A Story of His Life By a Man Who Has Never Gotten Anywhere: Robert Lincoln Watkins, M.D., 1863-1934. Of William Flynn, a Socratic Philosopher-Preacher and Care-Free Croquet Master.


The best croquet player in the Union Croquet Club, and one of the few genuine spiritual advisers in the ministry, is Doctor William Flynn. He is both a philosopher and a preacher, and I truly believe he looks like the old man of Athens whom they called Socrates – only Dr. Flynn is better looking. I never saw that man riled up, and it’s the claim of the Club, as well as my own, that he’s a first-class paciifist.

You know it’s said of Socrates that he had a Demon he used to ask in cases of doubt what to say or do. Dr. Flynn does not require that. In these far later times of the evolution of the world, he has outgrown that need, and Demons are not required by the more perfect man of these days.

Dr. Flynn, nine times out of ten, can hit a croquet ball way across the field, and he does not take time to think of the next play, but stands erect, knocks, hits, places the balls for the next play, just as if he were walking around for pleasure, or down town on an errand.

Many of the players stop, aim a few minutes before they shoot, or look all about to see where the balls lie, and then stoop over and adjust and readjust the balls before playing. Not he. He apparently knows as he walks around, without looking, everything about the game that’s going on, and when his turn comes, he shoots, and shoots to hit.

But the unique and comforting quality of this 58-year-old philosopher of the gospel is that, when he plays with a partner, as we all at most times do, he lets this partner do as he likes. He doesn’t tell him which way to shoot, nor how to place his ball. But such is his skill that, no matter how badly the partner roams around the field, this man leads him down, east, south, west, and back north to the stake. He is said to the be the prettiest croquet player in New York.

[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 contracted cholera and hooked his uncle up with testicular juice; here are his misadventures in self-publishing while treating a slow-motion suicide-by-drinking; here’s where he hung 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; here are his escapades with a reporter, landing him at Carnegie’s house; here’s where he gets rooked by a crook of a partner; here’s where he lost his shirt working on an invention for 15 years; here’s where he traveled south during the World War and became a DuPont physician who was present for a mass industrial accident; here’s his description of complications involving his patients and practice; here’s his take on syphilis, polio, avoiding impositions, and the nature of success; here’s his description of making a coats-of-arms lantern-slide lecture; here’s his encounter with the Gaekwar of Baroda; here’s when he hung out with a hard-drinking Know Nothing Mason; here’s an encounter with Magic; and here’s a piece I wrote for New York Press upon first reading the memoir.]

He has always been a preacher, and likes his work. One of the most interesting services I ever attended was when he allowed me to visit a concert of a colored church over which he had charge. And I heard the melodious voices of 500 Moravians sing their sacred songs from memory. That was natural music, as the timbre seemed to be produced by the winds breathing through a forest.

He is from Delaware, and white, and I understand is a “straightener-out” of difficult points and all friction in the colored churches of New York and vicinity.

One day at dusk, I came away from the croquet field in a hurry, grabbed the first coat I saw, put it on, and went home. After a time, I put my hand in the pocket – and found a letter addressed to Dr. Flynn. I thought that was strange, but on reconnoitering the coat decided it belonged to Dr. Flynn.

It took me until 11 o’clock to find him at his house, and he was as much surprised as I to find he had my coat and I his. The letters and papers in my own coat were never overhauled, and I vouch for the fact that the temporary wearer never would until doomsday have snooped into the coat’s contents, as I would have done when I found the coat wasn’t mine.

There would never have been any division in the Union Croquet Club if we all had imitated Dr. Flynn’s Socratic philosophy.

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