The Madness of Count Louis
History says little about the famous A.I. du Pont’s younger brother, and what it does say is often wrong. Here, the authors attempt a more accurate account of his life and death. Yet the mystery surrounding his suicide remains.
(page 9 of 9)
AGAIN: BUT WHY?
Though it is near certain that Louis did indeed shoot himself, one is still hard pressed to determine why. The Wilmington Morning News described Louis as a young man with a “quick, nervous temperament.” Had he planned to kill himself in the Wilmington Club, or did his impulsive nature demand that he take a pistol from his pocket and pull the trigger, even without finishing the word he had begun in his letter to a friend?
The Wilmington Morning News even questioned the authenticity of the letter, saying on December 3 that he had not even commenced the missive, and on December 5 that the authorship was in doubt. Again, mystery compounds mystery.
If the letter is genuine, it supports Louis’ exchange with Porter in that Louis was exempting himself from upcoming events. This may imply his intent to end his life.
The question remains, why?
In a family of achievers like the du Ponts, Louis was an exception. Playful, talented, intelligent, Louis remained something of a failure. He had certainly failed at love, and perhaps in his eyes, he had failed at life. All of the contributing factors—the early death of his parents, the insanity of his mother, the fondness for alcohol, the dissolute life, and the success and tenacity of his older brother Alfred—played an inexorable role in Louis’ decision to kill himself.
One can offer another conjecture, namely, that his trafficking with prostitutes had resulted in the contraction of a sexually transmitted disease. There was no cure for syphilis in the 1890s. If Louis suffered from it, the disease would have assuredly impacted his mental and physical health. This is, to be sure, only a conjecture. There is no evidence to confirm the hypothesis, but all the recorded comments on his concerns about his health and his mental state suggest that something was definitely wrong.
Louis Cazenove du Pont now lies in peace in the du Pont private cemetery, Sandy Hole Woods, next to the grounds of the Hagley Museum. Ironically, Bessie Gardner du Pont is buried not far away, as is the cousin who so admired Louis, Pierre S. du Pont. (Alfred and Alicia Ball du Pont, his second wife, are buried at Nemours, the mansion he built for her.)
The slab above Louis’ grave gives only his name and the dates of his birth and death. No mention is made of parents or siblings, which was the custom in Sandy Hole Woods. But a faded inscription on the slab says much: “While he was still a long way off, his father saw him.”
This is a quotation from Christ’s parable of the prodigal son. It describes the father’s joy in seeing his son, who had left his family to lead a riotous life, then returned home. The inscription clearly dates from the time of Louis’ death, and must have been approved by Alfred, thus confirming an understanding of Louis’ life that the family as well as others shared.
It is a sad story, mainly because from other perspectives, Louis still had a great deal to live for and numerous opportunities to turn his life around. But people who kill themselves usually do not see things the way others do. Moreover, if our guess is correct, Louis probably felt compelled to do what he did.