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.


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.”


“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.


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.”


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’).”


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.


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


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.”


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!”

7 Surprising Facts About The Giving Tree

Harper Children's
Harper Children's

Some readers remember The Giving Tree as a sweet picture book about the strength of unconditional love. To others, it was a heartbreaking tale that messed them up during story time. No matter your interpretation of the story, The Giving Tree is a children’s classic that helped make Shel Silverstein a household name—even if it took him a while to get there.

1. Multiple publishers rejected The Giving Tree.

Shel Silverstein had only sold one children’s book—Lafcadio: The Lion Who Shot Back—when he went about finding a publisher for The Giving Tree. The book’s somber themes made it a hard sell. One editor at Simon & Schuster described it as “too sad” for kids and “too simple” for adults, while another editor called the titular tree “sick” and “neurotic.” Other publishers were moved by the story, which follows the relationship between a boy and a tree over the course of his lifetime, but ultimately felt it was too risky for the genre. After four years of searching for a publisher, Silverstein finally found a home for the book at Harper Children’s, when editor Ursula Nordstrom recognized its potential.

2. The Giving Tree was a surprise success.

The Giving Tree received a small release in 1964 with just 5000 to 7500 copies printed for the first edition. Though its publisher clearly underestimated its potential popularity, it didn’t take long for the book to explode into a modern classic. It quickly became one of the most successful children’s books of the era and made Silverstein an important figure in the industry. Today, nearly 55 years after it was first published, The Giving Tree has sold more than 10 million copies worldwide.

3. There are various interpretations of the relationship at the center of the story—not all of them positive.

The Giving Tree centers on the relationship between a tree and a boy throughout the stages of his life—from his childhood to his elderly years. In each stage, the tree provides the boy with whatever he needs, ultimately giving him a stump to sit on when the tree has nothing else to give. Positive interpretations of this story paint it as a parable of unconditional love: When it first hit shelves, The Giving Tree was a hit with Protestant ministers, who applied Christian themes to the book. But according to some critics, the book depicts an abusive relationship, with the tree literally allowing herself to be destroyed to keep the perpetually dissatisfied boy happy while receiving nothing in return. Other interpretations compare the relationship between the tree and the boy to those between a mother and child, two aging friends, and Mother Nature and humanity.

4. The author’s photo is infamous.

The author’s photograph on the back of The Giving Tree—depicting a bearded, bald-headed Silverstein glaring at the camera—has gained a reputation of its own. A Chicago Tribune writer called it “demonic” while a writer for NJ.com pointed out his “jagged menacing teeth.” In the children’s book Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Last Straw, there’s an entire passage where the main character’s dad uses Silverstein's photo to terrorize his son into staying in bed.

5. The Giving Tree isn’t Shel Silverstein’s favorite work.

The Giving Tree may be among Silverstein's most successful and recognizable works, but when asked what his favorite pieces of his writing were in a 1975 Publisher’s Weekly interview, he left it off the list. “I like Uncle Shelby's ABZ, A Giraffe and a Half, and Lafcadio, The Lion Who Shot Back—I think I like that one the most," the author said. But that doesn’t mean he isn’t proud of the book that helped launch his career. On the book’s popularity, he said "What I do is good ... I wouldn't let it out if I didn't think it was."

6. Silverstein dedicated The Giving Tree to an ex-girlfriend.

The Giving Tree’s short dedication, “For Nicky,” is meant for an old girlfriend of the children’s book author.

7. Silverstein hated happy endings.

In case The Giving Tree doesn’t make it clear enough, Silverstein stated in an 1978 interview that he detests happy endings. He told The New York Times Book Review that he believed cheery conclusions “create an alienation” in young readers. He explained his stance further, saying "The child asks why I don't have this happiness thing you're telling me about, and comes to think when his joy stops that he has failed, that it won't come back." The Giving Tree features what is perhaps Silverstein’s best-known sad ending, if not one of the most infamous endings in children’s literature.

The Star Wars Archives: 1977-1983 Is the Coffee Table Book Every Fan Needs


Think you already know everything there is to know about Star Wars? Think again. The Star Wars Archives: 1977-1983 is a sweeping ode to George Lucas's original trilogy, and it contains plenty of new insights to delight—and surprise—the film series' biggest fans.

Film historian Paul Duncan's monstrous, 600-page, 13-pound hardcover book from TASCHEN features interviews with George Lucas, Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, and Carrie Fisher, plus plenty of facts about the original films: Episode IV: A New Hope, Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back, and Episode VI: Return of the Jedi.

Expect to see plenty of concept art, storyboards, script pages, posters, on-set photos, and anecdotes about how this sprawling space opera came to fruition. Duncan, a self-proclaimed Star Wars mega-fan, spent three days interviewing Lucas for the book. After doing a year’s worth of research, he knew plenty about the who, what, when, and where of the film franchise—but the one lingering question was why it was made.

“I wanted to know what George’s experience was in making the movies. I wanted to be like a little little bird on his shoulder, a little porg on his shoulder, watching him and listening to him as he’s making the movies,” Duncan told StarWars.com. “So that was my ideal, and once I’d realized that, it then became a matter of focusing the text and the images and how I present the book in order to show that story."

The contents page from The Star Wars Archives: 1977–1983

The result is an oral history with never-before-seen media and insight into the Star Wars universe. Right off the bat, after the contents page, there’s a sketch of what would become the legendary opening crawl: “The Star Wars” in block letters are shown against a starry night sky. “Fade in—A vast sea of stars—roll titles, bottom to top,” a handwritten note beneath it reads.

At a cost of $200 (or $157 on Amazon), this book doesn’t come cheap. But for the ultimate Star Wars fan, it's undoubtedly a worthwhile investment.