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COMPARATIVE LITERATURE: ITS MEANING AND SCOPE* J. S. WILL THE course of the development of Comparative Literature as a discipline has been slow and difficult. Its sphere still affords material for discussion and there is still disagreement as to its method. What is its relation to other disciplines in the field of letters, such as literary criticism and literary history? I The word "comparative" as descriptive of a critical method is used as early as the seventeenth century in regard to the study of law. The method itself, without the actual word, is as old as the Greeks. The method was revived with the revival of Greek studies at the Renaissance and in the eighteenth century was commonly practised in all fields of enquiry, in history, in law, in science, in manners and morals. In that century too, considerable work was done in Comparative Literature, for example by Baretti, Barbier, and Desessarts. The romantic passionateness of the early nineteenth century, which restlessly pillaged the known and the unknown worlds for ideas, renewed the comparative method with a richer se~sej but, while every other branch of study profited more and more by the comparative method (subsequent to its application to biology from 1800 on), Comparative Literature, though it attracted more and more consideration as the century advanced, found itself mired in confusion as the century closed. Interest ,and activity had become increasingly widespread, but the idea remained ill-defined. First steps are invariably difficult steps. There are even today no generally accepted fixed laws of literary criticism, and the very possibility of literary history is frequently denied. Neither the sciences nor scientific method, nor any earthly thing has sprung into being fully conscious and defined. The adaptation of the scientific method to new sciences is in itself a laborious process, and can be developed fully only as the new sc;ience defines itself. Anthropology needed time for its emergence from the chrysalis "'The author has provided the brief list of selected references appenJded to the article. [EDITORS' NOTE1 165 166 THE UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO QUARTERLY and came to an entente were needed for the solid and I '...H ... 5'cu.... the COMPARATIVE LITERATURE 167 it will certainly provoke more violent Romantic commotions than ever and greater human contortionism-if such be possible. In the area of formal literary studies, while positivism reigned , it was literally the letter that triumphed. The philological sciences were born. Of "these, Comparative Philology was a distinguished branch) and a host of great names gradually unfolded the story of the origins and development of languages and dialects. It was ln Germany that the methods of the positivistic sciences received their widest application, and German methods, having first spread over Europe, swallowed up the Americas, until it seemed as if the study and comprehension of the great literary arts depended solely as a discipline on the study of letters and syllables. Words are, of course, the very elements of literary communication and their study is of the highest importance, but scarcely as dead matter, and only from the point of view of the ends they serve. The pure philologer in looking at words as mere collocations of letters seemed to abandon the organism for the skeleton, substituting quantity for quality, syllables for sense, mechanics for meaning, so that his science now suffers, in spite of its transformation, from the scorn being poured upon the departmentalized, mechanistic approach to life so dear to the last century. Strangely enough, it was a successful military campaign, that of 1870-71, which imposed German intellectual methods upon the world and, appropriately enough, it was another war, this time a cataclysm, that of 1914-18, which discredited these very methods, especially in Germany itself. But the dynamism which was so thoroughly a characteristic of the nineteenth century had prepared its revenge long before theyears turning on the pivot of 1900. Renan, Boutroux, Bergson, Dilthey, Croce, and others were zealously busy, building windows in the cell of positivism. The breath of the spirit was moving over the machinery of materialism. The outraged aesthetic sense carried its reaction to the extreme, claimed, in its turn, to be an absolute in its own -right, centring...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 165-179
Launched on MUSE
2015-07-01
Open Access
No
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