To Beard or Not To Beard: That Is the Question


A gentleman by the name of Maynard Good Stoddard wrote an article for The Saturday Evening Post many moons ago which my brother, for some reason, sent my way. It is entitled “To Beard or Not To Beard.”

Mr. Stoddard said that one day he finally figured out why he had been pushed around at home for so many years. It was, he had discovered, because his chin lacked authority. He mentioned that he felt no need for one of those “Jay Leno jobs.” But he felt a definite need for something a bit more along that very distinctive line. It evidently occurred to him that though chin augmentation through plastic surgery might be pricey, whiskers are more or less free. And they do indeed change the character of a chin (and maybe even the chin of a character). A research project on beards was soon underway.

First, Stoddard polled his wife. She said she’d rather “embrace a camel’s hair pillow than a face full of whiskers,” a feeling evidently shared by a Mrs. Abner Billings (now a former Mrs. Billings) whose husband divorced her because she kept spraying his beard down with disinfectant which got into his eyes. The divorce court judge suggested “mowing the hay,” but Mr. Billings countered that the beard was more of a comfort to him than was Mrs. Billings.

According to Stoddard, “Beards have been causing domestic wars ever since wives discovered that whiskers could be mowed, shaven, or set on fire.”

And Stoddard discovered a good deal more in his research.

It was Alexander the Great who first “shot down the beard,” ordering his soldiers to shave lest their manly chins provide the enemy with convenient handholds.

A case could be made that by shaving his beard Louis VIII of France started a war with England that lasted 300 years. The beard-trimming was objected to by his wife, the famous Eleanor of Aquitaine. After their divorce, she married Henry II of England who had a beard he could “tuck into his belt on windy days.”

During the reign of Henry I, Serle the bishop, termed the bearded gents of the Norman English court “filthy goats and bristly Saracens.”

According to Stoddard’s research, Peter the Great levied a tax (“a sir-tax”?) on Russian beards. King Charles swept the points of his moustache upward and sported a beard shaped like a downward flame. Edward II’s beard was long and patriarchal. Henry VIII’s was knotted. The Roman Emperor Hadrian grew one to cover his warts.

Beards. I’m pretty sure that God, unlike most wives, is neutral on the subject. What comes out of our hearts is far more important to him than what graces or disgraces, as the case may be, our chins.

Copyright 2012 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.

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