Saturday, July 5, 2008

An Odd Character



Francis Dunlop, Born In the Lap of Luxury and Splendidly Educated, Suddenly Became Crotchety and Remained So Until His Demise.

The most eccentric character that Washington has ever known passed from the public stage when Francis Dunlop died. For 40 years he had been an object of remark on account of the extravagance of his dress and the peculiarity of his expression and his movements, and for as long a time he was the inspiration of the jeers of the heartless and ignorant and the pity of the charitable.

Born in the lap of luxury and the son of proud and influential parents; reared as the youth of the old regime were reared, with the care and perseverance that such people bestowed upon their children; trained by tutors until a mind already fertile became rich in its resources and graduated from Princeton with the high honor to be expected from one who had possessed such advantages, young Dunlop entered manhood with every promise of a successful career. Suddenly his mind became crotchety. No one has over been able to determine the cause of his mental failure, or, rather, the sudden exaggeration of its whimsical tendencies. It is said that he was struck violently in the head when he was a boy, and that hard study, followed by a lively journey through Europe, brought on the malady that never left him.

From a polished, elegant, social man, with an aristocratic regard for the niceties of life, so far as appearances went, Dunlop changed into a secretive misanthrope, with apparently but one idea in the world, and that was to outrival Beau Brummel in his apparel and the Count d'Orsay in his walk and actions.

His manner was equally singular. Piercing eyes stared coldly from large eyeglasses beneath heavy black eyebrows, heightened with the aid of black pigment. His head was carried very slightly to one side, his arms being immovably down straight from the immense padded shoulders, and he walked mincingly on his toes.

For 40 years or thereabouts his figure was as familiar to Washingtonians as the dome of the capitol, yet he walked through the crowded streets staring like an image at the people who passed and to all appearances utterly oblivious of everybody. Sometimes when the street gamins would jeer him too noisily he would seem to be about to pause and give them a lesson, but such lapses were only momentary.

Store windows had a fascination for him, and he would pick his way down the business streets, stopping now and then before an attractive display, apparently unconscious of the display he was making of himself. In the better establishments he was regarded as a good customer, especially a few years ago, when he came into possession of considerable means. He was a remarkably good connoisseur of pictures and gems, for it must be understood that Dunlop's eccentricities did not eradicate the finer qualities of his intellect. The few who were permitted to sustain something like intimacy with him can abundantly testify to this, and he has no more sincere mourners than those who overlooked his grotesque fancies and enjoyed the friendship and the pleasure it meant. He was an omnivorous reader of books, but was quick to discern the good from the bad, and when the subject of literature was broached his share in its treatment was always sure to he instructing and gratifying to his companions. Sometimes his views were extravagant, and he grew impassioned in pointing out the failures of authors who, in his opinion, had missed chances for greatness.

Of late years Mr. Dunlop's circumstances became altered, and he could no longer indulge his extravagant tastes and fancies as had been his wont, but he continued to dress in his own singular style and to whet his passion for books.

Hundreds of stories will be told of him, many of which are apocryphal and most of them untrue. On account of the massive appearance of his shoulders he was gifted by the imaginative with gigantic physical powers, and tales are told of the prizefighters he whipped for doubting the genuineness of his physique. But he was a quiet, inoffensive man in everything save his personal appearance, and even charity must admit that he was appalling to the weak nerved. He cared nothing, as has been indicated, for the general run of humanity, but he had friends whom he cherished, and no prince was more prodigal in his hospitality than he was to such.

One incident illustrating this trait of his character occurred several years ago, when he occupied rooms in the National theater building. His windows looked out on the avenue, and when President Harrison's inauguration was drawing near two of Mr. Dunlop's friends requested his permission to bring their wives and view the parade from his apartments. He was eager to grant this request, and accordingly the gentlemen and ladies made their way to his rooms when the March morning arrived.

There was a sideboard in the room loaded down with every conceivable substantial and delicacy to make a long parade vigil bearable. Mr. Dunlop greeted his visitors cordially and then left the premises. The others waited for him patiently, the parade passed and was dispersed, and night came on. Nothing on the sideboard had been touched, the guests believing that their host would return. At last, hungry and tired, they went home. When Dunlop came back and found the feast undisturbed, he was very much hurt. As the knights of old had placed their castles and all they contained at the service of their brothers, so had he placed his all in the keeping of his friends, and he was pained that they had not used it as he wished them.

So he lived, and so he died. — Washington Post.

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