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Archery in Flanders
Shooting at the Popinjay.
By Toxoph.
Part 2 of 2

The place, however, where this delightful pastime is carried to the greatest perfection, is Brussels, the capital, where a society exists of very ancient date, called the Archers of St. Sebastian,[1] and which contains among its archives the names of many of the old stadtholders, bishops, and principal clergy, who, in Flanders, appear to have been as devoted to shooting, as old Izaac Walton asserts those of his day in England were to angling. This society still retains a barbarous practice not unknown here, about half a century ago, under the appellation of shooting at the goose, the target being a live bird of that species, slung by means of strings in a flying position. The arrow which terminates the poor animal's misery, by shooting it through the head, bears the prize.

On the Sunday after my arrival at Brussels, I strolled along the banks of the canal towards what is called the Port de Lachen, leading to a country seat of that name, belonging to the Prince of Orange. Here I observed a tall mast erected; about fifty yards in height, on the top of which, by means of a slight iron rod, which passed through a hole in the centre of the mark, was fixed a wooden bird about the size of a house-sparrow, haying extended wings formed of tin. At a small distance from the immediate scene of action, a number of elegant equipages, English and foreign, were drawn up; in one of these, surrounded by his handsome, interesting family, sat the chief magistrate of Brussels, master of the revels, and dispenser of prizes to the successful candidates. The evening was beautifully serene, the meadows, on each side of the canal, clothed with the richest herbage, or waving with the ripening harvest, and the transparent waters of the magnificent canal, reflected the whole scene as in a mirror, while the unruffled state of the atmosphere was peculiarly propitious to the arrow's flight. The archers were clothed in dark green uniform, wearing stout hats of wicker-work to protect their heads from the arrows in their descent. The bowmen were about seventy, consisting of an indiscriminate mixture of gentlemen, burgeoise, and peasantry, each bearing a bow considerably above his own height, and strong in proportion to the length, averaging perhaps seventy pounds each. They were generally of yew, backed and unbacked. The arrows were proportionably long, of that sort called in England bolts, having broad flat heads of horn. Both bows and arrows were of the best description, the latter exquisitely proportioned, and excessively well feathered with Turkey and peacock plumes, elegantly barred and coloured. At length the signal was given, and the contest began. Each archer advanced singly and successively to the foot of the mast, and drawing his long arrow until the broad head rested on the handle of the bow, delivered it at the mark. The individual who opened the sports, was a stout thick set peasant of about fifty, or "by our Lady inclining to three score." He carried in his hand a weapon that might have honoured Strongbow himself; it appeared to be formed of East India teak wood, a material of which many of the cheap Flemish bows are manufactured. His arrow (for each archer carries but one) was nearly half the length of the bow. He advanced to the usual spot, and after fixing his eyes intently on the diminutive object at the top of the mast, slowly drew his bow, the arrow flew upwards with the rapidity of lightening, but striking the iron rod on which the Popinjay was fixed, within less than three inches of the mark, it flew in shivers, and fell into the canal: he rejoined the group evidently much chagrined. The second adventurer was a handsome and genteel youth of about eighteen; he delivered his arrow with an easy gracefulness, the Popinjay flew from its position, and fell down the cord to which it was attached. The mark was easily replaced without the necessity of ascending the mast. The third shot, and lodged his arrow among a portion of the tackle attached to the top of the pole. A fourth, apparently his brother, stepped quickly out, and with great dexterity, instead of aiming at the bird, shot at the lost arrow, and, at the first attempt, struck it high into the air, both descending together. The merry group continued their amusement with varied success, till the approach of evening, when, after a short prefatory speech, the different prizes were delivered to the conquerors, and I returned to my hotel highly pleased with the exhibition of which I had been a spectator.

    I am, sir,
Your very obedient servant,