An Wilson’s Charles Darwin: Victorian Mythmaker was published on 7th September.
The book is brilliant on Darwin’s great badger of a beard – the height of mid-19th century fashion. ‘Whiskers, which had been sprouting from English male cheeks since the 1840s, crept round during the Crimean War (1854-6) to cover the chin,’ Wilson writes, ‘The difficulty of obtaining shaving soap and razors – and the even greater difficulty of shaving in the wintry blizzards above Sevastopol – led to a relaxation of military discipline.’
Before the war, only eccentrics, madmen and labourers wore beards. After, a beard meant you were a war hero. Cue the mighty beards of Trollope, Tennyson, Ruskin and Lord Salisbury.
Funnily enough, the recent hipster popularity of the beard has been attributed to glamorous army officers returning from Afghanistan, where they were encouraged to grow beards to fraternise with the locals.