June 14 - A Friend without the R

Story topics
Related Story

On June 14, 1897, Paul Laurence Dunbar in London wrote a discouraged letter to his mother Matilda in Chicago.  Paul was in England for a recital tour and to find an English publisher for his book Lyrics of Lowly Life.  He had hoped to send some money to Matilda but had nothing to give her after being cheated by an American friend.

I am so sorry that I must again disappoint you as to money on account of the rascality of Downing.  The recital was a great success and my share was $85.  The dirty dog paid me $40, nearly all of which I owed and the other $45 he got away with.  I have moved from his house.

Paul Laurence Dunbar to Matilda Dunbar, June 14, 1897.  Paul Laurence Dunbar Papers, Ohio History Connection (Microfilm edition, Roll 1).

Paul's letter referred to Henry Downing, who had been a diplomat in Africa for the U. S. State Department.

Henry F. Downing, a colored man, employed as a clerk in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, was notified yesterday that he had been appointed United States Consul at Port de Loando, on the Portuguese coast of Africa.  He is said to be a very clever young man and to have discharged his duties while in the yard very satisfactorily.

"A Colored Man Appointed."  The New York Times (New York, New York).  May 27, 1887.  Page 8.

Downing later returned to the United States and became a journalist, businessman and political activist in New York City.  He visited Chicago in 1893 at the same time Paul was in the city for the World's Columbian Exposition.  Downing moved to England after he was implicated in the death of a woman with whom he had had an affair in New York.

The coroner's jury which investigated the cause of death of Mary Adelina Creed could not have found a less satisfactory verdict.  Before the jury was called together it was known that the girl had had improper relations with Henry F. Downing, diplomat, statesman and head of a family.  It was known, too, that she had died suddenly in her own home with her friends around her.  Henry F. Downing must know something about the case.  He was not called as a witness because, forsooth, he could not be found.  If he has disappeared there is a reason for it.  The jury would have been justified, in the light of all the circumstances, in holding him guilty if they had proof that he had left the country.

"The Case of Miss Creed."  The Brooklyn Daily Eagle (Brooklyn, New York).  December 29, 1892.  Page 4.

Shortly after Paul arrived in England, he unexpectedly encountered Downing (whom he called "Dip").

You do not know whom I met on the street Saturday and at whose house I spent yesterday, last night and all of today.  If I were there I should make you guess, but I shall have to tell you.  It was no other than our old friend Dip, or in other words the Hon. Henry F. Downing, looking like a prince, married to a white woman and living at ease.  He wants me to come and live with them, and I don't know but I shall.  His wife is charming and exceedingly well educated and Dip says she has money, and she must have for he isn't doing a thing and dresses like a Lord.

Paul Laurence Dunbar to Matilda Dunbar, February 28, 1897.  Paul Laurence Dunbar Papers, Ohio History Connection (Microfilm edition, Roll 1).

Having experienced severe conflicts with Edith Pond, the manager of his English tour, Paul made Downing his manager and moved into his house.

Will you let this letter introduce to you my friend and manager Mr. Henry F. Downing?  You will greatly oblige me if you can spare him some time.

Paul Laurence Dunbar to D. Conway, no date [1897].  Paul Laurence Dunbar Papers, Ohio History Connection (Microfilm edition, Roll 2).

I am quite well at present.  Miss Pond is very anxious to know how I am getting on, but I am keeping her in the dark.  Don't be worried when I don't write as I am usually very busy.  Mrs. Downing sends her love and says come over and you and she will have a nice little time together.

Paul Laurence Dunbar to Matilda Dunbar, May 5, 1897.  Paul Laurence Dunbar Papers, Ohio History Connection (Microfilm edition, Roll 1).

I am in rather good health, in spite of a wee bit of indigestion.  I am still at Downings and shall probably remain here during my stay in London.  I will send you some money as soon as I can do so.  Miss Pond brought me here entirely out of the reading season, and I have made nothing by any readings since I came.  I expect to make something like fifty dollars in this coming one and if I do, I will send you a part of it anyway, as I have overstayed my month and feel that now I ought to pay for my living here when I have anything.

Paul Laurence Dunbar to Matilda Dunbar, no date [1897].  Paul Laurence Dunbar Papers, Ohio History Connection (Microfilm edition, Roll 1).

However, Paul told his mother Matilda and fiancée Alice Ruth Moore that Downing took more than his share of earnings from a recital.

The papers are right, I am not making a fortune;  I made 17 guineas Saturday at a recital and was positively robbed of them by an unprincipled scoundrel.  I am having a pretty fair time, however.

 Paul Laurence Dunbar to Alice Ruth Moore, June 10, 1897.  Paul Laurence Dunbar Papers, Ohio History Connection (Microfilm edition, Roll 5).

While I am still unable to send you anything I think best to write and keep you posted as to how I am.  I am very well at present and getting along as well as could be expected with Miss Pond doing nothing.  She does not even pay my board or I could have sent you some money last week.  I had great hopes from Downing but $85 was too much for him to have in his hands at once.  The temptation was too strong.  If things continue as they are I shall leave Miss Pond again and this time come home although I hear that the American papers are saying that my trip is a failure.

Paul Laurence Dunbar to Matilda Dunbar, June 22, 1897.  Paul Laurence Dunbar Papers, Ohio History Connection (Microfilm edition, Roll 1).