Peter Simple: A glance at better times.

The late Michael Wharton ran a diary column in the Daily Telegraph called ‘Way of the World’ among the entries were extracts from Squire Haggard’s Journal, originally conceived by Michael Green. Haggard’s Journal purported to have been written around 1775.

Oct. 17: Gales. Mortalities: Stoppage of the Blood, 3; Reticulation of the Loins, 28. The Intelligencer reports a speech by one Thos. Paine, who promised that soon Jack wd. be as good as his master, every man would have five acres and a cow and there would be pensions and schooling for all from the Publick Purse.

Oct. 19: Hail. Nathaniel Blastoff d. from Excessive Fornication. This a.m. Grunge (my servant) asked to borrow The Intelligencer. Shortly afterwards I rang the bell and asked for another bottle of Madeira as I had dropped one on the floor and was too drunk to pick it up.

‘Perhaps, sir,’ he replied.

I demanded to know what the devil he meant by ‘perhaps, sir’ and he said the speech reported in The Intelligencer had affected him greatly. I told him I would affect him greatly if he paid attention to such nonsense but he answered, ‘Man is born free but is everywhere in chains.’

The Madeira never came and when I rang for more coals the maid told me Mr. Grunge said, ‘Would I mind putting them on myself as he was engaged in readg. the works of Jean-Jacques Rousseau.’

I sent the girl to the village with a message for Common Kate, the whore, to come as usual but she returned with a note from Kate saying Mr.Grunge had advised her not to come unless I paid a penny extra and gave her a paid vacation at Christmas. I turned to drink but Grunge refused to bring anything from the cellar. ‘Then you are dismissed!’ I shouted but he merely replied, ‘Thank you sir, I have not been paid for four years in any case.’

Oct. 24: Rain. Grunge has been spreading his evil philosophy all week with the result the labourers say they will not work more than fifteen hours a day and even little Nellie Nobody, the scullery maid, refuses to satisfy my wants just for a new ribbon but demands an orange as well.

In p.m. I therefore addressed Grunge. ‘I have been deeply impressed by your newfound convictions,’ I said, ‘and have decided to yield to your views. I wish to make you a present of the estate.’

His bovine face glowed and I went on, ‘Unfortunately, the estate is mortgaged heavily. There are debts and unpaid taxes of 1,000 pnds, I expect a writ any day and in default I shall go to the County Gaol. All this is now yours.’

He gave a wail and fell to his knees. ‘Please, sir,’ he cried, ‘Do not let me go to gaol. I will do anything.’

‘Good,’ I replied, ‘then bring in dinner for a start. And stand near in case I wish to kick you,’ with which he scurried away and I settled back to enjoy myself with the Old Order restored.

Oct. 14: Mist. Virtue Goodbody died from the Putrid Exhalations. This being the shooting season I invited a party to be my guests for a few days’ sport, hoping some of them might lend me money. At dawn we repaired to Ghoul’s Field and waited for Mellors, my gamekeeper, to send over the birds. But nothing happened for some time and then a solitary pheasant rose before us and observing the guns pointing at it sank back to the ground.

I asked Mellors what the damned was happening. He said it had been a bad year, what with the lack of rain and the poor harvest and the fact I hadn’t paid his wages and he had raised only a few birds and most of them were too weak to fly.

I apologised deeply to my guests for this unfortunate lack of sport but a young Corinthian, The Hon. Fortescue Molehurst, suggested we could shoot the birds and have them for supper.

‘Shoot a sitting bird!’ I ejaculated. ‘Only a Frenchman would do such a thing. No, we will save powder and shot and hit them on the head.’ But this proved easier said than done as the birds showed unusual agility considering their sickness and the attempt was abandoned after somebody smote Sir Jas. Card on the foot with the butt of their fowling piece, causing him to swoon with pain.

Oct. 15 Rain. Jeremiah Barnwood died from the Black Eruptions. Still no pheasants so in a.m. the party went out and shot anything in sight, returning with a bag of three crows, one wood-pigeon, a rat and Blind Billy, who strayed across the line of fire and received some pellets in his back. With shooting curtailed in p.m. we were forced to amuse ourselves by holding an Expectoration Contest as to whom could spit the best, using Grunge as a target. This was won by the Hon. Fortescue Molehurst who struck Grunge on the cheek from a distance of nineteen paces to thunderous applause. I thanked Grunge for his pains but he said it was an honour to be spat upon by a gentln.

The guests will return home disappointed unless Mellors can do something and I fear they will be angry with me. I called upon Mellors but he said matters were no better and I therefore had to resort to a Stratagem.

Oct.6: Gales. Arose early and the guests took up positions near Ghoul’s Field while a whistle was blown for the signal to start. For a moment there was silence and then a loud rustling was heard in the undergrowth and a vast feathered creature, full six feet high and waving its wings desperately ran across the line of fire.

It was Mellors, whom I had commanded to dress in feathers and provide some sport for the guests. For a moment they were stunned and then with loud cries of exultation emptied their barrels at the creature which dodged this way and that, emitting shrieks of pain and Roderick and Fanny fear, before it jumped over a hedge and was seen no more.

Thus my guests went home happy declaring it was the best day’s shooting they had ever had and Mellors escaped with nothing worse than a few pellets in him, in recompense of which I gave him a handsome present. item: To Handsome Present for Mellors, £0 0s.2d

Michael Wharton wrote for The Salisbury Review

The Peter Simple Diaries were originally published in the Daily Telegraph but deemed too offensive for modern sensibilities

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14 Comments on Peter Simple: A glance at better times.

  1. It’s wonderful, but it isn’t Michael Wharton. Here’s Michael Wharton at his incomparable best in the 1950s:

    “Salisbury Cathedral for lightness and grace. Lincoln for solemn ecstasy. Ely for overwhelming strangeness. Before the fens were drained, when Ely was an island among reeds and water, it must have been one of the most mysterious places in the world. Even now, approached over the windy marish levels, it has an extraordinary effect on the mind.

    “There were thunderstorms moving about when I visited Ely the other day. The huge, rambling, fantastic cathedral belonged more with the thunder than with the plain little town of seedsmen, corn merchants and hairdressers it crushes and dominates with its Gothic dream.

    “Ely is a town where one can imagine ecclesiastical rule still in force. Even the petrol-pump attendants have a pietistic air. The Bishop’s word is law and his portrait hangs by compulsion in all parlours. At twilight beadles search the inns and whip defaulters to evensong.

    “As some high church dignitary passes in the narrow street, the housewives cease their gossip at the launderette to curtsey long and low. And in St Chrysostom’s Café and Snack Bar the solitary Teddy Boy, cowering at his Gothic juke-box, closes his eyes in holy dread.”

    (Quoted from pages 16 and 17 of /Far Away is Close at Hand : 40 Years of Peter Simple/, which I’m glad to have bought in 1995. If you find a copy, buy it. And buy any other Peter Simple anthologies you can find. Michael Wharton was the greatest conservative writer in living memory.)

  2. Haggard’s Journal was written by Michael Green, who also served as ‘Peter Simple II’ when Wharton was on holiday. It is evident from Wharton’s Memoirs that he was rather miffed when people congratulated him on Haggard.

  3. I really like this:-

    Wharton slid into a curiously monastic routine. He moved into a tiny, cell-like office in the Telegraph building in Fleet Street, which had room only for himself, his secretary Claudie Worsthorne (fortunately, petite) and a fire escape. At the end of the day, he would drink brandies in the King and Keys public house next door before taking the bus to his London flat in Battersea, where he would eat five fish fingers (never more nor fewer), washed down with lime juice and soda, and read until bedtime. His marriage to Kate was not formally ended until 1972, though for many years before that her affections had famously to be shared with Colin Welch. In 1974, Wharton married again, this time to Susan Moller

  4. Hilarious. Reminded me of George MacDonald Fraser’s Flashman, who would have given Nellie Nobody a “good seeing-to” with his riding crop for demanding an orange as well.

  5. I have just discovered something that I do not fully understand, perhaps the editor can assist?

    I was a regular reader of Peter Simple and Way of the World when Wharton was its writer, Waugh was too serious. Indeed I even have a pile of copied and pasted editions stored in my docs folder. I was looking through these, because I was sure that Haggard’s faithful retainer was not called “Grunge”. I couldn’t find that, but when I started looking further across the net, I was informed that Haggard was in fact written by someone called Michael Green and NOT Michael Wharton, even though he appeared in the latter’s weekly column.

    I am just wondering whether they are the same person, or have I got things hopelessly confused?

    • Michael Wharton wrote two volumes of autobigraphy: ‘The Missing Will’ and ‘A Dubious Codicil’. He confirms in the second book that the ‘Squire Haggard’ portions of the weekly ‘Way of the World’ column were written by Michael Green. In fact, at its beginning in the late 1950s, the column was the work of several hands. It was only from 1960 onward that it became Wharton’s domain entirely.

  6. I loved Haggard’s entries in his journal like, “Ejected Blind Billy for non-payment of annual rent viz: £0.0.2.” Michael Wharton was a genius – I have some of Peter Simple’s collected works – they still ring true today.

  7. Who, on further reflection, would we invite to edit a collected edition? Titania McGrath would be a good choice, perhaps.

  8. I am delighted to see I am not the only reader who warmly remembers Peter Simple. A comic genius. Time for a collected edition?