March 13, 2012
Which writer had the greatest beard?
by Paul Oliver
The Telegraph is running a slideshow of the twelve greatest author beards. While most of the beards on their list are remarkable, we were a little miffed that some of the truly great bearded wordsmiths were left off. Certainly any of the following beards should oust Salman Rushdie from the list.
How could they not? How could we not? Herman Melville codified 25 different styles of beard and was a tremendous beard evangelist. The thought of shaving his beard left him in quite a state, as evidenced in this passage from “White Jacket”:
“This beard has been caressed by the snow-white hand of the lovely Tomasita of Tombez—the Castilian belle of all lower Peru. Think of that, barber! I have worn it as an officer on the quarter-deck of a Peruvian man-of-war. I have sported it at brilliant fandangoes in Lima. I have been alow and aloft with it at sea. Yea, barber! it has streamed like an Admiral’s pennant at the mast-head of this same gallant frigate, the Neversink! Oh! barber, barber! it stabs me to the heart.”
Frederick Douglas is perhaps the greatest social reformer in U.S. history. His autobiography exists as a defining example of the form.
And he sported a beard that must have left Abraham Lincoln in fits of jealousy.
Renes Descartes is considered by many to be “the father of modern philosophy” and his work in the field of mathematics served foundational roles in the scientific revolution.
But one look at that portrait and you have wonder if “Passions of the Soul” was not originally intended to be titled “Passions of the Soul Patch” instead.
Count Leo Tolstoy made The Telegraph’s list of beards. Fyodor Dostoyevsky did not. This should tell you something about the paper’s tastes.
Clearly they prefer the patrician heresiarch style more than the crazed mystic brand of religious Russian novelist beards.
Speaking of mad seers, Allen Ginsberg’s tangled chaos is perhaps one of the most recognizable beards of the 20th century. The balding top surrounded by a veritable wilderness of hair was nearly as brilliant a statement as “Howl.”
The most influential per-Raphealite artist, designer, publisher and architect of modern fantasy fiction was also a tireless social reformer and socialist.
One look at that beard however, and you’re thinking more about Viking chieftains or Hunnish warlords than G.B. Shaw.
Really? You left Ernest Hemingway off a list of author beards? Look at that thing…
Is there a more documented beard in history? How many sculptures, paintings, drawings and etchings can one beard be put on before it can get a little slideshow recognition?
Objectively speaking, the forked, willowy beard of the great Chinese philosopher is the coolest author beard in history. It has to say that somewhere in “The Analects.”
Paul Oliver is the marketing manager of Melville House. Previously he was co-owner of Wolfgang Books in Philadelphia.