The Decline of the Genteel Beard
Once an Indication of Aristocracy, It Has Suffered in Democratization
The venerable and properly famous New England leaf will reach its teleological end this weekend as it matures into fully accredited autumnal foliage. Photographers, scientists, artists, and people will turn out en masse to view its many colored, translucent success.
Along the rural highways of Massachusetts, accordingly, paper placards have been posted by the state Department of Public Works. The "Leaf Tour" system--with its country signs like "Leaf Tour No. 6, 41 miles"--is very complex and elaborately worked out.
But we were surprised to find that, with so much attention given elsewhere to the advent of fall, that no apparent notice had been taken of some very respectable and highly pedigreed foliage in the Cambridge area. We spent most of Monday morning investigating, and we must report that neither the proud Department of Buildings and Grounds, nor the shining-haired City Council has mapped out a single local Leaf Tour.
And this Cambridge autumnal phenomenon--the lush full beard--has been suffering lately from the kind of neglect that springs from sowing a field too heavily with wheat. But we broached this subject once to a Student Council member, whose avocation is Marine Biology. He thought we were talking about freshwater shrimp, lectured us for some minutes in off-the-record fashion about the cusine at During Park, and concluded with a prepared statement about Council endorsement of private enterprise.
The During Park cuisine seemed off the track to us, but we had to admit that beards are matters of private enterprise. Perhaps too private for a "Beard Tour, 17 Blocks".
If the Tour scheme is not applicable, we cannot get away from the kinship between beards and autumn leaves First there is the matter of dryness. The pedigreed leaf is quite dry and usually somewhat curled around the edges. This curling is also a universal characteristic of beards, as is dryness. The two exceptions to the latter statement are those who follow the Old Teutonic custom of staining the beard with bits of food, and those too youthful to have the necessary manual dexterity. King Richard III was an example of this fully-haired baby, but his birth is the exception.
The Leaf and the Beard
Leaving out the beard-stainers, color still forms a link between the leaf and the beard. Sunlight induces the light coloration of leaves and exerts a similar bleaching influence on the chin-whiskers. Later, with the sun's recession in the fall, leaves and beards take on mottled appearance.
Enough for kinship. The real question is "Which came first" and "Who is copying who?" Snap judgement might give the tree seniority. But one must not overlook the fact that a strong line of "beard" ancestry is that of Commander Whitehead, who may have fallen on ignoble days, but whose blood, nonetheless, flows back through the history of England. And England, as everybody knows, traces its blood to the line of Danaus, whose daughters drifted onto that island many years ago. And Danaus, as most everybody knows, was one of the first inhabitants of that land now called Greece to set up with a family name. And Greek family names, as some people do not know, begin with Zeus. It seems hardly necessary to trace the ancestry of Zeus. There rests the case for the beard ancestry.
It is a sad fact, however, that this noble blood strain has not been able to maintain its pure position. The entrance of Commander Whitehead into commerce is only the most obvious example of internal difficulty. The Muse no longer smiles constantly on that house. D.H. Lawrence and Ezra Pound, proud members of the Line, have, brought credit, but showed signs of a weakening of the force which ran through Longfellow.
And external danger is almost as great. Tired members of the Line report that the forces of Phillistia, having been unable to conquer the line, have decided to join. It is perhaps this current "joining" which is most prominent at present.
A lion has a tail and a very fine tail,
And so has an elephant and so has a whale,
And so has a crocodile and so has a quail--
They've all got tails but me.
If I had sixpence I would buy one;
I'd say to the shopman, 'Let me try one.'
I'd say to the elephant 'This is my one.'
"You've all got tails like me!"
In this field--keeping the beard meaningful--the Council might legitimately take action, for, after all, the government protects the whooping crane, and the Holstein-Friesian Association of Brattleboro, Vt., protects the Holstein cow.