Correspondence on ‘Kilts v. Breeks’ Part 6 (June and July 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.

4th June 1892

Kilts v. Breeks.

We have as much matter in type on this “Kilts v. Breeks” controversy as we shall be able to publish for two or three weeks to come, and the “cry is still they come.” Anything further that may come to hand will have to be disposed of in the briefest way possible, as there are other questions of vastly more importance than the mode of covering a Highlandman’s legs that have for a long while been waiting for discussion.

Cease Fire!

            Admirers of the kilt, “Cease fire,”

Throw up the sponge, an’ then expire;

Our very patience now you tire

About your kilt.

Breeks are a dress for every nation,

For men of every clime and station,

They suit our every occupation—

Not so the kilt.

See kilty in a gale of wind.

With tartans flying far behind;

His thin, sharp knees sae hack’d an’ sore,

And you’ll not want it any more—

The tartan kilt.

Hiram Meek. New Deer.

 

What the Kilties Have Done.

Sir,—The controversy on the above very interesting subject still rages in your much esteemed paper, and it must be admitted that a great deal of spite and ill-feeling have been bandied about. The upholders of the kilt have allowed their patriotism to run away with their common sense, as they have uttered much that, to put it mildly, would have been better left alone. But although some of them have erred, it is left to the breek champions to “take the cake” for foolishness and inaccuracy. Take for instance “Tom Brown,” who boldly asserts that the Saxon race “have always been far ahead of the Celt in civilisation, literature, and art.” Well, Mr Tom Brown & Co., please tell us why, if we were such barbarians,

The Immaculate Southron

came to Scotland to look for a king? Does he know that Scott, Burns, Blackie, and Byron are probably more read than any other authors he can put forward? He may object to Byron being claimed as Scotch, but he was by descent and sentiment a thorough Scotsman. I needn’t take up space naming famous Scotch artists, in every way at least equal to any of his much-boasted Saxons. Tom Brown also draws attention to

Flodden and Culloden;

but I think it won’t be a difficult matter to “knock holes” in the contention that they in any way minimise Bannockburn, for “Tom Brown” must bear in mind that at Flodden the English army was superior in both numbers and discipline, while the Scottish King made the terribly foolish mistake of allowing the English time to get on at least equal terms with him. Had Bruce or Wallace been there, the “Sassenach” would have sung another tune. As it was, the Scots kept their ground until night. That is more than can be said regarding the English at Bannockburn. “Common Sense,” too, tells us that he “read with great amusement, &c.” Well, all I’ve got to say is there is mighty little amusement or common sense either in his effusion, and it would be well if he would take the advice he so thoughtfully gives to “Highlander,” viz., make himself more acquainted with the history of our country. Does he know anything about the war we had with France in Egypt? Does he not know that it was our

Gallant Black Watch

that saved the day at the Battle of the Pyramids, as they entirely annihilated the French cavalry, who were doing terrible mischief? He won’t know, perhaps, that the 42d, when receiving the cavalry, opened their ranks and allowed the cavalry to ride through them, and then bayoneted them almost to a man. The “gay Gordons” weren’t idle either the same day. Again, I would draw “Common Sense’s” attention to the Crimea. At the Alma, after the most of the English troops had endeavoured to storm the heights, and even the immaculate Household troops were unable to get up, Lord Raglan, as a forlorn hope, sent orders to

Our Grand Sir Colin

to advance his brigade and see what he could do. That sublime charge, probably never equalled, was performed as steadily as if on parade. The first of the brigade to cross was the superb 42d, who only halted for a moment to “dress,” and then they advanced where others had failed, and—to quote Mr James Cromb—”it was this single Highland regiment against the field.” I think it is a pity that Sir Colin didn’t do as he at first intended—that is, to use a company or two of the 42d to save their own flank. I am certain they could have done it; but Sir Colin, with a true soldier’s eye, saw a better, or at least safer, plan, and interposed the brave Sutherland lads, who were advancing to the rear of the 42d and to the left. But why continue? Let “Common Sense” peruse Mr Cromb’s book, and he will gain some very valuable information. Let us just look for a moment at

The Indian Mutiny,

and see what the kilt did there. The gallant 78th fought the whole time in their Highland dress, and, as is well known, gained for themselves the proudest title in the British Army, the “saviours of India.” Havelock, although an Englishman, had the greatest confidence in their powers, and never was his trust betrayed. During the Mutiny, too, did the Black Watch, although suffering from cholera, march the enormous distance of 87 miles in three days? And yet we hear of doing away with the uniform that was worn by such men! In conclusion, let me say to

The Opponents of the Kilt

that should it ever come to pass that a Government was mad enough to order the disuse of the kilt, they had better take away the names too, for what would a Highlander be without his kilt?

Stand fast by your tartan, lads,

And let the nation know

That still beneath the Highland plaid,

True Scottish blood doth flow.

Rise for your rights and let them know

The garb our fathers wore

Is dear to every Scottish heart

Within our rock-bound shore.

That written a few years ago by Mr A. Dann, of Edinburgh, strikes the keynotes of all leal Scottish hearts.—I am, &c.,

Black Watch. Langholm.

 

Scotch Egotism Reproved.

Sir,—I am afraid “J. T. H.” had been indulging in Scotch whisky hot before he wrote in defence of the kilt and the superiority of Scotchmen. He asks who would have the presumption to even breathe that an Englishman was equal to a Scotchman? I have mixed a good deal among Englishmen, and I can honestly say that they are equally as good as Scotchmen—in some respects better. For one thing, they lack that spirit of egotism that a large number of my brother Scots seem to possess, and I am sure every unprejudiced Scotchman will agree with me on that point. The persistency with which some of your correspondents claim all the honour for Scotchmen of deeds done by Highland regiments is absurd, when it is a well-known fact that they are largely composed of Englishmen and Irishmen.—I am, &c.,

Fairplay. Newcastle-on-Tyne.

 

“Hersel’” & Co. Receive a Clamehewit.

Sir,—If low slang and scurrilous language constitutes a good writer, the calumniators of the kilt have not their equals outsides of Billingsgate. If we dare to defend ourselves when they attack us with their foulest venom and their keenest fangs, they call us turbulent, bombastic, and prideful, and style our garb the habiliment of the savage and the cattle lifter. Highlanders are a peaceable and law-abiding people, and only administer chastisement when a few benighted scribes and would-be critics become senseless, churlish, and intolerant. If Highlanders were to allow ciphers like “Hersel’” and his effeminate backers to assail their garb and character with impunity they would be unworthy of their ancestors who defied the Romans to bring Caledonia under their degrading subjection the same as they brought the rest of Britain. They would also be unworthy of the names of the men who upheld the honour of the Highlanders and their garb at Corunna, Fuentes d’Onor, Toulouse, Waterloo, and Alma, and who were often highly complimented for their bravery, discipline, and good conduct by such famous Generals as the Duke of Wellington, Sir John Moore, and Sir Colin Campbell. If we had our cattle lifters in the Highlands in “the good old times” we had and still have the cheat, the sneakish hen stealer, the garroter [sic], and the body lifter in other places, and dressed in nothing less than that highly civilised thing called the “breeks.” The good character of the Highlanders is so well known, their garb so famous and venerated, that the raving of a few shankless, chestless, and brainless fanatics, who probably belong to a different and inferior species than Scotchmen, cannot do either a grain of harm. I hope Scotchmen will not be so easily hoodwinked as to help to put down the only garb and regiments we have that are not English and claimed as belonging to England.—I am, &c.,

Lochaber. Continue reading “Correspondence on ‘Kilts v. Breeks’ Part 6 (June and July 1892)”

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 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)”