A Story of His Life By a Man Who Has Never Gotten Anywhere: Robert Lincoln Watkins, M.D., 1863-1934. The Doc Befriends a Reporter and Tries to Meet Carnegie.

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One night a reporter I knew named St. Clair stepped into my office with his dilapidated grip in his hand and said, “Doctor, give me the loan of $2.”

I replied, “I am not a money lender.”

He said, “Then I’ll have to sleep in Bryant Park.”

“Oh,” I replied, “go upstairs and go to bed.”

There was a hall bedroom up there, and as it turned out, I had to pay for that room a long time before he got a job and paid himself. He would sleep day and night. He did so for a long time, and I could never make out the cause.

He was a graduate of Charlotte University in the south. I found him of service to me on my book and, after the publishing of that, I got out a medical paper entitled “Journal of Hematology,” which I kept up 3 or 4 years and which never paid, and he helped me with that.

[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; here’s where he  treated typhoid, learned to dance, theorized, and sutured guinea pigs together; here’s where he contracts cholera and hooks his uncle up with testicular juice; here’s his misadventures in self-publishing while treating a slow-motion suicide-by-drinking; here’s where he hangs out with a magician and a vaudevillian; here’s where he recounts his singing career; here’s his ode to a Fulton Market butcher; here’s where he explains his profound love of music; here’s an account of a hard-partying man named Emrich; and here’s a piece I wrote for New York Press upon first reading the memoir.]

One time he and I went on a milk diet exclusively. Two weeks was my limit. Some can do it, I couldn’t. And a vegetarian diet exclusively, too, was not long for me. I longed for a steak.

Looking for something in the way of “Knowledge,” I ran across Vivakhanda, the Hindu Vedantist, and so did St. Clair. I said, “You go and see what it is, and I will follow later perhaps.”

We looked into the subject for some time, and after a while it was found that he was getting pretty deep into it. But he said, “I’m going to keep in the middle of the road.”

Vivakhanda had made a big hit at the Columbian Exposition and World’s Fair, and, although brown-skinned, he was of course of the Aryan race and was becoming very popular at the time.

St. Clair some time later obtained a good job on the Literary Digest. But a so-called Hindu mystic got hold of him after he left me and had saved up a few thousand dollars, and induced him to publish a book on the reincarnation of Napoleon Bonaparte. He never told me who the man was that was Napoleon once.

Before the book came out, although it was written, he was induced by this Hindu to go to Boston with the prospect of marriage, for he was a bachelor of 35. But he awoke from his hypnosis, and on finding out by his visit that the woman was a demi-mondaine, he turned square about face, went down south to his home town, and married an old acquaintance – who, but the way, had the same name as this writer –  and tried to settle down.

I never learned just how much of his savings the Hindu got, but I know some ten years later I met him at 181st St. one evening, apparently in the same predicament as when he threatened to sleep in the park.

He was a very bright man. He inserted into the Standard dictionary the word “Micromotoscope,” a name I coined for an instrument I invented, and it’s there today.

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One night, after St. Clair had gotten a good position on the Herald, I met him on the way to interview Carnegie. I said, “Ask him when you get there if he will see me. Perhaps I can get him to build me an Institution.” After a bit of persuading, he said he would, and I waited in front of Carnegie’s residence, then on 54th St. near Fifth Ave.

When he came out, I said, “Will he see me?”

He replied, “I didn’t ask him. You try yourself the same as I did.”

I said, “That’s quite different. You present the card of the New York Herald, and it’s easy.”

He went on and I tried it anyway. Rang the bell, the butler took my card up, but soon returned with the word that Mr. Carnegie wished to be excused. I thought I would try the reporters’ racket, as St. Clair had told me, so I persisted. But I soon heard the gongs ring all about he house in different parts, and knew if I did’t go, I would be put out as a crank, so I left.

 

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