Photo: Fri Tanke (Wikimedia Commons)

"I was amazed at how ignorant and sometimes plain stupid were the people who claimed to run the country"—Christopher Hitchens on meeting politicians when he was a student

The way we were: meetings with the great and good
May 7, 2020
1665: Samuel Pepys spends the day with Charles II and his son, the Duke of Monmouth

“The King having dined, he come down, and I went in the barge with him, I sitting at the door. Down to Woolwich and back again with him in the barge, hearing him and the Duke talk, and seeing and observing their manner of discourse. And God forgive me! though I admire them with all the duty possible, yet the more a man considers and observes them, the less he finds of difference between them and other men, though (blessed be God!) they are both princes of great nobleness and spirits.”

1968: Christopher Hitchens, then an undergraduate at Balliol College, Oxford, recalls meetings with the famous

“In my career as a speaker at the Oxford Union, I had a chance to meet senior ministers and parliamentarians ‘up close’ and dine with them before and drink with them afterward, and be amazed once again at how ignorant and sometimes plain stupid were the people who claimed to run the country. This was an essential stage of my formation and one for which I am hugely grateful, though I fear it must have made me much more insufferably cocky and sure of myself than I deserved to be.”

1996: Terry Castle, English professor at Stanford University, meets Susan Sontag

“At its best, our relationship was rather like the one between Dame Edna and her feeble sidekick Madge—or possibly Stalin and Malenkov. Sontag was the Supremo and I the obsequious gofer. Whenever she came to San Francisco, usually once or twice a year, I instantly became her female aide-de-camp: a one-woman posse, ready to drop anything at a phone call (including the classes I was supposed to be teaching at Stanford) and drive her around to various Tower record stores and dim sum restaurants. Most important, I became adept at clucking sympathetically at her constant kvetching: about the stupidity and philistinism of whatever local sap was paying for her lecture trip, how no one had yet appreciated the true worth of her novel The Volcano Lover, how you couldn’t find a decent dry cleaner in downtown San Francisco etc, etc.”