03 August 2012

Bishop, Bishop, Burning Bright

Yesterday this blog featured a lowbrow post, After Fishey vs. Spasstic, so it's only fitting that today I make up for it with a highbrow post, or at least a post less lowbrow. These judgements are, after all, completely subjective and relative.

Chess (in 'Wise Words' set) © Flickr user Veronique (Image Focus Australia) under Creative Commons.

The text of what appears to be a poem is a quote from 'A Liberal Education' by Thomas Henry Huxley. I've italicized it in this longer excerpt.

Suppose it were perfectly certain that the life and fortune of every one of us would, one day or other, depend upon his winning or losing a game at chess. Don’t you think that we should all consider it to be a primary duty to learn at least the names and the moves of the pieces; to have a notion of a gambit, and a keen eye for all the means of giving and getting out of check? Do you not think that we should look with a disapprobation amounting to scorn upon the father who allowed his son, or the state which allowed its members, to grow up without knowing a pawn from a knight?

Yet, it is a very plain and elementary truth that the life, the fortune, and the happiness of every one of us, and, more or less, of those who are connected with us, do depend upon our knowing something of the rules of a game infinitely more difficult and complicated than chess. It is a game which has been played for untold ages, every man and woman of us being one of the two players in a game of his or her own. The chess-board is the world, the pieces are the phenomena of the universe, the rules of the game are what we call the laws of Nature. The player on the other side is hidden from us. We know that his play is always fair, just and patient. But also we know, to our cost, that he never overlooks a mistake, or makes the smallest allowance for ignorance. To the man who plays well, the highest stakes are paid, with that sort of overflowing generosity with which the strong shows delight in strength. And one who plays ill is checkmated--without haste, but without remorse.

My metaphor will remind some of you of the famous picture in which Retzsch has depicted Satan playing at chess with man for his soul. Substitute for the mocking fiend in that picture a calm, strong angel who is playing for love, as we say, and would rather lose than win--and I should accept it as an image of human life.

The chess metaphor must be well known, because there are dozens of copies of it scattered around the web. Since I can't recall seeing it before, I guess I'll have to limit certain of my lowbrow activities. Sigh!

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