Correspondence on ‘Kilts v. Breeks’ Part 5 (May 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.

7th May 1892

Kilts v. Breeks.

“Hopes the Kilt Will Never Die Out.”

Sir,—In this discussion more has been said against the English than in favour of the kilt. I am a true born Scotsman, and have heard my own countrymen speak against the kilt, thus showing that a difference of opinion exists regarding it. Some correspondents show very bad taste in the way they have talked of the English. I went to England when I was 30 years of age, and have lived among English of all sorts for over 20 years, and I have noticed from the first the absence of that antipathy towards Scotchmen which I am sorry to say exists in Scotland towards Englishmen. I admire the kilt, but every one does not do justice to it, as I think it only looks well on men of good stature, especially on our soldiers. That it is healthy there can be no doubt. As to its being a fit dress to wear that is only a matter of opinion. Hoping the kilt will never die out—I am, &c.,

J. MacDonald. Heaton, Newcastle-on-Tyne.

 

An Improvement on the Kilt Suggested.

Sir,—I seldom see a kiltie down in this North-East Lowland County, unless one or two that put in an appearance at our local games, and the way they strut about if they happen to be able to drawl out a kind of a tune from the great bagpipes! They seem to think people are admiring them when they are looking at them. Other four races forby the Highlander would rivet the Londoner’s gaze quite as much, viz.:—the Hottentots, Kaffirs, Red Indians, and South Sea Islanders. The advocates for the kilt tell us how it shows off the leg, and we cannot deny but it does, and rather much so at times. Any one who has legs he wants specially to be seen should get trousers to reach about half down to his knees, with the stocking at present worn with the kilt. I am, &c.,

Faugh Faugh. Turriff.

 

Kilt Fast Dying Out.

Sir,—At the annual meeting of the Gaelic Society in Stirling some time ago, although the attendance, &c., was all that could be desired, there was one drawback—not one person present wore the kilt. But don’t jump; it was hardly so bad after all, for one man actually did wear the kilt. Yet this single exception to the rule only served to make the absence of the “garb of Old Gaul” the more remarkable in an assembly of Highlanders, where it ought to have been worn “all over the shop.” If “W. C. Davidson” is open to conviction, this circumstance ought to convince even him that the use of the kilt is fast dying out, and that it will soon be where it ought to be—in the rag store. Mr Davidson seems to think it a most remarkable thing that Londoners should stand in crowds at hall doors to get a glimpse of a Highland dancer; but there is nothing remarkable in this. Had a clown or a Zulu chief performed to their respective vocations, the chances are they would have been received with a great deal more merriment. The appearance of a Highlander fully rigged out creates exactly the same stir among Londoners as a Horse Guard dressed in helmet and cuirass would in Scotland here.—I am, &c.,

Hamish.

 

The Kilt in Cold and Wet Weather.

Sir,—I have not seen a copy of the People’s Journal for many years until today. A new arrival in the “Zenith City of the Unsalted Seas” is a subscriber, and I am to have the privilege of perusing the Journal once again. I was rather amused n reading the letters of “Hersel’” and “Cabar Feidh” in the “Kilts v. Breeks” discussion, the former against the kilt and the latter in favour of it. If above correspondents are examples of attack and defence the kilt need have no fear of losing or adding to its glory or utility. At the Edinburgh review in 1831 a regiment wearing Gordon tartan trews, hailing from your quarter, stood next a thousand kilts, one of which covered the thighs of the subscriber. The heavens leaked that day, and so did the breeks leak—so much so that they clung close to the legs of the men, a cold moisture causing numbers a death-like chill, and I saw several breeks (of the Gordon tartan, too) carried off the field in fainting condition. How about the thousand kilties? They were all right. With plaids thrown over the shoulder, and the incessant downpour of rain sliding off the kilts as off an umbrella, the greater part of the body was kept dry. The knees were certainly exposed, but what of that? They are the strongest part of a man’s body, and least susceptible to cold. As to the feet, the kilties all wore the well-known pipe-clayed spats. This on such a day was also of immense advantage. None of our men lost their shoes. The consequence was that notwithstanding a tedious sit-up and no-sleep journey from the North not one of our kilted warrior citizens fell out or had to be carried off the field, as were such a number of breeks. Regarding the kilt in hot climates, I am intimate with many men of the Camerons and Seaforths who fought in India and Egypt. In marching in a foreign clime the perpetual joggling of internals is more liable to bring on very troublesome conditions and weaken men more than a good deal of hard work. The best outward remedy for this is the wearing of a wide belt of flannel tied tightly around the stomach. In the kilt we have the desired belt in its best form. Nothing could possibly be better adapted to a foreign clime. The legs are left free and cool, and, if at night it does blow cold, it is a mistake to think that because the knees are exposed, the whole body must be cold. The wind blows the kilt against the legs, and between the edge of it and the top of the hose there are no organs of the body exposed. At night in camping out the kilt can be used as a rug, whereas a pair of breeks will serve as a pillow, but a pillow is a luxury when roughing it. In regions of an Arctic aspect the kilt may be out of it, but I assure you so also are the breeks.—I am, &c.,

A Highlander. Duluth, Minn.

 

“A Fule’s Dress.”

Sir,—I once heard a decent old farmer remark on seeing a kilted ploughman pass along the road, “Weel there’s aye been fules in warld sin ever I min, an’ they’ll be till the en’, an’ that’s ane too.” The kilt is nothing else than an improvement on the primitive Indian’s blanket, a most ridiculous dress for any civilised human being. I cannot understand how enlightened men of the 19th century could be so devoid of common sense as compel our array to wear a blanket round their thighs. What earthly difference does the variegated colours make to the comfort of it? Some variegated colours make to the comfort of it? Some people do go to extremes when they could imagine the kilt to have the least credit in the victories that have been won by kilted soldiers. Breeks would have won all the same; it’s the legs and not the covering that contains the smeddim. But, sir, I have no hesitation in saying that many a poor fellow owes his death to the kilt. I have been told over and over again by soldiers how they got severe colds by the wearing of this outlandish dross, and how thankful they were to get into a pair of breeks made out of an old kilt. Will Scotty, who is credited to be sitting on the North Pole, be found kilted and plaided in tartan array? If so, I do feel for this poor shanks. It may be easier to dance in a kilt than it is in trousers; but, great Scotland! is that argument in favour of it? I have always had the idea that there is a screw loose somewhere when I see an apparently intelligent man dressed out in a kilt, buckles, sporran, and all the other ridiculous appendages that go to make up a Highlander.—I am, &c.,

J. Davidson.

 

14th May 1892

Kilts v. Breeks.

The Bagpipes.

Ye curious shapit, ancient thing

I’m unco fain yer praise to sing,

Ye hae sae mony parts;

He had a pair o’ clever han’s

Wha made an’ played ye ‘mang the clans

Ere Bruce was King o’ hearts;

Here’s to yer chanter, bag, an’ reeds,

Drones, virls, an’ ribbons braw—

Ye’ve witnessed mony gallant deeds

When wi’ the “Forty-Twa,”

Ye’ve served them an’ nerved them

To strike for liberty,

Ye’ve charmed us an’ warmed us,

An’ sae we’re prood o’ ye.

O’ a’ the instruments, I ween,

That ever I hae heard or seen,

Ye really ding them a’;

While ye are on the battlefield

Oor kiltie lads ‘ill never yield,

An’ never rin awa’,

For when ye gie yer warlike squeel

They bravely forward go,

Wi’ bayonets fixed o’ deadly steel,

Syne woe be to the foe.

At lairge then, they chairge then,

While ye keep up the strain,

An’ glorious, victorious,

Ye cheer them back again.

Auld Alister M’Alister

Could on ye play an’ wi’ ye stir

The lassies on the green;

An’ sae could Habbie Simpson weel,

An Rab the Ranter, pawkie chiel’,

Wha played to Anster’s queen.

Were Maggie Lauder livin’ still

She wad be prood to see

This short address whilk wi’ guidwill

I hae presented ye.

Ye’ve feared men, an’ cheered men,

In every land an’ clime;

We’ll hae pipes, an’ play pipes,

E’en to the end o’ time.

The Roper Bard. Dundee. Continue reading “Correspondence on ‘Kilts v. Breeks’ Part 5 (May 1892)”

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.,

Bally.

 

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)”

Correspondence on ‘Kilts v. Breeks’ Part 3 (March 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 March 1892

Kilts v. Breeks.

A Grand Ancestral Dress.

To tak’ the kilts frae oor brave lads

I doot “Hersel’” is wrang;

We Scotch fowk hae a word to say

Twill gar him cheenge his sang.

In far-aff fields, whaur bluid ran deep,

Their trusty blades were there,

An’ Britain’s foes ken to their loss

If kilties can hit sair.

 

An’ wad ye rive frae these brave men,

Their grand ancestral dress?

Gae tak’ the medals aff their breists—

It winna hurt them less.

Th’ incentive that has urged them on

Though mony a hard-won field,

In frae them to be rudely torn,

An’ maun these heroes yield?

 

No! never while the dear Scotch bluid

Wild pulsates though their heart,

The “kilties” an’ their mountain dress—

Meet twa—shall never part.

The sun shall sink ‘neath you big cloud,

Nae langer licht to gie,

Lang ere our noble “kilties’” dress

Shall cease their garb to be.

J. M’Leish. 222 Preston Street, Glasgow.

 

The Antiquity of the Kilt.

Sir,—I was very much surprised to notice a correspondent in your issue of 6th Feb. bringing forward the Cockney fable that the kilt was invented by an Englishman, and the idea of such coming from Golspie is too much for one’s gravity at the present day. The origin of this fable is an article which appeared in the Scots Magazinein the year 1798, on the occasion of an agitation against discarding the Highland dress in the army. The writer of this article said that the kilt in its present shape was invented by an Englishman of the name of Parkinson or Rawlinson, who was manager at the lead mines at Tighandrum in the year 1728, who, finding the Highland labourers so encumbered with their belted plaids, taught them to cut the plaid and kilt asunder, and to sew them in their present shape.

                        The Belted Plaid

consisted of eight yards of double cloth, which was pleated and fixed by a belt round the waist, the lower part forming the kilt, the other half being attached to the left shoulder by a brooch, in the same shape as the belted plaids now worn by the Highland soldiers, which are an imitation of the old belted plaid. This was called Bocacam-an-Fheilidh. [Bocacam? Should be breacan?] It was worn on warlike expeditions and journeys, or occasions where the wearer would have to camp out. The kilt, same as now worn, was Feileadh-beag, or little kilt, was worn on everyday occasions or for hunting, when the wearer desired lightness and activity. The idea that an active and light-footed people like the Highlanders could not see the necessity of separating the kilt from the plaid without the assistance of an Englishman could only be entertained by one who knows very little about themselves or their dress. Nevertheless this fable has been repeated like a parrot cry every time any alteration is proposed in the dress or designation of the Highland regiments, or when some Cockney scribbler is suffering from a gorge of Scotch haggis.

                        The Sculptured Stones of Scotland

give the most undubitable proof of the age of the kilt. There are such stones at Dupplin, in Perthshire; Forres, in Morayshire; Nigg, in Ross-shire; and several at Iona; but the best of any we have seen is the tombstone of Torquil Macleod, the last chief of the Macleods of Lewis, who died in the year 1597. Martin, who made his famous tour to the Western Isles about the year 1690, gives a most minute description of the kilt and the shoulder plaid, which was only worn with the present form of kilt. On the armorial bearings of the Burnetts of Leys the dexter supporter is a Highlander dressed in the kilt, jacket, sporran, and bonnet, as neat and trim as if made by any first-class tailor at the present day—date of patent, 21st April, 1626. Sr George Mackenzie, who died 37 years before Parkinson’s time, says:—“The Burnetts of Leys carry a Highlander in bunting garb, and a greyhound as supporters on their arms to show that they were the King’s foresters in the North.” Several Highland clans have also as supporters on their arms Highlanders dressed in the Feileadh-beag. In a book printed in London in the year 1720—“The Life of Mr Duncan Campbell”—their is an illustration showing the subject of the work dressed in the kilt. In Burt’s letters from the North of Scotland, published in London, 1728, there are several illustrations of the dress in its different forms, and what Scotchman needs to be reminded of the many Jacobite songs composed about the Rebellion of 1698 and 1715, in which the philibeg or Feileadh-beag is mentioned? I might multiply proofs by the dozen, but surely enough has been given to convince anyone.

Oh, first of garbs, garment of lofty fate;

So long employed, of such an antique date;

Look back some thousand years till records fail,

And lose themselves in some romantic tale;

We’ll find our God-like fathers nobly scorned

To be by any other garb adorned—Allan Ramsay.

—I am, &c.,

J. G. Mackay. Portree.

 

The Late Duke of Clarence of the Kilties.

Sir,—As the kilt was my first dress, and as I wore it daily in one of our crack Highland regiments, I would like to give my opinion of it here. Those who have had the pleasure of seeing a review of British troops in England or elsewhere and gazed with a keen eye on the lines of English infantry, with their helmets, plain red coats, and breeks, as they march past, are suddenly electrified when they hear the wild strain of the bagpipes and the tune of “Highland Laddie,” which tells him the Highland Brigade is coming. As the first company approaches the white spats, diamond hose tops, tartan kilts, doublet, and the plumage of the feather bonnets towering above him in the air at once takes his eye, and as each successive company goes past he sees the great contrast between the tight-fitting breeks of the English infantry and the

                        Free and Easy Wave of the Kilt

and the steady step of the Highlander. After that when he sees a Highland regiment, or a man wearing a kilt, he looks at them through the spectacles of prejudice and jealousy, and gives vent to his feelings by using expressions such as those of “Hersel’” and “Hamish;” but few of them degrade themselves so far as to put their expressions before the public. Let Enlgishmen throw their spectacles aside, and they will frankly admit that they like the kilt. English girls already admit they love the men that wear it. On one occasion when escorting the colours at a field day on the Long Valley, near Aldershot, we were lying on the sand right behind, and in a good position to see the fighting line supports in the Reserve. The General and his staff, among whom was the late Duke of Clarence and Avondale, came up quite close to us, and took advantage of our position for viewing the whole line. The Prince looked down on us—the dolour party—and remarked to some of the staff

                        “What Brawny Legs Those Fellows Have.”

The kilt was freely discussed, and from the few words I heard the Prince say I learned that, although mounted on a prancing horse, and dressed like a gallant Hussar, his heart was warm to the tartan. And had it not a good right to be? Could he not look into the distant past and see what a long record of courageous deeds that tartan kilt had been connected with? What of battles fought and won, and the glorious service that the Highlanders had tendered in building up that great and powerful Empire of which he was so near the head? “Hersel’” asks what has that contemptible-looking thing to do with fighting? It has a great deal to do with it. The moment a man puts on the kilt it strengthens and hardens the muscles and bones of his legs, so that when he has to fight he has a good pair of legs to stand on. It also gives to his limbs that freedom of action which has so greatly aided the Highland soldier in carrying the day in all the bloody conflicts he has been engaged in. I, like every true Scotchman, think it

                        An Indispensable Dress

for our Highland regiments, and admire that “cold, miserable-looking thing” as the national dress of Scotland. During the time I wore it I never had rheumatic pains, I never caught a chill, or any other thing that was dangerous to health through wearing the kilt. I think it was the very reverse, and I never returned from any exercise, however hard it might have been, to find that the seams of my tight-fitting breeks had given way.—I am, &c.,

Faire Dhu. Aberlady.

 

Wholesome Advice.

Sir.—This writing in favour and against the kilt is rather a curious kind of controversy, as it has developed into a compound of truth and misstatements, chaff and ill-nature, inconsistency, and, what is silliest of all, “running off the track.” I would advise all those who take part in this controversy to make no deprecatory remarks on nationalities, as far as it is possible, as it is better to “let sleeping dogs lie.” I cannot however, resist saying that the “Spanish Don” (key) would be well served if he got his backbone twisted into a corkscrew for his impudence.—I am, &c.,

Callum Brogach. Klidonan, Sutherland. Continue reading “Correspondence on ‘Kilts v. Breeks’ Part 3 (March 1892)”

Correspondence on ‘Kilts v. Breeks’ Part 2 (February 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.

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.,

Highlander.

 

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.,

Celt.

 

13 February 1892

Kilts v. Breeks.

Amusing—Very.

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.,

Callum Clas. Continue reading “Correspondence on ‘Kilts v. Breeks’ Part 2 (February 1892)”

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.” …

J.C.

 

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

Hersel’.

 

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

‘A Dundee Working Man on America—No. 3.’ by a Correspondent in New York (28 January, 1882)

The following is part of a series of articles on the condition of the United States of America for working class Scottish immigrants. One of the core tenants of The People’s Journal was to encourage self-improvement for the working classes. For these reason the paper would regularly promote emigration and provide news  and publish correspondence from the major destination of Scots in the period (the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand). This piece continues the discussion from the previous articles on work and wages.

Trade and Wages.

To the Editor of the People’s Journal.

Sir,—The tailor trade is quite different here from what it is at home. The tailors are something like the shoemakers, their work is cut up in sections, so to speak; for there are coat hands, vest hands, and pant or trouser hands. These are all made in large factories. But in speaking of tailoring we ought to call them tailoresses, as a great many women and girls work at the tailor trade here. A cutter has good wages. The women make from four to eight dollars per week, according to their experience and ability. Some women have apprentices, and with five or six of them the employer will make 100 vests per week. She will receive on an average for them forty cents each, then making forty dollars per week, but of course she has her girls to pay off this. The girls receive on an average for them forty cents each, thus making forty dollars per week, but of course she has her girls to pay off this. The girls receive from one dollar per week (beginners). Those who have been some time at the business will receive four, five, or six dollars per week, according to ability. When a girl can make a vest without any more teaching she generally takes home her work where she has a machine; then she gets full value of her work.

There is another industry here at which young women make good wages, viz., cigar and cigarette making. One of the largest tobacco manufactories in the United States of America is that in Rochester. They employ some hundred of girls of all ages making cigars and cigarettes. This is all done by piece work, their wages ranging from four to eight dollars per week, according to ability.

As for mill and factory operatives, this is not so good a locality as other places some hundreds of miles east of this. There is one large cotton factory here in which the girls make from six to eight dollars per week. In a small place about one hundred miles form this, where I was working last year, there is a factory for the fabrication of woollen and cotton goods which employs about eight hundred women, and four hundred men and boys. The ages of the female workers range from seven years up to seventy. Their wages are from eight to thirty dollars per month. They are only paid once a month. The first five days of the week they work from half-past six A.M. to half-past six P.M., with an hour to dinner at twelve o’clock noon; and on Saturday they work from half-past six A.M. to two P.M. A great number of the girls go and come to their work is machines. Those machines hold from 12 to 20 persons. For this they each pay one dollar a month. But I can assure the factory girls in Dundee that the women in that factory required it last winter, for in that place the ground was covered with snow to the depth of from three to five feet for nearly four months. I may tell the Dundee girls that I have never seen any girl go to work here of any kind unless she was dressed “up to dick,” for they all wear their bonnets, shawls, gloves, &c, no matter what they work at. The girls who work at the tailoring trade go to work as well dressed as any of Baxter’s or Gilroy’s girls are when they are walking out the Perth Road with their beloved ones.

The foregoing result concerning wages being arrived at, the subject of the cost of living becomes an interesting question. As there is a great deal of boarding here I will take that matter first, and as I have three years’ experience of boarding in different places, I know a little about it. Men will get good board for four dollars per week, some places four and a-half. This does not include washing; you have either to take your clothes to a private individual, or go and get your “checkie” from Johnny Chinaman; but there is no comparison with boarding here and boarding in Scotland. There are always two or three kinds of dishes set before you—roast beef, steak, mutton, or pork being always on the table. Potatoes, and tea or coffee are served at all three meals; all sorts of pies or tarts and custards, along with fruits and vegetables in their season. Porridge is not known; I have only got it once since I came here, and, as it turned out, once too often. It happened in this wise:—Going home from work one night my boarding mistress asked me if I would take mush for supper. I said if I knew what it was I would tell her. She replied you would call it porridge. I immediately answered “Yes,” thinking I was going to get a treat. She brought a piece on a plate with fork and knife. I cut a piece and put it in my mouth. But, O horror, the porridge had no salt among t. Spitting it out again, and asking her how there was no salt in it, she replied “There is both salt and sugar on the table, you can use any of them you please.” “Well,” I said, “take and give those to the hens, and make no more mush for me,” and she was quite indignant, and so was I. Continue reading “‘A Dundee Working Man on America—No. 3.’ by a Correspondent in New York (28 January, 1882)”

‘A Dundee Working Man on America—No. 2.’ by a Correspondent in New York (21 January, 1882)

The following is part of a series of articles on the condition of the United States of America for working class Scottish immigrants. One of the core tenants of The People’s Journal was to encourage self-improvement for the working classes. For these reason the paper would regularly promote emigration and provide news  and publish correspondence from the major destination of Scots in the period (the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand). This piece continues the discussion from the previous article on work and wages, specifically the advantages of trade unions.

Work and Wages.

To the Editor of The People’s Journal.

Sir,—As regards the wages paid to different trades here I would like those interested in these letters to know what the difference between the wages are now and when trade was dull, and by what means and agency the difference was brought about. Of course supply and demand have a great deal to do with the rise and fall of wages. But all working men know that unless there is pressure put upon employers in the busiest of times wages will never be so good as they would be without this pressure, and successful pressure can never be applied unless combination moves the lever. So it was pressure wrought by Trades Unionism which was the principal means of raising the wages so much this last three years back. And here let me say that I have seen the great benefits that working men derive from Trades Unions more than ever I did before, and I am sorry to add I have seen the want of unionism more than ever I did before.

I will begin with the iron trade first, and in this I include moulders, machinists, blacksmiths, and boilermakers. Three years ago the wages of these different branches were a dollar less per day than they are at present. If the readers of these letters will bear in mind that a dollar is four shillings and twopence, and that there are a hundred cents in a dollar, they will easily follow me in speaking of the currency of this country. So these branches of the iron trade have got a rise of 25s per week within three years. There is a case in point which I was interested. Last spring I was working in a small town called Fulton, in the State of New York. We had two dollars per day, and we knew that wages were rising all over the country, so we combined together and demanded a rise, the employer or boss (as the master is termed here) offered us a quarter of a dollar more per day, which was refused, and after some negotiations we received one half-dollar more per day. I thought to myself that it would have been something wonderful if I had received twelve shillings and sixpence of a rise per week in Dundee. The different branches of the iron trade are nearly paid alike in Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania, Cleveland in Ohio, and Rochester in New York; the rate of wages in this class is nearly parallel. In these places moulders have at the present time from two and a half to three and a quarter dollars per day (all wages are counted by the day here; machinists (that is, turners and fitters) have from two dollars to two and a half per day; blacksmiths, from two and a half to three dollars per day; boilermakers, from two to two and a half per day—ten hours per day, or sixty hours per week. But it must be kept in mind that the foregoing wages are only paid to competent workmen, for in America a young man becomes a journeyman after an apprenticeship of three or four years, and a great many of them never serve an apprenticeship at all. This holds good in almost all trades. The consequence is that there are a great many who are not fit to do a day’s work either in quantity or quality. They are generally Jacks-of-all-Trades and masters of none. There is a great deal of piece-work done in America in all branches of industry, and the labour is divided in this manner:—In shoemaking, it takes eight or ten men to make a boot or shoe; there are cutters, bottomers, boot-treers, buffers, heelers, fitters, &c. In moulding, cooking and heating stores are made in the same manner. One man makes the bottom part, another the top, another the sides, another the doors, and so on. By this system the workmen get to be proficient in a short time, but only at the once branch of the trade. All these different branches of shoemaking are made in factories, and by machinery; wages ranging from ten to fifteen dollars per week. But there are workshops where hand-sewed boots and shoes are made. A good shoemaker can earn two or two and a quarter dollars per day. Continue reading “‘A Dundee Working Man on America—No. 2.’ by a Correspondent in New York (21 January, 1882)”