Correspondence on ‘Kilts v. Breeks’ Part 4 (April 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.

9th April 1892

Kilts v. Breeks.

Highlanders, Stick to the Kilt!

Awake, ye sons of Scottish birth,

Defend the garb of ancient Gaul,

For ne’er a foreign foe on earth

Shall drive the wearer to the wall.

All hail, ye sons of Highland pride!

Let nought your wonted courage move,

And never from your manly side

Let envy tear the dress you love.

If sounds again the battle cry,

The kilt and claymore gladly don—

The dress our courage raises high.

To show how battles may be won.

Fight as your noble fathers fought,

In the heroic days of yore,

When ev’ry warrior nobly fought—

A name to live for ever more.

Remember Alma’s rugged heights,

“The thin red line” at Waterloo,

A hundred other glorious fights,

Have shown what kilted sons can do.

The, wake again your martial fire,

Arouse not dead but sleeping hearts,

And ne’er to envy’s dark desire

Yield ye such noble nether parts.

J. K. Dundee.


“Hersel’” Snuffed Out.

Sir,—Whatever “Hersel’” or any one else may conclude or say as to the decency or indecency of the kilt, I say that any gentleman who feels disposed to wear the kilt will do so in spite of any conclusions your correspondents may arrive at. I was present at a ball held in London on February 13, where I saw a great number of gentlemen appear in Highland dress, and truly they made my heart feel warm to the tartan. I also noticed ladies with their dresses respectably high up at the neck to hide the vulgarity that “Hersel’” would shudder to look at. “Hersel’” ought to be in heaven, and not in this wicked world, where the people at one time used to be as naked as he was on the day on which he was born.—I am, &c.,

London Celt.


The Kilt for Ever.

Sir,—“Hersel’” says he is one of the thousands who would not disgrace himself by wearing this idiotic thing the kilt although he had legs like an elephant. His legs are surely trying to get apart, or coming in too great proximity with one another. The kilt is worn, and will be as long as there is a breath n true Scotchmen. “Hersel’” must be in the habit of getting fou and rolling in the gutters. He seems to judge the kilties by himself. I don’t think he has ever seen a kilt unless upon a street piper, who would not be able to perform what he does except for the kilt. He says that with the money you pay for one kilt you could buy two pairs of breeks, but for one kilt you buy and wear, you will buy and wear one dozen pair of trousers. He ought to have got sixty days when he wrote about putting down the kilt. The kilt’s doom is not written now and never will be until all true Scotchmen are defunct. “Hersel’” is looking too eagerly for the thing he will never see, for

While there’s leaves in the forests and foam on the river,

The Scotch and their kilties shall flourish forever.

If ever “Hersel’” comes to Aberdeen we will engage the Music Hall for his benefit, and show him the way to put on and wear the kilt.—I am, &c.,

A True MacGregor. Aberdeen.


Like a Lassie’s Petticoat.

Sir,—Some people think that the kilt makes them look like gentlemen, but I think the opposite. The kilt is a disgrace to civilisation, and everyone of them should be burnt or made into paper. It’s more like a Lassie’s petticoat than anything else. I have good enough legs for the kilt, but I would never wear one. I would rather go about in an old trouser than in such a horrid looking thing as the kilt. I agree with “Hersel’” in everything he said, and I think every wise person should.—I am, &c.,



Female Worshippers of the Kilt.

Sir,—I am a sailor, and have just returned from a voyage to foreign parts, and on coming home the first thing that caught me eye on looking over the contents bill of the People’s Journal was “Strip us of our very kilt!” Wondering what was the meaning of it, i made inquiries, and found that some one called “Hersel’” had been writing about the inconvenience of the kilt, and comparing it to his grandmother’s petticoat. Well was it for him that no true kiltie was near him when he penned such a letter, else I am sure it would never have reached the office of the People’s Journal. To compare any “breek” regiment with the kilties s absurd. Why, the only ones to come near them are the sailors, and every one knows that their wide trousers are almost on a level with the kilt. In all the places our ship touched at where British forces were stationed the kiltie lads received the large share of female worship, which they don’t stand against as well as if it were an enemy; while puir breek was nearly aye out in the cauld.—I am, &c.,

A Jolly Jack Tar.


16th April 1892

Kilts v. Breeks.

The discussion on the “garb of Old Gaul” seems “never ending, still beginning.” We have received, and continue to receive, letters and poems on the subject so numerous that our receptacle for unread manuscript has for weeks back been filled to overflowing. We are constrained to advise intending writers on the subject to “dry up” for a little while, as we have on hand, in type and in manuscript together, what will suffice for a couple of months at least.


If The Kilt Goes, So Must The Bagpipes.

Sir,—I have read with great interest the weekly discussion in your paper anent kilts and breeks, and I am strongly in favour or continuing the use of the kilt in the Highland Regiments. If ever the kilt in the Highland Regiments. If ever the kilt is abolished in the army, it follows that the bagpipe, being another so-called “remnant of barbarism,” must go also, and then farewell to the glorious record of valour connect with the Highland Regiments from Fontenoy down to our own day. Long may the tartan adorn our warriors, and long may the warpipe animate them in the hour of danger. Let us keep these emblems of our nationality sacred, for if we lost sight of them then our name among the nations sinks into deserved oblivion.—I am, &c.,

T. B. D. Dolphinton.


They Don’t Care.

Sir,—What do we care what “Hersel’ & Co.” say about our grand old national costume? We should like to know what “H. & Co.” have got to do with our national dress? Did not our forefathers wear it at Bannockburn where the glorious Bruce freed Scotland from the usurper? We say yes, and challenge contradiction. Put it on as an emblem of freedom, ye sons of Scotland, and heed not the babbling tongues of “H. & Co.”—We are, &c.,

Ian and Hamish. Fife.


A Picturesque Military Garb.

Sir,—The kilt made its history generations before “Hamish” or “Hersel’” saw the light of day. I do not say that the kilt is a suitable garment for every sphere of labour, but as a military garb it is the most picturesque, and, I think, the most serviceable in the British army. As to the abolition of the kilt in the army, the fact that only a few years back our military authorities kilted four additional regiments is sufficient proof that they have no intention of abolishing it. I admit, with regret, that the kilt is not so much worn in the glens and straths of the North as it was in former times, but the reason for that is not far to seek—simply because there are very few men left to wear it. But if “Hersel’” would visit Glasgow, and have a peep into some of the largest halls in the city, and see some of our Highland gatherings, “he or she” would be convinced that the kilt is not on the wane, but is getting more popular than ever. We Highlanders are proud of our native dress, and will continue to wear it on all suitable occasions, and I am confident that the kilt will flourish wherever Highlanders are to be found, long after “Hamish” and “Hersel’” have passed into oblivion.—I am, &c.,

A Glasgow Highlander.


A Transatlantic Echo.

Sir,—The firm I work for have made plaids for the following clans here in America—M’Kenzie, M’Gregor, M’Naughton, Campbell, Old Stewart, Frazer, all of which are made into kilts. The clans are Benefit Societies, and have a general turnout once a year. The clans are spoken of highly as a body of men. Do any of your writers remember the words of a French soldier at Quatre Bras when either the 93d or 92d Regiments were nearly cut to pieces? He said “their women fought better than their men.” Scotland for ever, and likewise ta kilt.—I am, &c.,

Borderer. Hartland, Maine, U.S.A.


Our Hearts Warm to the Tartan.

Sir,—Despite the onslaught made on the garb of auld Gaul by the Sassenachs, sheltered behind Gaelic and Lowland nom-de-plumes, I am right glad to see our bonnie kilt maintained as or yore by trusty and leal-hearted Scots. They have our best thanks. At the same time we are indebted to the breek upholders for the united expression of Scottish opinion provoked in favour of our national garb. Let them seek refuge in their ain dear “duddies” quickly, lest they take cold. The kilt is a garb for men only, and can never sit properly on worthless imitations. It will endure long after these irresponsible chatters have ceased to annoy—ay, as long as Scotland holds her rank among the foremost nations on earth. Scotland and her tartan are one, and inseparable. Remember our noble motto—“Nemo me impune lacessit!” Ach! but what’s a Spanish Don to a Hielan’ Donald? One of your correspondents gravely informs us that the kilt is Celtic, but Scotland is not Celtic. Whoever heard the like! Scotland is not Celtic. Whoever heard the like! Scotsmen have always laboured under the delusion that Scotland, Ireland, and Wales were mainly peopled by Celts; also England, only in a smaller degree, owing to the successive conquests by Romans, Saxons, Danes, and Normans. Another correspondent tells us that the large majority composing the Seaforth Highlanders are Englishmen; if that is so, it is an injustice to call this large majority of Englishmen Seaforth Highlanders. What do the Mackenzies say to this? It becomes every man worthy the name to have respect for the national dress of every nation, be he Esqumaux, Turk, Albanian, or Highlander. I deny the right of any outsider to carp at or ridicule it. I love my country, and every symbol of it is dear to me and to all true Scots.—I am, &c.,

A Celt. London.


Auld Scotia’s Kilt.

Sir,—I was much interested when reading the letters that have appeared lately in your paper concerning the kilt. At Fontenoy, when our forces were broken and forced to retreat by the French, was it not the gallant Black Watch that covered the retreat? At the Alma how welcome that wild cheer that burst along the Scottish lines and gave new life to the dying, and proclaimed that the heights were won and the tartans waving triumphantly on the crest! Can one forget the men, women, and children within the beleaguered walls of Lucknow? Was not the tartan of the 78th Highlanders a gladsome sight to those despairing mortals? If “Hersel’” would only read a few more of those historical facts he would not run down Auld Scotia’s kilt.—I am, &c.,

Robert Mackie. Cleveland, Ohio.


23rd April 1892

Kilts v. Breeks.

Hurrah For the Lads Wi’ the Sporran’!

Hurrah for the lads wi’ the sporran,

For aye, an’ whaurever they be!

Hurrah for them e’enin’ an’ morn!

Hurrah ower the land an’ the sea!

When high ower the battle’s loud thunders

The fierce slogans echo, we know

The Lads from the hills will do wonders

Whaurever they meet with the foe.

At the sound o’ the bagpipes and bugle

They are ready by day or by nicht;

For Duncan, an’ Donal’, an’ Dougal

Are dangerous deevils to fecht—

Hooch ay!

Are dangerous deevils to fecht.

Hurrah for the lads wi’ the sporran!

Hurrah for the lads wi’ the kilt!

Ye’ll find them whaur heroes are scorin’

Wi’ claymore bluid-red to the hilt.

Weel primed wi’ a platefu’ o’ parritch,

A great muckle snuff, an’ a dram,

They’ll learn the warld its carritch,

An’ teach it the Hielantman’s psalm.

At the sound o’ the bagpipes and bugle

They’re ready wi’ a’ their micht;

For Duncan, and Donal’, an’ Dougal’,

Are dangerous deevils to fecht—

Hooch ay!

Are deevelish deevils to fecht.

Hurrah for the lads wi’ the sporran,

The faithful, an’ fearless, an’ free,

When Freedom the fearless was born

He wis rocked on a Hielantman’s knee.

The hills were his cradle; the heather

His couch when to manhood he came;

An’ wi’ valour, his aulder brither,

He took up his hoose an’ his hame.

At the sound o’ the bagpipes and bugle

They’re read, be wrang or be’t richt;

For Duncan, and Donal’, an’ Dougal’,

Are dangerous deevils to fecht—

Hooch ay!

Are deevelish deevils to fecht.

Hurrah for the lads wi’ the sporran!

To lead ye whaur battles are won,

Their banners, a’ tattered an’ torn,

Are worth a’ the silk ever spun.

When shouther to shouther they form,

An’ level their bagginets low,

They’ll carry th’ warld before them,

Were the warld before them their foe.

At the sound o’ the bagpipes an’ bugle

They’re ready wi’ a’ their micht,

For Duncan, an’ Donal’, an’ Dugal’

Are dangerous deevils to fecht—

Hooch ay!

Are deevilish deevils to fecht—

Hooch ay!

James Ferguson. Stanley.


“The Dear Auld Kilties.”

Sir,—As I am a Scotchman, and take a deep interest in anything that is connected with my native land, you might let me put in my word for the “dear auld kiltie.” The kilt was never intended to be worn above tottering knees and scabbit shanks. It was originally intended for good, substantial legs, such as few men can boast of nowadays, at least, men of the “Hersel’” type. After wearing a pair of breeks it is the greatest relief imaginable to don the kilt. In spite of all “Hersel’s” howling, with “John Robb” to back him up, the kilt will be worn as long as there are true Scotchmen.—I am, &c.,

Red Rob. New Pitsligo.


The Tartan For Ever.

Sir,—“A. E. D.” says that most of the men of the Seaforth Highlanders are Englishmen. If they are I will show him what they were in the year 1796. They were composed of 970 Highlanders, 120 Lowlanders, 14 English and Irish. In the year 1811 there were 835 Highlanders, 184 Lowlanders, 8 English, and 9 Irish. It seems strange that a regiment like the gallant 78th, which showed such great bravery in the Indian Mutiny, should now be manned mostly by Englishmen. I take the above figured from General Stewart of Garth’s “History of the Highland Regiments.” The kilt and the tartan for ever!—I am, &c.,

A. C. Blairgowrie.


Uphold the Good Old Garb.

Sir,—I have read “Callum Glass’s” epistle respecting the kilt, which he says is cold in comparison to the breeks. This statement of his declares that he is not a regular wearer of the kilt. I am personally acquainted with a real Highland gentleman, who wears the kilt from year’s end to year’s end, and who told me that he once resolved to put on the trousers, and having done so for a single day, he was compelled to return to the old garb in consequence of the cold, which he felt most about the loins. In case “Callum Glass” imagines that the above mentioned gentleman appears in the Highlands only for the summer months and emigrates to the tropical countries, like the swallows, in winter, I may state that he is a permanent resident, in perhaps the most mountainous part of the County of Sutherland. Hoping every real Highlander will uphold the good old garb,—I am, &c.,

J. T. H. Ullapool.


Gives “A Dumpy, Womanish Appearance.”

Sir,—Having in an unlucky moment introduced into this conflict in your columns the opinions of an impartial witness—a Spanish grandee—on the kilt, I consider it my duty to come forward like a true Scotchman, and bear the responsibility, and not “jeuk” behind the Don and allow him to receive the blows levelled at his head. I do not wonder that stout-legged Scotchmen admire the kilt so much, seeing that it permits them to display their bare brawny legs, and not because it possesses any greater comfort, beauty, or utility than the breeks. Does a man not greatly disfigure his noble self when he wraps about his thighs this short petticoat called a kilt—a thing similar in appearance to the attire of a fishwife or ballet-girl? The kilt conceals his manly form—except that seemingly much-admired part of him, the calf—and gives him a dumpy, womanish appearance. The dictionary describes it as “a kind of short petticoat worn by the Highlandmen of Scotland.” Is there any magic in the kilt as a military dress? Does the great bravery of our Highland regiments lie in their kilts, like the great strength of Samson in the hair of his head? The Highlandman clad in any other dress would be as truly brave.—I am, &c.,

W. R.


“With the Drone in Full Blast—Great Scot!”


Oh waes me on ta cursed peaks.

For a ma houghs pe prockit.—Old Poem.

Such was the Highlander’s lament on moving to civilisation and wearing breeks. Every man to his taste, but a more outlandish relic of barbarism is not extant. An American Indian in his breech clout and bear’s claw necklace, with feathers “galore,” is a striking figure, but alongside a “best dressed Highlander,” with his skein dhu and “tramsheughs” he s not patching. And when he “skirls up the Bangor” and “runs a muck” through a fair with the drone in full blast! Great, Scot! Well done, Byron—“Savage and shrill,” and looking at the dress you might have said “savage and chill.” I love tartan, it’s national and rational; but in the shape of a “garb” never for me. I am wearing shepherd tartan now, and tartan dresses are all the rage here, but I see none of “the garb.” I am 35 years from Scotland, and am as national as ever, and hope you will not put this in the waste basket.—I am, &c.,

Andrew S. S. Folsomville, Indiana, U.S.A.


30th April 1892

Kilts v. Breeks.

Oh, what an awful talk there’s been

‘Bout kiltie versus breekie,

The national dress o’ Scotia’s sons,

The warriors o’ Auld Reekie.

An’ hoo they let their passons flee,

These lovers o’ hotch-potch;

There’s brave men yet in ilka pairt—

English, Irish, Scotch.

The Irishman hauds in wi’ baith,

Sometimes wi’ ane, then t’ither,

Remembering baith are his “ain kin,”

An’ each to him is brither.

Great Britain’s Queen, wha reigns o’er a’,

Has cause to love the lot;

Her English brave, her Irish true,

An’ he weel-tried kilted Scot.

M. Peattie. 6 Kirkgate, Cupar Fife.


The Handsome Highland Kilt.

Sir,—Lord Archibald Campbell, in his well-written book, “The Children of the Mist,” says:—“May we Highlanders be careful never to let our own picturesque dress be among the things of the past, a fate which has overtaken the costumes of so many peoples all over the world. Let us retain the ‘breacan,’ the coat armorial of our land, nor seek to invent new tartans. We cannot hope to rival the skill attained by our ancestors as regards the blending or coloration of the threads. There is a splendour in the colours of the ‘breacan’ that no modern can ever hope to rival. We should cherish every thread and check that speaks of the olden days and land so dear to the ‘Children of the Mist.’” I am sure every true Highlander will agree with me in saying that these are the words of a “true patriot,” not a “mongrel,” of which breed “Hersel’” must have come. If our soldiers are to be petted up with warm drawers, &c., they are not worth calling soldiers. In Glasgow, the kilt is increasing in favour instead of decreasing, thanks to the many Highland institutions. The doom of the kilt is not written, and shall never be written, if all Highlanders take and follow up the good advice of Lord Archibald Campbell, and I can assure “Hersel’” that never in the existence of him or any of his kind or their descendants will the demolition of the “handsome Highland kilt” be seen.—I am, &c.,



The Kilt Worn in Paradise.

“Nail’t w’ Scripture.”—Burns.

Sir,—The earliest mention of the kilt in any form is to be found in Genesis iii. 7—“And they sewed fig leaves together and made themslves [sic] aprons.” Now, these aprons would be fastened right round their bodies; and, as the leaves would not all hang straight, and as they would not all hang straight, and as they would never hold together if stretched tight, the apron would naturally hang in folds or plaits. There is the beginning of the kilt. Then it is doubtful if the leaves of which the first apron—or kilt—was made were all of the same shade when sewed together. But even if they were, in a short time some of them would wither or decay sooner than others, and here we have the first idea of the tartan, although the tartan is not mentioned until Genesis xxxvii. 3, “And he made him (Joseph) a coat of many colours.” There we now have the original tartan kilt. As to it coming to Scotland, see Genesis v. 4. “And he (Adam) begat sons and daughters.” What is more likely than that one of these sons in his wanderings found his way to Scotland, and being accustomed to the apron or kilt would continue to wear it in this country. Have we not his name amongst us still? The son of Adam—M’Adam! You see we can go much farther back than “the Cockney fable” and find an easy explanation of the national dress—the tartan kilt—I am, &c.,

D. Williams.


An Old Kiltie’s Confession.

Sir,—I call the kilt a picturesque snare to entice lads into the Highland regiments, but with all its glaring fal-alls [?] people’s eyes are being opened, and the authorities are experiencing great difficulty in completing the establishments of these regiments. For instance, my old regiment the 79th embarked the other day for Malta. Now regiments in the Mediterranean are supposed to be in the first fighting line, or the first to be called—yet they (the 79th) only went out a little over 600 men, and they should be 1000 strong. The dress is an expensive one to the soldier; it entails a deal of extra labour, and is very uncomfortable, and, in many occasions and circumstances, indecent. Vermin have free access to your thighs and legs in warm climates. This dress is conspicuous for its display of different colours, consequently the men are the more apt to be targets for the enemy. This will be found out should we have occasion to be engaged in a future European war. The 42d did well without it at the Gold Coast. The whole thing is ridiculous for soldiers to wear. The truth is, a few fanatics’ eyes are pleased when they see a regiment in this fantastic uniform, and they consider it magnificent; but let any of them go and wear it for 21 years in all climates and on board ship, as I have done, and they will be very glad to get on their trews and boots. The shoes, too, destroy the stockings; but for all this I liked my regiment although I abhorred the dress, yet I could wear t as well as any of them, and I never yet saw one man put it on who could avoid it, i.e., after the flush heat was off. Recruits were dying till they got their kilts, so was I, but I very soon changed my tune, and if old soldiers speak the truth they will one and all back me up.—I am, &c.,

Alex. Brown. Newlandsfield, Pollokshaws.

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