mr. Wallace relates that, being one wet day in a Dyak house in Borneo, he thought to amuse the lads by taking a piece of string to show them cat's-cradle, but to his surprise he found that they knew more about it than he did, going off into figures that quite puzzled him. Other Polynesians are skilled in this nursery art, especially the Maoris of New Zealand, who call it maui, from the name of their national hero, by whom, according to their tradition, it was invented; its various patterns represent canoes, houses, people, and even episodes in Maui’s life, such as his fishing up New Zealand from the bottom of the sea. In fact, they have their pictorial history in cat's-cradle, and, whatever their traditions may be worth, they stand good to show that the game was of the time of their forefathers, not lately picked up from the Europeans. In the Sandwich Islands and New Zealand it is on record that the natives were found playing a kind of draughts which was not the European game, and which can hardly be accounted for but as another result of the drift of Asiatic civilization down into the Pacific.
Once started, a game may last on almost indefinitely. Among the children's sports of the present day are some which may be traced back toward the limits of historical antiquity, and, for all we know, may have been old then. Among the pictures of ancient Egyptian games in the tombs of Beni Hassan, one shows a player with his head down so that he can not see what the others are doing with their clinched fists above his back. Here is obviously the game called in English hot-cockles, in French main-chaude, and better described by its mediæval name of qui fery?—or "who struck?"—the blindman having to guess by whom he was hit, or with which hand. It was the Greek kollabismos, or buffet-game, and carries with it a tragical association in those passages in the Gospels which show it turned to mockery by the Roman soldiers: "And when they had blindfolded him . . . . they buffeted him . . . . saying, Prophesy unto us, Christ, Who is he that smote thee?" (Luke xxii. 64; Matt. xxvi. 67; Mark xiv. 65).
Another of the Egyptian pictures plainly represents the game we know by its Italian name of morra, the Latin micatio, or flashing of the fingers, which has thus lasted on in the Mediterranean districts over three thousand years, handed down through a hundred successive generations who did not improve it, for from the first it was perfect in its fitting into one little niche in human nature. It is the game of guessing addition, the players both at once throwing out fingers and in the same moment shouting their guesses at the total. Morra is the pastime of the drinking-shop in China as in Italy, and may, perhaps, be reckoned among the items of culture which the Chinese have borrowed from the Western barbarians. Though so ancient, morra has in it no touch of prehistoric rudeness, but must owe its origin to a period when arithmetic had risen quite above the savage level. The same is true of the other old arithmetical game, odd-and-even, which the poet couples with riding on a stick as the most childish of diversions, "Luder par impar, equitare in arundine longa." But the child playing it must be of a civilized nation, not of a low barbaric tribe, where no one would think of classing numbers into the odd-and-even series, so that Europeans have even had to furnish their languages with words for these ideas. I asked myself the question whether the ancient Aryans distinguished odd from even, and curiously enough found that an answer had been preserved by the unbroken tradition not of Greek arithmeticians, but of boys at play. A scholiast on the Ploutos of Aristophanes, where the game is mentioned, happens to remark that it was also known as ζυγὰ ῆ ἄζυγα, "yokes or not-yokes." Now, this matches so closely in form and sense with the Sanskrit terms for even and odd numbers, yuj and ayuj, as to be fair evidence that both Hindoos and Greeks inherited arithmetical ideas and words familiar to their Aryan ancestors.
Following up the clews that join the play-life of the ancient and modern worlds, let us now look at the ball-play, which has always held its place among sports. Beyond mere tossing and catching, the simplest kind of ball-play is where a ring of players send the ball from hand to hand. This gentle pastime has its well-marked place in history. Thus the ancient Greeks, whose secret of life was to do even trivial things with artistic perfection, delighted in the game of Nausikaa, and on their vases is painted many a scene where ballplay, dance, and song unite in one graceful sport. The ball-dance is now scarcely to be found but as an out-of-the-way relic of old custom; yet it has left curious traces in European languages, where the ball (Low Latin balla) has given its name to the dance it went with (Italian ballare, ballo, French bal, English ball) and even to the song that accompanied the dance (Italian ballata, French ballade, English ballad). The passion of ball-play begins not with this friendly, graceful delivery of the ball into the next hand, but when two hostile players or parties are striving each to take or send it away from the other. Thus, on the one hand, there comes into existence the group of games represented by the Greek harpaston, or seizing-game, where the two sides struggled to carry off the ball. In Brittany this has been played till modern times with the hay-stuffed soule or sun-ball, as big as a football, fought for by two communes, each striving to carry it home over their own border. Émile Souvestre, in his "Derniers Bretons," has told the last story of this fierce game in the Ponthivy district—how the man who had had his father killed and his own eye knocked out by François, surnamed le Souleur, lay in wait for that redoubted champion, and got him down, soule and all, half-way across the boundary stream. The murderous soule-play had to be put down by authority, as it had been years before in Scotland, where it had given rise to the suggestive proverb, "All is fair at the ball of Scone." The other class of hostile ball-games differs from this in the ball having not to be brought to one's own home, but sent to the goal of the other side. In the Greek epikoinos, or common-ball, the ball was put on the middle line, and each party tried to seize it and throw it over the adversary's goal-line. This game also lasted on into modern Europe, and our proper English name for it is hurling, while football also is a variety of it, the great Roman blown leather ball (follis) being used instead of the small hand-ball, and kicked instead of thrown. Now, as hurling was an ordinary classical game, the ancients need only have taken a stick to drive the ball instead of using hands or feet, and would thus have arrived at hockey. But Corydon never seems to have thought of borrowing Phillis's crook for the purpose it would have so exactly suited. No mention of games like hockey appears in the ancient world, and the course of invention which brought them into the modern world is at once unexpected and instructive.
The game known to us as polo has been traced by Sir W. Ouseley, in Persia, far back in the Sassanian dynasty, and was at any rate in vogue there before the eighth century. It was played with the long-handled mallet called chugán, which Persian word came to signify also the game played with it. This is the instrument referred to in the "Thousand and One Nights," and among various earlier passages where it occurs is the legend told by the Persian historian of Darius insulting Alexander by sending him a ball and mallet (guï ve chugán) as a hint that he was a boy more fit to play polo than to go to war. When this tale finds its way to Scotland, in the romance of King Alisaunde, these unknown instruments are replaced by a whipping-top, and Shakespeare has the story in the English guise of a newer period in the scene in "Henry V.": "What treasure, uncle?"—"Tennis-balls, my liege." By the ninth century the game of chugán had established itself in the Eastern Empire, where its name appears in the barbarous Greek form τζνκανίζειν. In the Byzantine descriptions, however, we find not the original mallet, but a long staff ending in a broad bend filled in with a network of gut-strings. Thus there appear in the East, as belonging to the great sport of ball-play on horseback, the first shapes of two implements which remodeled the whole play-life of mediæval and modern Europe, the chugán being the ancestor of the mallets used in pall-mall and croquet, and of an endless variety of other playing clubs and bats, while the bent staff with its network was the primitive racket. The fine old Persian drawing of a match at chugán, which is copied by Ouseley in his "Travels in the East," justifies his opinion that the horseback game is the original. We should not talk of polo as being "hockey on horseback," but rather regard hockey as dismounted polo, and class with it pall-mall, golf, and many another bat-and-ball game. Indeed, when one comes to think of it, one sees that no stick being necessary for the old foot-game of hurling, none was used, but, as soon as the Persian horsemen wanted to play ball on horseback, a proper instrument had to be invented. This came to be used in the foot-game also, so that the Orientals are familiar both with the mounted and dismounted kinds. The horseback game seems hardly to have taken hold in Europe till our own day, when the English brought it down from Munniepoor, and it has now under the name of polo become a world-wide sport again. But the foot-game made way early into Europe, as appears from a curious passage in Joinville's "Life of St. Louis," written at the end of the thirteenth century. Having seen the game on his crusade, and read about it in the Byzantine historians, he argues that the Greeks must have borrowed their tzycanisterium from the French, for it is, he says, a game played in Languedoc by driving a boxwood ball with a long mallet, and called there chicane. The modern reader has to turn this neat and patriotic argument upside down, the French chicane being only a corruption of the Persian chugán; so that what Joinville actually proves is, that before his time the Eastern game had traveled into France, bringing with it its Eastern name. Already, in his day, from the ball-game with its shifts and dodges, the term chicane had come to be applied by metaphor to the shuffles of lawyers to embarrass the other side, and thence to intrigue and trickery in general. English has borrowed chicane in the sense of trickery, without knowing it as the name of a game. Metaphors taken from sports may thus outlast their first sense, as when again people say, "Don't bandy words with me," without an idea that they are using another metaphor taken from the game of hockey, which was called bandy from the curved stick or club it was played with.
In France, the name of crosse, meaning a crutch, or bishop's crosier, was used for the mallet, and thence the game of hockey has its ordinary French name, jeu de la crosse. In Spanish, the game has long been known as chueca. The Spaniards taught it to the natives of South America, who took kindly to it, not as mere boys' play, but as a manly sport. It is curious to read accounts by modern European travelers, who seem not to recognize their own playground game when transplanted among the Araucanians of Chili, even though it shows its Spanish origin by the name of chueca. Seeing this, one asks whence did the North American Indians get their famous ball-play, known from California right across the Indian country? It is to all intents the European chueca, crosse, or hockey, the deerskin ball being thrown up in the middle, each of the two contending parties striving to throw or drive it through the adversaries' goal. The Iroquois say that in old times their forefathers played with curved clubs and a wooden ball, before the racket was introduced, with which to strike, carry, or throw the leather ball. Of all the describers of this fine game, Catlin has best depicted its scenes with pen and pencil, from its beginning with the night ball-play dance, where the players crowded round their goals, held up and clashed their rackets, and the women danced in lines between, and the old men smoked to the Great Spirit and led the chant for his favor in the contest. The painter would never miss a ball-play, but sit from morning till sundown on his pony, studying the forms of the young athletes in their "almost superhuman" struggles for the ball, till at last one side made the agreed number of goals, and divided with yells of triumph the fur robes and tin kettles and miscellaneous property staked on the match. Now, as to the introduction of the game into North America, the Jesuit missionaries in New France, as early as 1636, mention it by their own French name of jeu de crosse, at which Indian villages contended "à qui crossera le mieux." The Spaniards, however, had been above a century in America, and might have brought it in, which is a readier explanation than the other possible alternative that it made its way across from southeast Asia.
When the middle ages set in, the European mind at last became awake to the varied pleasure to be got out of hitting a ball with a bat. The games now developed need not be here spoken of at length proportioned to their great place in modern life, as the changes which gave rise to them are so comparatively modern and well known. The Persian apparatus kept close to its original form in the game of pall-mall, that is, "ball-mallet," into which game was introduced the arch or ring to drive the ball through, whereby enough incident was given to knocking it about to make the sport fit for a few players, or even a single pair. An account of pall-mall and its modern revival in croquet will be found in Dr. Prior's little book. Playing the ball into holes serves much the same purpose as sending it through rings, and thus came in the particular kind of bandy called golf, from the clubs used to drive the ball. The stool-ball, so popular in mediæval merrymakings, was played with a stool, which one protected by striking away with his hands the ball which another bowled at it; the in-player was out if the stool was hit, or he might be caught out, so that here is evidently part of the origin of cricket, in which the present stumps seem to represent the stool. In club-ball a ball was bowled and hit with a club; and a game called cat-and-dog was played in Scotland two centuries ago, where players protected not wickets but holes from the wooden cat pitched at them, getting runs when they hit it. We have here the simple elements from which the complex modern cricket was developed. Lastly, among the obscure accounts of ancient ball-play, it is not easy to make out that the ball was ever sent against an opposite wall for the other player to take it at the bound and return it. Such a game, particularly suited to soldiers shut up in castle-yards, became popular about the fourteenth century under the name of pila palmaria, or jeu de paulme, which name indicates its original mode of striking with the palm of the hand, as in fives. It was an improvement to protect the hand with a glove, such as may still be seen in the ball-play of Basque cities, as at Bayonne. Sometimes a battledoor faced with parchment was used, as witness the story of the man who declared he had played with a battledoor that had on it fragments of the lost decades of Livy. But it was the racket that made possible the "cutting" and "boasting" of the mediæval tennis-court, with its elaborate scoring by "chases." No doubt it was the real courtyard of the château, with its penthouses, galleries, and grated windows, that furnished the tennis-court with the models for its quaintly artificial grilles and lunes so eruditely discussed in Mr. Julian Marshall's "Annals of Tennis." A few enthusiastic amateurs still delight in the noble and costly game, but the many have reason to be grateful for lawn-tennis out of doors, though it be but a mild version of the great game, to which it stands as hockey to polo or as draughts to chess.
Turning now to the principal groups of sedentary games, I may refer to the evidence I have brought forward elsewhere, that the use of lots or dice for gambling arose out of an earlier serious use of such instruments for magical divination. The two conceptions, indeed, pass into one another. The magician draws lots to learn the future, and the gambler to decide the future, so that the difference between them is that between "will" and "shall." But the two-faced lot that can only fall head or tail can only give a simple yes or no, which is often too simple for either the diviner or the gambler. So we find African negroes divining with a number of cowries thrown together to see how many fall up and how many down; and this, too, is the Chinese method of solemn lot-casting in the temple, when the falling of the spoon-like wooden lots, so many up and so many down, furnishes an intricate result which is to be interpreted by means of the book of mystic diagrams. When this combination of a number of two-faced lots is used by gamblers, this perhaps represents the earlier stage of gaming, which may have led up to the invention of dice, in which the purpose of variety is so much more neatly and easily attained. The first appearance of dice lies beyond the range of history, for, though they have not been traced in the early periods in Egypt, there is in the Rig-Veda the hymn which portrays the ancient Aryan gambler stirred to frenzy by the fall of the dice. It is not clear even which came first of the various objects that have served as dice.
In the classic world girls used the astragali or hucklebones as playthings, tossing them up and catching them on the back of the hand; and to this day we may see groups of girls in England at this ancient game, reminding us of the picture by Alexander of Athens, in the Naples Museum, of the five goddesses at play. It was also noticed that these bones fall in four ways, with the flat, concave, convex, or sinuous side up, so that they form natural dice, and as such they have been from ancient times gambled with accordingly. In India Nature provides certain five-sided nuts that answer the purpose of dice. Of course, when the sides are alike, they must be marked or numbered, as with the four-sided stick-dice of India, and that which tends to supersede all others, the six-sided kubos, which gave the Greek geometers the name for the cube. Since the old Aryan period many a broken gamester has cursed the hazard of the die. We moderns are apt to look down with mere contempt at his folly. But we judge the ancient gamester too harshly if we forget that his passion is mixed with those thoughts of luck or fortune or superhuman intervention which form the very mental atmosphere of the soothsayer and the oracle-prophet. With devout prayer and sacrifice he would propitiate the deity who should give him winning throws; nor, indeed, in our own day have such hopes and such appeals ceased among the uneducated. To the educated it is the mathematical theory of probabilities that has shown the folly of the gamester's staking his fortune on his powers of divination. But it must be borne in mind that this theory itself was, so to speak, shaken out of the dice-box. When the gambling Chevalier de Méré put the question to Pascal in how many throws he ought to get double-sixes, and Pascal solving the problem started the mathematical calculation of chances, this laid the foundation of the scientific system of statistics which more and more regulates the arrangements of society. Thus accurate method was applied to the insurance-table, which enables a man to hedge against his ugliest risks, to eliminate his chances of fire and death by betting that he shall have a new roof over his head and a provision for his widow. Of all the wonderful turns of the human mind in the course of culture, scarce any is more striking than this history of lots and dice. Who, in the middle ages, could have guessed what would be its next outcome—that magic sunk into sport should rise again as science, and man's failure to divine the future should lead him to success in controlling it?
Already in the ancient world there appear mentions of games where the throws of lots or dice, perhaps at first merely scored with counters on a board, give the excitement of chance to a game which is partly a draught-game, the player being allowed to judge with which pieces he will move his allotted number. In England this group of games is represented by backgammon. When Greek writers mention dice-playing, they no doubt often mean some game of this class, for at mere hazard the Persian queen-mother could not have played her game carefully, as Plutarch says she did, nor would there have been any sense in his remark that in life, as in dicing, one must not only get good throws, but know how to use them. The Roman game of the twelve lines (duodecim scripta) so nearly corresponded with our trictrac or backgammon, that M. Becq de Fouquières, in his "Jeux des Anciens," works out on the ordinary backgammon-board the problem of the Emperor Zeno that has vexed the soul of many a critic. All these games, however, are played with dice, and as there exist other games of like principle where lots are thrown instead of dice, it may perhaps be inferred that such ruder and clumsier lot-backgammon was the earlier, and dice-backgammon a later improvement upon it. Of course, things may have happened the opposite way. Lot-backgammon is still played in the East in more than one form. The Arabic-speaking peoples call it tab, or game, and play it with an oblong board or rows of holes in the ground, with bits of brick and stone for draughts of the two colors, and for lots four palm-stick slips with a black and white side. In this low variety of lot-backgammon, the object is not to get one's own men home, but to take all the adversary's. The best representative of this group of games is the Hindoo pachisi, which belongs to a series ancient in India. It is played on a cross-shaped board or embroidered cloth, up and down the arms of which the pieces move and take, in somewhat the manner of backgammon, till they get back to the central home. The men move by the throws of a number of cowries, of which the better throws not only score high, but entitle the player to a new throw, which corresponds to our rule of doubles giving a double move at backgammon. The game of pachisi has great vogue in Asia, extending into the far East, where it is played with flat tamarind-seeds as lots. It even appears to have found its way still farther eastward, into America, forming a link in the chain of evidence of an Asiatic element in the civilization of the Aztecs. For the early Spanish-American writers describe, as played at the court of Montezuma, a game called patolli, played after the manner of their European tables or backgammon, but on a mat with a diagram like a or Greek cross, full of squares on which the different-colored stones or pieces of the players were moved according to the throws of a number of marked beans. Without the board and pieces, the mere throwing hazards with the beans or lots, to bet on the winning throws, furnishes the North American tribes with their favorite means of gambling, the game of plum-stones, game of the bowl, etc.
It is a curious inquiry what led people to the by no means obvious idea of finding sport in placing stones or pieces on a diagram and moving them by rule. One hint as to how this may have come about is found in the men at backgammon acting as though they were "counters" counting up the throws. The word abax, or abacus, is used both for the reckoning-board with its counters and the play-board with its pieces, whence a plausible guess has been made that playing on the ruled board came from a sportive use of the serious counting instrument. The other hint is that board-games, from the rudest up to chess, are so generally of the nature of Kriegspiel, or war-game, the men marching on the field to unite their forces or capture their enemies, that this notion of mimic war may have been the very key to their invention. Still these guesses are far from sufficient, and the origin of board-games is still among the anthropologist's unanswered riddles. The simpler board-games of skill, that is, without lots or dice, and played by successive moves or draws of the pieces, may be classed accordingly as games of draughts, this term including a number of different games, ancient and modern.
The ancient Egyptians were eager draught-players; but though we have many pictures, and even the actual boards and men used, it is not clear exactly how any of their games were played. Ingenuity and good heavy erudition have been misspent by scholars in trying to reconstruct ancient games without the necessary data, and I shall not add here another guess as to the rules of the draughts with which Penelope's suitors delighted their souls as they sat at the palace gates on the hides of the oxen they had slaughtered; nor will I discuss the various theories as to what the "sacred line" was in the Greek game of the "five lines," mentioned by Sophocles. It will be more to the purpose to point out that games worth keeping up hardly die out, so that among existing sports are probably represented, with more or less variation, the best games of the ancients. On looking into the mentions of the famous Greek draught-game of plinthion, or polis, it appears that the numerous pieces, or "dogs," half of them of one color and half of the other, were moved on the squares of the board, the game being for two of the same color to get one of the other color between them, and so take him. The attempt to reason out from this the exact rules of the classic game has not answered. But on looking, instead of arguing, I find that a game just fitting the description still actually exists. The donkey-boys of Cairo play it in the dust with "dogs," which are bits of stone and red brick, and the guides have scratched its síga, or diagram, on the top of the great pyramid. If it was not there before, it would have come with Alexander to Alexandria, and has seemingly gone on unchanged since. There is an account of it in Lane's "Modern Egyptians," and any one interested in games will find it worth trying with draughts on a cardboard square. One kind of the Roman game of latrunculi was closely related to this, as appears from such passages as Ovid's "cum medius gemino calculus hoste perit," referring to the stone being taken between two enemies. The poet mentions, a few lines further on, the little table with its three stones, where the game is "continuasse suos," to get your men in a line, which is, of course, our own childish game of tit-tat-to. This case of the permanence of an ancient game was long ago recognized by Hyde in his treatise, "De Ludis Orientalibus." It is the simplest form of the group known to us as mill, merelles, morris, played by children all the way across from Shetland to Singapore. Among the varieties of draught-games played in the world, one of the most elaborate is the Chinese wei-chi, or game of circumvention, the honored pastime of the learned classes. Here one object is to take your enemy by surrounding him with four of your own men, so as to make what is called an "eye," which looks as though the game belonged historically to the same group as the simpler classic draughts, where the man is taken between two adversaries. In modern Europe the older games of this class have been superseded by one on a different principle. The history of what we now call draughts is disclosed by the French dictionary, which shows how the men used to be called pions, or pawns, till they reached the other side of the board, then becoming dames, or queens. Thus the modern game of draughts is recognized as being, in fact, a low variety of chess, in which the pieces are all pawns, turned into queens in chess-fashion when they gain the adversary's line. The earliest plain accounts of the game are in Spanish books of the middle ages, and the theory of its development through the mediæval chess problems will be found worked out by the best authority on chess, Dr. A. van der Linde, in his "Geschichte des Schachspiels."
The group of games represented by the Hindoo tiger-and-cows, our fox-and-geese, shows in a simple way the new situations that arise in board-games when the men are no longer all alike, but have different powers, or moves. Isidore of Seville (about a. d. 600) mentions, under the name of latrunculi, a game played with pieces of which some were common soldiers (ordinarii), marching step by step, while others were wanderers (vagi). It seems clear that the notions of a kriegspiel, or war-game, and of pieces with different powers moving on the checker-board, were familiar in the civilized world at the time when, in the eighth century or earlier, some inventive Hindoo may have given them a more perfect organization by setting on the board two whole opposing armies, each complete in the four forces, foot, horse, elephants, and chariots, from which an Indian army is called in Sanskrit chaturanga, or "four-bodied." The game thus devised was itself called chaturanga, for when it passed into Persia it carried with it its Indian name in the form shatranj, still retained there, though lost by other nations who received the game from Persia, and named it from the Persian name of the principal piece, the shah, or king, whence schach, eschecs, chess. According to this simple theory, which seems to have the best evidence, chess is a late and high development arising out of the ancient draught-games. But there is another theory maintained by Professor Duncan Forbes in his "History of Chess," and prominent in one at least of our chess handbooks, which practically amounts to saying that chess is derived from backgammon. It is argued that the original game was the Indian fourfold-chess, played with four half-sets of men, black, red, green, and yellow, ranged on the four sides of the board, the moves of the pieces being regulated by the throws of dice; that in course of time the dice were given up, and each two allied half-sets of men coalesced into one whole set, one of the two kings sinking to the position of minister, or queen. Now, this fourfold Indian dice-chess is undoubtedly a real game, but the mentions of it are modern, whereas history records the spread of chess proper over the East as early as the tenth century. In the most advanced Indian form of pachisi, called chupur, there are not only the four sets of different-colored men, but the very same stick-dice that are used in the dice-chess, which looks as though this latter game, far from being the original form of chess, were an absurd modern hybrid resulting from the attempt to play backgammon with chess-men. This is Dr. van der Linde's opinion, readers of whose book will find it supported by more technical points, while they will be amused with the author's zeal in belaboring his adversary Forbes, which reminds one of the legends of mediæval chess-players, where the match naturally concludes by one banging the other about the head with the board. It is needless to describe here the well-known points of difference between the Indo-Persian and the modern European chess. On the whole, the Indian game has substantially held its own, while numberless attempts to develop it into philosophers' chess, military tactics, etc., have been tried and failed, bringing, as they always do, too much instructive detail into the plan which in ancient India was shaped so judiciously between sport and science.
In this survey of games, I have confined myself to such as offered subjects for definite remark, the many not touched on including cards, of which the precise history is still obscure. Of the conclusions brought forward, most are no doubt imperfect, and some may be wrong, but it seemed best to bring them forward for the purpose of giving the subject publicity, with a view to inducing travelers and others to draw up minutely accurate accounts of all undescribed games they notice. In Cook's "Third Voyage" it is mentioned that the Sandwich Islanders played a game like draughts with black and white pebbles on a board of fourteen by seventeen squares. Had the explorers spent an hour in learning it, we should perhaps have known whether it was the Chinese or the Malay game, or what it was; and this might have been the very clew, lost to native memory, to the connection of the Polynesians with a higher Asiatic culture in ages before a European ship had come within their coral reefs.
It remains to call attention to a point which this research into the development of games brings strongly into view. In the study of civilization, as of so many other branches of natural history, a theory of gradual evolution proves itself a trustworthy guide. But it will not do to assume that culture must always come on by regular, unvarying progress. That, on the contrary, the lines of change may be extremely circuitous, the history of games affords instructive proofs. Looking over a playground wall at a game of hockey, one might easily fancy the simple line of improvement to have been that the modern schoolboy took to using a curved stick to drive the ball with, instead of hurling it with his hands as he would have done if he had been a young Athenian of b. c. 500. But now it appears that the line of progress was by no means so simple and straight, if we have to go round by Persia, and bring in the game of polo as an intermediate stage. If, comparing Greek draughts and English draughts, we were to jump to the conclusion that the one was simply a further development of the other, this would be wrong, for the real course appears to have been that some old draught-game rose into chess, and then again a lowered form of chess came down to become a new game of draughts. We may depend upon it that the great world-game of evolution is not played only by pawns moving straight on, one square before another, but that long-stretching moves of pieces in all directions bring on new situations, not readily foreseen by minds that find it hard to see six moves ahead upon a chess-board.—Fortnightly Review.
- "Primitive Culture," chap. iii.
- See the author's paper in the "Journal of the Anthropological Institute," November, 1878.