Lilian: An Episode in Chess Problem History: Chess Problems By A Nineteenth Century Child Chess Prodigy

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In my work on “John Brown, the Forgotten Chess Composer”, Troubador (2011) I came across this booklet (100 pages, A4) on Lilian Baird, the young composer. It was kindly sent to me by the author, Christopher Ravilious, after a fruitless search for a copy on the internet. Only a few copies of the original book ever existed. I rate it very highly as an essential piece of research, and feel that it should be more widely known. Sadly Christopher passed away in January 2016. For thirty-two years he had been a librarian at Sussex University and was well respected as a first-rate archivist. Fortunately, Rita, Christopher’s widow, agreed to it to being published so it has fallen to me to bring his book to you in this form. Besides fifty one of Lilian’s compositions and solutions, it contains letters from famous 19th Century problemists such as Charles Gilberg, Frideswide F. Rowland, Heinrich F.L .Meyer, Philip H. Williams. and so on. It reminds us of an age which was slower and more comfortable, especially if one was fortunate enough to be born into a wealthy middle-class family. Frederick Gittins’ description of Lilian in his book “The Chess Bouquet” (1897) sums up the heroine of this book “… A child of thirteen, with long sunny golden hair falling back from a fine and lofty forehead, thoughtful eyes, and all the shy grace of childhood, she has already, in some mysterious, intuitive way, learned the secret of problem-composing, and, absolutely unaided, has produced upwards of seventy compositions which have excited the admiration of the most critical judges. Some of the first composers of the day have dedicated problems to her honour, editors of chess columns are continually asking her to contribute, and people have asked her for her autograph – one of the surest evidence of fame. Like a wise mother, however, Mrs Baird seeks to keep her back rather than to press her forward, so she is now being kept mainly to her lessons and those natural pleasures of childhood to which even the most gifted boy or girl turns with joy. Like her mother, she writes verses quite charmingly and draws beautifully; but, with all her gifts, she remains a child and the happiest and most industrious of schoolgirls…”. Lilian’s mother, Mrs Edith Baird, was a very prolific composer. She published about 2000 of her problems under her husband’s initials. “Mrs W. J. Baird”. She created a new type of chess problem –the retractor, and wrote two books on chess problems: “The Twentieth Century Retractor” (1907) and “Seven Hundred Chess Problems” (1902). You are beginning to wonder how much help Lilian received from her famous mother? Fortunately, Christopher deals with this question in the book, and I am not going to spoil it by telling you his judgement. Sit back and enjoy the wonderful world of the 19th-century chess problem. Brian Gosling. July 2018.

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Lilian: An Episode in Chess Problem History: Chess Problems By A Nineteenth Century Child Chess Prodigy

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