Courtesy Of Herman Melville’s White Jacket
Evidently Herman Melville was feeling creatively ambitious (even more so than usual) when writing White Jacket. In just two particular chapters of this 1850 novel, chronicling his fourteen months of naval service aboard the frigate USS United States, Melville utilizes twenty-five different expressions for the various beard styles (or lack thereof) that tend to occur after months away at sea. Let’s just see if we can make heads or tails of Melville’s (sometimes literally) colorful facial hair references.
The Crop: presumably a short, modest beard, something akin to the Billy Mays.
Suburbs of the Chin: gives way to a sense of sprawling, loosely bunched whiskers, like houses in a row.
Homeward-bounders: possibly indicative of a beard growing outwards, in the much awaited direction of home.
Fly-brushes: perhaps a loose collection of small tufts, each one small enough to be the painting utensil of a fly.
Long, trailing moss hanging from the bough of some aged oak: sounds like a diplomatic way to describe an old, hairy curmudgeon.
Love-curls: uncomfortably evoking the thought of what might today be called face pubes.
Winnebago Locks: not entirely sure, but most likely referring to the native tribe of Nebraska and not the recreational vehicle.
Carroty Bunches: might allude to a red beard clumped into sea worn dreadlocks with pointed ends.
Rebellious Bristles: just think of what you look like immediately upon awaking in the morning (i.e., bed beard).
Redundant Mops: presumably some kind of beard that Melville felt was simply more than enough.
Yellow Bamboos: (see carroty bunches) likely a blonde dreadlocked beard, possibly cut blunt at the ends.
Long Whiskers: might be used to differentiate lengthy portions of the moustache region in particular.
Thrice-noble Beards: beards more noble than twice-noble, yet less so than four-times-noble, obviously.
Plantations of Hair: as if being grown with the intention of mass production, and with the servitude of unwilling labor.
Whiskerandoes: regal men in possession of extravagant growths of facial hair.
Nodding Harvests: indicating beards grown with purpose, but only applicable when one is in an agreeable mood.
Viny Locks: long and relatively straight beard hairs that hang low and may be susceptible to infestation.
The Fleece: probably in reference to the mythical Golden Fleece, implying authority and kingship, and likely, though not necessarily, blonde.
Fine Tassels: soft, thin whiskers that, when braided or tied together, resemble an aiguillette.
Goatees: similar to a conventional chin beard, but plural.
Imperials: most commonly observed in the form of long, parted moustaches, and occasionally curled up at the ends.
Sacred Things: we like to think all beards are Sacred Things, but Melville may have been inciting the image of especially graceful growths.
Admiral’s Pennant: envision a triangular or conical beard, tapering off to a commanding, yet gentlemanly point.
Manhood: perhaps in Melville’s day this term elicited thought of that found above, rather than below the belt.
Muzzle-lashings: evidently referring to large pieces of rope used to secure guns to ships, which sounds like a pretty tough beard, indeed.
As you can see, Melville must have crossed quite a number of diverse beards over the course of his travels with the USS United States. He may have been quite a wordsmith, but, even so, his ambition may have gotten the best of him as he neared his twenty-fifth expression for a unique beard style. We defer indictment, but instead offer praise for his determination and appreciation for the phenomenal diversity and glory of all beards!