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.,
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. Continue reading “Correspondence on ‘Kilts v. Breeks’ Part 4 (April 1892)”