Sunday, December 5, 2021

Charles R. Dake / Charles Romeyn Dake

Homeopathic News, May 1893 
Charles Romeyn Dake (b. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, 22 December 1849; d. Belleville, Illinois, 22 April 1899) 

There persists a question over Dake's middle name. Throughout his life, in his profession as a doctor, and as a journal editor and author, he by-lined himself as "Charles R. Dake" (or sometimes "C.R. Dake").  His only book was published four months after his death, and gives his name in two variants: "Charles Romeyn Dake" on the front cover, and "Charles Romyn Dake" on the title and copyright pages.  His college records from the early 1870s give his full name as "Charles Romeyn Dake" (and in a short story from 1892, Dake named a character "Charles Romeyn"), so I believe "Romeyn" to be the correct spelling of his middle-name.

He was the only son of David Merritt Dake (1814-1891) and Mary Bainbridge Manuel (1814-1895), who were married in 1835. He had four sisters, one of whom died in infancy. According to a biographical sketch in a History of St. Clair County, Illinois (1881), "Dake's father, grandfather, great-grandfather, all of his uncles and their sons, have been and are physicians," some of them allopaths, some homeopaths, and some other types.

Dake was educated at the Western University of Pennsylvania, and he graduated with honors from the College of Physicians and Surgeons (the Medical Department of Columbia College) in New York in 1872.  He went west in 1873, intending to go south, but stopped off in Belleville, Illinois, where his father had started a practice, and decided to remain there. He married Belleville native Eugenia Cordelia Swyer (1857-1944) on 12 September 1874.  They had two daughters, Grace (1883-1954) and "Mae" [Mary] (1880-1946).  [Mae's third daughter, Grace Bechtold (1909-1988) became a well-known figure in New York publishing, and worked for Bantam Books for almost forty years.]

Dake became one of the best-known physicians in western and southern Illinois. He was made editor of the monthly journal Homeopathic News (published out of St. Louis) in May 1893 (a photo of Dake appears in his inaugural issue). He wrote articles, and in the December 1892 issue he published his first attempt at fiction, a short story entitled "The Limits of Imagination," which won a $200 prize for the best short story submitted by an active physician. By popular request it was followed by a second story, "The Death and Regeneration of Gerald Deane," in the May 1893 issue. Dake's only published novel was A Strange Discovery (New York: H. Ingalls Kimball, [17 August] 1899). H. Ingalls Kimball  (1874-1933) had been a partner with Herbert S. Stone in the publishing firm of Stone & Kimball which operated from 1893-1897, first (briefly) in Cambridge, Massachusetts, before settling in Chicago, where Stone's father had many literary connections. After Stone & Kimball dissolved their partnership, Kimball set up the Cheltenham Press in New York City for commercial and advertising purposes, but as "H. Ingalls Kimball" he did publish a handful of books over the next decade. In this phase, Kimball may have operated as a vanity publisher. 

In 1898 Dake became ill with cancer of the diaphragm. He and his doctor withheld the diagnosis from his family, who believed Dake was suffering from consumption. In early 1899 the symptoms became much worse, and for more than six weeks he was unable to eat, taking only small portions of liquid nourishment. Death by slow starvation became a certainty, and he purchased (unbeknownst to his family) a revolver, with which, on the evening of 22 April 1899, he fired a bullet through his heart while in his library. He died instantly.   

Dake's two short stories and one published novel all descend directly from the writings of Edgar Allan Poe. In "The Limits of Imagination, " a young man prepared for the onset of a hereditary condition of paralysis. As his condition descends upon him, he starts writing novels in his head, and then living other imagined lifes, followed by animal and plant lives (in a downward scale of consciousness), until, after nine years, he awakens astrally in his own room and witnesses his physician revive him via trephining his skull and using electricity to reduce the two tumors pressuring his brain. In "The Death and Regeneration of Gerald Deane," Dr. Gerald Deane meets an old boyhood friend and tells him how he survived death from a heart attack by a process of thought-transference with his wife, whom he instructs how to revive his corpse via electric stimulation of his heart. Deane affirms (based on his own experiences) that we live forever independently of the body. 


Dake's novel A Strange Discovery is a direct sequel to Poe's short novel, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket (1838). It concerns a doctor who discovers Dirk Peters (a surviving character in The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym who, according to Poe, settled in Illinois), now an old man in Bellevue, Illinois (Dake's stand-in for Belleville). The doctor elicits from Peters the rest of the story of his experiences with Pym in the Antarctic. Dake adds to Poe's mystery a lost-race element and a plot of the style of H. Rider Haggard, along with some ill-fitting historical narrative about a lost log of an Antarctic visit by Sir Francis Drake. This makes for a unwieldy and cumbersome narrative.

Dake's three known pieces of fiction are all flawed in ways, but they are of interest. The short stories work better than the novel, but all are somewhat unsatisfying in set-up and structure.