Lewis Rou and the Lost Manuscript

by Bill Wall


Lewis Rou was born in Paris around 1676 and was educated at Leyden.  His father was a historical writer and the official interpreter to the Dutch States.


Reverend Lewis Rou (sometimes written as Louis Roux) was in Holland (some sources say Paris) around 1683.  He studied theology at the University of Leyden.  He was ordained on August 31, 1709. 


In July, 1710, Lewis Rou moved to America and became a pastor in the Huguenot church in New York.  He was a reverend at the French Reformed Protestant Church in New York.  He began his career at St. Esprit, one of New York’s oldest and largest congregations.  St Esprit was closed during the American Revolution when it was used to store supplies for British troops.


His first wife died giving childbirth, and the child also died.  Rou later married a 14-year old girl, which embarrassed his congregation.  His personal life became a popular topic of discussion.  Lewis and Renee, his young wife, eventually produced 14 children.


In December 1724, Lewis Rou protested against the Act of the Consistory as being unjust, violent, and irregular proceeding.  The church hired a new minister, Moulinars, and locked Rou out of the church and refused to pay him.


In 1725, Rou defended himself and wrote a book called Collection of Papers Concerning Mr. Lewis Rou’s Affair.  He was re-instated through help from New York Governor Burnet and the New York Council. 


In 1726, Rou published, A short discourse concerning his difference with the present consistory of the French Church in New York.  It was written and sold by William Bradford of New York City.


Around 1732, Benjamin Franklin wrote, but did not publish, an outline of his Morals of Chess.


On September 15, 1733, an article appeared in a Tory journal called the Craftsman (No. 376), called “A Short Essay on the Game of Chess,” with the signature R.  Some sources say that R was Lord Henry St. John Bolingbroke (1678-1751) a Tory Party member and editor of the Craftsman.  The article had much to do with chess, but it also has a political bias in favor of the Tory party.  It was, in fact, a Tory pamphlet and the authors had only a slight knowledge of the game.  Tory was a political philosophy based on a British version of traditionalism and conservatism.


On September 21, 1733, a reply to the original article on chess appeared as a 30-page pamphlet from a player from Slaughter’s Coffee-House (Old Slaughter’s).  The pamphlet was titled, A Letter to the Craftsman on the Game of Chess, occasioned by his Paper on the Fifteenth of this Month.  The reply was aimed at exposing the blunders in the original article, but this article made as many mistakes.  Slaughter’s was the principle London meeting place of British and foreign chess players.  The pamphlet was also political, but with the Whig viewpoint.  The pamphlet was written by Lord John Hervey (1696-1743), a well-known London figure.  In 1731, Hervey and Bolingbroke dueled against each other, but no one was hurt.


In 1734, British Royal Governor William Cosby (1690-1736) of New York was sent a copy of the Letter pamphlet.  He then showed it to Rev. Lewis Rou, who was noted for his love of chess and a good chess player, at least among his friends.  Cosby requested Rou to write some critical remarks about the chess portion of the articles.


On December 11, 1734, Lewis Rou wrote a manuscript on chess in response to the Letter pamphlet.  His title was “Critical Remarks Upon the Letter to The Craftsman at the Game of Chess Occasioned by His Paper on the 15th of Sept. 1733, and dated from Slaughter’s Coffee-House, Sept, 21.”  If this manuscript was found, it would be the earliest mention of chess in America.  Franklin’s “Morals of Chess” was published in 1786 and is the earliest known mention of chess in a manuscript in America.


The manuscript consisted of 24 pages, of a quarto size. It was prepared for the press, but never got printed.  It was divided into 17 chapters or paragraphs.  In the beginning of the manuscript, Rou dedicated the pamphlet to the Governor of New York, William Cosby.  Rou showed several mistakes, errors, or blunders committed in the articles.  The manuscript was never printed.


Rou’s language throughout the manuscript showed that he was thoroughly acquainted with the game and its literature and history.  Rou owned two editions of Vida’s chess poem and gave quotes both in the French and English translations of Gioachino Greco.  He gave chess terms in Persian, Spanish, and Hebrew.  He discussed Scholar’s mate, which he also called Sheppard’s mate among the French.  In the manuscript, he wrote, “Two bishops with their king as the end of a game, or even one bishop with a knight, can checkmated the contrary king, which two knights will never do with their king, and which plainly shows the bishops to be more valuable pieces than knights, at least in this respect, and more serviceable at the conclusion of the game.”


Rou may have written the earliest chess manuscript in North America.  However, some historians think the manuscript is a hoax.


In 1735, Rou wrote a short poem in Latin about chess players at the New York City coffee houses he frequented. 


Lewis Rou died in 1750 (some sources say 1754).


In 1774, a collection of poems was published which included Lewis Rou’s Latin poem about New York chess players.


In the 1770s, Cadwallader Colden (1688-1776), a physician and lieutenant governor of New York, wrote: “I knew Mr Rou, and I never heard him reproached with any immorality.  He was bookish and, as such men frequently are, peevish, and had nothing of the courtly, polite Frenchman.  The game of chess was the only amusement he took, and perhaps was too fond of it.  It was said that he wrote a treatise on that game.”


In December 1786, Benjamin Franklin published “The Morals of Chess” in The Columbian Magazine.


In 1857, Daniel Willard Fiske (1831-1904) borrowed the Rou manuscript from Dr. George Henry Moore (1823-1892), but did not make a complete copy before he returned it back to Moore.  Fiske wrote to Professor George Allen (1808-1876) of Philadelphia that “having in his possession an American chess manuscript, written in 1734, is no common find.”  Fiske published part of the manuscript in the First American Chess Congress Book in 1859.


In 1858, the original Rou manuscript still existed when it was in possession of Dr. George Henry Moore, at the time librarian of the New York Historical Society.


In 1859, the book on the First American Chess Congress, held in New York in 1857, was published by George Allen.  One of the chapters was entitled ‘Lewis Rou’ and written by Daniel Willard Fiske.


In 1892, Dr. Moore died.  After Dr. Moore’s death, his private collection was sold at auction and scattered.  He had been historian of the New York Historical Society, the Long Island Historical Society, the New York Ethnological Society, and librarian for the Lenox Library, which became the Astor Lenox and Tilden Foundation, and now the New York Public Library.  Rou’s manuscript was not found among his papers.  It was thought that the manuscript was in the hands of one of Crosby’s relatives but they were scattered throughout the United States, England, and Ireland.


In 1901, Fiske wrote, “I wish to assure you as solemnly as may be that there was in the Rou MS chapter of the Congress Book no shadow or trace of a hoax.  Everything there stated about it, every phrase there quoted from it, is exactly as represented, and I have often regretted that I did not make a complete copy of the document.  Mr. Moore lent the thin booklet to me for some time, but I was the a hard-worked man in N.Y. and could not well afford either to copy it myself or have it copied.”


In 1902, Fiske published a 16-page booklet in Florence, Italy (Landi Press) about the Rou manuscript, entitled, The Lost Manuscript of the Reverend Lewis Rou’s ‘Critical Remarks Upon the Letter to the Craftsman on the Game of Chess,’  


On August 2, 1902, the New York Times wrote an article called A Lost Manuscript on Chess.  The article was in response to a query from someone in England of obtaining a clue to a manuscript written by the Rev. Lewis Rou.


In 1903, Willard Fiske went to Europe to look for the manuscript.  He started in Copenhagen, Denmark, looking through the archives for traces of the document.  Fiske said that he thought the manuscript was lying in some attic or hidden in some private collection.  While Fiske was away, the librarian at Cornell sent letters to every librarian in America asking them to search for this lost manuscript.


On August 1, 1903, the New York Times printed an article about the lost Rou manuscript.  It stated that the librarian of Cornell University at Ithaca, New York (Daniel Fiske), offered $300 for accurate information of the whereabouts of the Rou manuscript.  The same request was made in the September 1903 issue of the British Chess Magazine.


In 1913, H.J.R. Murray published A History of Chess.   He mentioned the Rou manuscript on page 846, describing the manuscript as the oldest reference to chess in the New World.


In 1925, John Keeble (1855-1939) wrote a document entitled, ‘An analysis of the Lewis Rou MS in the Book of the first American chess congress, 1959.’  He believed the Rou manuscript was a hoax.


On March 27, 1926, John G. White (1845-1928) wrote a letter to John Keeble, who expressed the view that Fiske had a penchant for hoaxes.  He wrote, “I am surprised at your telling me that Mr. Murray still believes in the Rou Manuscript.  Fiske dearly loved such mystifications in his younger days, and when his memory of this particular one was revived by my correspondence with him the zest returned – hence his correspondence with Notes & Queries (British Chess Magazine) and his later elaborate attempts to bolster up the story.  How he came to father it on the particular person that he did I do not know, and cannot guess, but I presume his reading advised him of the existence of the person and he knew be impossible to dispute his statement.  I think in former letters I have told you of some of his more elaborate hoaxes.”


In the April 1932 issue of the American Chess Bulletin, an article entitled ‘The Rev Lewis Rou and his Manuscript,’ by Alfred C. Klahre.


In the May-June 1932 issue of the American Chess Bulletin, John Keeble wrote: ‘A curious feature of this account of the Rou MS is that nobody can say it is fictitious without saying that three persons had a hand in it.  The three are Professor Fiske, who wrote the account, Professor George Allen of Pennsylvania and George H. Moore, the libratian referred to above.’


In the January 1933 American Chess Bulletin, Alfred C. Klahre speculated that the manuscript was in Europe.


On April 2, 1933, The New York Times published an article called ‘Notes on Rare Books.’  It mentions that there has been a hunt for Rou’s lost manuscript for 75 years, but nothing has been found.


In the September-October 1933 American Chess Bulletin, Keeble wrote: “The late Mr. J.G. White, who was the most positive that this account by Mr. Fiske was a hoax, once or twice told me that he could never imagine how Mr. Fiske came to fasten the thing on Rou.  It occurred to me that perhaps he thought the letter [from Moore to Fiske] was a hoax also.”  Keeble thought that Fiske made all this up and the Rou manuscript was a hoax.


In 1934, Klahre published Early Chess in America.  He gave a detailed account of the Rou affair.  He mentioned that the New York Public Library had on hand three volumes of sermons and poems by Lewis Rou. 


In 1935, Alfred C. Klahre died.


In 1939, Keeble died.


In 2003, John McCrary wrote an article in the December 2003 issue of Chess Life, page 32, in which he mentions Lewis Rou.


In 2004, Edward Winter wrote A Chess Whodunit that summed up the search so far on the lost manuscript of Lewis Rou. (Chess Notes 3296, 3302, 3439).