I was saddened to learn of the death of Gore Vidal yesterday, a larger-than-life literary, political and media personality whose ascerbic wit and firm views guaranteed entertainment whenever he put pen to paper or simply opened his mouth. His first novel, Williwaw, based on his wartime experiences, immediately indicated a literary potential he would richly develop. I particularly liked his historical novels (Burr educated me about the venal reality of early US politics) and I admired his sexual honesty in Judgement of Paris (a revolution in 1952)!). Later, his wit and political views could sometimes get in the way of his art. Certainly, his critics argued that he preferred the potential distractions of an aphorism to a genuine argument. Direct provocation was certainly one of his debating tactics. But to his admirers, his ability to produce a witty and entirely appropriate turn of phrase at the drop of a hat was one of his great qualities. For example: “It is not enough to succeed. Others must fail,” “A narcissist is someone better looking than you are,” “Every time a friend succeeds, I die a little,” “A good deed never goes unpunished,” and the timely “Any American who is prepared to run for president should automatically by definition be disqualified from ever doing so.”  About twenty years ago an erudite Irish friend met him by chance in Ravallo, where he used to live, and Vidal, presumably glad of some quality company, invited him for a drink. In the bar a group of English ‘lads’ started to make a row. Quick as a flash, Vidal arched his eyebrows and said ‘Oh to be in England, now that England’s here.’ (Robert Browning’s original poem is here.)