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Home > Books > Book of archery > Section II: Juvenile Bowmen (continued)
Section II
Juvenile Bowmen (continued)
Part 1 of 7

    Scholar. What handling is proper to the instruments?
    Toxophilus. Standing, nocking, drawing, holding, and loosing, whereby cometh fai shooting, which belongeth neither to wind nor weather; for in a rain, and at no mark, man may shoot a fair shot,
    Scholar. What handling belongeth to a mark?
     Toxophilus. To mark his standing, to shoot compass, to draw ever more alike, to loose ever more alike, to consider the posture of the mark in hills and dales, in straight and winding places. -- Ascham.

AND now, boys, having shown that our ancestors of every rank and profession practiced archery, regarding it as an important branch of manly education, I will next teach you to become their rivals in dexterity. Provide a good bow, of any wood[1] you most fancy, alla of a weight proportioned to your age and strength. Now the mode by which bowyers determine the relative powers of bows is this; having braced them, they either use a steelyard, or rest the handle upon some ledge., and suspend weights from the exact centre of the string, until the bend is sufficient to allow of an arrow standing between wood and string. They mark each just above the handle, according to the number of pounds necessary to accomplish this, and call it a fifty, sixty, or one hundred pound bow. The custom is of comparatively recent introduction among us, being borrowed from the Chinese, who manufacture bows of four different powers. The weakest draw seventy pounds; the others being of eighty, ninety, and one hundred. Beyond the latter weight they are used for show merely, or by persons of extraordinary muscular power Tchien Lung, emperoro Of China at the time of Lord Macartney's embassy, had the reputation of being an expert bowman, and inferior only in drawing this weapon to his grandfather Caung Shee, who boasts, in his last will, that he drew one of 150 pounds. The price paid by the emperor for an ordinary bow is a tact, 5s. 3d. of our money.

But to return. Get, also, half a dozen shafts of the proper length; some spare strings belt, bracer, alla shooting gloves. Examine diligently the manlier in which the string is attached to the upper and lower horns, that you may be able to put one on yourself when occasion requires. Remember that it is fixed to the lower and shortest horn by a peculiar knot or running noose, which seamen call a "timber hitch," because used in landing large beams of wood; and the tighter it is drawn the more secure it becomes.

A few minutes' inspection of your first bow will teach all this; so it is unnecessary to attempt an explanation here. I will just mention that, after forming tire eye through which the string plays, you must make three turns at least, to secure it from slipping. Ascham says the same, and gives an important reason why you should attend to his caution. The opposite end of the bowstring, being already formed into a loop by the manufacturer, requires no preparation.

I would have my young archer as much distinguished for the trim neatness of his equipments as for dexterous shooting. Attention to this "fitness of things" conveys a pleasing impression to the spectator's mind; on the other hand nothing more disparages an archer than its neglect. Instead, then, of coming to the target ground, as I have seen many of your seniors do, with unpolished bow, and the string's lower end untwisted, ragged, and streaming "like meteor in the troubled air," the centre unwhipped, frayed by friction of the bracer, and putting the bow in jeopardy at every shot[2]; do you take the trouble to entwine the upper and lower noose with fine kid leather, either white, red, or green. After making the two or three turns recommended above, cut off all that remains except about a couple of inches, which may be secured by a whipping of crimson silk: the centre also will require your attention. Brace the bow, in order to ascertain how much of the string meets the sleeve, after an arrow has been shot. Closely wrap this with crimson silk, slightly rubbed with shoemaker's wax. The space of two hands' breadth will be sufficient, and about one quarter of an inch of the exact middle of this whipping must be again overlayed with silk of a light colour, to mark tile nocking point. Lastly, secure the string from being drawn downwards when tire bow is taken from its ease, or when unstrung, by looping it to the upper horn by a piece of green riband, secured with a handsome bowknot. About once in a fortnight pass some white wax twice or thrice from end to end. It serves to keep the fibres down, and was an ancient practice.

And, as before, they stretched their well-waxed strings
At the French horse that cometh with the wind.[3]

Good taste is as perceptible in trifles as in matters of greater moment, and such will ever be the arrangement of the bow in the hands of those gifted with it. The proper distance between wood and string in a braced bow, being determined by the distance from an arrow's nock to the top of its feathers, is called a shaftment, an ancient archery measure of six inches The rude peasants ascertained this by the ready characteristic expedient of resting their clenched hand, with the thumb erect, inside the bow handle. If the thumb nail reached the string, or nearly so, all was right; otherwise they altered it accordingly. In bracing very long bows an additional inch may be allowed. Having thus put his tackle in the best possible order for use, I will now proceed to instruct my little archer how to


Grasp the handle firmly with your left hand, the back of tile bow being, of course, outwards. Place the bottom horn against the hollow of the left foot, turned a little inwards to secure it from slipping. Then press the thumb and forefinger closely against the sides of the bow, beneath the upper noose, and, while you pull smartly at the handle, force the string upwards towards its proper place ; the operation is perfectly easy, and will become familiar enough when practised half a dozen times. Do not remove your fingers until, by turning the [loose repeatedly to the right and left, you ascertain that it is secure within the horn, and also that it lies exactly in the centre of the bow. Inattention to the former of these hints might cause you to receive an uncomfortable slap in the face from its recoil: and, if the string is allowed to remain awry, it will probably east, or warp, and consequently spoil the bow. Look to this occasionally whilst shooting; particularly if you brace and unbrace the bow, at those times a very judicious custom. In England such has been the manner of stringing a bow for the last century and a hall: It is one of the archer 's most graceful positions, but applicable only to bows of a certain strength. Anciently they found it difficult so to brace the tall sturdy weapons brought into the battle field. Some, laying the end of the bow upon the ground, alla pressing the knee or foot upon its belly, forced the other end upwards with the left hand, while they slipped the string into its place with the right. In Ingham church there is a very remarkable painting of two foresters hunting in a wood, habited in

The coat and hove of green,

exactly as Chaucer describes his woodsman, in tile Canterbury Tales. One of them carries his ready strung bow in an easy, graceful position; the other is in the act of bracing his. This he does by holding it perpendicularly, with the inner side turned toward his body, and, whilst pressing his knee against the centre, he forces the string into the upper nock by the exertion of both hands.

The manner in which the Orientals bend their bows, though altogether different from our own, is equally picturesque.[4]

There are certain wild tribes in Hindostan who manage this business after a fashion very different from any of the foregoing. With them, as with many other savages, the feet per. form the duties of a second pair of hands, for they sometimes even direct the arrow between their toes.

When one of these Indians wishes to string his bow, he lies upon his back on the ground, and grasps the extremities with either hand. Then pressing the middle against the soles of his feet, elevated into the air for that purpose, he bends the bow, whilst a companion fixes on the string.

There is something very characteristic of savage indolence in this, unless indeed the bow proves too powerful to be managed otherwise. Then, indeed, I conceive we might adopt the hint with advantage. The modern English archer, who finds a bow difficult to brace, employs another person to draw down the upper horn with his forefinger, while he exerts himself to force the string upwards in the usual manner. But this should be performed discreetly; for, unless your assistant keeps his finger low upon the nock, chance to split and tear away the horn. With this caution I conclude the archer's first drill.

The preceding lessons may be practiced as effectually in the drawing-room as elsewhere. Let us now adjourn to the

Smoothly shaven lawn,

where, gay and glistening, our targets repose beneath the giant limbs of tall ancestral trees. Shaded by this verdant skreen, both the archer and his marks will escape the fierce glare of a noontide sun. The dazzling splendour of a summer's day? is very unfavourable to shooting.[5] Our old English bowmen took special care to secure themselves, if possible, from this diadvantage. At the battle of Cressy, very soon after the signal to engage was given, a partial shower fell on that portion of the plain where the French army was drawn up. At the same instant, a sudden gleam of sunshine burst forth behind the English, and its beams, besides dazzling the eyes of' the enemy, flashed upon their polished shields and corslets with a lustre so brilliant that our archers discharged their first flight of arrows with more than usual certainty of aim. W ind and weather likewise exercise a certain influence to aid or mar a well directed shot. Let not the reader, however, give implicit credence on this point to Ascham, who pushes 0A remarks even to the verge of folly. A calm, clear, balmy evening, with little or no air stirring, in those months, too, when every zephyr comes loaded with the perfume of the hay-field, is ever most propitious to the archer's sport. But an exact description of such an one has ever been the poet 's darling theme see, therefore, how a master hand cloth set it forth:---

Clear had the day been from the dawn,
     All checkered was the sky;
Thin clouds like scraps of cobweb lawn,
     Veil'd heaven's most glorious eye.
The wind had no more strength than this,
     As leisurely it blew,
To make one leaf the next to kiss
     That closely by it grew.

For shooting in boisterous weather a comparatively heavy arrow does best. Ascham says so; Shakspeare likewise, whose illustration, for obvious reasons, we will adopt. When the king is devising the ruin of Hamlet's popularity with the multitude, he grows mistrustful of his weak and shallow calumnies, fearing they might recoil upon himself. The manner in which he puts this, is as true of archery as of morals.

          --So that my shafts,
Too lightly timbered for so loud a wind,
Should have reverted to my bow again,
And not where I had aimed them.

Every person accustomed to this exercise has probably remarked his own superior shooting between sunset and twilight, in comparison with any previous portion of the day. The atmosphere seems to have then acquired additional clearness: by an optical illusion the surface of the target appears enlarged, and its colours more vivid and distinct.

String up your bow! turn the left foot a little more inwards;--steady--so. Now, draw stoutly at the handle, pressing the ball of your thumb close upon the back. All's well. Just glance along tile string, that there be no twist at either horn, and then away to the target, where you shall learn how an archer


the first step in Ascham's celebrated "five points." The bowman, who turns his front towards the object aimed at, as when discharging a fowling-piece, will assuredly never touch it, except by mere accident. The side only is to be presented to the target, with which your eyes will be brought exactly parallel,-- remember to keep both wide open,-- by turning the face over the left shoulder, until your chin rests just above it. Don't stand bolt upright; but incline the head and neck slightly forward; a position which not only brings your bow and shaft-hand in a line with each other, but affords a more distinct view of the gold; for in the target ground and only there-- seem as much influenced by the "auri sacra fames" "as though you were among the most ardent and devoted of Mammon's wretched slaves.

I have here described the mode of standing familiar to our old British bowmen. All representations of archers, which occur in illuminated manuscripts of the 13th, 14th, and 15th centuries,--and I have examined some scores of them,--identify the ancient with the modern practice. The pen and ink drawings of John de Rous a bowman as well as contemporary biographer of that Earl of Warwick who, during the wars of the red and white Roses, was the setter up and destroyer of many kings, will furnish amusement and information to the curious. The necessary slight inclination of the head anti neck--"this laying of the body in the bow," the drawing with two and with three fingers--are there correctly delineated. They may be found among the MSS. in tile British Museum.

When preparing to draw, the archer should plant his feet upon the ground, so that the body's weight may bear equally firmly upon both. His heels ought to be about six or eight inches apart, and anciently the left foot was a little in advance of the right. The grace, confidence, and strength, which adorn every position of this exercise, are very aptly described in the following quaint lines by a poet of the sixteenth century:--

How is it that our London hath laid downe
This worthy practice, which was once the crowne
Of all her pastime, when her Robin flood
Had wont each year, when May did clothe the wood
With lustie greene, to leade his younge men out
Whose brave demeanour, ofte when they did shoote,
Invited royall princes from their courts
Into the wilde woods to beholde their sports
I Who thought it then a manlie sight and trim,
To see a youth of clean compacted limb,
Who with a comely grace, in his left hand
Holding his bow, did take his steadfast stand
Setting his left foot somewhat forth before,
His arrow with his right hand nocking sure,
Not stooping, nor yet standing straight upright,
Then with his left hand little 'bove his sight,
Stretching his arm out, with an easy strength,
To draw an arrow of a yard in length.
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