Letters on ‘English’ Versus ‘British.’ (21 October – 2 December, 1882)

The following seven letters are from readers on on the interchangeable use of the words ‘British’ and ‘English’ in the English press; a form of cultural colonialism, English arrogance or ‘Cockney conceit’ as it is termed in the correspondence. These letters came in response to the coverage of the battle of Tel-el-Kebir in Egypt where Scottish and Irish representation was perceived to have been whitewashed by the press, despite the heavy involvement of the Highland regiments. The poem published on the 14th October, ‘The Battle of Tel-el-Kebir’, which sparked the discussion will also appear below.

‘England v Great Britain.’ (21 October, 1882)

Sir,—I was highly delighted with G. Bruce’s verses on “The Battle of Tel-el-Kebir” in your issue of the People’s Journal of 14th October. The words in the sixth verse struck me as strictly true, and I am happy to know that “G.B.” is not the only one in Scotland that holds the same opinion.

“England stole Great Britain’s name—

Tries to hide auld Scotland’s fame—

What she does is burning shame!

Anglo-Saxon guile!”

Now I have observed in English newspapers (especially London) when they have described any battle where British were engaged, they would use the words “English Army”—”English Navy.” when the proper words should be “British Army”—”British Navy.” England is only a part of this Great Empire as Scotland and Ireland, the three together being designated by Act of Parliament as “Great Britain and Ireland,” and it is hardly fair that the word “English” should be used when the soldiers and sailors engaged are composed of men recruited from the three countries. “Honour to whom honour is due.” I know for a fact that Scotchmen and Irishmen do not like to be called “English,” and I say the sooner that Cockney ignorance and conceit (as I believe it is from that source it springs) should cease from doing so the better, as it may lead the Scotch people to be discontented with their English neighbours, and be a greater thorn in their path than the Irish. I have enjoyed many a hearty laugh when reading in some English newspaper a paragraph describing a battle when it speaks about the troops engaged—one line calling them “English troops,” and the very next line speaking of them as “British troops.” This arises from Cockney ignorance and conceit, and reminds me of the Cockney I made acquaintance with on board of the steamer from London to Leith about four years ago, who asked me the very intelligent question, viz.—”Did I know one David Wright, a butcher in Scotland?” I have no doubt some will say—Bah! it is hardly worth while taking notice of such things; let Johnny Bull, Sandy, and Paddy be called by any name, it is all the same to me, &c., &c. Now I call these men unpatriotic, and no lovers of their country. There was a time when such men were expelled from their country.—I am, &c.,

Thomas Turner.

3 East Register Street, Edinburgh,

16th October 1882.


‘England v Great Britain’ (4 November, 1882)

“A.A.C.,” London, writes:—I have a grievance. Mr Thomas Turner’s scathing denunciation of those who deem it a small matter whether the representative appellation “Englishman” be applied to any native of our mighty isle or not has aroused my Highland blood, and I thirst for an opportunity to prove my patriotism and love of my country—Scotland. True, I no longer enjoy the privilege of breathing my native air; yet I am a “Scottie” still, and in many a wordy war have I defended Scotland’s prestige and fought for her honour, and I hope to do so again. Cockneys are conceited, and have good reason to be so, but they are not so amazingly ignorant as Mr Turner supposed. Journalists are, as a rule, men of extensive information and considerable tact. Cockney journalists are men to be envied for these qualities, and if they use the term “English troops” in one line and “British troops” in the next that scarcely proves their ignorance. There was a time, sir, when I held an opinion similar to that of Mr Geo. Bruce—a gentleman I used to know well—and that of Mr Turner. I even went the length of spoiling a well-thumbed history by drawing a fierce red dash through the word “English” and inserting “British” in glowing capitals when I fancied that the claims of Scotia’s sons were overlooked, but a sojourn in the “boasted city of the world” has toned down and modified my opinion. I once had the temerity to ask an Englishman who occasionally contributes to Cockney journalism what was meant by using the word “English” when “British” was clearly the term that ought to be employed. His answer was—”My dear sir, you ought to know better than to suppose for an instant that any slight is intended to your country, or rather you part o the country. Why, it is one of the brightest gems in the British Crown. Do not harbour such feelings against us. We admire Scotland, and respect her traditions, while we welcome her sons with open arms. It was a red-letter day in history when England and Scotland joined hands, and if we say ‘England’ when we mean both, or Ireland also, it is because it comes more readily to our lips. Our ideas are not bounded by the Cheviots and the Tweed when we say ‘England’ or ‘English interests;’ and although it is a standing joke with us to twit Scotchmen about the unimportance of Scotland, it is only when we find them so amusingly verdant or jealous as to imagine we do not recognise its worth. We would be deceiving ourselves were we to suppose that Scotchmen have not had more than their share in making England what it is. They sit in our high places, they conduct our business and commerce, and in fighting they are the rampant lion in our flag.” Scotchmen are “billies” to make themselves at home wherever they go, and I firmly believe that the natives of no country carry with them such a patriotic love as Scotchmen do. The age of variance between the two countries, however, is over—they are one now—and to have their merits recognised Scotchmen must not be bigoted. It occasionally happens that men of the Dr Johnson type are encountered, who reproduce that worthy’s hatred of everything Scotch; but the are to be pitied, and I for one smile calmly and serenely when I stumble into their company, and I rest assured that the majority of even Cockneys show, by their ready appreciation of Scotchmen, that belief in Scotland is the hotbed of reliable supporters of Great Britain’s celebrity. I admit that a few ignorant Cockneys cherish the idea that until Scotchmen cross the Borders they are a race of semi-savages who wear kilts, and that until they get their intellects stuck into chimney-pot hats are air them in a London fog, they are mere nobodies; but ignorance of this type must die out under the auspices of the School Boards. Continue reading “Letters on ‘English’ Versus ‘British.’ (21 October – 2 December, 1882)”