Monday, March 07, 2011


The strongest evidence that Sir Thomas Browne was a Chess-player occurs in his spiritual testimony and psychological self-portrait   Religio Medici. Browne not only displays a familiarity with the game of Chess, but also apprehends the impending schism in the western intellect between scientific reason and religious faith stating-

 Thus the Devill played at Chesse with mee, and yeelding a pawne, thought to gaine a Queen of me, taking advantage of my honest endeavours; and whilst I labour'd to raise the structure of my reason, hee striv'd to undermine the edifice of my faith. -  R.M. Part 1:19

The game of  Chess is mentioned in the lesser-known half of  the 1658  Diptych Discourses,  The Garden of Cyrus. Aptly to his theme of   pleasurable delights, Browne alludes to several pastimes, including Backgammon, skittles and  the little stones in the old game of Pentalithismus, or casting up five stones to catch them on the back of their hand.

In The Garden of Cyrus Browne orbits beyond the ordered patterns of games such as Chess  and Backgammon (Tables)  into a near stream-of-consciousness rapture, utilizing dense layers of cosmic and Hermetic symbolism-

In Chesse-boards and Tables we yet finde Pyramids and Squares, I wish we had their true and ancient description, farre different from ours, or the Chet mat of the Persians, and might continue some elegant remarkables, as being an invention as High as Hermes the Secretary of Osyris, figuring the whole world, the motion of the Planets, with Eclipses of Sunne and Moon.

1 comment:

teegee said...

I got good at GO, but I never could learn to play Chess. I just ordered a copy of Last Year at Marienbad; maybe that will help me. Even Through the Looking Glass didn't help me.