Doug Bruns

Christopher Hitchens

In Death, Writers, Writing on December 16, 2011 at 8:40 am

From: More Intelligent (The Economist)

Reprinted without permission:

~ Posted by Tim de LIsle, December 16th 2011

By their tweets shall ye know them. The death of Christopher Hitchens, the polemicist and boulevardier, came not as a shock, but still as a blow to many, and thousands of them were moved to comment on Twitter. Some just said they were sad, a fine sentiment but a fairly pointless one to broadcast to the world, because it’s not about you—it’s a lot sadder for family and close friends—and there’s not much point grabbing people by the lapels if you don’t have anything to say. Happily, many tweeters pushed themselves harder. Here’s a snapshot of some of the different approaches; tallies of followers have been trimmed to the nearest round number.

Salman Rushdie (150,000 followers) struck a note seldom heard on Twitter—the epic.

Goodbye, my beloved friend. A great voice falls silent. A great heart stops. Christopher Hitchens, April 13, 1949-December 15, 2011.

That line was widely quoted, and given prominence by the BBC. Among those who saw it there was the biographer and Intelligent Life contributing editor Julie Kavanagh, a friend of Hitchens, who said it was “the only time I’ve been moved to tears by a tweet”.

Richard Dawkins (283,000 followers), who has an interview with Hitchens in his role as guest editor of this week’s New Statesman, went for epic with added polemic:

Christopher Hitchens, finest orator of our time, fellow horseman, valiant fighter against all tyrants including God.

Tony Parsons (20,000 followers), the columnist and novelist, told a story:

Memory of Christopher Hitchens. 20 years ago—a live TV debate. Never saw anyone drunker in a green room. Never saw anyone sharper on air.

Matthew Sweet (2,000 followers), the BBC Radio 3 presenter and Intelligent Life regular, had a crisp vignette:

My #Hitch moment: singing a song about Tom Paine with him to the tune of God Save the Queen. He had a deep whisky & cigarettes bass.

At a moment like this, you see the importance of tone. Richard Bacon (1.37m followers), the BBC DJ, found the acceptable face of the “I’m sad” school of thought:

Oh bugger. Christopher Hitchens has died.

He was echoed by the young rock band Wild Beasts (13,000 followers), who were matey but sharp:

Christopher Hitchens, you old contrarian, RIP, in anywhere but heaven.

Violet Towers (400 followers), a probation officer who writes under a pseudonym, quoted Hitchens himself, elegantly:

“The four most overrated things in life are champagne, lobster, anal sex and picnics.”—Christopher Hitchens

The devout faced a dilemma: to chide or not to chide. One of them published a vindictive line about Hitchens and hell which is too dismal to quote in full. Another, the journalist Cristina Odone (700 followers), struck a happier note, as well as finding room for a gerund:

RIP #ChrisHitchens For 40 years being a journalist meant trying to be like the #Hitch. He’d laugh at my praying for him, but I will

Sterling Sunley, a book-lover from Vancouver (0 followers—quite a feat), gently upbraided some of the duller tweeters around him:

The person I would most like to hear about the legacy of Christopher Hitchens is Hitch himself; he would suffer no false sentiments.

Stephen Fry (3.5m followers), the actor, writer and British national treasure, marked the gravity of the occasion by restricting himself to only two adjectives, and going big on verbs instead:

Goodbye, Christopher Hitchens. You were envied, feared, adored, reviled and loved. Never ignored. Never bested. A great and marvellous man

There was plenty of warmth, but not much wit. Almighty God (27,000 followers)— one of several characters of that name on Twitter—did His best to fill the breach:

In honor of Christopher Hitchens I will admit it just this once: I Am Not Great.

while the writer Lisa Appignanesi (800 followers) found humour in the obituary on the Guardian site:

Laughing while reading an obit is an event only #Hitch makes possible

Someone said Hitchens had a God-given talent for writing—that might have really irritated him. And so might the fact that the tributes were joined by Piers Morgan, a journalist of a very different stripe. But in the best of these tweets, you could see what Hitchens himself stood for: vision, spark, the power of the word.

Tim de Lisle is editor of Intelligent Life

  1. Thanks for sharing, Doug. I am not a Twitter subscriber, but there is a charm to the judicious use of words. Hitchens deserved them all. I am sorry I never spent an evening sipping a drink around the fire with him. Though I would have been too intimidated to speak, I believe we would have a few things in common.

I welcome your comments. Thanks for reading.

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