In his twenty-first year Goethe was sent to Strasburg to continue his legal studies, but already carrying with him the plan for his first famous work--the tragedy of Götz von Berlichingen. During the seclusion of his illness he had occupied himself chiefly with alchemy and mystic speculation; but the seed of the future Faust was even then sown, and it was not long before it began to germinate. At Strasburg he made the acquaintance of Herder, who was five years older than himself, and at the time of a graver and more profound temperament. The two men were very much unlike, and they never became very intimate friends; but there is no doubt that Herder's companionship and counsel were of great value in relieving Goethe from the lawless, impulsive spirit which possessed him. As one result, he was suddenly seized with a desire to overcome everything which seemed like a weakness in his nature. He cured his tendency to giddiness on looking down from heights, by climbing the spire of Strasburg cathedral every day. He had a constitutional dread of the supernatural without believing it, so he walked through graveyards at midnight; he disliked loud noises, and therefore went as near as possible to the drums of the military band. He was easily affected by a sense of disgust, and for that reason attended the dissections of the medical class. He also studied electricity, wrote a pamphlet on Gothic architecture, and withal qualified himself for the degree of doctor of law, which he received in little more than a year.
Returning to Frankfort, he first rewrote the tragedy of Götz von Berlichingen, and was then sent by his father to practice at Wetzlar, a small town near Giessen. But he remained there only a few months, occupying himself much more with literature than with law. His tragedy was again revised, and was puclished in the spring of 1773. Its popularity was immediate and universal. Comparing it with Schiller's Robbers, produced at very nearly the same age, every reader will feel the great superiority of Götz. Here there is nothing crude, and little that is purely subjective; the piece is full of life and movement, and the touch of a master is seen in the delineation of every character. In regard to form Goethe undoubtedly owed something both to Shakespeare and Lessing, but his management of the historic is entirely his own. His literary fame was at once secured, and his confidence firmly established, though of this Goethe always possessed a liberal share. It is worthy of remark that a translation of Götz von Berlichingen was Walter Scott's first essay in literature.
The attention of such men as Zimmermann, Lavater and Klopstock was attracted toward Goethe by this work. His name began to be known throughout Germany; he was astonished at his sudden popularity, and considered it at first a lucky accident. Soon after the publication of Götz, the young prince Karl August of Weimar, passing through Frankfort, sent for the author, and this was the beginning of a friendship which lasted for fifty-five years, and determined the external circumstances of Goethe's life. Law was now entirely given up, and again an inmate of his father's house he gave all his time to literature. He planned a tragedy to be called Mohammed, only a fragment of which survives; some twenty-nine dramas or poems on this subject being published in Germany by other authors. There must have been something in the intellectual atmosphere of the day, some general craving for superhuman power, some dissatisfaction with the conditions of life, which made the story attractive.