Tuesday, 24 December 2013
My thanks to Tim Gow of Megablitz and more and to the late John G Robertson of Dundee, whose copy of Don Featherstone's Wargamers Yearbook 1966/7 has yielded the material for the next few posts.
In his introduction to the Yearbook, Don Featherstone explains that he has used it as an opportunity to publish material which was too long to work in his regular Wargamers Newsletter. The article which really caught my eye, because of my current interest in George Alfred Keef and the History of Georland, was called The Early Days of Wargaming. in fact this is about Robert Louis Stevenson and his wargaming activities in Davos in 1880-1883 with his stepson Lloyd Osbourne. This has been well known through Osbourne's article "Stevenson at Play" in Scribner's Magazine of December 1898, which has led to the generally accepted view that this was the first documented instance of systematic wargaming with figures.
Several impressions quickly emerged:
that George Keef's wargaming activities shared many characteristics with those of RLS;
and that George Keef got into full swing as recorded in the History of Georland in 1872, eight years before RLS games in Davos, and that the collection and wargaming with it hasd started as early as 1860.
Apart from its early date, the other notable features of the Georland Campaigns are how well they are documented, and that they were not known outside the family before this year (2013) when they came to light on the Antiques Roadshow.
In his article Don Featherstone talks about H.G. Wells and the other "DADDY of Wargaming" Robert Louis Stevenson. It now seems clear that while he didn't have the same public impact as the other two, as the History of Georland was not published, that George Alfred Keef now has an undeniable claim to join their company as the third Father of Early Wargaming.
The first part of Don Featherstone's article on Robert Louis Stevenson, taken from the Wargamers Yearbook 19966/7, with thanks to Tim Gow of Megablitz and more, and in memory of the late John G Robertson of Dundee.
The Early Days of Wargaming
There are few among us who do not have an intimate knowledge of the famous Bible of Wargaming “LITTLE WARS” by H.G. Wells. The majority of us possess a copy of the original book or one of the readily available reproductions. But there appears to be very little other information about Wells’ activities in this field – I have never come across any other references to Wells’ Wargames, not in his own writings, nor in those of his associates Jerome K. Jerome or G.L. Chesterton. It would be interesting to know if any information or references exist.
The other “DADDY of Wargaming” was Robert Louis Stevenson, the famous English writer, whose wargames at Davos Platz in Switzerland during the years 1880 to 1883 when he was convalescing from an illness, have been written up by his step-son and opponent Lloyd Osbourne.
An enthusiast who has gone to an immense amount of trouble in investigating these Wargames of Stevenson is Karl G. Zipple of 3514 Devonshire, Kalamazoo, Michigan 49007, U.S.A. Back in mid 1965 Karl and I exchanged a considerable amount of correspondence on this subject and sufficient arose from it to make what I consider to be a most valuable contribution to the literature and research of the early days of outr hobby. Some of the material that follows is extracted from letters written by Karl and much comes from an interesting little photo copied booklet which he has turned out on the subject and a copy of which is a pleasing possession of mine. Perhaps what follows will stimulate a reader to delve further into this fascinating subject – his researches would be welcome and would make further excellent reading, I am sure.
The article “Stevenson at Play” by Lloyd Osbourne appeared in Scribners magazine, volume 24, December 1898, pages 709 to 19. It was reprinted in “FURTHER MEMORIES” in the Tusitala Edition of the “WORKS OF ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON” (published by Heinemann in 1924).
In this connection I quote from a letter from Karl Zipple dated 25th of May 1965:
“Do you know what has become of the original manuscript from which the Scribner article was written? Was the article changed or more complete when it was reprinted in “FURTHER MEMORIES” in the Tusitala Edition of the Works of R.L.S. (Heinemann 1924)? This particular edition is not available ain any of the university libraries near here.
Another book that is not available in this area is “Robert Louis Stevenson at Davos”, W.G. Lockett, Hurst, London 1934. Do you know if this contains any further material?
J.C. Furnas wrote a biography of R.L.S. “Voyage to Windward”, New York 1951. He mentioned that Austin Strong (R.L.S.’s step grandson) played the Davos game in Samoa in 1892-3 under the name General Hoskyns. Strong later produced plays in New York, some with Osbourne. He died in 1958-59(?). Furnas also mentions that he had used previous biographies – especially from the Osbourne Estate (Lloyd died in 1947). It might be worthwhile writing to Furnas to see whether or not he had come across any further war game material – especially maps, as Stevenson enjoyed making maps.
Karl did write to J.C. Furnas and I quote from his letter dated from the 14th of May 1965:
“I wrote to J.C. Furnas in care of his literary agents in New York and they forwarded the letter to him in Georgia. He is travelling and does not have his files available but he gave me the address of a large collection of Stevensonia: if they do not have the original manuscript they may know where it is. I haven’t had a reply yet.”
Leaving no stone unturned, Karl Zipple next got in touch with the Yale University Library and I have in front of me a photo copy of a letter from them to Karl which I reproduce in its entirety:
YALE UNIVERSITY LIBRARY
New Haven Connecticut 06520
20 May 1965
Mr. Karl G. Zipple
3514 Devonshire Avenue
Kalamazoo, Michigan 49007
Dear Mr. Zipple:
Yes, we have the notebook, definitely not dog-eared, in which Robert Louis Stevenson wrote the war game published in v.20 of the Pentland Edition of his works as “Stevenson at Play”. The notebook contains a few additional but less complicated maps and some text that was omitted from the published version. We also have a few other and shorter manuscripts of RLS war games. These are described in volume 6 of A Stevenson Library, Catalogue of a Collection… formed by E.J. Beinecke, compiled by George McKay, New Haven, Yale University Library, 1961, pp 1730, 1988, 2042 and 2043.
Yours very truly,
signed Marjorie G. Wynne
The Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library
I do not know whether Karl Zipple followed up this letter as he later told me that he did not know when he would be able to get over to New Haven, Connecticut.
let us now turn to the article which contains the meat of the subject (here DF reproduces in full the text of the Lloyd Osbourne article “Stevenson at Play”)
Karl Zipple has some comments to make on this article and I quote from his letter of the 25th of March 1965.
“The two maps in the Scribners article must cover only 10% of the whole game map. Have tried unsuccessfully to reconstruct some of the missing portions by references to the text and using the maps from Sir Edward P. Hamley’s “Operations of War” 1872 edition which was R.L.S.’s text book of war. A complete master-map of this game would be interesting – even the names have an interesting sound. The road layout is somewhat odd to me – in this area roads usually are one mile apart and run NS and EW. Hamley’s maps and my own experiences with the Italian maps during the Cassino campaign give me some idea of how it should be laid out.
The 600 troops were divided 360 to Osbourne and 240 to Stevenson; by regiments (4 man/regt) Osbourne had 90 against Louis’ 60. On the two maps, if each unit symbol is a regiment, both generals must have been thoroughly committed, leaving no margin for earlier losses or diversionary tactics – i.e. “the column at Yolo and the small force in the West”. It could be that each side had additional “paper” strength in the form of the numbered cards that “dotted the countryside” – perhaps equal to the strength as shown by the soldiers themselves; then as the tin soldiers were removed from the field as killed, they replaced cards.
Some difficulty, too, is encountered in trying to determine what each soldier counted pointwise in casualties. By adding up all casualty figures in the correspondence, the totals are 55,000 K.W.P. for both sides yet the total is given as 17,600 K.W.P. If each man counted 100 and the lower figure used for the total it might be possible but the 55,400 figure would be out of the question. It might be that a cavalry regiment of 4 men = 600 and an infantry regiment of 4 men = 400: all men of a regiment down meant 600 or 400 killed; if even 1 man of a unit remained upright there would be 600 or 400 “wounded”. Would explain the low casualties – 1 shot per regt and the last man always takes one more shot to get – just like bowling! It will be noticed that 400 and 600 are the lowest figures given, all other figures are multiples of these – or sums of their multiples.”
John G. Garratt, in his excellent book “MODEL SOLDIERS” (published by Seeley Service and Co. London 1958) writes as follows:
“there now appears, as an exponent of the War game, one of the most gentle of men, Robert Louis Stevenson. It is to Lloyd Osbourne that we are indebted for the preservation of this intimate sketch of ‘Stevenson at Play’.”
All this, of course, occurred during Stevenson’s convalescence at Davos Platz, and thus fixes the date as between 1880-3. Osbourne being an acute observer, does what few writers of reminiscences bother to do – he actually describes the type of soldier with which the games were fought. He says, for instance, that Stevenson “possessed a horde of particularly chubby cavalrymen, who, when marshalled in close formation at the head of the infantry, could bear unscathed the most accurate and overwhelming fire (of sleeve-link, marble or button) and thus shelter their weaker brethren in the rear…. on my side there was a multitude of flimsy Swiss…so weak upon their legs that the merest breath would mow them down in columns, and so deficient in stamina that they would often fall before they were hurt”.
From this is would appear that Stevenson’s troops were semi-solids by Allgeyer, or solids by Haffner, or Heyde, whilst Osbourne’s forces were composed of Heinrichsen or Allgeyer flats. Furthermore, Stevenson’s Commander-in-Chief, “the formidable General Stevenson, corpulent with solder, was a detachable midget who could be mounted upon a fresh steed”, almost certainly a Heyde.
ALLGEYER. Furth. 1800-1896
Flats: 5-7 cm., later 30mm.
Semi-solids (from 1860) and solids: 40mm.
HAFFNER. Furth and Nuremburg. 1838-1898.
Flats, semi-flats, semi-solids, solids 30-40mm, - 7 cm.
HEYDE (Georg). Dresden. 1870-1944.
Semi-solids and solids, 20, 30, 40, 47, 54, 55, 60 mm.
This question of the authentic type of soldiers used in these Stevenson’s Wargames has also troubled Karl Zipple and I quote from his letter of the 14th of May 1965:
“have been trying to get more of the 40mm cast-iron semi-round Spanish-American War Soldiers that I had 35-40 years ago for the Stevenson game. The uniform is close to the Confederate – 1861-65. Garrett mentions them rather unkindly on page 135 – still they are small, durable and I like them. Have about 60 of them now. My brother and I are going to try to make up molds using the G.E. RTV 560 which will resist 1500˚F (better than the RTV 502) and cast them up in solder> Must try to get a few Heydes in 40mm – infantry at attention and make molds from them. Like RLS a mixture of uniforms from 1800-1860 will be reasonable – but will not use flats. Draw a line at the use of pop guns – couldn’t hit anything with one 35 years ago and would be worse today.”
Other literary gems concerning these activities have also been turned up by Karl Zipple and are given below.
(Here Don Featherstone reproduces the full text of Lloyd Osbourne's Scribners magazine article "Stevenson at Play" from December 1898, and the two posts which follow).
The second source identified by Karl G Zipple and published in the Wargamers Yearbook by Don Feateherstone was:
AN INTIMATE PORTRAIT OF R L S
by his Stepson Lloyd Osbourne
Chars. Scribner’s Sons 1924
But best of all were our “war games”, which took weeks to play on the attic floor.
These games were a naïve sort of “Kriegspiel”, conceived with an enormous elaboration, and involving six hundred miniature lead soldiers. The attic floor was made into a map, with mountains, towns, rivers, “good” and “bad” roads, bridges, morasses, etc. Four soldiers constituted a “regiment”, with the right to one shot when within a certain distance of the enemy; and their March was twelve inches a day without heavy artillery, and four inches with heavy artillery. Food and munitions were condensed in the single form of printers’ “Ms” twenty to a cart, drawn by a single horseman, whose move, like that of all cavalry, was the double of the infantry. One “M” was expended for every simple shot; four “Ms” for every artillery shot – which returned to the base to be again brought out in carts. The simple shots were pellets fired from little spring-pistols; the artillery shots were the repeated throws of a deadly double sleeve-link.
Here absurdity promptly entered, and would certainly have disturbed a German staff-officer. Some of our soldiers were much sturdier than others and never fell as readily; on the other hand, there were some disheartingly thin warriors that would go down in dozens if you hardly looked at then: and I remember some very chubby and expensive cavalrymen from the Palais Royal whom no pellets could spill. Stevenson excelled with the pistol, while I was a crack shot with the sleeve-link. The leader who first moved his men, no matter how few, into the firing range was entitled to the first shot. If you had thirty regiments you had thirty shots; but your opponent was entitled to as many return shots as he had regiments, regardless of how many you had slaughtered in the meanwhile.
This is no more than a slight sketch of the game, which was too complicated for a full description, and we played it with a breathlessness and intensity that stirs me even now to recall. That it was not wholly ridiculous but gave scope for some intelligence is proved by the fact that R L S invariably won, though handicapped by one-third less men. In this connection it may be interesting to know what a love of soldiering R L S always had. Once he told me that if he had had the health he would have gone into the army, and had even made the first start by applying for a commission in the yeomanry – which illness had made him forego. On another occasion he asked me who of all men I should most prefer to be, and on my answering “Lord Wolseley” he smiled oddly as though somehow I had pierced his own thoughts, and admitted that he would have made the same choice.
One conversation I heard him have with a visitor at the chalet impressed me irrevocably. The visitor was a fussy, officious person, who after many preambles ventured to criticise Stevenson for the way he was bringing me up. R L S, who was always the most reasonable of men in an argument, and almost over-ready to admit any points against himself, surprised me by his unshaken stand.
“Of course I let him read anything he wants”, he said. “And if he hears things you say he shouldn’t, I am glad of it. A child should early gain some perception of what the world is really like – its baseness.”
Another source on Stevenson's wargames, identified by Karl G Zipple:
VOYAGE TO WINDWARD
The Life Of
Robert Louis Stevenson
William Sloane Associated
New York 1951
The second winter at Davos was more private. The Stevensons rented a wooden chalet – rather like a New York elevated station on a mountain slope – near the hotel where the Symondses awaited the completion of a permanent home. The new quarters were as bleak as all else. But they afforded Lloyd room for his printing press and, in the lower story, which was difficult to heat, ample floor space for a new game:
From a military family-friend Louis had received Hamley’s “Operations of War” – a still recognized summary of the strategy, tactics, and logistics that Victorian soldiers developed out of the great campaigns since 1800, rich with maps and resounding names like Wellington and Moltke, written with a leisurely clarity akin to that of Darwin. Louis had been long attracted by, if seldom earnest about, chess, and by the picturesque moral devotion of soldiering – remember, the Charge of the Light brigade still outweighed, in literary convention, the fetid, feckless campaign that had included it. In a famous and unmistakably childish passage, Louis once professed to a consistent ambition to have been leader of a horde of irregular cavalry 34. Deeply as certain phrases of Tolstoi later affected him, he never forgave the great Russian for his disrespectful picture of strategists in “War and Peace”. It is strange indeed to find Louis Stevenson, who had never yet heard anything more warlike than the sunset gun from the Castle, lecturing a former captain of artillery from the siege of Sebastopol on the trenchant niceties of war. 35 (Inconsistently enough, he highly approved of Zola’s war scenes.) Now, in the chilly-to-freezing semi-basement of the Chalet am Stein, gathering hints from professional soldiers relegated to Davos, he set his ingenuity to work on a German-style war game that sounds like immense fun.
It had skill – popguns fired printers’ “ems” from Lloyds font of type, and the boy’s superior accuracy sometimes checked Louis’s superior planning; luck – data on strength and condition of opposing forces were scattered over the “theatre of war” on face-down cards, to prevent reconnoitring cavalry from knowing just where the most valuable information might lie; variations in quality of troops – some corps of lead soldiers, solider on their bases, stood fire that routed less staunch regiments; censorship and misleading news releases – the correspondence that Louis supplied to the Glendarule Times and the Yallobally Record is fine, if sometimes ferocious , travesty of British war correspondence of the period. When the Record suggested that General Osbourne be court-martialed, the editor was---hanged by order of General Osbourne. Public opinion endorsed this act of severity. My great-uncle, Mr. Phelim Settle, was present and saw him with the nightcap on and a file of his journal round his neck. 36
Louis always loved not so much making believe child-style – some biographers have missed the point – as the fun of making-believe, which is another matter. A child enjoys being a pirate specifically; some adults enjoy the general proposition of dressing up for and acting the part of a pirate: a few can do so without condescending toward either themselves in the part or the part itself. In an anecdote which I hope is not apocryphal, Louis is watching a child play boat and, wearying of it, climb out of the armchair that had been acting as boat, and walk away. “For heaven’s sake,” Louis calls after him, “at least swim!” That is genuine technique in play.
Until sent to school, Austin had been making friends with British jack-tars; proudly conducting pack horses down to Apia; building forts on the lawn with Arrick, that ingratiating cannibal; playing the old Davos war game with Louis and Lloyd, Austin being known as general Hoskyns; taking desultory lessons in history and arithmetic from Louis and Aunt Maggie.
34 Lloyd (An Intimate Portrait of R.L.S. : 37) wrote that, as a youth, Louis once planned to enlist in the Territorials. Possible but unlikely – there is no other mention of such a scheme.
35 Louis’s admiration for Tolstoi seems to have been bestowed on the didactic writings rather than the novels. This was no Russophobia – Louis was mad about Dostoevski in the early French versions.
36 “Stevenson at Play” (SS): XXVII, 374
Austin Strong was R.L.S.’s step-grandson.
(SS) is the South Seas edition of the works of R.L.S.
In a short biography at the end of his booklet, Karl Zipple gives the following two references:
Letters and Miscellanies of Robert Louis Stevenson, Volume 1. Published in New York by Charles Scribner’s and Sons, 1902
Lockett, W.G., Robert Louis Stevenson at Davos. Hurst, London, 1934.
Hamley, Sir Edward B., Operations of War, various editions, 1872. This was Stevenson’s textbook on war used to set up the rules. The maps may have been the basis for his war map?
I find this fascinating, stimulating and inspiring stuff and it makes me wonder whether in generations to come other wargamers will look as tolerantly at the literary offerings I have attempted to make in this wonderful hobby of ours.