The Philosophy of Beards.

Thomas Gowing felt the mighty yet fragile English Beard to be threatened with extinction by an invasive foreign species, the Razor. So he set out to defend the furry face mammal in every conceivable way. The resulting lecture was received so enthusiastically by a bushy-faced audience in Ipswich that it was soon turned into The Philosophy of Beards (1854) — the first book entirely devoted to this subject.

It is Gowing’s ardent belief that the bearded are better looking, better morally and better historically than the shaven.


In the last section, Gowing gambols through the ancient and modern past, attaching a beard or lack thereof to thousands of years of heroism and cowardice, honour and deceit. Viewing history through the prism of the beard makes things nice and simple: “The bold Barons outbearded King John, and Magna Charta was the result,” … “Henry the 7th shaved himself and fleeced his people”. Napoleon I only allowed men in his empire to have an “imperial”, an upturned triangle of a beard, as a way of letting them know “that they were to have the smallest possible share in the empire”.


Finally, he dismisses as “a foul libel” the idea that ladies don’t fancy a beard. He declares, presumably without much survey data to hand, that “Ladies, by their very nature, like everything manly,” and cannot fail to be charmed by a fine flow of curling comeliness.”

You can read much more at The Public Domain Review, including the book itself. The book has also been recently republished by the British Library, for the first time since 1854. You’ll find a link at The Public Domain. I’d think the book would be a fine gift for anyone’s bearded friends and loved ones.

You might also be interested in Beards of Time:

Two photographs of the same unknown man, each taken at a different studio in Texas – Source: left and right.

Two photographs of the same unknown man, each taken at a different studio in Texas – Source: left and right.


  1. says

    Well, my beard is not too big, but it is a beard still. However I am not beard wearer because I think I look good, manly or some similar rationale, but purely because I dislike shaving.

    It never occred to me that growing a beard improved my morality..

  2. says

    I’m not a beard fan, but a dislike of shaving I understand, and it’s a more than acceptable reason for sporting a beard.

  3. jazzlet says

    Most of my menfolk are or have been bearded, and look better that way. I like beards, but proper ones, not just three day stubble. Big Bro #1 gets a gig as Father Christmas every year partly on the strength of his waist length white beard, and partly because he is very good with children. His is the most extensive beard, Mr Jazz tends to keep his trimmed as he thinks some of the people at his workplace would have problems with a long beard on top of long hair.

  4. Dunc says

    I’m one of those weirdos who has a full beard, but also shaves most days… I like to keep it looking neat. And yes, I have a copy of Jonathan Daniel Pryce’s “100 Beards 100 Days” book… Beards are great.

  5. johnson catman says

    I have not shaved my beard since about 1983. Like Charly, I dislike shaving. However, I do not like a bushy face. I trim mine with my Wahl and the half-inch snap-on guide about every other week. I also detest my mustache getting in my way of drinking something. I do not want to be sucking liquid from it, so I trim that above my lip when I trim my beard. I do shave my neck below where I like to keep my beard, but only about once a week for that. I do not have wolfman growth on my cheeks, so I don’t even have to shave there.
    I have been cutting my own hair for about that long too. The Wahl and the one-inch snap-on guide makes quick work of that. I can trim my hair and beard in less than 15 minutes. I have saved way more than enough over the years to pay for the professional Wahl many times over.

  6. johnson catman says

    Sorry if that sounded like a commercial for the brand of clipper that I use. I really like it, but that was not my intention.

  7. Dunc says

    I actually really enjoy shaving… But then I shave with a Dovo straight razor. Shaving with a cartridge razor is like eating McDonalds -- it kinda does the job, but it’s not really satisfying.

  8. Ice Swimmer says

    I’ll have to check these.

    I have a full beard (almost Billy or Dusty of ZZ Top length, but more narrow) because it’s easy (daily washing < shaving or trimming and and makes me more confident about my looks. I do trim my moustache every now and then so as not become a filter feeder.

  9. johnson catman says

    robertbaden @10:
    LOLOLOLOLOL!!!! My beard USED to have a lot of red in it even though my hair was brown. Now, I have a LOT of gray in my beard, but it matches my hair. I will not color it. I ran into a high school acquaintance a few years ago, and he had dyed his hair jet black but he forgot to dye his mustache. It had a lot of gray in it. He looked totally ridiculous.

  10. springa73 says

    It’s interesting that this was written in 1854, since that is almost exactly the time that beards and other facial hair began to be fashionable on men in the “western” world for the first time in almost 200 years. I’m not sure if this particular writing actually had much influence on people’s behavior or (more likely) it was reflecting a trend that was just getting started.

  11. Kreator says

    Many beardless men have fawned over how easy and quick it is for me to grow a thick beard. They have no idea how much I wish I could donate them that “gift.” Charly, I feel you.

  12. KG says

    Over the last few years, there has been a wave of beards om young men in the UK -- I don’t know if the same has happened elsewhere. The last time they were fashionable was the 1970s, which is when mine first grew*. So I only had to wait forty years or so to become fashionable again!

    *I didn’t “grow a beard” -- it grew all by itself, just like most of my scalp hair fell out by itself. The odd habit is surely not letting your beard grow, but scraping your face with a sharp piece of metal every day!

  13. Ice Swimmer says

    KG @ 14

    They seem to be in Finland as well and there’s now a sort of beard subculture, which I’m not a part of. One time, I think it was last year, in a public sauna there were this group of guys with neatly trimmed full beards talking about beard things (trimming, beard and moustache waxes, barbers and so on).

    I did ask the guys for advice on where to get a good beardcut, as a regular hairdresser would just whip out the buzzcut machine and ask: “Would you like to have a 5 mm or 10 mm cut?” They recommended the Dick Johnson barbershop (no joke, it exists and is a beard specialist) aka the Beard Doctor. I haven’t tried it yet, I’m in no hurry.

    What annoys me (more than it should) are people who ask how long did it take to grow the beard. Three weeks to get proper coverage of the face is the only number I could give. I’ve had a beard non-stop for nineteen years, full beard the last few years.

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