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Daniel Drake, 1785-1852; pioneer physician…

Daniel Drake, 1785-1852; pioneer physician of the Midwest

by Emmet Field Horine

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Emmet Field Horine’s biography “Daniel Drake, 1785-1852” has an interesting subject. Drake was one of the first physicians in the western frontier, what is now Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana. He founded two medical schools and taught at four. He personally went to the Ohio state legislature persuaded them to issue the charter for what is now the University of Cincinnati and its medical department. His family operated a drug store that sold the first soda water west of the Alleghany Mountains, in 1816. His son, a delinquent youth, went on to serve in the US Senate. Unfortunately, a worthy subject is all that this book has going for it.

I was interested in the life and career of Daniel Drake M.D. before found Horine’s biography.“ful for that because, if I had read Horine’s work first I would have never have taken the time to read Drake’s own works. While looking for a copy of this book I found an online listing for a copy of it inscribed by the author to a descendant of Drakes who had helped him research the book. She also inscribed the book on the front flyleaf she wrote 'Dr. Horine spent 32 years - preparing/this book and in the end misses/the man ['the man' underlined]! the real biography remains/to be written - a true living portrait of/a colorful fascinating person - an/original.'* I have to say she was being kind.

I have to say that Horine created less a work of history than one of hero worship. In fact when I checked for a list of Horine’s works two thirds were about Drake or Drake’s work edited by Horine. In fact, Drake should have received partial credit for writing this book, much of it is simply long quotations of his writings.

I expect a biography to have a narrative that follows a basic chronological line. Unfortunately somewhere in mid-book Horine abandoned any attachment he may have had to both chronology and narrative. He wanders off on tangents. We learn that Drake attended the Philadelphia Medical School at the same time as “John Todd, a second cousin by blood and an uncle by marriage of Mrs. Abraham (Mary Todd) Lincoln” but we learn very little of what he studied there. He inserts what Wikipedia would call a stub article for each professor whenever a medical school faculty is discussed. Toward the end Horine simply meanders from topic to topic, the final chapter is titled “Drake’s Personal Appearance” and does deal with that topic before getting around to mentioning Drake’s death. The possibility that Drake died at his own hand is never acknowledged except in quoting a letter from a Cincinnati lawyer to his mother informing her of Drake’s death.

There are gems of information to be found through Horine’s book. You can, with some effort, piece together a reasonable genealogy for Drake. You can, again with some effort, construct an outline of his career. The most valuable information is the footnotes. Horine repeatedly mentions an alleged correspondence between Drake and Abraham Lincoln that has been lost, if it ever existed. If he had spent as much time analyzing the evidence he had as he did lamenting the silences in the historical record this may have been a much more interesting book. Drake deserves better.

*bookseller description by Ted Kottler, Bookseller (Woburn, MA, U.S.A.) http://www.abebooks.com/servlet/BookDetailsPL?bi=594840023&searchurl=bi%3D0%... accessed 2012 May 8 ( )
  TLCrawford | May 9, 2012 |
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