A year before he left for boarding school, Müller received his own pastorate in Münzesheim, not very far from Heidelsheim. Wundt was not happy with the situation, and eventually his parents let him move in with the younger pastor in order to continue his studies. When he entered the Bruchsal gymnasium (a college preparatory school), Wundt was sent to live with another Lutheran pastor's family there in what was a predominately Catholic town. That year turned out to be a disaster for him. He performed poorly at school, was homesick, and was unable to make friends. Once he even ran away back to his home. His mother took him back to school, however, as she was determined that he should get a proper education. At the end of the year, one of his teachers suggested to his parents that perhaps he could pursue a career in the postal service, since it was clear that he was probably not cut out for a profession that required any serious academic excellence.
His mother and her relatives ignored this advice and decided that young Wilhelm deserved a second chance. He was sent to his aunt's home in Heidelberg to join his brother Ludwig, who had become a very studious young man and a student at the university. His aunt enrolled Wundt in the Heidelberg gymnasium, where he experienced a whole new life of making friends and becoming active in extracurricular activities. His studies remained average rather than outstand-ing—a fact that one biographer suggested may have been due to his consuming interest in politics, especially the struggle for Baden's independence and the uprising of the Polish peasants in Heidelsheim. Following his father's death at the end of his first year in Heidelberg, some historians have suggested that his mother went to live in Heidelberg, too. If so, it is likely that Wundt moved in with his mother, and continued to live with her during the early years of his academic career. Once he became old enough attend college, Wundt was relieved that his mediocre grades were high enough to obtain financial aid from the state to attend the University of Heidelberg. As a young man who had been so close to his family, he was ready to venture out on his own, at least for a while. Because his mother's younger brother Friedrich was a professor at Tübingen,
Wundt was able to persuade his mother to allow him to attend that school. His uncle's influence transformed Wundt into a serious student who developed a passion for the study of cerebral anatomy. By that time, as well, Friedrich Arnold had accepted the position as the director of Heidelberg's Anatomical Institute, and the logical course for Wundt would have been to follow him back to Heidelberg, now that he had proven himself in his studies.
Wundt certainly was serious about his studies in a way he had not been before. But he needed to make up many courses in mathematics and science that he had neglected while a gymnasium student. As a result, he studied mathematics with a private tutor while completing lecture and laboratory courses in physics and chemistry. A newly arrived professor of chemistry, Robert Bunsen (after whom the Bunsen burner was named) had Wundt so enthused about the subject that for a brief time he considered changing his major to chemistry instead of working toward a medical degree. He stayed with medicine, however, and in 1855 Wundt successfully passed his state exams, becoming a licensed doctor. Even more remarkably, this once-marginal student earned the highest scores on every separate test: internal medicine, surgery, and obstetrics.
Was this article helpful?