Just where does William Poole stand on the issue of beards?

Beards! I am vexed by them. Once in the academe they used to be signs, witting or unwitting, of bearishness, beeryness, boffinacity, or a tactical decision to hide an even worse asset. Now an invasion of witless hipsters among the students is diluting the brand: what used to mark out the individual is now a sign of herdish pusillanimity.

The beards I tugged used to be accompanied by barrel chests and bad clothes, or hollow chests and high trousers, or complementary baldness. Now the sculpted beard hangs over a tight shirt buttoned up to a tieless collar, and that simpers atop trousers that cling and taper down to effete ankles, subtended by chaussures quite orientally diminished.

These isosceles triangles wobble about on their two-plimsolled vertices, patent insults to the glorious beards of yore. They drink coffee and craft beer, probably together. I bet they do English as a subject. If I had a beard I’d go about Oxford with a cigarette lighter, burning off these insults to the pogonocracy.

Of late I have become academically interested in beards. This is because of Julian the Apostate, that ill-fated Roman emperor who tried to erase state Christianity, restore the pagan gods, and found several civic scholarships in music. He is my hero in the first and third of these ideals, and I carry a bronze coin of the Apostate in my back pocket at all times to keep me clear-headed in my hatred of priestcraft and my love of music.

Julian came to my attention recently because a learned friend pointed out to me an astonishing bibliographical fact – namely that the frontispiece of one of the most famous of English books, the Eikon Basilike of 1649, purportedly the spiritual diary and prayers of the executed Charles I, bore a quotation in Greek from the emperor Julian. The quotation turns out to be from Julian’s most peculiar literary work, called the Misopogon, or ‘Beard-Hater’.

In the year 362 Julian travelled east to the great city of Antioch, where he found the predominantly Christian populace obsessed with plays, horseracing, and a peculiar erotic dance called the cordax – and not with worshipping the pagan gods. Emperor and subjects fell out, the Antiochenes wrote rude poems on Julian, and he huffed out of the city, on his way to attack the Persians. Unfortunately the Persians killed him.

I became most interested in the ‘Beard-Hater’. Julian’s work is an upside-down encomium: being a pagan and not a Christian, he insisted on sporting a huge beard, in the manner of a pagan philosopher. No hipster beard his: Julian’s growth, its owner boasted, contained lice. You can see it today on his coins. Thus Julian, incensed at the Antiochenes, chose to attack his beard on their behalf. His tirade against his joyous chin-fellow was of course transparently ironic, and the resultant speech is a deeply unstable, deeply fascinating piece of self-justification.

Come on, you useless unpoetic hipster hapless dull-eyed twit-faced stereotyped student wastrels of mine: either shave those dribbling fountains of your pathetic unoriginality right off, or write your own ‘Beard-Hater’ back.