"Albert Cuyper" by Rembrandt, 1632
Throughout history, the "Battle of the Beard" has been fought and has produced some "hair-raising" experiences!
If Santa Claus had been a resident of eighteenth century Russia, he would have had to pay a tariff on his beard or shave it off. Peter the Great, who ruled Russia at that time, decided his people would look more civilized without facial hair. So he ordered the removal of beards from all the officials at his court and, since the government needed extra money, he also imposed a tax on the beards of his other subjects.
Some Russians were so upset at the prospect of losing their beards, that they departed the country. Others, who could afford neither to leave nor pay the tax, shaved their faces but kept their beards in special boxes because they were afraid that they would not be recognized at the gates of heaven without hair to adorn their faces. So, when these men died, their beards were buried with their bodies.
Alexander the Great
Shaving was not very common until the days of Alexander the Great, who ordered the removal of his soldiers' beards. This was to prevent their enemies from grabbing them by the beard in the midst of battle. The ancient Romans shaved regularly until one of their emperors grew a beard to hide a wart and some battle scars on his chin. Suddenly, beards began sprouting all over the place, as everyone wanted to conform to the new fashion.
During the Middle Ages facial hair was out of style again, but even the most fashionable men did not shave more than once every four or five days. By the seventeenth century, however, men not only grew their beards long but they also starched, curled, dyed and perfumed them. At night, a special case was worn over the beard so it would keep its shape.
Louis XIII, King of France
By 1900, fashions had changed once more and the only men left with beards were artists, professors and those who did not feel it was important to conform to the rest of society. Until the middle of this century, people were apt to discriminate against a bearded man. Even when beards were in fashion once more in the 1960's, a teacher at John Muir High School in California was fired for refusing to shave off his beard. He took his case to court and pointed out that John Muir (after whom the high school was named) was a beard wearer, too. He lost the case.
Another beard wearer who suffered from discrimination was Joseph Palmer (1788-1875) who spent a year in prison because of his beard. He lived in Fitchburg, Massachusetts at a time when every American man shaved regularly. When he walked around the village, people jeered at him or threw stones because of his beard. One day a group of men surrounded him announcing that they had decided to get rid of the beard. When they flourished the razor, some soap and an enormous pair of scissors, Joseph Palmer began to fight so violently that he (plus his beard) was arrested for assault and thrown in prison. While there, he smuggled out letters to the local newspapers causing so much trouble, that the sheriff decided it would be easier to release him. When he died, these words were engraved on his tombstone:
"Persecuted for Wearing the Beard."
Portrait of a Bearded Man
A man who lived in Austria in the sixteenth century had an even worse problem with his beard, which was over eight feet long. One day he tripped over it, fell down a flight of stairs and died.
Although beards create problems for some people, others say they are beneficial. Doctors used to suggest that men who suffered from sore throats should grow beards to protect their necks and faces from the cold. A study of stonecutters, who work in a very dusty atmosphere, showed that those who have beards hardly ever get the lung diseases which are common among men in this occupation.
A French admiral found his beard was beneficial, too -- he used it to hold toothpicks. And many years ago a minister arranged his beard in little braids which he pushed to one side of his face, and as he came to each new point in his sermon, he pushed one more braid across his chin.
Though beards are usually associated with the male sex, nature sometimes makes mistakes. For years, one of the attractions at the circus was the bearded lady. Many of these were fakes -- they were just ordinary women wearing false beards. But some were genuine -- usually they had a gland disorder or they came from an extremely hairy family.
"I could produce a better beard than that."
Naturally they did not believe her, but her husband said that she certainly could. The customers took bets and Clementine stopped shaving. In a few days a thick crop of whiskers adorned the chin of Clementine Delait. They grew into a long, flowing beard which made her famous throughout France. Thousands of people came to see her and she earned a good income by selling photographs of herself.
Now that scientists know more about what causes this condition, there are few bearded ladies left. About fifty years ago one doctor said that, because women had started to compete with men, their body chemistry would change and they would soon start sprouting beards. We now know that he was wrong -- growing a beard is one of the few things left that most women cannot do.
1. In ancient times, almost every man wore a beard because shaving was ____
2. People discriminated against bearded men until ________
3. The author of the story ________________
4. Fashions in facial hair ______
5. The author of this story would most likely have found the following magazine article helpful: ____________________
6. A doctor found that a bearded man _________________
7. A French admiral used his beard to hold _____
8. Many bearded ladies were ______
9. Another name for this selection could be ________________
10. This selection is mainly about ___________________
Using his cell phone, Ricky Coates takes a picture every day for a year of his
beard development. He made a Youtube video of his beard growing adventure.