No Napoleonic Chess Player On An Air Cushion by Arthur Brisbane

Story type: Essay


Mr. Zangwill’s keen intellect, straining hard for striking pictures and word effects, sees falsely the great general of the future. He says:

“The Napoleon of the future will be an epileptic chess player, carried about the field of battle on an air cushion.”

In this condensed, picturesque fashion Mr. Zangwill expresses sententiously a number of mistaken ideas. He thinks that the game of war is like the game of chess, and that the future world conqueror will be a great chess player, using men as pawns and the world as his chess-board.

He observes the curious and interesting historical fact that of the world’s great conquerors many, including the two greatest, Napoleon and Alexander, were afflicted with that mysterious disease, epilepsy. He concludes that the great general of the future will probably be a confirmed epileptic.

The ability of a fighting man to-day resides largely, of course, in the brain. The general’s MUSCLES no longer count as a fighting factor. His battles are won or lost inside of his SKULL. Mr. Zangwill concludes that the future great general will have a mind developed to an abnormal extent at the expense of the body–he sees in the future world conqueror an abnormal creature, a giant brain perched on a miserable, wasted body, so feeble and delicate that it must be carried about the field of battle on an air cushion to prevent shocks. —-

The quotation from Zangwill which we print above contains only twenty-one words. Rarely have so many errors, so many fundamental yet plausible errors, been crowded into so little space.

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The Napoleon of the future, the great conqueror, will NOT be a chess player. The real Napoleon whom we know had no love for chess or any other waste of time, or any other form of self- indulgence.

Chess is no game for a Napoleon, or for any other man who wants to embody real accomplishment in the story of his life.


The man who makes the world’s great success will not be bound by rules. The great men of the world are great because they refuse to ADMIT impossibilities.

The man who plays chess has two knights, and these knights he can only send two squares in one direction and one square in another, or one square in one direction and two squares in the other. His two bishops can only move diagonally across the board, one on the white and one on the black. His castles lumber along on straight lines. His king cannot be touched or taken, and the game ends when the king is in fatal danger. The queen, in the dull game we call chess, can do almost anything.

But Napoleon was really a great man, and the game of life that he played was very different from the chess game.

When the king was in hopeless danger, Napoleon’s game had just begun. Others before him had looked upon kings on the board of life as the chess player looks upon the wooden or ivory king before him.

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But to Napoleon kings were pawns, to be moved around and made ridiculous. When he felt like it, he made pawns into kings–the descendant of one of his pawn-kings reigns to-day in Sweden.

Napoleon’s game deprived the queen of all power–she was less than a pawn. HIS game sent the bishops hopping back and forth, diagonally or at right angles, as he saw fit. He created knights to his heart’s content, and he taught them to move as he wanted.

Napoleon was great because there was nothing of the chess player about him. He did not admit of regular, foreordained moves on the chess-board or on the board of life. HE REFUSED TO CONSIDER ANYTHING IMPOSSIBLE UNTIL HE HAD TRIED IT. He tells us himself that he deserved credit for crossing the Alps, not that he accomplished a difficult feat, but because he refused to believe those who declared the feat impossible.

If anybody said “Check” to Napoleon, he kicked over the chess-board and began a new game of his own–that was what surprised the poor, dull old Austrian generals in Italy.

No; the real great man is no chess player, he has no chess player’s mind. And do you, Mr. Reader, waste no time at chess, if you have any idea of being WORTH WHILE in a big or a little way. —-

The Napoleon of the future will be no epileptic. That terrible disease has afflicted many of the noblest intellects, and it is undoubtedly a disease brought on, or at least intensified, by great intellectual activity and a lack of co-ordination between the mental and physical operations of the body. But some great men have been great, not because of that terrible disease, but in spite of it. Science will conquer that trouble, as it has conquered others, and the scientist to do this work will be, himself, one of the world’s great men. —-

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The Napoleon of the future will be no huge-brained dwarf, with feeble body, carried on an air cushion.

It is true that many great men of to-day are relatively small in body. The gigantic muscle, thick legs, broad shoulders and hairy chests of the successful Viking have nothing to do with modern achievement.

But it is also true that to-day, as always, the healthy mind lives in a healthy body, and lives ON a healthy body.

As well expect to find the most perfect fruit on a withered, half-dead tree, as to find the most able brain in a withered, half-dead body. The blood is the life of the brain, and unless a HEALTHY body supplies HEALTHY blood the brain’s chance is small.

Napoleon, it’s true, was at one time a physical wreck–BUT DON’T FORGET THAT HIS GREATNESS WAS ALSO A WRECK AT THAT TIME.

The GREAT Napoleon operated in a body tireless and powerful enough to remain thirty consecutive hours on horseback. It was a body so powerful that criminal neglect and stupid ignorance of the laws of health were powerless against it for many years.

The Napoleon that went to St. Helena dwelt in a worn-out body, a fat, degenerate perversion of the Napoleon that conquered the world.

The great conqueror of the future, ladies and gentlemen, will be a splendidly original brain, working through a perfectly developed body, AND WORKING FOR THE MASS OF THE PEOPLE, FOR THEIR FARE, NOT FOR THEIR CONQUEST AND OPPRESSION.

All of which is respectfully submitted to our readers for discussion and criticism.

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