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The experience of a novice
by Henry Chadwick
From: Outing, Vol. XII, Issue 3, pp. 207-210.
June 1888.
Part 1 of 2

Image 1Do not propose to preface this chapter with any special remarks on the origin of archery, or to refer to what history relates of "ye anciente sporte." Suffice it to say that Archery, as now practised, is one of the most fashionable field pastimes of the English aristocracy. The memory of boyhood's days brings to one's mind the familiar nursery rhyme of "A was an archer who shot at a frog;" while later on in life memory's record recalls the valiant deeds of that hero of archer, Robin Hood, so romantically described in Sir Walter Scott's novel "Ivanhoe." In the ancient days archery was a warrior's occupation; now it is simply a healthy outdoor recreation for the leisure class of the community. As American society increases in all the attributes of wealth, we naturally begin to adopt those sports which seem to belong to people of wealth and leisure. Hence the rapid growth of late years of such fashionable outdoor sports as archery, cricket, lawn tennis, and kindred recreative field exercises.

Archery is an expensive pastime, not only in the outlay of time required for practice, but also in regard to the cost of the materials of the sport. The paraphernalia of an archer's complete outfit is financially costly, that is, if he desires to excel in the art and to become an expert, he must possess himself of the very best materials. For instance, a perfectly finished yew or snakewood bow of the best finish and most endurable quality, with its complement of a quiver of model lancewood arrows, will use up a fifty-dollar bill in a very destructive manner; and when the demand for three bows and three sets of arrows—one of each for long range shooting, one for short range and one for every-day practice—is satisfied, and the necessary accompanying appliances are added, the best portion of a hundred dollars will have been expended. Then there is one's archery club expenses, and these are no small item. In fact, archery is a field sport for people of means and leisure only, and it can therefore never attain to more than a certain and rather limited degree of popularity, and then only in the large and wealthy cities of the country.

Archery is an exercise advantageous to men of sedentary habits, and to the fair sex. It is certainly an excellent field sport for ladies, as it provides them with the very kind of exercise they are most in need of, and that is in giving active play to the arms and chest muscles. It is true that certain class exercises in calisthenic academies will develop the same muscles; but there is quite a difference between the mechanical work of the calisthenic movements and the pleasurable excitement incident to trials of skill on the archery field, with all its picturesque surroundings. In fact, in comparison, the one is work and the other is play, and any form of exercise which is not recreative in its character does not amount to much in a sanitary point of view.

Standing in front of the archery target thirty yards distant, and watching the movements of a practised archer as he grasps his bow, places an arrow in position, and then, with comparative ease, sends it flying into the centre of the "gold" of the target, the whole proceeding, with its final result, looks so simple, so easy of attainment, that a casual observer would be apt to think the sport rather too much of the nature of boy's-play for men to engage in it. But when the novice tries his hand at this apparently simple act, and realizes, by practical experiment, what difficulties beset him, and what a number of things he has to learn to do before he himself can shoot his arrow into any part of the target at all, still less the "gold" centre, his respect for the sport is very apt to increase in the ratio of the number of obstacles to success he encounters in his efforts to test its merits. "It looks so easy, you know." But it is not easy at all. On the contrary, it gives a man of brains something to reflect upon, something to study up and to analyze as to cause and effect; and with this naturally comes a hearty respect for the art, and also a love for the sport for the pleasurable excitement it yields. Any novice in archery will tell you what a thrill of pleasure he experiences when, after weeks of disappointing practice; of blunders in handling the bow and in "nocking" his arrows; of errors from getting into "bad form" in taking up his position to shoot, and, in fact, in practically realizing all the little shocks to one's amour propre which a novice is heir to—when, I say, after all this he strikes "good form," and sees his arrow enter the magic circle of the "gold," and that not by chance, but by the skill which his persevering mastery of the art yields, his exclamation is, "By Jove! you know, I did not think there was so much enjoyment in it." And this is the idea which every learner expresses when he has once passed the outer works of the citadel of archery. Well has the best American writer on archery expressed it in the title he gave his admirable treatise on the sport, "The Witchery of Archery."