I knew Peter Witterly at St Andrews, and thought him a pompous, loud-mouthed and ill-mannered bore, a common opinion. He went on to study at Oxford. Later on, while I was working on the Hill in Washington DC, I commiserated with a friend who had for the second year in succession been beaten to a Stanford teaching scholarship by Witterly. "Well, he is an Oxford DPhil," I was told, and replied "A likely story." Intrigued, my friend wrote to the Master of his Oxford College to enquire about Witterly's degree, and showed me the legendary reply.
"MISTER Witterly did indeed matriculate at this college, but left without gaining a degree from this or any other college. Though I never tutored him personally, I spoke to those who did, and all agree that, while he speaks persuasively and at length concerning his own scholarship, he is unlikely ever to produce a serious piece of work. I hope this helps you in your enquiries."
A copy of the letter was sent to Russell Kirk, the distinguished US writer whom Witterly had publicly derided in reviews. He sent an express copy to Stanford, where Witterly was summoned and confronted with it. "This is a lie," he declared. "I have documents to prove that." He left to collect those documents and never returned. I sent my friend a spoof of the letter saying that "while he was matriculated at the Sacred College of Cardinals, he left without becoming Pope of this or any other church, and though he spoke persuasively and at length concerning his own piety, he was unlikely ever to produce a serious ex cathedra pronouncement."