Poets Ranked by Beard Weight is a classic of Edwardian esoterica, a privately printed leaflet offered by subscription to the informed man of fashion and as a divertissement au courant for reading bins and cocktail tables of parlor cars and libraries and smoking lounges of gentlemen’s clubs.
Typifying a once-popular, but nowadays seldom-encountered species of turn-of-the-century ephemera, Poets Ranked by Beard Weight has become a rarity much prized by bibliophiles, and one that still stands out as a particular curiosity among the many colorful curiosities of the period. Its author, one Upton Uxbridge Underwood (1881 â€“ 1937), was a deipnosophist, clubman, and literary miscellanist with a special interest in tonsorial subjects. His masterpiece, The Language of the Beard, an epicurean treat confected for the delectation of fellow bon vivants, vaunts the premise that the texture, contours, and growth patterns of a man’s beard indicate personality traits, aptitudes, and strengths and weaknesses of character. A spade beard, according to Underwood’s theories, may denote audacity and resolution, for example, while a forked, finely-downed beard signifies creativity and the gift of intuition, a bushy beard suggests generosity, and so on. Moreover, in keeping with the tenets of such sister systems as palmistry, numerology, and phrenology, Underwood posits the power of the ancient art of pogonomancy, or divination by beard reading, to forsee future events. Not only does Underwood credit this doctrine with all but infallible accuracy in assessing behavioral tendencies, he insists on its irrefutable validity for purposes of prophecy and prediction and for unerring analyses of fortune and fate. Perhaps this will seem somewhat less far-fetched when one considers that, only two centuries ago, wigs designated social hierarchy, and comprised specific, unmistakable markers of caste, occupation, and position.
That “exalted dignity, that certain solemnity of mien,” lent by an imposing beard, “regardless of passing vogues and sartorial vagaries,” says Underwood, is invariably attributable to the presence of an obscure principle known as the odylic force, a mysterious product of “the hidden laws of nature.” The odylic, or od, force is conveyed through the human organism by means of “nervous fluid” which invests the beard of a noble poet with noetic emanations and ensheathes it in an ectoplasmic aura. This, according to Underwood, is the same force which facilitates the divinatory faculty and affords occult insight into matters of travel, voyages and accidents. More importantly, magnetic waves sparked by the od force give off a radiation whose “wattage” can be calibrated in angstroms of net effect. These waves generate electrical essences which register on special laboratory equipment developed by Underwood and a team of researchers. Testing is conducted in a relaxed setting free from any sense of restriction or cramped confinement. It is imperative that the testing environment be stringently controlled. Static voltage in the atmosphere is minimized by fitting the sitter with a lead apron and resting the pogonic efflorescence on a sterile porcelain tray where it is immobilized during the procedure. The beard must be devoid of wax and other impurities lest it foul the sensitive testing equipment and give a fraudulent reading. Underwood’s Pogonometric Index, plotted by means of numerical values designating “poetic gravity” and relative “beard weights,” yields readings ranging from zero to a positive value of sixty. The normal range for the average individual is ten to twenty-four. For exceptional individuals, it can run to a value of forty and above.
10 Very very weak
18 Very weak
26 Fairly weak
34 Somewhat heavy
50 Very heavy
58 Very very heavy
Edwin Markham (1852 â€“ 1940)
Beard type: Box
Typical opus: The Man With the Hoe
Gravity (UPI rating): 39
Sidney Lanier (1842 â€“ 1881)
Beard type: Spade
Typical opus: The Song of the Chattahoochee
Gravity (UPI rating): 41
John Burroughs (1837 â€“ 1921)
Beard type: Claus-esque
Typical opus: Waiting
Gravity (UPI rating): 43
William Ernest Henley (1849 â€“ 1903)
Beard type: Spatulate Imperial
Typical opus: Invictus
Gravity (UPI rating): 47
Joaquin Miller (1837 â€“ 1913)
Beard type: Mock Forked Elongated
Typical opus: Kit Carson’s Ride
Gravity (UPI rating): 51
Samuel Morse (1791 â€“ 1872)
Beard type: Garibaldi Elongated
Typical opus: What Hath God Wrought
Gravity (UPI rating): 58
As will be noted, Underwood awards the highest ranking to Samuel F. B. Morse, laconic linguist and perfecter of the practical telegraph, whose name will be forever linked with that ingenious system of stripped-down prosody masterfully devised for conveying writing over distances by means of a wire which enabled him to transmit from Washington to Baltimore the immortal message: “What hath God wrought.” In conferring the prize upon Morse, Underwood cites both the prominence of his whiskerage and the pre-eminence of his poetic gravity ratio, and recalls the little-known circumstances of Morse’s poignant demise: “…as the eminent inventor-poet lay on his deathbed huskily breathing his last, and dusk and death’s shadow competed to cast their palls over the hushed, but crowded room, vigil-keepers gasped as a sparrow descended from a nearby wire, lit at the windowsill, and began to tap rapidly with its tiny beak.” Perhaps the bewildering bird was only attracted by the nest-worthiness of Morse’s monolithic mass of whiskers. But, instead of flitting to nestle in the cottony tufts of the moribund seer’s chin-fringe, the sparrow, according to astonished onlookers, tapped on the sill in perfect telegraphic code “â€¦that nurtureth speech from silenceâ€¦,” at the precise moment the old sage expired. The testimony of the numerous sober witnesses to this incident is a matter of historical record.
Originally posted @ Journey Around My Skull by Gilbert Alter-Gilbert. Click the link to read the unabridged version of this post.