In the first chapter of his book, Wellek and Warren outline the history of literary criticism in Europe, attempting to create a chronological and conceptual history of criticism. This chapter is divided into three parts: the origin of literary theory; the rise of literary criticism; and the development of literary theory and criticism. Wellek and Warren note that criticism has its roots in philosophy and religion, but literary criticism first appeared in Hellenistic Greece; they believe that the Hellenistic period of literary theory began with Aristotle and was followed by Epicurus, whose influence spread to the Roman Empire and early Imperial China. Literary theory and criticism was developed in the Renaissance by humanists, and spread to England with Erasmus, who taught Petrarch, Boccaccio, and the other Petrarchan authors. The rise of literary criticism continued in the Enlightenment, particularly in England, where Samuel Johnson and Edmund Burke were prominent writers. Johnson and Burke were critical of the French writers and of the Enlightenment. Another significant figure in English literary criticism was John Keats, who was heavily influenced by British romantic poets such as Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Blake.
The third chapter of the book explores the theory of literary criticism in the United States. Wellek and Warren find that the first work of literary criticism was Thaddeus Mason Harris' The Science of Literature in 1842. This book was followed by the Southern Agrarians' 827ec27edc