A Story of His Life By a Man Who Has Never Gotten Anywhere: Robert Lincoln Watkins, M.D., 1863-1934. Return from Paris: Typhus, Dance Lessons, Siamese-Twinned Guinea Pigs, and Microzymes.

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After Brodnax left me in Paris, I got along finely by myself, making as many acquaintances in my line of work as could be done in the short time I stayed. I was invited to demonstrate to Dr. Aubon, who had a special lecture arranged for me at his house.

Little was known in those days about the blood, and what was known of it was in a dry state; that is, they examined blood after it had stood. But I examined it right away, when few changes had had time to take place.

One day I went to see Hayem, the celebrated physiologist. Being unable to speak French, I was much handicapped. But I rang his bell at 11 o’clock in the morning. The butler gave me to understand he was at breakfast and was seeing no one, and started to close the door in my face. Before he could close it, however, I put my foot in the opening, and stuck it out with my argument till both the old doctor and his son came running out, napkins in hand, to see what was the matter.

[Background: here’s the preface, forward, and notes from the editor of R.L.W.’s memoir, here’s his account of his upbringing through medical school,  here’s when he self-inoculated with tuberculosis and went off to Paris with a charlatan, and here’s a piece I wrote for New York Press upon first reading the memoir.]

I gave him my card and said, “I am from America. If you can teach me to see rheumatism in blood I want to take lessons of you.” He son spoke English and said, “My father knows more about that subject than anybody, and NOBODY knows how to do that.” I said thank you, and left. I knew American doctors who claimed they could do this, but I wanted his way and views if he had any.

Soon after this, I cam home, spending perhaps six weeks altogether, and using up my $400.

The next episode in the experimental line away from my office (which I had closed while was away) was when the typhus fever broke out in the city and I went to live on North Brother Island to study from my point of view what was then considered to be the most infectious and contagious of all diseases.

I did not learn much of practical value, but the fact that I saw the dead being carried away in cart-loads and learned to identify the peculiar sweetness of the smell of all who had the disease. Many, or most of them at that time anyhow, before death passed into a talkative dreamy sleep.

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I used to try to attend social functions, as a young doctor especially should, but found myself a wallflower when it came to dancing at these private parties, for dancing was neglected in my youth. So I went to McCabe’s Dancing Parlor on 17th St. off Broadway afternoons. Sister and brother ran this well-known place, charging 50 cents a lesson. I went a year, but was unable to get that waltz step to suit me.

A young man there told me that a man by the name of McGregor on 55th St. near Fifth Avenue would teach me in no time, though expensive. I went, paid him $50 in advance. I said, “Can you teach me? I love music, but can’t get that step.” He replied, “If I can teach the Rockefeller girls, I can teach you.” He gave me private lessons in a big hall.

He gave me a cane, which he told me to put across my back, hooking my arms over it at the elbow to hold, standing perfectly erect and by myself. With a circus whip in his hand, he went to the other end of the hall, giving me orders how to step with the snap of his whip. I got it in about three lessons, and when I quit I said, “Where is the lady to try it with?” He replied, “I don’t furnish ladies, find them yourself. You’ve got it now.”

I had tried many experiments, as my limited means would allow, with animals. Even to trying to make Siamese twins of guinea pigs by cutting out the flesh on the side of two and sewing them together to see if they would grow. They never stayed bandaged together more than ten days at the most, and then on taking off the bandage I found that the wound had sloughed. The X-rays came out that they were not permanently hitched together. I experimented with that considerably and concluded it was not for me.

The treatment with X-rays for disease has not met with my approval as a rule, especially for deep-seated cancers or even epithelomias; besides, I learned long ago that it was dangerous. It has taken many years for the profession to learn how to avoid being dangerously burned by it.

I examined the blood of many of those who died of burns in the first years, and made the observation that X-rays split up the blood cells. It produces a kind of cancer itself. Under the microscope one can see the red cells broken up; it makes what I call strawberry cells of them. It breaks them up into their individual microzymas, hundreds of which in the normal state compose a red as well as a white blood cell.

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These microzymas, according to their discoverer, Professor Antoine Bechamp, are the physiological element of all life, and when these are seen in a cell or body it means death. The X-raybreaks cells and bodies up into these infinitesimal organisms; I call them the electrons of the body. Germs spread from these physiological electrons, and their presence in the body is never healthful.

I first heard of the microzyma through Dr. Montague Leverson, one of the most learned Hebrew physicians I ever knew. His father was paymaster for the British army in India; he, an Englishman, became an American citizen, studying here first law, then medicine. He spoke and read seven languages, was extremely progressive, and had investigated so many subjects that I used to sit up nights at his house hearing him discourse on various ones.

I became so much interested in Bechamp’s work that a re-enthused Leverson. He translated for me, sometimes into the wee hours of the morning, though he had the use of only one eye. (One contained a clot, was plugged up from a miniature stroke.) He afterward translated Bechamp’s book into English, publishing it both there and in England, with a frontispiece by me. He became so enthused that he made up his mind to visit Bechamp at his home in France, and to study at the University of Montpelier.

Bechamp was an old man, 93, then living in Paris. Still possessing all his faculties, though his sight was dim. He had been professor of chemistry and pharmacy in the University of Montpelier, one of the oldest seats of learning in the world, located in the Pyrenees in the south of France. Leverson stayed over there about a year.

He told me when he came back that he used to go to the old doctor’s house every day to take his dictations. He called him Master, for he considered him one of the great investigators of the age, a rival of Pasteur, who he claimed appropriated Bechamp’s ideas, misconstrued them, and made himself famous at Bechamp’s expense. Leverson used to believe that Pasteur succeeded in this because he was a Catholic and Bechamp was an atheist, but he learned later this was not true.

Béchamel and Ester, his assistant, had published many books on what he calls the physiological elements of life, the microzyma, a term he coined which means a small ferment. He claimed these microzymas, perhaps the smallest life to be seen under a microscope, transform themselves into germs, vibrions, bacilli, etc.; that they exist in plants, animals, and perhaps minerals; that they are especially visible in milk or blood, and easily observed by manipulation or technique in all other things, organic or inorganic.

Well, Leverson stayed in Paris till the old man died. One morning Bechamp was in bed, and as Leverson started to take dictation, the old man mumbled something. His voice was so feeble that my friend stooped over to listen. And as he did so, Belchamp pointed to a crucifix at the foot of the bed and said, “My faith,” crossed himself, and died. Leverson, a Jew by birth, said it was the first time he knew Bechamp’s religion. He said he went to the funeral and sprinkled some holy water over the remains.

I had corresponded with the old doctor, and had sent him some money to get me a photograph. He sent me the picture, thanked me, returned the money, saying he was pensioned by the French government. The photograph I had electrotyped and printed, with his autograph. I’ve got them yet.

James H. Salisbury, Ephraim Cutter, and Bechamp, all three hematologists, lived to a ripe old age.

The Cutter family were erratic geniuses and good musicians: the doctor played the bass viol, his wife the piano. They had a son who was musician to the court of the Emperor of Japan. Another son, a boy of 21 with bright red hair ,was an expert electrician. One day he stood before his mother, exclaimed, “I’m no good, and father’s a crank,” took a drop of Prussic acid on his tongue, and dropped dead at his mother’s feet.

James Salisbury was born with a silver spoon in his mouth. He was easy-going and a natural investigator, a chemist and a recognized naturalist, a good businessman and money-maker. He used to dye his hair black, and in his photographs looks like a wizard, though he was a family man with several children, none of whom took any interest in the work to which he gave his whole attention. He would write the longest prescriptions of tonics, extracts, herbs, and inorganic (mineral) compatible mixtures of any physician I ever knew.

All three of these doctors were highly educated men. Salisbury in his later life never bothered to interest physicians at large in his discoveries, but the other two were always at it, wearing themselves out at the task. When I came on the scene I thought they went at it the wrong way, and tried another, but with the same ill success.

However, having some recent experience as a patient with up-to-date medical examination and treatment, I wish to say that their method, and mine (which is somewhat of a modification of theirs with a few additions), are more simple by far, just as accurate – perhaps even more so – than anything the profession is doing in that line today.

As far as I know, a son of old Dr. Cutter and I are the only ones now living who know anything about the blood research of these three men.

There is, however, a new way of examining for, and treating, disease which has come up in the last few years, and which in my judgment has more of a fundamental basis on which to build therapeutics than any other the profession has ever had. Here I refer to the work of the Arlesheim Institute [founded by Ita Wegman, who with Rudolf Steiner conceived anthroposophical medicine.] But that too needs study in a line heretofore unknown, and will be long in finding its way into conventional medicine.

Insurance companies especially would have to change all over if thoughts I have in mind (but no space in this book to go into) were adopted. In fact, it won’t be many years before medical science will throw out many of its present methods and ideas. However, doctors will not disappear, as some think, nor will their science be done away with.

18 thoughts on “A Story of His Life By a Man Who Has Never Gotten Anywhere: Robert Lincoln Watkins, M.D., 1863-1934. Return from Paris: Typhus, Dance Lessons, Siamese-Twinned Guinea Pigs, and Microzymes.

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