The Name and Nature of Comparative Literature （Part I） Rene Wellek The term "comparative literature" has given rise to so much discussion, has been interpreted so differently and misinterpreted so frequently, that it might be useful to examine its history and to attempt to distinguish its meanings in the main languages. Only then can we hope to define its exact scope and content. Lexicography, "historical semantics," will be our starting point. Beyond it, a brief history of comparative studies should lead to conclusions of contemporary “Comparative literature" is still a controversial discipline and idea. There seem no particular problems raised by our two words individually. "Comparative" occurs in Middle English, obviously derived from Latin comparativus. It is used by Shakespeare, as when Falstaff denounces Prince Hal as "the most comparative, rascalliest, sweet young prince,”Francis Meres, as early as 1598, uses the term in the caption of "A Comparative Discourse of Our English Poets with the Greek, Latin and Italian Poets. “ The adjective occurs m the titles of seventeenth-and eighteenth-century books. In 1602 William Fulbecke published A Comparative Discourse of the Laws. I also find A Comparative Anatomy of Brute Animals in 1765. Its author, John Gregory, published A Comparative View of the State and Faculties of Man with hose of the Animal World in the very next year. Bishop Robert Lowth in his Latin Lectures on the Sacred Poetry of the Hebrews (1753), formulated the ideal of comparative study well enough: "We must see all things with their eyes [i.e. the ancient Hebrews]: estimate all things by their opinions; we must endeavour as much as possible to read Hebrew as the Hebrews would have read it. In 1800 Charles Dibdin published, in five volumes, A Complete History of the English Stage, Introduced by a Comparative and Comprehensive Review of the Asiatic, the Grecian, the Roman,he Spanish, the Italian, the Portuguese, the German, the French and Other Theatres. Here the main idea is fully formulated, but the combination "comparative literature" itself seems to occur for the first time only in a letter by Matthew Arnold in 1848, where he says: "How plain it is now, though an attention to the comparative literatures for the last fifty years might have instructed any one of it, that England is in a certain sense far behind the Continent.” But this was a private letter not published till 1895, and "comparative" means here hardly more than "comparable." In English the decisive use was that of Hutcheson Macaulay Posnett, an Irish barrister who later became Professor of Classics and English Literature at University College, Auckland, New Zealand, who put the term on the title of his book in 1886. Posnett, in an article, “The Science of Comparative Literature," claimed "to have first stated and illustrated the method and principles of the new science, and to have been the first to do so not only in the British Empire but in the world.''Obviously this is preposterous, even if we limit "comparative literature" to the specific meaning Posnett gave to it. The English term cannot be discussed in isolation from analogous terms in France and Germany. The lateness of the English term can be explained if we realize that the combination "comparative literature" was resisted in English, because the term "literature" had lost its earlier meaning of "knowledge or study of literature" and had come to mean "literary production in general" or "the body of writings in a period, country, or region." That this long process is complete today is obvious from such a fact that, e.g., Professor Lane Cooper of Cornell University refused to call the department he headed in the twenties "Comparative Literature" and insisted on "The Comparative Study of Literature." He considered it a "bogus term" that "makes neither sense nor syntax." "You might as well permit yourself to say 'comparative potatoes' or 'comparative husks.'” But in earlier English usage "literature" means "learning" and "literary culture,"particularly a knowledge of Latin. Incomplete or even slightly incorrect in its detail, this history of the terms in the main languages could become more meaningful if treated in the context of competition with rival terms. "Comparative literature" occurs in what semanticists have called "a field of meaning." We have alluded to "learning," "letters," and "belles lettres" as rival terms for "literature." "Universal literature," "international literature," "general literature," and "world literature" are the competitors of "comparative literature. Universal literature'' occurs in the eighteenth century and is used rather widely in German .where "general literature" means what we would call"theory of literature" or "principles of criticism." The term "world literature," Weltliteratur, was used by Goethe in 1827 in commenting on a translation of his drama Tasso into French, and then several times, sometimes in slightly different senses: he was thinking of a single unified world literature in which differences between the indi viduaI literatures would disappear, though he knew that this would be quite remote. In a draft Goethe equates "European" with "world literature," surely provisionally. Just as the exact use of "world literature" is still debatable, the use of "comparative literature" has given rise to disputes as to its exact scope and methods, which are not yet resolved. It is useless to be dogmatic about such matters, as words have the meaning authors assign to them and neither a knowledge of history nor common usage can prevent changes or even complete distortions of the original meaning. Still, clarity on such matters avoids mental confusion, while excessive ambiguity or arbitrariness leads to intellectual dangers which may not be as serious as calling hot, cold, or communism democracy, but which still hamper agreement and communication. One can distinguish, first, a strict, narrow definition; Van Tieghem, for example, defines it thus: "The object of comparative literature is essentially the study of diverse literatures in their relations with one another.'' Guyard in his handbook, which follows Van Tieghem closely in doctrine and contents, calls comparative literature succinctly "the history of international literary relations,''and J.-M.Carré in his Preface to Guyard, calls it "a branch of literary history; it is the study of spiritual international relations, of factual contacts which took place between Byron and Pushkin, Goethe and Carlyle, Waiter Scott and Vigny, between the works, the inspirations and even the lives of writers belonging to several literatures.' In a wider sense "comparative literature" includes what Van Tieghem calls "general literature." He confines "comparative literature" to "binary" relations, between two elements, while "general literature" concerns research into "the facts common to several literatures.'' It can, however, be argued that it is impossible to draw a line between comparative literature and general literature, Besides, the term "general literature" lends itself to confusion: it has been understood to mean literary theory, poetics, the principles of literature. Comparative literature in the narrow sense of binary relations cannot make a meaningful discipline, as it would have to deal only with the "foreign trade" between literatures and hence with fragments of literary production. It would not allow treating the individual work of art. It would be (as apparently Carré is content to think) a strictly auxiliary discipline of literary history with a fragmentary, scattered subject matter and with no peculiar method of its own. The method of comparison is not peculiar to comparative literature; it is ubiquitous in all literary study and in all sciences, social and natural. Nor does literary study, even in the practice of the most orthodox comparative scholars, proceed by the method of comparison alone. Any literary scholar will not only compare but reproduce, analyze, interpret, evoke, evaluate, generalize, etc., all on one page. Questions 1.Lexical meaning of the term "comparative literature"？ 2.The historical semantics of "comparative literature"。 3.What’s the meaning of "world literature" and "general literature"？What is your understanding of Comparative literature as a discipline?