Sunday, April 3, 2016

Steinitz, Insanity, and Jews

Chess Notes 9830, by Edward Winter, has long quotes from the Pall Mall Gazette, of which Isidor Gunsberg was chess editor, concerning Wilhelm Steinitz's incarceration in an insane asylum in Moscow. Of particular interest to this blog is the following quote (see Winter's post for full details):

Source: Pall Mall Gazette, April 5th 1897, p. 10.
Steinitz's decision to write a book about Judaism in chess to combat antisemitism is remarkable. In fact, this report shows that Steinitz had, at least, began writing the book (hiring a typist to do so). Previous reports about it in the Gazette's chess column (see the link to Winter's C.N. 9830 above for details) call it a 'philosophical' book which Steinitz had contemplated writing for years, and that he 'raved' about it in Moscow. It seems -- unsurprisingly under the circumstances -- that the book was never finished.

It should be noted, in fairness, that while Steinitz's behavior was seen, from the reports quoted by Winter, as odd enough to require hospitalization, the belief in astral communication (with others distant, or with the dead) or attempting to employ it was, during the turn of the century, by no means an unusual idea. It was the heyday of numerous psychics and seers, and many people from W. B. Yeats to T. A. Edison to A. C. Doyle were either believers or at least considered trying to make such communications worth the effort. Perhaps they were naive or even foolish in this, but not insane.

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