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Brian Gosling’s Book on John Brown – A Review.

This month’s copy of The Problemist carries a review of Brian Gosling’s recent book on John Brown by the eminent problemist, Michael McDowell. It makes interesting reading for non-specialists. Here it is in full, courtesy of Christopher Jones.


NEW BOOKS, by Michael McDowell. 

John Brown – The Forgotten Chess Composer? by Brian Gosling. Paperback, xii + 209 pp.

Troubador Publishing Ltd. ISBN 978-1848767-294. Price £10. 

John Brown, otherwise known as J.B. of Bridport, was one of the most important English composers from the years of the mid-19th century known as the Transition Period, when the problem separated from the game. He died from tuberculosis in 1863 at the age of 36, and a memorial volume of his work was published two years later to raise funds for his destitute family. That volume, entitled Chess Strategy, is available in e-form from Anders Thulin’s website. Why then publish a new book about Brown? 

Brian Gosling is a player from East Devon who has an interest in problems and studies. The book’s main purposes are to present the fruits of his research into Brown’s life, and to introduce players to the art of composition, a goal for which Brown’s characteristic light, inviting problems are ideal. Fifty problems are presented in the main section, with solving hints, followed by the solutions. While there are some classics, many would nowadays be regarded as ordinary, but overall they give a fair impression of what was considered a good problem in the 1850s. The author has researched both the composer and his closest relatives. 

Brown was born into a family of Methodists, his father being a bookseller. He trained as a minister, but after only two years on probation resigned and became an Anglican. After his marriage in 1860 he was employed in Kentish Town as a coal-merchant’s clerk. The reader learns much about the upheavals in the Anglican and Wesleyan churches. To place Brown the composer in his historical context, there are chapters on the Transition School, the model mate and the Bohemian School, and Howard Staunton’s column in the Illustrated London News, where over half of Brown’s output was published. There is a list of references to Brown in specific years of the ILN, and an interesting addition is the ILN review of Chess Strategy. A chapter about Bernhard Horwitz and Josef Kling makes the debatable suggestion that they were major influences on Brown’s style. Another chapter presents H. F. L. Meyer’s views on Brown, taken from his 1882 book A Complete Guide to the Game of Chess, and the reader also learns something about Meyer. For an analysis of Brown’s style by a modern composer, the author has  included John Beasley’s BCPS lecture from November 1990, which contains some problems not found in the main section. There is a useful chapter on problem terminology and an extensive bibliography. The many illustrations include the one known photograph of Brown, and columns from the ILN

My few criticisms are minor ones. There are not many original sources, some of the solutions are not as full as they could be, and a few definitions are inexact. Twice the author refers to a failed white attempt as “leading to a draw”. It seems strange to say that Loyd invented the Excelsior theme, then immediately point out that Wormald had composed an earlier example. 

Mr. Gosling has produced an interesting and very worthwhile book. The Keverel Chess website mentions that proceeds will be used to pay for repairs to Brown’s headstone at Holy Trinity Church, Bradpole.

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