A biography of David Hume says

David Hume left the University of Edinburgh around 1733. Hume chose the job as a stool in a merchant's office in Bristol.

What is a stool?


Here's the reference to the biography in question.

The full sentence reads:

The careers open to a poor Scottish gentleman in those days were very few; and, as Hume's option lay between a travelling tutorship and a stool in a merchant's office, he chose the latter.

In this case a stool refers to "a single seat on legs or a pedestal and without arms or a back." link

A "stool" is not a job description, but a physical description of where he sat, in order to contrast it with the other option of a "travelling tutorship"

Your confusion is understandable, as, later in this book, there is a reference to a "Chair", which is a job title in academia.

In 1744, Hume's friends had endeavoured to procure his nomination to the Chair of "Ethics and pneumatic philosophy"...link

Which refers to Definition #3, here "a professorship."

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    +1 Brilliant. With the given context by the OP, it was pretty difficult to judge the position he held. The original text makes it clear. :) – Maulik V Jul 3 '18 at 6:35
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    The "confusion" between "stool" and "chair" is probably an intentional pun; as he wasn't able to obtain a chair, he needed to make do with a stool. – Guntram Blohm Jul 3 '18 at 9:36
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    stool there can be understood as a metonym for the job itself. And workers assigned to stools are low on the pecking order. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Jul 3 '18 at 12:02
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    @CBHPython Only insofar as both languages use their word for "chair" to indicate a professorship. As Guntram says, this is a pun in English about chair (sitting, and professorship) versus stool (only ever used in English to denote a backless chair). The German "Stuhl" is irrelevant to the passage. – Graham Jul 3 '18 at 17:17
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    @user5505 Except that there is no context which would suggest defecating in his office. The English have famously always enjoyed toilet humour, but there isn't any sense that it's being used here. – Graham Jul 3 '18 at 17:19

A picture may help 19th century Clerk’s Stool

19th century Clerk’s Stool

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Stool can also be used to describe a 'spy' or 'informer' in the enemy's camp, be it in politics or business.

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    Welcome to ELL! This is an accurate answer, but this meaning does not seem to be relevant in this case. – Nathan Tuggy Jul 9 '18 at 13:30
  • I think that Hume is neither a spy nor an informer. Anyway, it is a great supplement to the original answer. – user150248 Jul 10 '18 at 1:48

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