Spontaneous eloquence seems to me a miracle,” confessed Vladimir Nabokov in 1962. He took up the point more personally in his foreword to Strong Opinions (1973): “I have never delivered to my audience one scrap of information not prepared in typescript beforehand … My hemmings and hawings over the telephone cause long-distance callers to switch from their native English to pathetic French. “At parties, if I attempt to entertain people with a good story, I have to go back to every other sentence for oral erasures and inserts … nobody should ask me to submit to an interview … It has been tried at least twice in the old days, and once a recording machine was present, and when the tape was rerun and I had finished laughing, I knew that never in my life would I repeat that sort of performance.” We sympathise. And most literary types, probably, would hope for inclusion somewhere or other on Nabokov's sliding scale: “I think like a genius, I write like a distinguished author, and I speak like a child.”
Mr Hitchens isn't like that. Christopher and His Kind runs the title of one of Isherwood's famous memoirs. And yet this Christopher doesn't have a kind. Everyone is unique – but Christopher is preternatural. And it may even be that he exactly inverts the Nabokovian paradigm. He thinks like a child (that is to say, his judgments are far more instinctive and moral-visceral than they seem, and are animated by a child's eager apprehension of what feels just and true); he writes like a distinguished author; and he speaks like a genius. As a result, Christopher is one of the most terrifying rhetoricians that the world has yet seen. Lenin used to boast that his objective, in debate, was not rebuttal and then refutation: it was the “destruction” of his interlocutor. This isn't Christopher's policy – but it is his practice.