This much-misunderstood passage from the “Editor’s Study” (September 1886) has been used to show Howells’s timidity as a realist in the “genteel tradition.” What he actually advocates is that realist writers look at life rather than affecting a fashionable level of gloom to imitate the works of Russian writers such as Doestoevsky. Howells goes on to add this equally optimistic statement: “It will not do to boast, but it is well to be true to the facts, and to see that, apart from these purely mortal troubles, the race here enjoys conditions in which most of the ills that have darkened its annals may be averted by honest work and unselfish behavior. It is only now and then, when some dark shadow of our shameful past appears, that we can believe there ever was a tragic element in our prosperity.”