Philosophical Dictionary, by Voltaire


Certain naturalists assure us that the secretion which produces the beard is the same as that which perpetuates mankind. An entire hemisphere testifies against this fraternal union. The Americans, of whatever country, color, or stature they may be, have neither beards on their chins, nor any hair on their bodies, except their eyebrows and the hair of their heads. I have legal attestations of official men who have lived, conversed, and combated with thirty nations of South America, and they attest that they have never seen a hair on their bodies; and they laugh, as they well may, at writers who, copying one another, say that the Americans are only without hair because they pull it out with pincers; as if Christopher Columbus, Fernando Cortes, and the other adventurers had loaded themselves with the little tweezers with which our ladies remove their superfluous hairs, and had distributed them in all the countries of America.

I believed for a long time that the Esquimaux were excepted from the general laws of the new world; but I am assured that they are as free from hair as the others. However, they have children in Chile, Peru, and Canada, as well as in our bearded continent. There is, then, a specific difference between these bipeds and ourselves, in the same way as their lions, which are divested of the mane, and in other respects differ from the lions of Africa.

It is to be remarked that the Orientals have never varied in their consideration for the beard. Marriage among them has always existed, and that period is still the epoch of life from which they no longer shave the beard. The long dress and the beard impose respect. The Westerns have always been changing the fashion of the chin. Mustaches were worn under Louis XIV. towards the year 1672. Under Louis XIII. a little pointed beard prevailed. In the time of Henry IV. it was square. Charles V., Julius II., and Francis I. restored the large beard to honor in their courts, which had been a long time in fashion. Gownsmen, through gravity and respect for the customs of their fathers, shaved themselves; while the courtiers, in doublets and little mantles, wore their beards as long as they could. When a king in those days sent a lawyer as an ambassador, his comrades would laugh at him if he suffered his beard to grow, besides mocking him in the chamber of accounts or of requests. — But quite enough upon beards.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01