No bright reversion in the sky for Christopher Hitchens – he'd have none of that ethereal humbug (even if the phrase was Alexander Pope's). But our pre-eminent essayist is gone, the political flyting never to resume, and the work with its elegancies and asperities summarily rounded out. His friend Ian McEwan tells how, in his very last days, Hitchens was completing a review of the new Chesterton biography, each sentence a torment to produce. But when it appears, we can be certain that it will have his signature graces: stylistic panache and intellectual rigour. Hitchens never permitted false quantities to mar his prose, and if he was a good hater of the Hazlittean stripe, he could articulate his loves with unsurpassed passion and cogency.
His political trajectory will be picked over and debated in the days to come – his 'apostasy' from the radical Left evidently still rankles in some quarters – but it might be worth reminding ourselves that Hitchens was also a brilliant literary critic, possessed by the conviction that literature still matters, as the great benefice of the ironic mind - even when imperilled by the tohu-bohu of an uglified, celebrity-blighted culture on the one hand, and the enormity of political tyranny on the other. (Hitchens described the cultural landscape of the former as 'a tundra of pulverizing boredom' which could be applied to the former with equal justice.)