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Nine reasons Victorians thought men were better with beards

Let's not split hairs about it: the Victorians loved their whiskers. From the "hero beards" of the Crimean War (grown by necessity, kept for status) to the near-mandatory whiskers of many of the age's leading politicians and thinkers, beards were as important an accessory to Victorian men as their hats or pocket watches. As Free Thinking visits a new exhibition devoted to beards at the Florence Nightingale Museum, historian and Radio 3 New Generation Thinker Dr Alun Withey curates nine of the 19th century's most convincing arguments for facial fuzz.

1. “The beard that has never been cut is beautiful in all the stages of its growth. Look at it in the budding manhood of youth!”

The Crayon Magazine (1859)

Yup. That’s a mighty fine beard all right.

2. “A flowing beard may be a thing of beauty, but a fortnight’s stubble is not.”

Weekly Mail, 1891

Life is short. There is no time for stubble.

3. “As years multiply and judgment ripens the beard grows, and with it grows, or ought to grow, every man's title to respect.”

Charles Dickens, Why Shave? 1853. Photograph c.1895 © Sussex PhotoHistory

Like beards themselves, our respect for this gentleman will only grow with the passing years.

4. “I do most strenuously contend that the beard is a positive good… it affords naturally, what we are forced to supply artificially – warmth and protection to the throat.”

Alexander Rowland, The Human Hair, Popularly and Physiologically Considered, 1853. Image c.1890 © Sutcliffe Gallery

This beard is not only a powerful statement of masculinity. It’s also super toasty.

5. “A long beard contributes greatly to health… it preserves the teeth a long time from rotting, and strengthens the gums.”

16th-century physician Valerianus, quoted in St James Magazine, 1861. Image from 1895 reproduced courtesy of National Library of Congress

We can’t see those pearly whites, but by jingo you’d better believe they’re all present and correct.

6. “Whilst the beard keeps away nearly the whole of the dirt from the face, it does not prevent soap and water from penetrating beneath it.”

Xerxex, The Folly and Evil of Shaving, 1843

The only thing hiding under THIS beard is a cheeky twinkle.

7. “The beard betokens virility in the man and evinces more or less energy or courage in him in proportion to its thickness.”

Moustaches and Beards Prejudicial to their Wearers, 1851

Be honest. Have you ever seen a more virile, energetic or courageous beard?

8. “The beard was given to man by Nature: and it was surely intended that is should be worn, or it would never have been given.”

Curious Remarks on Beards, 1788 (not quite Victorian, but compelling nonetheless)

This beard couldn't NOT have existed. The moustache tips alone are dual arguments for the existence of a higher being.

9. “Sir, you can have no place in heaven without a beard! Therefore, I entreat you, let yours grow immediately!”

Parishioner to John Wesley, quoted in The Saturday Magazine, 1839. Image c. late 19th century © Alun Withey

Going straight to heaven. May, in fact, already be God.

Dr Alun Withey is a Wellcome Research Fellow at Exeter University and a Radio 3 New Generation Thinker. He appears on Free Thinking in a programme devoted to examining current and historical attitudes towards masculinity. Listen live or online for 30 days.