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.
6th February 1892
Kilts v. Breeks.
“Our Grand Old Highland Costume.”
“A Son of the Rock,” Kirkjam Abbey, Yorkshire, replying to the “two H’s and R. W.,” says:—I would liken the three of them to three tiny lambs trying to rob an eagle’s rest, and would advise them to say nothing further against the kilt, but leave it for better men than they are to wear. In spite of “Hersel’,” “Hamish,” “W.R.,” and his Spanish Don, and all such-like, we will uphold through thick and thin the glorious tartan kilt and the braw lads that wear it, and thousands of your readers, both at home and abroad, will wish success to our grand old Highland costume.
Origin of the Kilt.
Sir,—With reference to the controversy which has been going on for some time in the Journal in regard to the kilt perhaps the following extract from the Family Herald of August 1887 may have some bearing on the matter, but more especially as to its alleged antiquity, viz.:—“The Philibeg—Thomas Rawlinson, an ironsmelter, and an Englishman, was the person who, about or prior to A.D. 1728, introduced the philibeg, or short kilt, worn in the Highlands. This fact is established in a letter from Ewen Baillie of Aberiachan in the Edinburgh Magazine, 1785, and in the Culloden Papers. The earliest dress of the Highlands consisted of a large tartan wrapper extending from the shoulders to about the knees, in one piece. Rawlinson’s workmen, finding this garment inconvenient, separated the lower part from the upper, so that they might, when heated, throw off the upper and leave the lower, which thus became the philibeg or short kilt.”—I am, &c.,
Your Golspie Correspondent.
Furious Onslaught on the Kilt.
Sir,—Anyone togged in a kilt taking a squint into a looking-glass, sees in himself the rational counterpart of a full-grown male gorilla. Were a foreigner arriving here dressed in such a ludicrous costume, he would have more spyers than buyers. It is cruelty to animals to compel some of these “pluckit pigeons” among our volunteers to wear this ungainly war painted rag. I have been almost at crying point seeing these heroes standing at ease chittering with cold. Their bit toy legs seemed to undergo variations between “kail runts” and “beetle stocks.” What of the kilt’s moral influence on modest girl society? I have seen something like the feather bonnet ornamenting a respectable one-plumed parish hearse. A worsted “Tam o’ Shanter” would be cooler during a severe action. Look at the odious flummery jiggumbobs ancillary to the kilt. In these days of army retrenchment our military pioneers might recommend less expensive, though none the less serviceable, uniform. Its abandonment would carry no unpatriotism. Few of “her nainsels” would go in the doldrums over this.—I am, &c.,
John Robb. Murthly.
The Kilt Recalls Ages of Chivalrous Deeds.
Sir,—The Highland dress is solely the garb of a gentleman; it cannot and never will fit and suit any other. You might as well robe a pig in a dress suit and expect it to be aesthetic as a five-eight Lowlander in the kilt. No sneaking, sloughing gait ever will become it. The Highland dress is a genealogical one. The sight of it recalls to the patriotic Scotsman the “stirring memories of a thousand years,” recalling “the thus far and no further” answer that ever and again rang out to the successive hordes of rapacious thieves who rolled in upon Caledonia like waves of the sea under the designations of Romans, Norsemen, Saxons, Normans, &c. No wonder, then, that the sight of the kilt has the same effect upon the descendants of those plunderers that a red rag has upon a bull. To the Highlander it recalls ages of valour and chivalrous deeds, and, therefore, he loves it. To the mongrel, whose chronology can only be summed up in a criminal language, “habit and repute—a thief,” it brings back unpleasant recollections of baffled schemes, fruitless maraudings, and untimely graves, and therefore they hate it. All Highlanders can afford to laugh at his fury, which is ever ready to belch forth against everything that is not palatable to his debauched and depraved taste. As to “W. R.’s” prophetic bluster of a ten years’ limit of existence to the army kilt, I would earnestly advise him to calm his fears on the subject, for although his predicted cause of the kilt’s decease will never kill him—common sense very rarely attacking fools—yet the tartan will wave round the limbs of Scotland’s gallant defenders long after he and all his kidney are gone and forgotten in “Davie’s locker.”—I am, &c.,
The Kilt For Ever!
Sir,—Will you kindly allow me a small space in your valuable paper in defence of the kilt, which I have worn in hot and cold climates? Those dry bones, such as “Hersel’” and “Hamish,” who have been blustering in the press lately, I think are a mixture of “Turks and Kurds,” and have their reasons for putting down the kilt. Or perhaps they belong to the country where there was enlisted a hundred or more to make up a certain Highland regiment to its foreign strength at the Curragh Camp about the end of 1867. They were so ignorant about the kilt that they did not know the top from the bottom of it, and had to be dressed like babies when wanted for parade. I landed at For George from India at the end of 1859, and I wore the kilt every day through the severe winter. I am now an old man, and I have no rheumatic knees, and could stand alongside a good many of the dusky, thin-skinned, spindle-shanked men that are serving now.—I am, &c.,
A True-Born Scotchman. Aberdeen.
Fearful Combination of “Sacque” and “Bags.”
Sir,—Those who impugn the utility of the kilt as a military dress have surely overlooked the achievements of kilted soldiers in the past. In a simpler form it was the garb of the legions of Imperial Rome, and who dare compare Caesar’s lusty warriors with the tinselled and tasselled pigmies of to-day? Has any one ever beheld a more ludicrous sight than a helplessly trussed-up Hussar trying to pick up his “swagger cane” off the pavement? Purple in the face with exertion, he is fain at length (to avert an impending catastrophe in the absence of coat tails) to give a street arab a copper to do the job for him. If the cult of our gilded youth of to-day were embodied in marble on the Thames Embankment, in the shape of a cigarette-sucking, shoulder-padded, eye-glassed masher, with his fearful combination of “sacque” and “bags.” I fancy Macaulay’s New Zealander would have little difficulty in accounting for the ruins around him if he that statue for a specimen of the Briton of these days.—I am, &c.,
13 February 1892
Kilts v. Breeks.
Sir,—It is amusing to observe the correspondence carried on in your valuable paper on this subject. But it is, ochow! by those who know no more of kilt comforts or discomforts than a duck knows about a hug-me-tight. Those town pullets who are writing about the kilt and giving their volunteer experience as tested knowledge of kilt comforts are more to be pitied than laughed at. As some of them have admitted that the kilt is the making of them—such as they are—we do not wonder (at least, mysel’ and “Hersel’”) at the vigour with which we—“scabbit” fellows!—are assailed. Let me answer them that it was by the prowess of the “scabbit fellows” who wore the kilt in battle “it” became famous, and not by being worn by jelly-fish loons from the back of the counter or a warm office fire; and if these, instead of attending drill in the warm spring evenings (and at ma’s request staying at home if the evening is cold), had been stationed on the heights of Inverness-shire or Ross-shire for the last five weeks in active service clothed in their much esteemed “garb of old Gaul” I have no hesitation in saying the majority of them would have expired within twenty-four hours, and their last earthly appeal would have been to the Deity to send them their fathers’ moleskin breeks. Shordie MacBighipandcalf—a very, very big calf, no doubt—is saying he would fight wi’t, and then says something about a fitba’. If he would come in touch with “scabbit knees” we would soon make a fitba o’m. Excuse me, Mr Editor, for troubling you with this letter, as I have a sore hand presently, and cannot write correctly, but one’s blood boils at some things, and they cannot refrain from attacking as best they can. I have worn the kilt and trousers, and when I get better I shall tell your correspondents which I liked best, and then they shall know what practical experience and an old Highlander have to say on the subject.—I am, &c.,
True Highlanders Should Wear the Kilt.
Sir,—Who should wear the kilt? Certainly not the Sassenach, nor yet “Hersel’,” as it has been so neatly put by several correspondents in your valuable paper lately. A petticoat would do better for the latter. “Hersel’” may be a Highlandman, and, if he is, we need not be alarmed, for he is only joking; but then, on the other hand, he may be in earnest. If so, I can only say he is not true to himself, nor yet to his country. I hold that none ought to wear the kilt but “Fior Ghaidheil” (true Highlanders), as it, like their language and music, belongs exclusively to themselves, and all others adopting the same are interlopers. As well dress the latter like Turks as put a kilt on some of them. They cannot deport themselves properly in it. And how quickly a Highlander can detect the genuine article, strut they ever so proudly in it. One has only to think on the quantity of cloth in a properly-made kilt, and that, too, of worsted, home-spun and dyed, to see that it cannot be the cold looking thing that it looks. Surely “Hamish” got his made of shoddy when he felt so miserable in it. I have purposely sounded many persons as to their
Opinions on the Kilt Question,
among others some old veterans who have worn the kilt for many years, and fought their country’s battles under the great Sir Colin, and their opinions, one and all, were that they would feel very sorry ndeed to see the kilt taken from the gallant Highlanders; in fact, one used the well-known words so often quoted, “They daurna do it.” We Highlanders need not be in the least astonished at the Sassenach trying to do away with the tartan. It is not so very long ago when a Highlander who persisted in wearing the kilt would find himself liable to be banished for ever from friends, home, and country to foreign lands, never more to gaze on his native mountains he loved so dearly. Such terror had the Sassenach for the kilt and the tartan! I think the time has come when there should be another gathering of the clans to consider the best means for preserving the dress, language, music, and traditions of the Highlands, and also to devise means for
Repeopling the Glens and Valleys of the North,
before the former are all caught in the subtle snares and evils of the Saxons and crushed for ever, to be read of only in history as a thing of the past. We Highlanders cannot think too highly of some of our Chiefs, who still try to repel the Southern foe by wearing not only the “garb of old Gaul,” but also speaking and encouraging the use of their own noble language. Nature meant the kilt for the Highlander, so as to give him freedom of action when climbing his native mountains.—I am, &c.,
Seumas Caimbeul. Duneadin.
For England, Home, and—Breekies.
Sir,—On looking over the correspondence in your paper re kilts and breeks, I thought I never read a more senseless letter than the one signed “Geordie M’Bighipandcalf.” I am much in favour of the kilt, especially for Highland regiments, and I think a regiment in full dress is a grand sight. I should be as sorry to see the kilt done away with as I should to see the bearskins of the Grenadiers change for the spiked helmet. I don’t agree with either “Hamish” or “Hersel’,” but “Geordie” must not run away with the idea that all Englishmen are of that breed. I should say “Hersel’” was of that breed—what we in England call “Mongrel,” and it must be four of that breed that one Scotchman can lick. “Geordie” speaks of hitting a man when he’s down; it will take him all his time, big as he must be, to knock one Englishman down, and, he can crow after he’s got him down. If “Geordie” reads up his history of Scottish battles I think he will find that the English were as good as the Scotch. I should like to know where he finds that four English were beaten by a Scot. I daresay that “Geordie” is a grand specimen, if he is anything like what his nom de plume would lead one to expect. He speaks of Englishmen having
No Legs to Show Off a Kilt.
If the sample one sees of Scotchmen in kilts walking about Dundee is anything to go by, a good many of them would be better covered up with breeks, for they have no shape of hips, and their calves are still out at grass. “Geordie” also mentions the difference between kilts and Spanish and Englishwomen’s “boosems,” as he calls them. I suppose Scotch ladies never bare their bosoms. I for one don’t see anything indecent in kilts; and as regards the ladies, that is only a fashion one sees everywhere. I am afraid “Geordie” is not a loyal Scot or he would not run down England in the way he does. We have all been under the same grand old flag for a long time now, and have fought battles side by side in many a country to uphold the honour of our own. “Geordie” speaks of Englishmen running away at the sight of the kilt. He never knew one run away yet at the sight of the enemy, let alone a field of football players. He will always find an Englishman good enough to meet him, or one of any other nationality, face to face in peace or war. It would take a few like him to make an Englishman quail. A few like “Hersel’” or “Hamish” he might manage to crow over. I am sorry “Geordie” has not travelled a few miles farther from his native town, and learnt something more of what Englishmen are made of. He would not then be so bigoted and narrow-minded. There surely must be room in his head for more knowledge, if that member is in proportion to his nom de plume. I am sorry for taking up so much of your valuable space, but hope you will be able to insert this in defence of an
20 February 1892
Kilts v. Breeks.
Hurrah for Tartan!
Dedicated without Permission, to “Hersel’.”
Wha is this cheepin’, puir poltroon,
Wha tries to ding oor “Kilties” doon?
Gude faith, he is a bonnie loon—
Wha says the ancient Garb o’ Gaul
Is no for decent men at all,
Especi’ly in a wundy squall?
Wha says the “kilt brings on rheumatics,
An’ them that wear it are lunatics,
Juist fitted for an auld wife’s attics?
Wha says oor “Kilties’” spindle legs
Are dweebler than oor watter seggs,
An couldna kick a man? gude fegs!
Wha woel micht be afraid tae meet
A gallant “Kiltie” i’ the street?
For sure as sucht he’d gar him greet—
Wha’s stirred up a’ oor Scottish lasses
To daud him wi’ their dirty basses
Because his “cheek” theirs far surpasses?
Wha’s welcome to the breeks, ye ken,
His leggies frae the cauld to fen’,
An’ leave the “kilts” to noble men?
I’d like to see “Hersel’” an’ quorum
Dance, in their breeks, the Tullochgorum,
Losh! that would be a rigma-roar-um!
“Twad kill oursel’s!
Lang may “oor Kilties” tread the heather,
Wi’ tartan plaid an’ wavin’ feather,
An’ ding creaton a’thegither,
As weel’s “Hersel’.”
The Kilt Admired in London.
Sir,—“Hamish” and “Hersel’” are certainly very poor specimens of Scotchmen. In my travels I have always found the kilt looked upon with a considerable amount of admiration and respect by all classes. It is the real mark of distinction between Scotchmen and any other nationality. I have actually seen crowds of men and women in London standing at a hall door on a “Scotch nicht” to get a glimpse of the Highland dress, and cheering the owners as they went into the hall; and at any place of amusement it is no uncommon thing for a Scotch dancer in the kilt to be recalled again and again. Would that be the case if he danced the Highland fling or sword dance in breeks? Certainly not. In this Southern country no true Scotchman can meet a kilted brother without its bringing early and pleasant recollections to his mind, and of famous feats and glorious deeds done in foreign lands. One of your correspondents quoted a remark from some “Spanish Don,” who, in horror for his good morals, likened the kilt to short petticoats. The ignorance of such a man was surely not worthy of being quoted, had it not been to fill up your correspondent’s letter. I do not mean that the kilt is a proper garment for everyday work, but in the army and at all patriotic gatherings and popular entertainments it is a superior dress to any other, and ought to be worn by all true Scotchmen.—I am, &c.,
W. C. Davidson. Sheerness-on-Sea.
Away With the Kilt and Superstition.
Sir,—“London Scot” says that he wore the kilt as a boy. I presume all infants wear petticoats for a time. He also says its popularity is increasing, but he offers no facts to support that vague statement, which no doubt is an overdraft of his limited imagination, for he must admit that civilisation is advancing even in the Highlands and Islands. This means that the kilt must disappear. “Aboyne” also comes in with the bold assertion that a man who does not wear the kilt is not a man. Well, if he can prove that to be the case, I am sorry for our list of manhood. He even enlightens us as to how the kilt was made for man, and I never heard it insinuated that it was made for women, or even that man was made for the kilt. “William Fraser, London,” pleads influenza in mitigation of punishment for his severe assault upon “Hersel’,” and stands up for
The Garb of Old Gaul
as being worn by the men who made this mighty nation, ignoring the fact that it was worn by the men who succeeded for a time in crushing this country. “Geordie Big Calf” brings up the reserve, and whether he is a big calf or a little calf I’ll leave your readers to judge. He begins by bouncing his neighbours over the border. That he could smash four of them, well, perhaps, a big bull calf could beat four of the other kind in their own animal ways; but perhaps; “Big Calf” will admit with silent contempt that John Bull can hold his own with any and every nation in the world in the art of self-defence. “Big Calf,” with a sarcastic air, compares bare bosoms with bare legs. Well, if he can’t appreciate the loveliness of bare bosoms his education has been sadly neglected, and I shall hand him over to
The Tender Mercies of the Fair Sex,
who no doubt can deal with such an odious comparison. He further admits that the kilt is not fit for working people. How, the, can it be an appropriate dress for Scotsmen, who are all a hard-working and thrifty people? Is “Big Calf” an exception to the rule? Last of all, “Rob Roy,” from Inverness, in defence of his tartan, which is not known in the army, makes the final rush to capture “Hersel’,” “Spanish Don,” and “Hamish,” but for the want of tactic he had to stop short and bawl out, “Can any one tell me what a military dress is?” Puir body; refer him to the War Office, and you can them show him the way to the lunatic asylum. He threatens extinction to the British Army if the kilt is abolished, and the British Army, minus the Highland Regiments, would have to lay down their arms. What a sad case for the B.A.! Now, “Rob” must be poor deluded maniac, for I should like to see a medal-breasted Highlander confess that it was the kilt that won the medals for him; or, to put it this way, that if he had on tews instead of the kilt those battles would have been lost. Away with the kilt and superstition! By doing so the Highland Regiments would be on an equal footing with their comrades, and Highlanders would then join in “galore,” and obviate the necessity of
Recruiting for Highland Regiments in London,
as frequently done, to fill their ranks. I would advise “Rob” and his friends to keep to the rules of debate, and use effective arguments in support of their cause, instead of descending to the miserable and ignorant habit of calling their opponents’ names like schoolboys when arguments fail them. I would advise “Big Calf,” instead of tearing these letters out of the Journal and burning them just like a baby, to swallow them and inwardly digest them, which might be the means of giving him more light. I am not averse to the kilt on the right man and in the right place.—I am, &c.,
“A Very Becoming Dress.”
Sir,—I hope every true patriotic Scotsman will protest against the abolition of the “garb of old Gaul.” I think it is a very becoming dress, either on civilian or soldier. Certainly it will look out of place on some of the spindle-shanked Lowlanders, but on a brawny Highlander what more becoming garb would one wish to see? It is a truly national dress, and it is a dress of which the Highlanders are justly proud. It is the garb in which our ancestors did many a brave and noble deed. And then think of our kilted regiments! Why, if it had not been for them some of Britain’s greatest victories would never have been won.
And Alma’s heights, and India’s plains,
Have told the martial story
Of Highland blades and belted plaids,
Of gallantry and glory.
I say, shame on any Scotsman who would lift up his pen to protest against the kilt. I hope the kilt will last as long as the grand old mountains, standing away up yonder in the Highalands, or as long as the deep blue lochs lying at their feet. With regard to the kilt’s influence on girl society I would say to John Rob—“Honi soit qui mal y pense,” for to the “pure all things are pure.” Taking “J. R.’s” view, the bare knew of the kiltie is not nearly so shocking as the bare shoulders of some of those “society girls” who frequent ballrooms and dancing saloons.—I am, &c.,
M. M. Edinburgh.
27 February 1892
Kilts v. Breeks.
The Kilt for Ever!
(Tune—“Wha Wadna Fecht for Charlie.”)
March, march! ye kilted warriors!
Highland hearts both leal and true;
Loud let your pibrochs echo
Over Scotia’s mountains blue!
Tartan plaids and plumes all waving,
Skean dhu and broad claymore,
Flashing banners, hearts of heroes
Are our lads the world o’er!
Chorus—March, march, &c.
When the bugle sounds to duty,
In a land of sun and snow,
Never will a “kiltie” flinch it,
Tho’ he has no breeks below!
When a stranger asks your motto
You will tell, “The thistle free!
Press its leaves and you will hear it,
Daur ye meddle mine or me!”
And where’er your footsteps lead ye,
Ne’er forget your native home;
Never will ye see a fairer,
Up wi’ Scotia’s ancient banner,
Think of all her hills so blue,
The thistle, and the bluebell bonnie,
And the hearts that beat for you.
The Kilt Torn to Tatters.
Sir,—Kilts are a mere bagatelle; trousers are legion, and I am one of the many thousand who would not disgrace ourselves by wearing this idiotic thing although we had legs as stout as those of elephants. But I think the kilties “let oot the cat” when they admit that “they canna dae wark wi’ the kilt on.” This of itself condemns it. Just fancy any one trying to palm off on a working man a suit or dress that “he canna work in!” But they say “it’s the right thing to fight in!” But they say “it’s the right thing to fight in.” Well, experience is the boy to settle that matter. I had a talk with a sergeant who had been doomed to wear this relic for many a long year in all weathers and climates, and he said that the kilt was “cold, miserable-looking thing.” In winter it was simply deplorable, and none the less so was it when on the march under a burning sun, as it let in the sand everywhere, while the price of kilt and
would buy two pairs of decent, comfortable trousers. It is easy to talk of fighting so long as we know nothing about it. I suppose that the only thing it is fit for is pleasure, going out for an airing at a review or inspection, to fight the midges and get a few shillings, and then get blin’ fou (even Highlanders go beyond the scratch at times); but, by jove, when they do, and throw themselves down, not caring how or where, the scene that follows would make any respectable Hottentot blush, and would be quite enough to scorch the paper were I to describe it, all owing to this wretched apology for a covering. But they say “it awakens memories”—o’ joys and sorrows o’ the past, I suppose. But when we look back we could “greet” about lots of things, if that were to benefit us—burnies, braes, toys, frockies, pinnies, as well as kilties. When we were children, we thought as children, but having become men we ought to put away childish things, such as the kilt, as there is a good deal of the large bairn about it. The inventor of the kilt ought to have got
I am as true a Scot or Highlander as ever trod on the heather, although I am a kilt-hater. Of course this will seem a paradox to some people, but it is quite easily explained. The kilt is too savage-looking for any civilised human being, and as “it has been already laughed out of society” why not get the same treatment in our regiments? Why have a regiment of half-naked fellows? Don’t they too deserve something decent and comfortable as well as others? I cannot see how any decent fellow could wear such a “gowkit thing” after being branded with that unbearable stigma “indecent.” But no doubt “its doom is written,” so that for the rag-vendor there are good times coming, although a good bundle of them might disgrace a tinker’s cart. I assure you that the utter demolition of “ta great Heelan’ kilt, ta gran’ Heelan’ kilt, ta pride of ta lan’,” is eagerly looked for by
The Kilties “Kilt” at Culloden.
Sir,—Allow me a small space in your valuable paper in defence of the kilt. John Robb likens a man in the Highland dress to a gorilla. I fear that he has got into the Highland dress and looks like a gorilla. “Hersel’” must have rheumatic knees, or he is some foreigner who has come across to Bonnie Scotland and did not know how to put on a kilt. Any person who can see nothing in the kilt should take a tour to the battlefield of Culloden and see for themselves where the gallant kilted Highlanders who fought for Scotland and “Bonnie Prince Charlie” are laid. Or, better still, let him get the history of the Highland Clans, and then he will be prepared to write some sense. I admire “True Scotchman’s” letter, and hope he and all true Scotchmen will long be able to wear the gallant tartan.—I am, &c.,
Caber Feidh. Bonnybridge.