Mr. Howells' latest novel deserves and will receive wide reading. It deals with a problem which had found its way into American social life of his time: "How will a cultivated and beautiful woman feel if she discovers that she has a tinge of negro blood in her veins? How will other people, particularly her lover, feel and act?" Mr. Howells works out the problem with skill, on what seem to us sound lines of reasoning. 'An Imperative Duty' is so mature a work, and so good an example of the author's method, that it invites the closest scrutiny. It is written with his usual acuteness and cleverness, but with even more than his ordinary amount of self-consciousness. He is continually trying to say clever things, and he seems here a kind of intellectual conventionalist ; we feel that he would commit a minor crime rather than fail in the proper tone. As one reads he plants his feet as circumspectly as in threading his way in a crowded parlor where trains abound. One is exhausted in the effort to keep up to the author's intensely self-conscious key. It is too much like the brilliant persiflage of a dinner-party when everybody means more than he says and challenges his listeners to see the target at which he is really aiming. The glow and "fling" of high creative work are thus rendered impossible to the author, and the reader falls into a hyper-critical state of mind. Mr. Howells is at his best when describing distinctive American types. The cultivated Frenchman and the cultivated American are much more alike than are the Frenchman and the American on lower levels; and when a writer selects his characters from Beacon Street and the "Cours la Reine" he has less opportunity to be picturesque than when he deals with Hanover Street and the "Quartier Latin." Mr. Howells is an artist of the first order like Henry James. He works by rule, and the result is the product of high talent.