Shelby Lyman on Chess: High School Dropout
Sunday, February 23, 2014
(Published in print: Sunday, February 23, 2014)
Although modest in the game’s skills, Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) had a lifelong passion for chess. And it served him well, particularly during his midlife sojourn in Europe, where the game was an informal diplomatic tool as well as the cornerstone of his social and amorous life.
Chess, of course, before the invention of chess clocks and rapid chess, was notably time-consuming.
It particular, the game took time away from Franklin’s language studies (Italian and French), which he providently saw important to purse in his late 20s.
As he later recalled, “I at length refused to play anymore, unless on this condition, that the victor in every game should have a right to impose a task, either in parts of the grammar to be got by heart, or in translations before our next meeting.
“As we played pretty equally, we thus beat one another into that language.”
An earlier joust with formal education was not as successful for the renowned autodidact. Attending Boston Latin School, the first public school to be founded in the colonies (1635), he withdrew before completion.
Nevertheless, as is well known, Franklin later joined Robert Treat Paine, Sam Adams and John Hancock — three other contemporary Latin School pupils — to sign the Declaration of Independence. That single act, of course, was only one of his singular accomplishments.
Not bad for a high school dropout with a time-consuming obsession with chess.
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