DeKay, Charles

Charles deKay

Brief Biography of Charles deKay:

Charles Augustus deKay was a poet, art critic, founder of the Fencer’s Club in New York, National Arts Club in New York and, as Consul General in Berlin, founder of Der Berliner Fecht Klub.  His love of fencing influenced the formation of the Paris and Boston Fencing clubs, and he advocated for women (including his beloved wife Edwalyn Coffey) in the fencing world. One of his four sons, Joseph Rodman Drake deKay (“Rodman”), fenced on the US Navy team and graduated from Annapolis before becoming another “Commodore” deKay.  Dr. Joseph R.D. deKay, Charles’ great-grandson plans to accept the Fencer’s Hall of Fame award on behalf of the family.

Charles deKay was a member of one of New York’s old families. His father was Commodore George Colman deKay who oversaw and in part funded voyages of mercy to Ireland in the potato famine.  His mother was Janet Halleck Drake, daughter of the New York poet and physician, Joseph Rodman Drake. Charles was born July 25, 1848 and was the youngest of seven children.

Charles attended military school where he started fencing and graduated from Yale in 1868.  From there he moved to Paris and Venice spending time with his eldest sister, Mrs. Arthur Bronson who introduced him to Robert Browning, Whistler, Henry James and various literary figures who visited her homes.

While his brothers took up engineering and the law, Charles chose a career in the arts.  From 1876 to 1894 he served as literary editor, art editor and editorial writer of the New York Times.  After serving as Consul General to Berlin, he contributed to the New York Times Book Review until 1923.

Charles was a linguist.  Having lived in Dresden, Germany as a very young child, he was fluent in German.  He was a scholar of Latin, Greek and Sanskrit and fluent in French and Italian. He wrote for various newspapers and magazines.  He authored various books of poetry, novels, translations and biographies.

As a lover of the arts Charles helped patrons with their collections, and he founded the Author’s club in 1882, the National Sculpture Society in 1892 and in 1899 the National Arts Club, serving as managing director for several years. He was a member of the Century Club, the New York Historical Society, and the National Institute of Arts and Letters.

Charles had eight children. Spending most of their lives in New York, the family loved the large summer home, “Abrigada”, Charles and Edwalyn built in East Hampton as well as the Manhattan home. The couple loved to entertain and encourage artists and literary people and provided a lively environment for imagination, creativity and scholarship.  Charles died May 23, 1935.

(prepared by Joseph deKay with attributions to the New York Times 5/24/1935)