The thickness of the wood employed is, of course, partly to be accounted for by its nature; for it will not be necessary to inform any one who has, at any time, had much to do with the "working" of oak that, on account of the character of its growth and constitution, it lends itself far more satisfactorily to a heavy than to a lighter treatment; it is extremely hard, to a certain extent "brittle," and by no means "kind to the tool." In this fact we find, then, one explanation of the (to us) unseemly proportions of these old chairs, stools, and settles. But I am still inclined to the opinion that those proportions, their character, and enrichment, are to be considered as reflecting the temperaments of their owners.
"Jacobean." IX. Plate 16
Reference in Text. See pages 66, 67
Those were days of daring deeds; hard knocks were given and taken as a matter of course, and with equanimity; bluff good humour was looked for rather than refined courtesy; and a man who would be regarded in these days as a model of politeness and culture, would then have been put down as a "pimping jackanapes." (Were not the graces of the French continually ridiculed upon the stage in the plays of the Restoration?) The entrie to society was then accorded more to men who could hit the hardest and drink the deepest than to the possessor of university degrees, or to leading lights in art, science, or literature. It is not too much to assert, indeed, that the higher refinements of life were held in but small esteem, where they were not ignored altogether.
It is generally accepted as correct that the stage plays of any age are a reliable index of the manners and morals of the times when they were written; and, if we take those of Etherege, Wycherley, Congreve, Beaumont, Fletcher, and other dramatists of their day - to go no farther back - we shall see pretty clearly that the language, manners, and morals of these Jacobean times at their best were crude, while at their worst they were unutterably nasty.
As with folk, so with furniture. Can we picture one of the determined old "Ironsides," or, for the matter of that, swashbuckling Cavaliers, sitting down with any degree of comfort or fitness in a painted satinwood "Sheraton" chair, or "Heppelwhite" sofa? The very suggestion seems absurd, and jars terribly on our sense of consistency.
As we fail, therefore, to find refinement, or what we now look upon as refinement, in any great degree in the essentials of the daily life of the times whose domestic appointments we are studying, it is hardly reasonable to look for that quality in the material environment of that life. We will not, therefore, waste our time in so doing, but will make the best of that which is presented for our examination; and the "Jacobean" chair will furnish us with ample food for reflection.
The fact that, at the present day, the crafts of chair making and upholstering, and of cabinet making, are kept quite distinct, will be unknown, perhaps, to some of my readers; but there are many indications in the work before us which lead us to suppose that, in the days of "Good Queen Bess," and of her immediate successors, the one craftsman could, and did, turn out a chest, a cupboard, or a chair with equal facility, as occasion might require. The manufacture of chairs in those days did not, by any means, call for that high degree of technical training and efficiency which is demanded of the modern chair maker and upholsterer. The back, seat, and legs were made and put together in much the same fashion as the various parts of the old "carcase work," while upholstering was nil. As illustrative of this I will refer to one or two of the types shown in the last chapter - Figs. 3 and 5, Plate II.; Figs. 1 and 5, Plate III.; the high-backed chair, Plate IV.; and in this chapter to Figs. 1 and 2, Plate I.; Fig. 5, Plate II.; Figs. 1 and 3, Plate III.; and Fig. 4, Plate IV. Fig. 1, Plate I., which dates from late in the century, is a chair and table combined, the back being hinged to the arms and swinging over so as to form a table top, on the same principle as that illustrated in Fig. 6, Plate V. - also a late example.
The chair shown in Fig. 2 was probably made some time between 1650 and 1670, as also those in Fig. 5, Plate II.; Figs. 1 and 3, Plate III.; Fig. 2, Plate V.; and the arm-chair on Plate VII. It is quite impossible to say, however, with perfect exactitude, as we can only judge by the similarity of design, and be guided by a knowledge of the approximate period when such design predominated. My remarks upon the carved enrichment of the cabinet work apply equally to all cases where such ornamentation is to be found in chairs or other articles.
"Jacobean." X. Plate 17
Jacobean Chairs And Table, German Stool, And Early Queen-Anne Table - Reference in Text. See pages 66, 67
It was during the Jacobean era that the chair commenced to shake off some, at least, of its superfluous heaviness, and even show a slight suggestion of grace of form. Some chair maker, bolder than his fellows, had the temerity to discard the heavy, solid back, and put in its place a lighter frame; graceful turning was substituted for a superabundance of carving, and an attempt was even made towards the attainment of some measure of elegance. Thus it was that such types as Fig. 6, Plate I.; Fig. 2, Plate II.; Figs. 1, 3, and 5, Plate IV.; Fig. 6, Plate V.; Figs. 5, and 7, Plate VI.; Fig. 5, Plate I., in the chapter on "Elizabethan," and the rail-back chair on Plate IV. ("Elizabethan"), tound their way into the English home. Fig. 6, Plate I., which, owing to the presence of the acorn-like "drops" or pendants in the back, is sometimes styled the "Acorn Chair," and Fig. 5, Plate IV., with its "colonnade" in the back, gained a wide popularity in Lancashire, Yorkshire, and Cheshire, at the time of their introduction, though why they should be found there specially I am unable to state. Such, however, is the fact, and they have become known in some quarters as "Lancashire" and "Cheshire" chairs. In style they are, at all events, true "Jacobean," and date from about the time of the Protectorate, or perhaps somewhat later.
Figure 2, Plate II., shows a curious attempt to wed the "Jacobean" and "Flemish." The under part is, most unmistakably, in the latter style, the influence of which we see again, and even more markedly, in Fig. 5, Plate II., in the last chapter, and in Figs. 5 and 7, Plate VI., given here.