Word on the street and on Dr. Alun Withey's blog is that Victorians may have started wearing beards as a health mania. Which would make all those magnificent beards of yore the sociological equivalent of a gluten-free diet. Still, I suppose that as long as the end result is dudes wearing beards the inspiration is not important.
By 1850...doctors were beginning to encourage men to wear beards as a means of warding off illness. As Oldstone-Moore points out, the Victorian obsession with air quality saw the beard promoted as a sort of filter. A thick beard, it was reasoned, would capture the impurities before they could get inside the body. Others saw it as a means of relaxing the throat, especially for those whose work involved public speaking. Some doctors were even recommending that men grew beards to avoid sore throats. Clergymen who shaved, according to one correspondent in the Hampshire Advertiser in 1861, invited all sorts of ‘thoracic and pectoral woes’!The Smithsonian Mag blog posted about this, and included the "of course" addition that having a beard increases health risks. Doofuses. (People don't get infections from air quality issues.) There are many health benefits to having a beard!