Christopher and I last saw each other on the first day of this year–he was in California, clearly, although none of us said so, saying goodbye–and we spent the afternoon together.  We talked over lunch, and then on and on, until long after sunset, about–well, about everything.  History, politics (we disagreed), religion (we disagreed still more), the Sixties, contemporary novelists, the last movie he had seen (“The King’s Speech,” which he had loved, despite the crude portrayal of Churchill), his experiences at Oxford, in Cuba, in Iraq, in Prague.  And about America.  Odd though this may seem to say about someone who remained so completely English, but Christopher Hitchens loved this country with the same abandoned, head-over-heels love that I saw in Ronald Reagan.

Christopher’s integrity was, as always, on display.  One of the physicians who had been most helpful to him in his illness was a devout Christian, and Christopher admitted that this had given him pause.  He also mentioned that, although it remained speculative for now, there was some thought that a stem cell therapy might help him.  That too gave him pause–more than pause.  Sacrificing embryos for his good?  “Can’t have that, I don’t believe, can we?”

Just as I was about to leave, Chesterton somehow came up.  His favorite Chesterton poem, Christopher remarked, was “Lepanto,” Chesterton’s account of the great sea battle of 1571 in which Don Juan of Austria, commanding the Holy League, defeated the Ottoman Empire, saving the West.  No sooner did he mention the poem than Christopher began to recite the second stanza:

     Dim drums throbbing, in the hills half heard,       Where only on a nameless throne a crownless prince has stirred,       Where, risen from a doubtful seat and half attainted stall,       The last knight of Europe takes weapons from the wall,       The last and lingering troubadour to whom the bird has sung,       That once went singing southward when all the world was young.       In that enormous silence, tiny and unafraid,       Comes up along a winding road the noise of the Crusade.       Strong gongs groaning as the guns boom far,       Don John of Austria is going to the war,       Stiff flags straining in the night-blasts cold       In the gloom black-purple, in the glint old-gold,       Torchlight crimson on the copper kettle-drums,       Then the tuckets, then the trumpets, then the cannon, and he comes.       Don John laughing in the brave beard curled,       Spurning of his stirrups like the thrones of all the world,       Holding his head up for a flag of all the free.       Love-light of Spain–hurrah!       Death-light of Africa!       Don John of Austria       Is riding to the sea.

I repeat my side of our old argument, insisting that what Christoper experienced today was not, as he insisted it would be, extinction–and that, just as I told him he would–told him as he shook his head in amused disbelief–he has now had a happy if temporarily embarrassing surprise, finding himself in the presence of the only Being with the capacity to love him even more than did his friends.  I repeat my side–but never–never–have I so regretted having the last word.

Christopher Hitchens, knight and troubadour, who so thoroughly enjoyed going to the war, and who held his head up for a flag of all the free.  Requiescat in pace.

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  1. Profile Photo Contributor
    Rob Long

    Peter Robinson

    Rob Long: Lovely, Peter. And what a treat to see him again, with you and WFB. · Dec 15 at 10:08pm

    Yours lovely too, Rob–and you’re right. He was that kind of writer.

    Although we’d all known for well over a year now that this moment was coming, it hurts. · Dec 15 at 10:11pm

    I know. Why is that? I think it’s because we say we “know” a moment is coming, and we mentally prepare for it, all the while thinking, deep down, that we’re warding it off. Like carrying an umbrella to hold off the rain. · Dec 15 at 10:29pm

    Yes. Why should that be? All our lives, we know only one fact for certain about ourselves and everyone around us: we too shall die. And then someone dies–and it’s a shock. Somewhere, I think, C. S. Lewis wrote about this, arguing that the sheer surprise that always, at some level, accompanies death indicates that we were never intended for it, that death, not life, represents the disorder or aberration in creation. Ah, but here I go, starting an argument with Hitch.

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    As one who grew up in the midst of the Iraq war, I remembered hearing Hitch’s name quite often, and because of that I started reading Hitch – including his autobiography -nine months ago. Thank you Peter and Rob for a fond remembrance. Christopher Buckley wrote that Hitch is “the greatest living essayist in the English language.” That this is no longer true is a very sad day indeed.

    • #32
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    etoiledunord: I’ll pray for him. If I’m right, it’ll help him now, and if he’s right, it can’t possibly bother him. · Dec 15 at 10:28pm

    Do–do pray for him. I told him I was. Although he insisted it couldn’t do any good, he also insisted he had no objection.

    And while you’re at it, remember his wife and daughter–and his children by his first marriage, too.

    • #33
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    I think CS Lewis said it best: “You have never met a mortal soul.”

    What a thing to ponder! Thanks, Pseudo.

    • #34
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    etoiledunord: I’ll pray for him. If I’m right, it’ll help him now, and if he’s right, it can’t possibly bother him.

    Alternatively, you may both be wrong. (Intended charitably, not snippily.)

    • #35
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    I remember being startled in one of the first interviews that Hitchens did on CSPAN that when asked if his father was still living, Hitchens said, “Alas, No.” This response seemed heartfelt and sincere — so, you must realize that I was all queued up for a doctrinaire leftist and these people always hated their father ever since they were told that this was one of the rules. Certainly, if you do love your father it is a subject that is best avoided in order to maintain any credibility in the hive.

    I liked his word phrasing and rehearsed emphasis at discontinuities in the conversation. He always spoke over the interviewer — now, why was this exactly? His mind’s tempo was often out of step it seems. But, while you were disconcerted, you really had to pay attention to see what dagger he just thrust in below the armpit. And then another interruption as soon as his mind queued up the next item. Hitchens’ mind was made for list-building — but the list was subtly cross-referenced: each item called up one at a time from the previous one and carefully calibrated for the target and the venue.

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    “In this world goodness is destined to be defeated. But a man must go down fighting. That is the victory. To do anything less is to be less than a man.”

    We hope for Christopher, because that is what we do, we lucky few who have stumbled in the darkness, seen a flicker, and found a way out. I hold out hope that he found that flicker, finally, after so many brilliant years of stumbling…

    • #37
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    Spending the afternoon reading Hitchens tributes. Great way to spend the time, reveling in the stories of this towering intellect. Found something for Claire in David Frum’s account of his wife’s magazine and Mr. Hitchens.

    Danielle mobilized Christopher to write for a magazine she then edited, the Women’s Quarterly. For the very uncharacteristic fee of $200, he and David Brooks divided a page to settle the question, who were sexier: left-wing women or right-wing women? Christopher championed right-wing women, and told the story of the erotic thrill he had experienced when Margaret Thatcher had slapped him on the bottom with a rolled-up newspaper.”

    Priceless stuff. And yes on the right-wing women.

    • #38
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    Astonishing: ….I can’t open my presents before Christmas. I have to accept waiting to see what’s next. So instead, I think about certain mundane practical things, which don’t seem all that mundane anymore. ….

    That was all powerful stuff, Astonishing. Best to you. S_____ is lucky.

    • #39
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    Wonderful reading all day today in the primarily conservative sites about Hitchens. I found Hitchens when discovering my own conservative sensibilities in the years following 9/11. As with most, I didn’t agree with everything he wrote, but my goodness it was always a great read.

    But there is something I’ve not seen mentioned today that I want to ask about. It’s about this subject that was mentioned in a column today by The National Post’s Jonathan Kay: “…subject himself to waterboarding so he could decide whether it’s truly torture (it is),…”.

    I remember this incident, and video, of Hitchens voluntarily being waterboarded…and asking for it again a second time. Doesn’t this incident result in the opposite conclusion, that the technique is not torture? If you are willing to have this done to you a second time, let alone the first, how could it be torture?

    • #40
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    Astonishing: Love and beauty convince me of one thing. Only a God could create them, and give us a capacity for them, our great consolations in a world otherwise too uncaring and brutal. Beyond that, I just don’t know.

    I’d call you a believer with doubts, Astonishing. Welcome to the ranks of the faithful.

    Sometimes I think we complicate God too much. As I’ve gone “higher up and deeper in” in faith, I’ve realized my role as a worshiper is to be head-over-heels in love with truth, love, and beauty. Because if God is anything, He is those things. And if He is man-made, out of desperation, as you say, what harm can come from living a life in love with truth, love, and beauty?

    At the start of every Mass, our congregation is asked to contemplate where we have met God (Christ) in the past week. Thank you for providing such an encounter. Your post is beautiful. Peace be with you.

    • #41
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    Garnetson: I remember this incident, and video, of Hitchens voluntarily being waterboarded…and asking for it again a second time. Doesn’t this incident result in the opposite conclusion, that the technique is not torture? If you are willing to have this done to you a second time, let alone the first, how could it be torture?

    I believe he asked to do it twice because the first time he was unable to take it as long as he wanted/expected to be able too, in part because he trusted the people overseeing the experience. In any case, Hitchens definitely thought it was torture. He said you don’t simply get the sensation of drowning; you actually are drowning.

    • #42
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    Nil nisi bonum.  Well and nobly said, Mr. Robinson. 

    • #43
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