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Old December 14th 05, 08:45 PM posted to
Jeremy Spinrad
Posts: n/a
Default Augustus Mongredien's Non-Chess Life

This is not the full article, which will include more chess and I will
incorporate into my proposed book, but here is what I was able to dig up about
Mongredien in a relatively short amount of time. Hope you enjoy it, and thanks
for the suggestion!

Augustus Mongredien

Historical memory can be strange at times. Some strong players are remembered,
while other equally strong players from the same time period are forgotten.
Sometimes a player's chess reputation obscures their reputation in other
fields, while other strong players are remembered vividly in their outside
field of endeavor, and their chess is almost forgotten. As for second-rank
players, it is often an accident of fate as to whether we remember them or not;
it may depend on whether their name survives in an opening variation, or a
particularly colorful story (which does not have to be true) is associated with

Mongredien is an interesting example of a rare phenomenon. He was quite
famous outside of the chess world for a period of time, and only a
player of the second rank, but he is remembered in the chess world while
his reputation outside of chess has been completely forgotten. The
only similar case I can recall is that of Judge Meek. One of the
reasons both of these non-masters are remembered in chess is that they
each played a role in the career of Paul Morphy, and there is
a continued interest in Morphy above all other chess players of the nineteenth
century. Meek, a much weaker player than Mongredien, is discussed elsewhere
in this book, but I would also like to bring attention to Mongredien's
interesting life story.

The Oxford Companion to Chess gives a short summary of Mongredien,
which shows how he is generally viewed by chess historians. The actual
entry is for the Mongredien Variation (1.e4 g6 2.d4 Bg7 3.Nf3 b6) "played
twice in the London 1862 tournament by Augustus Mongredien (1807-88), the
London-born son of a refugee from the French revolution. Mongredien (his
descendants dropped the accent) was president of both London and Liverpool
chess clubs at the same time, a measure of his popularity."

I think the summary above is accurate as far as it goes, but it might
be quite surprising to learn that Mongredien was a very controversial
figure in one of the crucial debates of the nineteenth century. The reason
that most chess players are not aware of his claim to political fame is that
it came long after his time as a chess player.

I note that a descendant, Philippe Mongredien, adds on a genealogy web site
that his mother, Adrien Mongredien emigrated to London in 1802 because she
was a royalist, while the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography mentions
his father fleeing to England after Bonaparte's coup in 1798. The Oxford
Biography also says that he was president of the London Chess Club by 1839,
and held that position for more than 30 years. As to his general character,
it calls Mongredien an energetic and versatile man, a considerable linguist,
a good musician, a great conversationalist, and somewhat of a bon vivant.

(survey on stimulants)

Mongredien must always have had some interest in politics, since he joined
a reformist group called the National Political Union in 1831, and is
listed as a member of the associated Radical Club in 1838. Outside of these,
the first references I can find for Mongredien (with one exception,
an announcement of the birth of his son, who later became a chess player
himself, in 1844) are as a chess player. He was quite active as a player in
the mid 1840s, playing a match against Williams in 1844 (the score of this
match is unknown), and matches against Bledow (4-7-1), Mayet (3-3-1),
Hanneken (3-1-2) and Staunton (0-2-3, with the odds sometimes given as P+2)
in 1845. Keene and Coles' book on Staunton give Hanstein instead of Hanneken
as his opponent, but I believe this to be an error. Stanley prints a number of
games of Mongredien in his column in Spirit of the Times, and tries to arrange
a match between New York and Liverpool, where Mongredien is club president.
In 1847 and 1848, the London Times carries a number of advertisements from
Mongredien for a steam boat which sails between Liverpool and the
Mediterranean. This business is a failure, and Mongredien is forced into
bankruptcy. Bankruptcy hearings are noted in the London Times in late 1849.
The most interesting detail to chess players is that one of the opponents of
Mongredien in a law case covered in the paper on Dec. 12, 1849 is a Mr.
Perigal. I assume that this is the well known chess player George Perigal,
but I do not know whether the law case ever affected their relationship over
the chess board.

Mongredien is next seen as the president of the London Chess Club. It is
easy to find Mongredien games from the 1850s. The Chess Player and Chess
Players Chronicle carry many such games with a variety of opponents. I am
amused by a comment on one game in the Spirit of the Times, Sept 27, 1851.
The game, in which Mongredien is defeated by Jaenisch at the London Chess
Club, is taken from Bell's Life of Aug 31, 1851. The final note on the
game is that "Had certain of our poetical contemporaries recorded this game,
Jaenisch would doubtless go down to posterity as "the great conqueror of
Mongredien, and chief of --- the ivory handled umbrella." The mate would
also have been described as given in the "cloud compelling style.""

(give game)

In matches around this time, Mongredien loses 9-6 to Medley in 1850, and 4-0-1
to Williams in 1851. The book Uncrowned Champions gives scores of the informal
games played by Kieseritzky at the time of the great London 1851 tournament;
Kieseritzky wins the majority against Buckle, Mayet, Szen, Loewenthal, Bird,
and Anderssen, ties Jaenisch 1-1-1, and has a losing score (1-2) only against

Later scores of Mongredien are not very impressive. We must remember that
Mongredien, born in 1807, was neither a young man nor a chess professional
when he lost matches against Morphy (7-0-1 in 1859), Harrwitz (7-0-1 in 1860),
Steinitz (7-0 in 1863), and finished near the bottom of the strong London
1862 tournament.

In the chess world, Mongredien had the reputation as a particularly friendly
opponent. Kennedy calls him a prince, Morphy was particularly friendly with
Mongredien, and he is listed as a contributor to both chess and charitable
causes. As a side note, Mongredien was one of the first proponents of
chess played with randomized starting positions (see, for example, The
Eclectic Magazine of Foreign Literature, January, 1876), and some of these
old games have been preserved.

Outside of the chess world, my first reference to Mongredien in London comes
from the London Times of January 19, 1850. He is called a corn-factor (an agent
for the sale of corn), and writes a report entitled "Report on Corn Consumption
of Indian Corn in Ireland in 1849." Although it is hard to imagine a less
interesting title, the report dealt with an important issue. It had
been illegal to import corn into England or Ireland, but the great potato
famine led to a loosening of this law. Supporters of Free Trade felt that
this was a major step in easing the famine, and used it as an argument for
further reduction of tariffs in general. The corn laws were a subject of lively
debate in the press for many years.

Around 1870, Mongredien publishes Trees and Shrubs for English Plantations.
I believe that this may have also had an alternate title, since a book
about trees and shrubs by Mongredien is advertised as The Planter's Guide
in the London Times of Oct. 28, 1870. There is a perplexing advertisement
in the Times of May 21, June 21, and July 15, 1878 with the listing "Frank
Allerton: an Autobiography. By Augustus Mongredien. 3 vols."

At the age when most people think about slowing down, Mongredien suddenly
became extremely active and controversial. He became an ardent activist
for free trade, and wrote controversial pamphlets on the subject. The first
was called "Free Trade and the English Economy", which appeared around 1879.
The book was recommended by popular politcian John Bright, and sold tens of
thousands of copies.

Mongredien's most mcontroversial book, The Western Farmer of America,
came out in 1880. The book claimed that protective tariffs imposed to help
United States farmers actually had a negative overall impact on the farmers
themselves, as well as on the entire trade system. Some of the responses
to the book deal with serious technical objections, but other reactions
were quite heated. The Christian Union of June 30, 1880 says that "The
pamphlet is written in order to secure a larger sale of English manufactures
in the United States." The International Review of December, 1880, calls it
an extraordinary example of insular thought. The North American Review of
November, 1882, writes of the essay "Our farmers are the object of the
deepest solicitude and sympathy on the part of the Cobden Club [JS: a
free trade organization which distributed Mongredien's work]. It is
distance (colored by self-interest) leads enchantment to the view." It is
called an incendiary pamphlet in The Literary World of July 16, 1881.

A particularly colorful attack on the book appears in the Rolla New Era of
November 23, 1889. It begins with

If I did Steal Eggs, I Didn't Suck 'Em

Such was the plea set up in extenuation of his offense offered up by a robber
of hens' nests when caught in the theft. Very analogous is the argument used
by Mr. Augustus Mongredien, the great high priest and expounder of British
Free-Trade, when charged ...

Why did this book attract so much attention? It was not just what was written,
but how it was distributed. The Cobden club decided to attempt to persuade
farmers of the benefits of free trade by distributing hundreds of thousands
of copies for free in the Western United States. The tactic did not work.
Recalling the hard lesson learned, the leader of the Cobden club tells the
Tribune on Sept. 27, 1891 "One of the things that persuaded us that it was
unwise to discuss the question of free trade in America was the reception
given to Augustus Mongredien's "The Western Farmers of America." The book
was simply torn to pieces." The issue still rankled westerners years later;
the Castle Rock (Colorado) Journal of September 7, 1892 recalls when the
Cobden club "hired one Professor Mongredien to write up the side of Free
Trade, and his books were scattered free by the 100,000 through the west."

Mongredien, though his seventies, continued to publish at a rapid pace.
The History of the Free Trade Movement appeared in 1881. It and again was
distributed free in the United States, and even translated into Japanese and
sold at a low price there; Mongredien is called a very controversial writer
in the Literary World of July 16, 1881. Other books on economics include
Pleas for Protectionism Examined, Wealth-Creation, Free Trade and English
Commerce, and Trade Depression, Recent and Past. Overland Monthly and Out West
Magazine of July, 1883, calls Mongredien "one of the few men practically
engaged in commercial matters who have ever taken up the study of economics",
as part of a very favorable review of Mongredien's work. The Atlantic of July,
1883, says that the short works published by Mongredien are planned as part of
a larger single work. Mongredien also branched out into other areas of
politics; an 1883 pamphlet on privatizing the Suez Canal was supported by Lord
Granville, but opposed by Gladstone. The Liberal government awarded Mongredien
a pension of 100 pounds per year in 1886; he was a sufficiently controversial
figure that the pension provoked parliamentary opposition, as reported in the
London Times of Aug 30, 1887.

Thus, he is remembered in his obituaries not as a chess player, but as a
political writer. The Brooklyn Eagle of April 5, 1888 announces that
"Mr. Mongredien, the eminent writer on free trade, is dead.", while Current
Literature of December 1888 remembers Mongredien as "an able member of the
Cobden Club and a strong, clear writer on free-trade and political economy."

For some reason, even though free trade versus protection remains an issue
in current politics, the heated economic denates of the past seem uninteresting
to us. We Americans may have learned that William Jennings Bryan said
"You shall not crucify mankind on a cross of gold", but the accompanying
rallying cry of 16-1 (the proposed silver vs gold ratio in coinage) strikes us
as bizarre. Thus, Mongredien's appeals for free trade are forgotten, while
some of his chess games remain classics. Mongredien also lives on in
another field, which is only mentioned briefly in the article up to this point.

Mongredien's book on trees and Shrubs for English Plantations was not simply
the jottings of an aristocratic dilettante, but a part of a serious interest
in commercial botany. He purchased a 300 acre estate in 1862, as well as an
experimental farm in the 1870s. Mongredien employed some of the leading
botanists of his time period as directors of a company, but it was an
expensive failure. Mongredien's first attempt at commercial gardening
was quite important. Although not the enormous success he hoped for,
his advocacy created a boom in a plant which still has some advocates today.

Mongredien decided to create a lawn which did not require mowing. The
Horticulturist and Journal of Rural Art and Rural Taste of June, 1859,
and Aug, 1859 likes Mongredien's idea; this quote is from Gardener's Chronicle
of January 19, 1860.

New Substitute for Lawn Grass

Spergula Pilifera - To Mr. Mongredien belongs the merit of having first pointed
out that Spergula Pilifera was capable of forming an excellent substitute for
grass in the formation of lawns. A piece of ground planted here four years
ago with this pretty little moss like Alpine, is now, and has been for these
three years, closely covered with a carpet of the richest green - soft and
elastic to tread, and forming a turf equal to that of the finest grass, for
which, at first sight, it might easily be mistaken. Over grass, it however,
posesesses many advantages; in the first place, it requires no mowing, and it
is reported to withstand the effects of a long-continued drought better than
any grass, remaining comparatively green when the latter has been burnt up.

The article continues at length, saying that it seems extremely promising but
needs to be tried out on a larger scale. A search for spergula pilifera
on the web gives thousands of hits; the plant is also called Lawn Pearlwort
and according to some web sites Irish Moss. Gardening is as unknown and
terrifying field to me as chess is for my wife, but the plant seems to
still have commercial appeal and according to one web site is "generally
known in consequence of its failure some years since as a substitute for lawn
grass." Not mowing lawns sounds like a wonderful boon to mankind. I have
to wonder whether this plant is being suppressed by high tariffs imposed by
grass farmers, and whether someday this will be what Augustus Mongredien
will finally be remembered for.

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