8 Reasons to Grow a Beard, According to a 19th Century Book

Illustration by Mental Floss. Images: iStock
Illustration by Mental Floss. Images: iStock

History has perhaps known no greater proponent of the beard than T. S. Gowing. He admired chin whiskers so much that he penned a book on the subject in 1854, entitled The Philosophy of Beards.

It's based on an earlier lecture that the author gave about beards from a physiological, artistic, and historical perspective, which was apparently so well-received that Gowing—“an almost unknown pro-beard activist in Britain,” according to the book’s description on Amazon—decided to turn it into a 72-page publication.

Gowing believed it to be the first lecture on beards, which he described as a natural gift from God intended “for distinction, protection, and ornament.” Here are a few other reasons why Gowing loved beards—and why you should, too.

1. BEARDS ARE THE EPITOME OF MANLINESS.

It was a different time back then, and people had some fairly rigid ideas about what masculinity and femininity meant. The beard, naturally, fell into the former camp. Gowing called beards “the true standard of masculine beauty of expression” and argued that shaving them off makes men more effeminate. So why don’t women have beards, you might ask? Because women were “never intended to be exposed to the hardships and difficulties men are called upon to undergo,” Gowing argues. However, Gowing mentions a couple notable exceptions, including a female soldier in the army of Charles XII who “fought with a courage worthy of her Beard.”

2. MEN FROM SOME OF THE WORLD’S MOST CELEBRATED CIVILIZATIONS SPORTED FACIAL HAIR.

“All the leading races of men, whether of warm or cold climates … were furnished with an abundant growth of this natural covering,” Gowing writes, citing the Egyptians, Assyrians, Babylonians, Greeks, Romans, and more as examples. Egyptian kings were depicted as having beards, as were Etruscan gods. Gowing didn’t think this was merely a coincidence either, arguing that the absence of a beard is a sign of physical and moral weakness.

3. BEARDS PROTECT YOU FROM COLD, MOISTURE, AND DISEASE.

Men without beards suffer more frequently from colds, sore throats, and rheumatic pains, medical texts from the period purported. Gowing also claimed that blacksmiths and stonemasons were protected from disease because their beards collect “iron and stone dust” and prevent these substances from being inhaled into the lungs. (There might be something to that claim: One study revealed that beards sometimes harbor bacteria-killing microbes.) As for the claim that beards keep the wearer warm, Gowing had to look no further than his own face for evidence: The author, recalling a frigid six-week excursion in Switzerland during which he grew out his mustache, reportedly “never felt the least uncomfortableness about the mouth.”

4. MEN’S CHINS ARE UGLY.

The author isn’t the only one who thinks so, either. He quoted a lecture given at the Government School of Practical Art, in which the speaker argued that men’s chins are designed to be covered because they’re unsightly, harsh, and angular, whereas women’s chins are “generally beautiful.” (The lecturer supported his argument by noting that "The bear, the rabbit, the cat, and the bird, are hideous to look upon when deprived of their hairy and feathery decorations: but the horse, the greyhound, and other animals so sparingly covered that the shape remains unaltered by the fur, are beautiful even in their naked forms.") This is especially true as men age and acquire more wrinkles, Gowing notes, adding that “there is scarcely indeed a more naturally disgusting object than a beardless old man (compared by the Turks to a ‘plucked pigeon’).”

5. BEARDS REGULATE ELECTRICITY?

While the author acknowledged that there has been little scientific research on the subject, he stressed that beards “serve as a non-conductor of heat and electricity” and help regulate “the electricity which is so intimately connected with the condition of the nerves.” Unfortunately, he didn’t elucidate this point, but he may have been confusing beard hairs with vibrissae, or animal whiskers. Unlike human facial hair, whiskers act as sensory organs that can give key information about the location, size, and texture of an object upon brushing against it based on movements of the vibrissae.

6. GROOMING IS FUN.

Speaking of our furry friends, combing and brushing the beard “confers a positively delightful sensation, similar to that which one may imagine a cat to experience,” Gowing notes. There may have been some purring involved in his description

7. SHAVING IS TERRIBLE.

Shaving your beard will irritate your face and cause the formation of “pimply eruptions," as well as a skin condition so irritating that Gowing likened it to “a foretaste of purgatory.” Indeed, our thick-bearded brothers suffer the most, “for the more efficient the natural protection is, the greater is also the folly of its removal.”

8. THE LADIES LOVE IT.

The author sets out to dispel the myth that women don’t like beards, arguing that women like everything considered “manly.” Even if they think it looks strange at first, they’ll eventually come around, Gowing said. He provided anecdotal evidence of the 18th century Swiss painter Liotard, whose wife was reportedly so dismayed when he shaved off his beard that she remarked, “And such a little perking chin, to kiss it seemed almost a sin!”

Amazon's Under-the-Radar Coupon Page Features Deals on Home Goods, Electronics, and Groceries

Stock Catalog, Flickr // CC BY 2.0
Stock Catalog, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

Now that Prime Day is over, and with Black Friday and Cyber Monday still a few weeks away, online deals may seem harder to come by. And while it can be a hassle to scour the internet for promo codes, buy-one-get-one deals, and flash sales, Amazon actually has an extensive coupon page you might not know about that features deals to look through every day.

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10 Fascinating Facts About Jack Kerouac

Jack Kerouac reading poetry.
Jack Kerouac reading poetry.
Phillip Harrington // Alamy Stock Photo

Around midnight one September evening in 1957, Jack Kerouac and his girlfriend, Joyce Glassman, went to the local newsstand. They were looking for the morning issue of The New York Times and its review of Kerouac’s new book, On the Road. There it was, on page 27: a rave review by critic Gilbert Millstein, who declared that “Its publication is a historical occasion.”

That one review changed Kerouac’s life, making him the most famous Beat Generation member and allowing him to publish numerous novels—many of which would draw from his own life.

1. Jack Kerouac’s childhood nickname was “Memory Babe.”

Jean-Louis Lebris de Kerouac was born on March 12, 1922 in Lowell, Massachusetts. His father, Leo, was an insurance salesman and later owned a print shop; his mother, Gabrielle, was a homemaker. French, not English, was his first language, and throughout his life, he felt a cultural estrangement as a French-speaker in the United States.

As a child, Kerouac had an astounding memory: He could accurately remember scenes and conversations from the past, which caused his friends to call him “Memory Babe.” He would use this talent in his novel The Town and the City to describe the typical New England family life. According to biographer Ann Charters, since his boyhood life wasn’t as idyllic as the story required, he combined elements of his own childhood alongside memories of his friends’ lives.

2. A friend inspired Jack Kerouac to be a writer.

After skipping the sixth grade, Kerouac attended Bartlett Junior High School, where he met Sebastian Sampas. The two shared a love of theater and literature and formed a deep friendship. Thanks to Sampas’s influence, Kerouac joined the school’s Scribbler’s Club. In his Lonesome Traveler, published in 1960, Kerouac wrote, “Decided to become a writer at age 17 under influence of Sebastian Sampas, local young poet who later died at Anzio beach head” in World War II. Kerouac married Sampas’s sister, Stella, in 1966.

3. Jack Kerouac’s poems were influenced by a Japanese poet.

Seventeenth-century Japanese poet Matsuo Bashō used Buddhist themes like nature, enlightenment, and the cycle of life, along with plain language, when writing haiku poems. Kerouac loved haiku, writing copious amounts of it and incorporating it into his novels—though he disregarded the syllable count many associate with the form, saying instead that “Pop———American (non-Japanese) Haikus” were “short 3-line poems, or ‘pomes,’ rhyming or non-rhyming, delineating ‘little Samadhis’ if possible, usually of a Buddhist connotation, aiming towards enlightenment.” A sample of his Bashō-inspired work:

In my medicine cabinet
the winter fly
Has died of old age

—Kerouac

As the author’s friend, Beat poet Allen Ginsberg, would say, “He’s the only one in the United States who knows how to write haiku… [he] talks that way, thinks that way.”

4. Jack Kerouac got married to escape jail.

In 1944, future Beat writer Lucien Carr murdered his friend David Kammerer. Carr claimed that Kammerer was gay and had been stalking him; Carr also said that Kammerer was continuously making advances at him, even though Carr turned him down. Carr claimed that, to protect himself, he had stabbed Kammerer to death with his Boy Scout knife. (This type of excuse for murder would later come to be known as the “gay panic defense.”) After filling Kammerer’s pockets with rocks, Carr dumped his body into the Hudson River. He then went to see his friends Jack Kerouac and William Burroughs; Carr said he and Kerouac went to a nearby park to dispose of the evidence. Later, Kerouac was arrested and jailed as a material witness to the crime.

Kerouac couldn’t post bail, so he asked his girlfriend, Edie Parker, to borrow the money from her parents. Edie, however, wouldn’t do it unless he promised to marry her, which he did. Kerouac also said they would move to Grosse Pointe, Michigan, where he’d get a job to repay the loan. On August 22, Kerouac married Edie Parker and was soon released. He made good on his promises, but their marriage would soon go downhill and was eventually annulled.

Kerouac later referenced Kammerer’s murder in his autobiographical novel Vanity of Duluoz, writing that he had told the character based on Kammerer where the character based on Carr was going on the night of the murder and had watched “him rush off to his death.”

5. Jack Kerouac didn’t take care of his daughter.

In late 1950, Kerouac married Joan Haverty, and in February 1952, Haverty gave birth to their daughter, Janet Michelle. But the couple separated before Janet was born, and Kerouac denied paternity, refusing to make child support payments.

6. Jack Kerouac and Gore Vidal slept together.

Author Gore Vidal first met Kerouac in 1949 at the Metropolitan Opera, but beyond a little flirting, nothing happened. That would change in 1953, when Kerouac and Vidal met again at New York City's San Remo Cafe. Kerouac had intended to introduce Vidal to Burroughs, but Kerouac flirted relentlessly with Vidal, and Burroughs eventually left. After that, according to Vidal, he and Kerouac went to the nearby Chelsea Hotel, where they had sex. Later, Kerouac would write a fictionalized account of the encounter in The Subterraneans: “[He] is a well-known and perfectly obvious homosexual of the first water, my roaring brain---we go to his suite in some hotel--I wake up in the morning on the couch, filled with the horrible recognition, ‘I didn’t go back to Mardou’s at all.’”

7. Alan Watts wasn’t a fan of Jack Kerouac’s interpretation of Buddhism.

Kerouac published his novel The Dharma Bums, which portrayed his fictional alter ego learning Buddhism, in 1958. Kerouac’s portrayal of Buddhism was popular among the youth of the day, but famous Zen teacher Alan Watts wasn’t a fan.

“Beat Zen is a complex phenomenon,” Watts wrote. “It ranges from a use of Zen for justifying sheer caprice in art, literature, and life to a very forceful social criticism and ‘digging of the universe’ such as one may find in the poetry of Ginsberg and Snyder, and, rather unevenly, in Kerouac. But, as I know it, it is always a shade too self-conscious, too subjective, and too strident to have the flavor of Zen.”

Watts would publish his famous written work, Beat Zen, Square Zen, and Zen to distinguish between formal Zen and the Beat’s style of Zen. To Watts, formal Zen was liberation from conventional thought, while the Beat’s style of Zen was simply a revolt against culture or social order.

8. Jack Kerouac has been accused of anti-Semitism.

When Kerouac sat down for an interview at New York’s Northport Public Library in 1964, he talked about a wide range of subjects, among them his friend Allen Ginsberg, religion, and race relations. He also discussed his views of Jewish people. According to Paul Maher in Kerouac: The Definitive Biography, the author had a theory “that the strife over civil rights for African Americans was initiated by an ‘invasion’ of Russian Jews into America.” Kerouac reportedly stated, “After they [Jewish people] had established themselves here, they then took the Negro out and flung him at America and hide behind his skirts so that we will forget about anti-Semitism because we’re worried about Negroes now.” These statements led to Kerouac being accused of anti-Semitism—which he vehemently denied.

9. Jack Kerouac liked to paint.

Writing wasn’t Kerouac’s only talent: The author was also an artist. He drew his first self-portrait when he was 9, and created vast amounts of artwork—working in everything from pencil to oils to watercolors—as an adult. Like the characters in his novels, Kerouac often based his artworks on people he met.

10. Jack Kerouac was an influence on Hunter S. Thompson.

As a 21-year-old, future Gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson did not have kind words for Kerouac or his work, writing in a letter that “The man is an ass, a mystic boob with intellectual myopia. The Dharma thing was quite as bad as The Subterraneans and they're both withered appendages to On The Road—which isn't even a novel in the first place.” A few years later, Thompson called Kerouac’s Big Sur a “stupid, sh**ty book.” But his opinion seemed to have mellowed with age: In 1994, he reportedly said he “never would have become a writer were it not for On the Road,” and acknowledged four years later that Kerouac “was a great influence on me.”