Vol. I, No. 4 pp. 246-248. August 1831.
To the Editor of the New Sporting Magazine.
AT the present moment, when archery is so universally adopted, both as a polite amusement, as well as a most desirable and effectual relaxation from sedentary pursuits, or intense application of any description, a brief notice of the art, as practised by our continental neighbours, will, I think, be peculiarly interesting, at least to the untravelled bowman. In the counties of York, Derby, Stafford, Lancaster, and Shropshire, where the use of the bow has never been discontinued from the period when it was in common use as a military weapon up to the present day, there are many who have probably never crossed the English channel, and who are wholly unconscious how much the people of Flanders exceed us at present, in the universality of the practice of archery, if not in individual skill.
The amusement of Popinjay shooting was well known both in England and Scotland till within a century and a half since. Originally it was practised with the bow, latterly, as the usage of archery declined in both countries, with fire arms. In Flanders, however, that and butt-shooting are the popular recreations of all ranks; prince, peer, bishop, artisan, equally delight in this noble and fascinating sport. Every town, and almost every village, from Ostend to the frontiers of Holland, bears ample testimony to the universal taste, by having lofty masts and butts erected for public accommodation. At the former of these, the traveller landing from the steamboat on a Sunday afternoon, is amused by the concourse of persons of every rank, exercising at the Popinjay erected on the bank of the principal canal there. A short distance from this, another party may be observed practising at a pair of capacious butts, under a sort of covered arcade, for valuable pieces of plate, watches, and trinkets, I believe three times in the year. The butts are here, as every where else in Flanders, formed of straw placed endways, pressed tightly together by a frame of wood, the surface being smoothly shaven. A method by the bye worth copying, and infinitely superior to either the English straw boss, or butts of earth. The marks in question had anno 1673 sculptured over them, thus establishing the antiquity of the custom.
In reference to the universal prevalence of archery in this country, I was much amused on approaching the city of Ghent, by observing a peasant who had just passed the town gate, unbending at the door of a cottage a magnificent yew bow, at least seven feet in length. He had evidently been contending for the prize with the townsmen. The occurrence was the more interesting to me as an archer, from the circumstance of the sport of archery being in England confined to that rank of persons denominated gentlemen. The fact of a peasant taking up the bow, being unknown at home; but the practice is at present in Flanders exactly in the state it was about the time of Henry VII., when the statute compelled "every husbandman and artizan to provide shooting gear for their labourers or apprentices, and to see them exercised in the use thereof, at the public butts, on Sundays and holidays, under the penalty of a fine of 6s. 8d. (a considerable sum at the period of which I speak). The mighte of the realme of England (as the preamble states) depending upon archerie."