STOOL, a low seat without back or arms. The stool is an ancient piece of furniture which came into use when the need began to be felt for a seat more easily portable than heavy settles and benches the chair was an appanage of rank and dignity to which no ordinary person dreamed of aspiring. Since it could also be used as a small table, it quickly became common. In the First Book of The Task William Cowper gives a sketch of the evolution of the stool which, for all its vapidity, is reasonably exact:
" Joint stools were then created, on three legs Upborn they stood. Three legs upholding firm A massy slab, in fashion square or round. ****** At length a generation more refined Improved the simple plan; made three legs four, Gave them a twisted form vermicular, And o'er the seat, with plenteous wadding stuff'd, Induc'd a splendid cover, green and blue, Yellow and red, of tap'stry richly wrought, And woven close, or needle-work sublime."
" Joint " or " joyned-stool " simply meant that the parts were joined or framed together with mortise and tenon. The wooden four-legged, square or oblong variety is often called a " coffin-stool." It may be perfectly true that it was used for supporting coffins, but that was merely one and a very occasional one of many uses, and the name is an entire misnomer. The round three-legged stool was a primitive construction, destitute of ornament and rudely, as well as heavily, made. By the middle of the 16th century stools had acquired four legs, braced together by stretchers, and the frame was often well carved. As the Renaissance impulse waned, forms relapsed into cumbrous and unadorned, and, so far as the oak stool of the yeoman and the farmer was concerned, little ornamentation was attempted after the middle of the 17th century. These seats continued to be made until about the end of that period until, indeed, the increasing cheapness of the chair and the growth of habits of comfort caused it to fall into disuse. Towards the end of the Stuart period the upholstered stool reached England from France. It was not entirely unknown at an earlier date, but what had been an occasional luxury then became a common plenishing of the houses of the rich. The legs and stretchers took the " twisted form vermicular " of which the poet speaks so far as their underframing was concerned these stools were, to all intents and purposes, chairs. Thenceforward, indeed, they followed very closely the fashions in seats with backs, acquiring the cabriole leg, the claw and ball or pad feet, the carved knees and other characteristics of chairs. The footstool is probably more ancient than the stool itself. The ducking-stool was a contrivance whereby scolding or drunken women could be ducked in a pond without danger. The stool of repentance was reserved, chiefly in Scotland, for the public penance of persons who had offended against morality. The " cutty-stool," which Jenny Geddes threw or, according to Dr Hill Burton, did not throw at the beginning of the riotous protests against Laud's Liturgy in St Giles's Church, Edinburgh, in 1637, was of the fald-stool variety. " Cutty " simply means short. A fald-stool was originally a folding stool used chiefly for ecclesiastical purposes. Eventually, while retaining the old name, it became rigid, and the designation has now been extended to a litany-desk. The camp-stool is immediately derived from the original form of the fald-stool. In France under the ancien regime, the stool, or tabouret, acquired a social and courtly significance of the first importance. The wives of princes, dukes, and a few of the highest dignitaries of the realm alone had the right to occupy a tabouret in the presence of the king, and ladies who became widows used every expedient of intrigue to retain a privilege which they regarded as the summit of earthly felicity. The prise du tabouret, when a lady first took possession of her seat, was an occasion of considerable ceremony.
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)