RK Leather pic

RK Leather

RK Leather

Robinson Kay Leather – Uranian Poet and Chess Player

One of the strongest of the Liverpool Chess players during its golden age as shown by his games listed at the foot of this post against Lasker, Gunsberg, Burn and others. His rating on chessDB website is rated at 2136

The Leeds Mercury of  Saturday, January 25, 1890 had this intriguing snippet

“Mr RK Leather, the well known Liverpool chess player who is at present staying in the neighbourhood of Ilkley, has recently encountered several of the Ilkley players in individual combat, to the invariable discomfiture of the local men.
Mr Leather has kindly consented to engage 6 boards in simultaneous play at the Ilkley club room on Wednesday evening next.
In view of Ilkley’s tie with Blenheim last week and of the impending contest of next saturday, this engagement will be invested with special interest and it will no doubt prove an admirable training for the Ilkley players for the severe work before them next Saturday”

So how did this contest go, and would we be inspired to take on and beat the mighty Leeds Blenheim club? We turn to The Leeds Mercury, Saturday, February 1, 1890.

Mr RK Leather, one of the strongest Liverpool players contended simultaneously against 7 of the best players of Ilkley at the clubroom Wednesday evening last.
As will be seen from the table, results were most disastrous for the Ilkley men who now await the visit of the formidable Blenheimites today in a proper spirit of humiliation. The following players contended against Mr Leather, with the result as shown appended to each name:
S Brogden 0
G Brumfitt 0
W Critchley 0.5
B M Hood 0
R Ecroyd 0
J Mawson 0
W Vickers 0

Mr Leather 6.5
Ilkley 0.5

Oh dear. 

So who was R. K. Leather and what was he doing in Ilkley? The answer to the latter can be gathered from the following advertisement.

Leather was in poor health and it is extremely likely that he was in Ilkley to take the water cure. Some private tutoring would help pay the bills. He played the following game which could have been against one of the weaker members of the club.

Liverpool Mercury – Saturday 06 June 1891

After a recovery he played a correspondence game against Henry Millard, the blind player who was involved with chess in Ilkley before the club was formed.

Liverpool Mercury  – Saturday 06 June 1891

Leather didn’t last much longer

“It is not fitting that the death of Mr RK Leather, MA, sometime of Liverpool should pass unnoticed. To all those who new him, and indeed to those who only knew of him, the news of his early death comes as a saddening but not unexpected blow. Five years ago there were those who saw in him a young man of letters of signal promise who would take no mean place among the writers and poets of his generation. In 1890 he published a modest volume of verses and later in the same year he and Mr Le Gallienne gave to the world a little book with the curious title “The Student and the body snatcher”

But it was just when his muse was becoming known beyond his immediate circle of friends that he was stricken with paralysis. A voyage to the East followed and he spent some time in Algiers if memory serves. His health improved considerably whilst abroad and on his return he settled in a quiet Devonshire village with a fair prospect of a permanent recovery. The fell disease however was not to be averted and on Saturday last soothed in his last hours by all the tenderness that love can give, he passed to where beyond these voices there is peace.

Mr Leather was at on time a student of University college Liverpool and formerly edited the “university college magazine”
Among his old fellow students his memory will be long cherished.

Liverpool Mercury, Tuesday 23 April 1895
Updated: 16.03.2016 with the following clipping:

Liverpool Mercury – Wednesday 24 April 1895

Yes, Leather’s main claim to fame was not his chess, but his writing. He was a co-author of a book of short stories with fellow Liverpudlian Richard Le Gallienne. Le Gallienne would go on to become a significant figure on the literary and bohemian scene.

Leather also published a volume of his poetry to ‘mixed’ reviews.

The Graphic (London, England), Saturday, April 11, 1891

You can judge for yourself. Here’s one that Le Gallienne thought good enough to be included in his anthology of English poetry. (The first verse seems to give the rather dubious advice that boys shouldn’t pick up girls late at night in case they turn out to be ugly in daylight.)


Advice to a Boy 

BOY, should you meet a pretty wench 
unseen, alone, at twilight hour, 
ask not her name; 
for on the crowded street at noon 
she ill could brook the glare and gaze, 
and Jack and Bill would call her plain, 
and it were nothing but a dream, 
and you would wake. 

Ask no forget-me-not, nor name 
a trysting-place, for she will change, 
and you will change; 
but if upon your memory 
no single detail you imprint, 
perchance will come into your mind 
her witchery all unawares, 
at twilight hour. 

A biography of George Bernard Shaw contains the following intriguing paragraph.

Bernard Shaw: The Ascent of the Superman By Sally Peters

Uranians were homosexuals who promoted what they saw as the Ancient Greek ideal of the love of older men for younger men and adolescent boys, a notion Oscar Wilde picked up from Lord Alfred Douglas – with famously tragic consequences.

Leather was seen as a protégé  of Le Gallienne (who wrote a fictionalised portrait of Leather as ‘George Muncaster’) and ‘protégé’ is the term used by Tim Harding in his book ‘Eminent Victorian Chess Players’ to describe Leather’s relationship to fellow Liverpool Chess Club member, Amos Burn. Burn was a top player of the time  and Leather merely a promising one, but Burn took him to Amsterdam 1889 where Burn was the winner and Leather lost every game. (They can be viewed here,  but take Chessgames’ assertion that he was a Professor with the usual helping of salt.) It is easy to read more into the Burn – Leather relationship than actually was the case. Perhaps they were just good friends and team-mates.

To finish with one of his rare recorded victories, here’s a game that The Liverpool Mercury of Saturday 16 April 1892 described as, ‘A smart little game played some time ago between two experts well known in Liverpool’.  The loser was eight times Scottish Champion.

[Event “?”] [Site “?”] [Date “????.??.??”] [Round “?”] [White “Leather, R. K.”] [Black “Mills, D. Y.”] [Result “1-0”] 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 a6 4. Ba4 Nge7 5. d4 b5 6. Bb3 Nxd4 7. Bxf7+ Kxf7 8. Nxe5+ Kg8 9. Qxd4 d6 10. Nc6 1-0

RK Leather games Amsterdam 1889

RK Leather Biography
http://ilkleychess.blogspot.co.uk/?view=classicROBINSON KAY LEATHER
(born 1865, died Apr-20-1895, 29 years old) United Kingdom
[what is this?]
He was a Professor at Liverpool University.

Last updated: 2016-07-28 12:52:37

page 1 of 1; 7 games PGN Download

Game Result Moves Year Event/Locale Opening
1. J Bauer vs R Leather 1-0 37 1889 Amsterdam B00 Uncommon King’s Pawn Opening
2. R Leather vs J Mason 0-1 34 1889 Amsterdam A07 King’s Indian Attack
3. R Leather vs Lasker 0-1 56 1889 Amsterdam A07 King’s Indian Attack
4. Loman vs R Leather 1-0 16 1889 Amsterdam B00 Uncommon King’s Pawn Opening
5. R Leather vs Gunsberg 0-1 83 1889 Amsterdam A07 King’s Indian Attack
6. L Van Vliet vs R Leather 1-0 53 1889 Amsterdam C53 Giuoco Piano
7. R Leather vs Burn 0-1 37 1889 Amsterdam C49 Four Knights

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