He was one of the brightest people I’ve ever known. He was also magisterially self-assured, firmly opinionated, and devastatingly armed. The mildest of his sallies was “He (or she) has much to be modest about,” which he might observe when unimpressed with an artist’s talents. The snarkiest (which did not get into print) I shall not disclose here.

I first met Hilton when he came to The Times in 1965 as a critic, nattily tweedy, jacketed, and bow-tied, in a shirtsleeve newsroom. I was worried. His reputation for taking tough, often conservative, stances preceded his arrival at the paper, which had hired him not just for his clear, elegant writing but in hopes that he would stir up what every newspaper loves: controversy. And he didn’t disappoint. He delighted in making the fur fly, and, whether you agreed or not, you were usually energized by what he wrote. Indeed, his stress on the critic as...


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