In these first two volumes of his projected four-volume history ["A History of Modern Criticism: 1750–1950"], René Wellek, Professor of Comparative Literature at Yale, has undertaken an enormous project for which every literary student has long felt the need but which no other has had the courage to attempt.
The only work of comparable range on this subject is George Saintsbury's three-volume "History of Criticism and Literary Taste in Europe," and the limitations of that book have, after fifty years, rendered it nearly useless. It is a work that criticism, scholarship and literary education could hardly have done without, but it is no longer so much a history of criticism as it is a part of the history of criticism.
In the fifty years since Saintsbury's work an enormous amount of European and American scholarship has gone into the exploration of the details of this whole large subject. What has been needed is a man with the linguistic skill, intellectual scope, scholarly discipline and independence of mind necessary to bring all this material together, to correct it where he should and use it when he could, and then to frame it all within his method, his interpretation and the "international perspective." Even in an age of great scholars such a man is not commonly come by….
The intellectual challenge is not only to a thorough knowledge of world literature but to that of history, esthetics and...
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