Brockmeyer didn’t set out to be a philosopher. He was, first and foremost, a mechanic. Born in Prussia in 1826, he lived at a strange moment in intellectual history, at a time when philosophy was read widely and had a hand in determining the social and political destiny of Europe. In the early 19th century — in the wake of an age of revolutionary idealism — philosophy had not given up its intimate relations with politics and culture. It was still written by humans, for humans, like a young Brockmeyer. And it wasn’t read for the sole purpose of becoming a professional thinker but in the hopes of becoming a better or at least a different person. This was a task that Henry undertook passionately.
When Henry was 16, his mother, a thoroughgoing pietist, burned her son’s copy of Goethe’s poems. Henry did what any self-respecting Romantic would do: He disowned her and ran away from home, all the way to the United States. This sort of gumption strikes most people as equal parts foolhardy and frightening. And it probably was, but Brockmeyer had been brought up in Prussia at a time when anything still seemed possible.