Hermann von Helmholtz (1821-1894) was born in Potsdam at the beginning of the era of "The Flowering of Medical Science," in central Europe. His mother was a direct descendant of William Penn, his father a teacher in the Gymnasium. Although his father was not able financially to provide for an extended private education, he gave in its place an appreciation of poetry, a desire to study the Greek classics, and exposure to the metaphysics of Kant and Fichte. In his mature years, Helmholtz sponsored a scientific philosophy in German universities to counteract the prevailing metaphysical idealism.
Hermann was a sickly child, and a considerable portion of his early years was spent as an invalid. After the childhood infirmities were overcome, a free education was sought in medicine at the Royal Medico-Chirurgical Friedrich-Wilhelm Institute of Berlin University. The courses were complemented by clinical instruction at the Charité Hospital.1