Christopher Hitchens, Hale


Dinner this evening–or, rather, since it has just gone midnight, yesterday evening–with the great historian Robert Conquest and the journalist provocateur Christopher Hitchens.  Christopher looked better than he has in recent photographs in Vanity Fair, and he proved utterly himself, talking about books, politics, and history for nearly three hours.  I offer it as a sign of his sweet indomitability that Hitch closed the evening by reciting, from memory, this poem:

A RAVEN sat upon a tree,

  And not a word he spoke, for

His beak contained a piece of Brie,

  Or, maybe, it was Roquefort:

    We ’ll make it any kind you please—

    At all events, it was a cheese.


Beneath the tree’s umbrageous limb

  A hungry fox sat smiling;

He saw the raven watching him,

  And spoke in words beguiling:

    “J’ admire,” said he, “ton beau plumage,”

    (The which was simply persiflage).


Two things there are, no doubt you know,

  To which a fox is used,—

A rooster that is bound to crow,

  A crow that ’s bound to roost,

    And whichsoever he espies

    He tells the most unblushing lies.


  “Sweet fowl,” he said, “I understand

  You ’re more than merely natty:

I hear you sing to beat the band

  And Adelina Patti.

    Pray render with your liquid tongue

    A bit from ‘Götterdämmerung.’”


This subtle speech was aimed to please

  The crow, and it succeeded:

He thought no bird in all the trees

  Could sing as well as he did.

    In flattery completely doused,

    He gave the “Jewel Song” from “Faust.”


But gravitation’s law, of course,

  As Isaac Newton showed it,

Exerted on the cheese its force,

  And elsewhere soon bestowed it.

    In fact, there is no need to tell

    What happened when to earth it fell.


I blush to add that when the bird

  Took in the situation

He said one brief, emphatic word,

  Unfit for publication.

    The fox was greatly startled, but

    He only sighed and answered “Tut!”


THE MORAL is: A fox is bound

  To be a shameless sinner.

And also: When the cheese comes round

  You know it ’s after dinner.

    But (what is only known to few)

    The fox is after dinner, too.


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  1. Profile Photo Member

    He didn’t comment on the Ricochet debate on Vietnam, did he?

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  2. Profile Photo Member

    Delovely. Most I can manage is the Nightmare song from Gilbert & Sullivan. Oh and that poignant Cole Porter one “Down in the sea, lived a lonesome oyster, every day getting sadder and moister…”

    Good to know Mr Hitchens is well as can be expected. We can’t claim him as a conservative. But at heart, he’s one of the good ‘uns.

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  3. Profile Photo Member

    Odd to hear him quote a poem with “sin” in it, however. Doesn’t he ordinarily think of that as a wrong political choice rooted in false consciousness?

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  4. Profile Photo Member


    How is Prof. Conquest these days? Any books on the horizon?

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  5. Profile Photo Member

    This is impressive! Hitchens remembers Guy Wetmore Carryl.

    The incomparable world of parody… I wish I knew more of its Anglo-American incarnation.

    I was originally steeped in its Russian and Ukrainian variants (for the latter, try the 1798 version of the Aeneid by Ivan Kotlarevsky), which is too remote for much dinner conversation…

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  6. Profile Photo Member

    One of my favorite things about Christopher’s writing is how he incorporates poetry into his writing. It makes his book on Thomas Paine truly excellent.

    I love this poem and I request more good poetry on Ricochet. Maybe a weekly poem post? Anways, thank you for posting this.

    I’d like to know if you ever received a reply from him on your response on Vietnam too? I still think about those posts. Also, I still think you should ask him to come on the podcast to talk about it.

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  7. Profile Photo Member

    Hmm, OK, here we go:

    The bon viveur Christopher Hitchens

    Was fond of alarming predictions,

    In his prose you’ll get lost,

    As he swiftly exhausts

    The entire content of your kitchens.

    Hey, it’s just an off the cuff thing. Quit throwing vegetables.

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  8. Profile Photo Member

    I’d like to second Robert Bennet’s request that you try for Hitchens on a podcast.

    And the poem was well worth posting, thanks.

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  9. Profile Photo Member

    Three cheers for Hitchens. I went to a debate at Berkeley between Hitchens and Orville Schell at the outset of the Iraq war – Hitchens pro, Schell con. One might imagine where the sympathies of most of the audience lay. Hitchens’ opening gambit was to ask the audience if they would, right now, lift the no-fly zones and again allow Saddam a free hand in Iraq. It seemed to me that even for the Berkeley peaceniks that was a bridge too far, and I thought Hitchens had all the arguments on his side after that.

    My best wishes to Hitchens, enemy of tyrants and champion of human freedom.

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  10. Profile Photo Member

    Just read Hitch 22 and was captivated by both his life story and his prose; glad to hear he is doing well. I don’t pray too often, yet when I do, I am sure to include him only because I know it would aggravate him so.

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  11. Profile Photo Member

    Thank you for the post, Mr. Robinson. As maddening as Mr. Hitchens is about some things, I pray for his recovery. The world will be a smaller place when he is gone, hopefully not soon.

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  12. Profile Photo Thatcher

    I’m glad to hear about Mr. Hitchens. I hope he recovers. As much as I disagree with him on certain things (but also agree with him on a lot of other things) he is an interesting and knowledgeable thinker and writer. His breadth of knowledge is impressive. I also looked forward to his weekly segments on Hugh Hewitt’s show until he had to stop due to the cancer.

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