Page:Dead Souls - A Poem by Nikolay Gogol - vol2.djvu/57

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47
BOOK ONE

the phrase 'virtuous man' is too often taken in vain; because they have made a regular hack of the virtuous man and there is not a writer who has not ridden him to death, lashing him on with whip or anything that comes to hand; because they have so overdone the virtuous man that there is not a shadow of virtue left about him, and he is nothing but skin and bone; because it is through hypocrisy they invoke the virtuous man; because the virtuous man is not respected. No, the time has come at last to trot out the rascal! And so let us trot out the rascal!

Our hero's origin was humble and obscure. His parents were of the nobility, but whether by birth or by merit—God only knows. He did not resemble them in face. Anyway, a female relation who was present at his birth, a short little woman, one of those intrusive fussy people commonly called 'lapwings,' cried out as she took the baby in her arms: 'He is not a bit what I expected! He ought to have been like his granny on his mother's side, that would have been the best, but he reminds me of the saying: not like father nor like mother, but like a passing stranger.' Life looked at him at first with sour inhospitality as through a dim snow-darkened window; he had no friend, no comrade in his childhood! A tiny room with tiny windows, never opened, summer or winter; his father, an invalid in a long lambswool-lined coat, with slippers on his bare feet, for ever sighing and wandering about the room and spitting into