Correspondence on ‘Kilts v. Breeks’ Part 1 (December and January 1891-1892)

In ‘The People’s Journal’ for the 5th December 1891, an article was publish reporting on a plan to merge the Queen’s Own Cameron (79th) Highlanders with the Scots Guards and in consequence replace their kilts with breeks. The exploits of the Highland Regiments of the British Army had become one of the most important outlets for Scottish national pride. The thin red line at Balaclava, Waterloo and many other world famous battles amplified the image of Scots as a warrior people, and it was the kilted regiments portrayed in paintings and verse which made them distinct from the other nations of the British isles (especially the English). This potential de-kilting of the Cameron Highlanders also came at a time when modern Scottish nationalism was being born as calls for Home Rule intensified. All this made the proposal to remove the kilt, this great symbol of Scottish prestige, a contentious issue with readers. The paper received months worth of correspondence, some tongue-in-cheek, others apparently with a surprising amount of vitriol. The arguments for and against the kilt presented by readers gives a brilliant insight into how late 19th century Scots saw themselves, or at least how they hoped Scotland was viewed internationally.

5th December 1891

The Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders and the Tartan. A Protest.

[By a Special Correspondent.]

Again the War Office is ruffling the temper of the Camerons. It is proposed to link the old 79th to the Scots Guards, and to abolish the kilt! “The bodies wi’ the breeks” was a satirical impromptu played by Glenorchy’s piper, Findlay M’Ivor, at the battle of Altimarlach, by which he expressed the kilted Argyllshire men’s contempt for the trousers men of Caithness. And now the War Office, in the face of all tradition, experience, sound advice, and right feeling, proposes to reduce one of the most distinguished of our kilted regiments to the ignominious position of being were “bodies wi’ the breeks!” Will the Camerons tamely submit to the change if t is attempted to be forced upon them? We should hardly think so. Ought they to do so? Certainly not. Far be it from us to say a word against the gallant corps—the Scots Guards—to which it is proposed they should be linked, but the step would mean a humbling of justifiable Highland pride, a suppression of a glorious individuality, and a disregard for traditions that have inspired to victory on many a red-dyed field. It is time the country raised its voice against this wanton pottering and tinkering on the part of the War Office. It is good neither for the country nor the army. The complaint is raised that recruiting is going down. Little wonder. For a dozen men, in the Highlands at least, who would willingly range themselves under the colours of the 79th, there are probably not two who would become members of a corps vaguely described as the “Third Battalion of the Scots Guards.” …



12th December 1891

Kilts or Breeks?

Sir,—Will you kindly allow me space in your valuable paper? I am sorry to read in the People’s Journal of the 5th inst. That it is proposed to link the old gallant 79th Highlanders to the Scots Guards, and to abolish the kilt. Surely never! The Commander-in-Chief had better think twice before he attempts to commit such a rash act. If he does abolish the kilt, he will ruffle the temper of all true-hearted Highlanders. It is a true saying that

Satan finds some mischief still

For idle hands to do,

and certainly it will be a daring mischief to begin tinkering and pottering with Highland regiments. The fact of the matter is the English don’t know what to scheme to over-ride everything Scotch. Were it not for the Highlanders Scotland would have been unheard of at Waterloo, Corunna, or Balaclava, as at Trafalgar or Aboukir. There were Lowland regiments at these battles, but John Bull has pocketed all the glory for them. The 79th Highlanders is the most national of all the Highland regiments. Wake up, Cameron men! Don’t be trampled on in this way.—I am, &c.,

An Old 79ther. Barnet, Herts, 1891.


2nd January 1892

The Kilt Denounced.

Sir,—I am surprised that any of your intelligent correspondents should be so far left to themselves as to say anything in favour of that trashy thing they call a kilty dress. All honour to our brave and heroic men who have rendered so much valuable service to Queen and country, but what on earth hae this contemptible thing got to do with it? Nothing more than my granny’s petticoats. Indeed, to me the kilt is well worthy the name of any asylum deserter, or some simpleton who has got a piece of tomfoolery to perform at a puppet show; no doubt the silly kilt might add to the fun considerably. But worse still when we see an old fool strutting along our streets exhibiting his rheumatic knees. We wonder whether he is compos mentis or not. Awake, ye mothers, wives, and sisters, and help us to get this weak-minded rag of a thing banished from the face of the earth, and you will greatly oblige



9th January 1892

The Kilt Defended.

Sir,—I reply to the letter which appeared in your last issue denouncing the kilt, will you kindly allow me space in your valuable paper for these few words in defence of the garb of Old Gaul? The kilt is and was the Highlander’s dress in the North of Scotland until a number of years back. But now I see it condemned by “Hersel’” just as if it was an old useless hencoop lying on a dung heap. He, or she, never saw a right kilt on a fool. His uniform would look more like a woman’s petticoat than a kilt. The noblest dress a person can put on is the kilt, or the Highlander’s dress. Who, then, is the kilt’s enemy? Is it the trousers? No. Is it the breeches? No. Who is it then? He who does not know anything about a kilt or its style.—I am, &c.,

Geo. M’Phee. Bridgepark, Muir of Ord, 2nd Jan. 1892.


16 January 1892

Kilt v. Breeks.

The Kilt Defended.

Sir,—“Hersel’” must be a right down ignoramus, and surely knows nothing about the kilt dress, or else he would be aware of the fact that when the legs are bare from infancy and exposed to all kinds of weather their muscles are developed and hardened; and moreover, in consequence of the lower part of the body being exposed the whole body is better able to withstand the cold and the inclemency of the weather than one whose trunk and muscles have been wrapped from his childhood in perhaps 2 ins. thick  of the stuff which “Hersel’” grannie’s petticoats were made of. If “Hersel’” is an Englishman, I do not wonder at him calling the kilt a trashy thing, for the simple reason, many of his forefathers quaked on seeing 4 ins. square of the tartan kilt. And if he is a Scot, which I hope he is not, I am bewildered at the insulting tone of his epistle, and would earnestly request him to keep within the shade of his grannie’s petticoats, of which, I have no doubt, he knows more than of the good old Highland garb, which I and every true Scotsman should wear with pride.—I am, &c.,

J. T. Henderson.


Sir,—In the last week’s Journal “Hersel’” has exploded with hatred to the kilt. Such rotten ideas will, I fancy, not get much support North of the Tweed. It is impossible to tell from the signature whether “Hersel’” is a male or a female or a hermaphrodite; but one thing apparent to all your readers is that “Hersel’” has spindle shanks or “scabbit” knees, or some other physical defect which “Hersel’” wishes to hide inside her “trooser.” “Facts are chiels that winna ding,” and one fact is that rheumatic knees is an unknown complaint among habitual wearers of the kilt. “Hersel’” is either joking or is greatly mortified at not being a good model for the kilt. The fable of “The fox and the grapes” can be aplied to this case especially well, I think.—I am, &c.,

Callum Brogach. Kildonan, Sutherland.


A Miserable Cold-Looking Affair.

Sir,—Like “Hersel’,” I cannot see what the kilt has in it beyond the “prestige” it posses as the national garment to cause not only Scotsmen, but some Sassenachs as well, to cling to it with such unreasoning tenacity. To the majority of “us Britishers” the kilt has, I believe, become absolutely odious. The kilt has nothing in itself to recommend it but its association with so many brave deeds, and this forms one, perhaps, of the strongest pleas which its votaries can produce in its support. Apart form all other considerations, the dress is really a most miserable, cold-looking affair, the mere toleration of which as a dress for our soldiers can arise from no other motive than a mistaken idea of patriotism.—I am, &c.,



A Spanish Grandee on the Kilt.

Sir,—Apropos of the letters on the kilt which appeared in your paper last week and the week before, I may give the following extract from Modern Society of January 2, 1892:—“This is what Don Elixio Guardiola Valeria, a Spanish grandee of note, who has just paid a visit to Gibraltar and inspected the garrison, has to say about the kilt:—”There are some regiments of Scotchmen who wear certain short petticoats with many folds, which have little or nothing of a military character, and in which they go about showing their legs, which are bare up to a considerable height. This piece of unseemliness forms part of a costume in a high degree indecent, and unworthy of cultivated and civilised England.’” “Indecent,” adds the writer in Modern Society, “is certainly the most appropriate word to use in describing the kilt, which, either on a soldier on a civilian, is but a relic of barbarism. Ridicule has killed it among private individuals, and even in Scotland the absurd costume, except on fete days or at “swarrees,” is as extinct as the great auk. In another ten years common-sense will have abolished it in the army.”—I am, &c.,



30 January 1892

Kilts v. Breeks.

Feels more at Home in the Kilt than in Breeks.

Sir,—I am a Scot, born and bred, and I quite agree with what Mr J. T. Henderson and “Callum Brogach” say on this subject. I wore the kilt regularly as a boy, and for years, as a volunteer, I have also frequently worn it. I liked it in my early days, and my regard for it is still increasing. Why should we men be hampered by wearing everyday “bags” or “breeks?” They do not constitute a natural or even rational garment, and for my own part I feel much more at home in the kilt. “Hersel’” must be one of those unfortunates who are supported by what he from courtesy would call legs, but which others, like the writer, should for the preference describe as “stilts,” and which he is ashamed, for decency’s sake, to appear with a kilt. As to the remark of “Hamish” that the kilt is a miserable, cold looking affair,” I have always felt quite comfortable and happy in mine, even in the coldest winter day, and certainly do not agree with his remark of “its having to ‘us Britishers’”—whatever that may mean—“become absolutely odious.” Rather,  should say, it is increasing, and, I hope, will increase in popularity.—I am. &c.,

London Scot. London.


He Scorns the “Breekies.”

Sir—I see that another ignorant fellow like “Hersel’” says that the kilt is not suitable dress to be worn by our fellowmen. No doubt he is one who knows nothing, else he would never have said anything of the kind; but I’m pretty sure he will not be supported by many in this part of the country. Why, there’s not a better-looking or healthier dress. A fellow is no man at all if he cannot wear a kilt; the kilt is the making of him. No soldier should get leave to go without it. Take, for instance, the soldiers and volunteers who wear the kilt. See how hardy and strong they are—not like the fireside chaps who go about with “breekies” on them for fear they got the cold. But perhaps it’s not for that; it may be that they’re frightened to show their sparrow legs or scabbit knees, or something of that kind. The kilt was made for man as well as the petticoat for women, and for myself it is ever to be the dress for me, and I hope for many more,—I am, &c.,

Gordon Tartan. Aboyne.


“Hersel’” Severely Castigated.

Sir,—No doubt “Hersel’” was trying to be funny—awfully funny—when adopting this nom de plume, and at which we will all laugh when we get over the influenza. If “Hersel’” had the courage of “its” opinion regarding the kilt, “it” would have signed “its” proper name, and not got behind the hedge in such a cowardly and sneaking manner. It is not my intention to argue about the subject this “rising journalist” has brought up, because any “creatur” who will not sign “its” name to a letter connected with such an important subject as the kilt deserves no notice to be taken of “it.” The kilt deserves no notice to be taken of “it.” The kilt has been well enough illustrated (literally and practically), and God forbid that ever I should know that any Scot whose heart beats under the “Garb of Old Gaul” would run it down. It is my opinion after all that “Hersel’” is only trying to draw the badger, as I do not think there is anyone in this country so void of education or common sense as would be guilty of such a mean action as “Hersel’” has shown. Let “Hersel’” rewrite “its” letter and sign “its” name to it, and we will know whom to battle with. But the kilt has a reputation, and we are proud of it too. Is that the case with miscalling a garment worn by men who have made this great Empire what it is.—I am, &c.,

William Fraser. London.


An Ardent Admirer of the Kilt.

Sir,—J. T. Henderson is not the only person who thinks “Hersel’” is an Englishman. I have got a great contempt for “Hersel’,” “Hamish,” and “M.R.” for sending such letters to you; but it’s not so much for that as because of their signing such names to such letters. Their signatures would lead one (be he Scotchman, or foreigner) to think that the writers were Scotchmen, and therefore what was expressed in the letters would be some Scotchmen’s opinions. “Hersel’” is an Englishman, perhaps, who has been in the hands of an Edinburgh policeman, or whose knowledge of the Scotch language only comprises the one word “Hersel.” But as I think “Hersel” has got as good has she or he sent form J. T. Henderson and others, far be it from me to strike a fellow (even though he be an Englishman) when he is down. One real and true Scotchman in the days of old was generally good enough for four Englishmen—at least, a Scotchman struck twa Englishmen doon, and that frichtened the ither twa Englishmen, an’ made them rin. I’m nae sure whar they ran till, bit I’m thinkin’ it was to the Sooth; and I want to inform you, an’ Englishmen too, that that state of matters hasn’t changed yet. “Hamish” says the kilt is a miserable, cold-looking affair. Weel, that jist bears oot fat “Callum Brogach” says. Of coorse, naebody fa hed rheumatism wid turn to the kilt thinkin’ it wad dae them ony gude, withoot a wiserable look an’ a shudder. The kilt’s nae a cure, it’s a preventive. “Hamish” says that he disna un’erstan’ foo Scotchmen and Sassenachs as weel cling to the kilt wi’ such unreasoning tenacity. A’ that I can say aboot that is that “Hamish” canna hae ony brains. He says farder that the reason is a mistakes idea of patriotism. Weel, pairtly, but there are a hunner ither reasons, sae mony that if I wis paid for’t I cud fill up the People’s Journal wi’ them. Then there is

                        A Spanish Grandee

settin’ up his birse aboot it. By the by, hoo mony o’ thae trash wis a Scotchman fit for? Losh, I dinna mind, bit I think it i wis some wye aboot a dizzen. Weel, weel, it disna maitter, but I wad like to ask that grandee whether we warna a’ born bare, and if we are no a’ animals. I wad also like to ask him, an’ Englishman too, fat’s the difference o’ a Scotchman gaen aboot in the gran’ Heeland (yes, it’s a he’s garb) military dress, wi’ the bare knees, and a Spanish or an English woman gaen aboot wi’ bare boosems? Oor auld freends the Romans (they hed a gan’ appearance) had bare knees. Scotchmen hae the hip an’ the calf for the kilt, an’ therefore wear the kilt. Irishmen hae the calf bit no’ the hip, an’ therefore wear knickerbockers an’ hose. Englishmen dinna hae ony calf or hip, an’ must therefore cover up their bit bane an’ skin on’t wi’ troosers. An’ anither thing that Spanish game cock says, “and unworthy of cultivated and civilised England.” Mind ye,

                        Scotland’s No England,

an’ never was, an’ never wull be, an’ I’m gled o’t. England has nae influence in the maitter. Scotland is an independent country, and, forbye, the words “indecent” and “civilised” are only words after a’. Foo we dinna wear the kilt is because we canna dae wark wi’t on, but we can fecht wi’t, though; ay, verily. I wad jist like to see fitba’ teams playin’ their matches wi’ kilts on. Come awa’. Dundee, and lat’s see ye noo. You get big eneuch gates to afford them, an’ besides the ither teams ‘ill follow suit. Bit, for ony sake, dinna play the international wi’ England wi’ kilts on. They wad bill the match aff. But dinna fash yer heids baoot it, Scotchmen. There is a better day in store for bonnie, gude, and valiant auld Scotland and poor heroic “Ould Ireland.” I hed a gay difficulty remembering fat “Hamish” and “W. R.” said i’ their letters, for fan ever I read them I cut them oot o’ the Journal tore them in twa, an’ then burned them. Houping you will kindly print this bid letter,—I am, &c.

Geordie M’Bighipandcalf.


“Impudent Pups Needing A Good Thrashing.”

Sir,—It does not alter the kilt a bit whatever nonsense any Spanish “Don” or “Hersel’,” or anything else, may talk about it. What on earth does a Spaniard know about the kilt? He expresses his ignorance of it when he compares it to a petticoat. As for its not being of a military character, I think that it is fitted for that best of all. Can anyone inform me what a military dress is? What dress is more connected with war than the kilt? It is not ridicule that has killed it among Highlanders; it is because it was once forbidden to be worn by them. It is a pity that a free people shouldn’t be at liberty to wear the dress they think proper without being dictated to by impudent pups who are in need of a good thrashing. The days they abolish the kilt in the army there will be very few Highlanders in it, and, as every impartial person must admit, the Highland Regiments are the flower of the British Army.—I am, &c.,

Rob Roy. Inverness.

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