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The World’s Wit and Humor: An Encyclopedia in 15 Volumes. 1906.

Tobias George Smollett (1721–1771)

The Origin of Breeches

From “The History of an Atom”

I INTENDED to insert a dissertation on trousers, or trunk breeches, called by the Latins braccæ laxæ; by the Spaniards, bragas anchas; by the Italians, calzoni larghi; by the French, haut-de-chausses; by the Saxons, broecce; by the Swedes, brackoe; by the Irish, bricchan; by the Celts, brag; and by the Japanese, braak. I could make curious investigations, and point out the precise time when the women of Hellas began to wear the breeches. I would have demonstrated that the cingulum muliebre was originally nothing but the wife’s wearing, at certain seasons, the husband’s trousers, as a mark of dominion transferred, pro tempore, to the female. I would have drawn a curious parallel between the girdle of the Greeks and the waist-cloth worn by the black ladies of Guinea. I would have proved that breeches were not first used for protection of the body against the weather, inasmuch as they were first worn by the Orientals in a warm climate, as you may read in “Persius.” I would have shown that breeches were first brought from Asia to the northern parts of Europe by the Celts; that trousers were worn in Scotland long before the time of Pythagoras. Indeed, we are told by Jamblychus that Abaris, the famous Highland philosopher, contemporary, and personal acquaintance of the sage of Crotona, wore long trousers. I myself can attest the truth of that description, as I well remember the person and dress of that learned mountaineer. I would have explained the reasons that compelled the posterity of those mountaineers to abandon the breeches of their forefathers, and expose their knees to the wind. I would have convinced the English antiquaries that the inhabitants of Yorkshire came originally from the Highlands of Scotland, before the Scots had laid aside their breeches, and wore this part of dress, long after their ancestors, as well as the southern Britons, were unbreeched by the Romans. From this distinction they acquired the name of Brigantes, quasi Bragantes; and hence came the verb to brag, or boast contemptuously; for the neighbours of the Brigantes, being at variance with that people, used, by way of contumelious defiance, to clap their hands to the seat of their trousers and cry Brag-Brag. I would have drawn a learned comparison between the shield of Ajax and the sevenfold breeches of a Dutch skipper. Finally, I would have promulgated the original use of trunk-breeches, which would have led me into a discussion of the rites of a divinity differently worshipped by the southern and northern inhabitants of this kingdom. These disquisitions would have unveiled the mysteries that now conceal the origin, migration, superstitions, languages, laws, and connections of different nations. But I shall only observe that Linschot and others are mistaken in deriving the Japanese from their neighbours the Chinese; and that Dr. Kempfer is right in his conjecture, supposing them to have come from Media immediately after the confusion of Babel. It is no wonder, therefore, that, being Braccatorum filii, they should retain the wide breeches of their progenitors.