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Home > Books > Badminton > Chapter I: Introductory
Chapter I
Introductory

IF all the sports and pastimes hitherto treated in this Library, hunting alone can lay claim to a greater antiquity than archery, while the devotees of one other, which has not yet been dealt with, can perhaps boast that it is still more widely practised --the pastime of dancing. For the love of dancing seems planted universally in the human breast, and the observations naturalists have proved that even birds occasionally indulge rhythmic steps and evolutions which can hardly be called by any other name. But neither dancing, nor hunting, nor any other sport has played a part in the history of the world which can compare with that of archery. For ages the bow was man's most efficient instrument in the chase, and for ages it was his most deadly weapon in war. Thousands of years ago the Hindu poets of the 'Rig Veda' (vi. 65) wrote this invocation to the bow: --

'May the bow bring us spoils and oxen, may the bow be victorious in the heat of the fight; the bow fills the foe with terrible fear, may the bow give us victory over the world.' [1]

What the bow then was to the Hindu race, it still remains to many tribes in remote parts of the earth where the blessings of civilisation have not yet fully penetrated. The bow dies hard, but its use as a military weapon is nearly ended. A few more years will see the out-of-the-way corners of the globe where it still flourishes furnished with cheap guns from Birmingham, and archery will then rank as a pastime only. But it is not possible to conceive a time when bows will no longer be made or arrows shot. Cricket bats, tennis rackets, and golf clubs will surely have become antiquarian lumber, stored in the museums of a remote future, before the swift flight of an arrow ceases to delight the human race.

In one considerable region of the earth only archery has never taken root, viz. the continent of Australia and its adjacent islands. With this exception, the history of archery is inter twined with the life of every great division of mankind. What forms of bows were used in bygone ages, and are still found in remote countries; what are the methods by which they were used. and what the skill and. power of the archers -- these are questions to which a. large part of this book is devoted. In dealing with some sports it was possible to allot nearly all the available space to the practical side of the subject. In the case of cricket, for example, little can be found of interest before the beginning of the eighteenth century, and it has but few followers save those of the English-speaking race. Cycling, again, or lawn-tennis is still more recent. In describing such pastimes as these, nearly all that is necessary is to give an account of the methods by which they are now followed, while to treat archery on that plan would involve the omission of matter which possesses an interest for everyone, and most of all for the English archer. For it is largely to the skill of our forefathers in the use of the bow that we owe our national existence.

The Bibliography by Colonel Walrond, at the end of this work, will show how plentiful are the materials which are at the disposal of the historian of archery. But, long as is this list of printed books and MSS. which deal more or less directly with the subject, it is necessarily incomplete. A bibliography of all the works which contain matter of interest to the archer would almost fill a volume. Archery entered so closely into the life of the ancients that references to it are common throughout classical literature. Again, the records of travellers constantly refer to the bows and arrows of the natives, and sometimes to their practice. These occasional references are of high value; but it would obviously be impossible to include in a bibliography of works professedly dealing with archery all the numerous books which merely contain incidental allusions to it. The written records, however, by no means constitute the entire sources from which we can gather information as to the shooting of other races than our own. Numerous representations of archers have come down to us from ancient times, of which examples may be found in the Assyrian and Persian sculptures, in the mural decorations of Egypt, and in the vases and coins of Greece. Moreover, archaeology has called our attention to numberless arrow-heads of stone, of bronze, and of iron, the manufacture of which as originated by races of which we have scarcely any other knowledge, and has continued uninterruptedly to the present day. In a few cases the actual bows and arrows of ancient peoples have come down to us. Even this list by no means exhausts the list of objects bearing closely on the subject. The study of anthropology has caused its devotees to gather together all objects which throw any light on the life of man. There are collections of such objects in the public museums of almost every large town, and also in many private houses collections now exist. Specimens of bows and arrows, quivers and arm-guards, from all parts of the world, are thus easily accessible to the student. A careful examination of all these sources of information would supply materials for a far more exhaustive treatise than the present. Indeed, the archer's craft as been practised for so long a period, and over so large a portion of the earth's surface, that it is impossible within the limits of a single volume to do more than glance at many subjects of high interest, while others are necessarily omitted altogether.

Numerous as are the references to archery in ancient literature, and great as is the assistance afforded by archaelogy, there are yet many points on which we are but poorly supplied, with the means of reconstructing the archery of the past. It is greatly to be regretted that the discovery of gunpowder so nearly coincided in point of time with the invention of printing. The gun and the printing press consequently grew up together, and the outburst of literature, called forth by the increased opportunities for its dissemination, came at a time when the supremacy of the bow as a weapon of war was already gone. Still we owe to the sixteenth century Ascham's immortal 'Toxophilus or the Schole of Shootinge,' which was first published in 1545, and has been constantly reprinted, the latest edition having been issued by Mr. Arber in 1868. This is, on the whole, the most valuable work ever published on the subject, and that as much for the practical instructions contained in it, many of which hold good to this day, as for the picture it gives of archery in the days of the Tudors. The ' Livre du Roy Modus ' was printed in 1486, and various other treatises on the subject were printed in the sixteenth century which are justly valued -- notably, 'Certain Discourses' and, 'Certain Instructions,' by Sir John Smythe, Knight; Matthew Sutcliffe's ' The practice proceedings and lawes of armes described,' and Humfrey Barwick's ' A breefe discourse concerning the force and effect of all manuall weapons of fire and the disability of the long bowe or archery, in respect of others of greater force now in use.' These four works discussed the relative value of the bow and firearms in war, Sir John Smythe stubbornly upholding the bow against 'the Mosquet, the Caliver,' and all other weapons which depended on the use of villanous saltpetre. He fought stoutly for a losing cause.

Valuable as these works are, it is matter for regret that none such exist, dating from the period when the archers of England were the terror of the Continent. What would we not give for a monograph on archery by the Black Prince, or one of his famous bowmen, or by one of the gallant band who routed the chivalry of France at Agincourt? Then we should have had actual knowledge of the distances to which these stalwart archers could shoot, of the penetration of their arrows, and the accuracy of their aim. Possibly we might even have received authentic first-hand information as to the doings of Robin Hood and his band of outlaws, whose feats are chronicled in that delightful cycle of ballads which nowadays are perhaps less read than they deserve. Whether or no Robin ever lived and hunted and robbed the rich and proud, and gave alms to the poor, beneath the oaks of Barnsdale and Sherwood Forest, will perhaps never be known. This much is certain, that the ballads which tell his story are uncommonly good reading. What more delightful glimpse of forest life can be found in English literature than the opening verses of 'Robin Hood and the Monk,' which is one of the oldest of the series:--

In somer when the shawes be sheyne
      And leves be large and longe
Hit is full merry in fair foreste
      To here the foulys song.
To see the dere draw to the dale
      And leve the hilles hee,
And shadow hem in the leves grene
      Under the grene wode tre.

Robin Hood is the subject of a large amount of literature, and this work is not the place to examine in detail the evidence as to his corporeal existence. He has been said by some to be merely an impersonation of the forces of nature --to be, in fact, a degraded form of the god of the wind, Hermes -- Woden. Maid Marian is Morgen the Dawn Maiden. Friar Tuck, good cheery soul, is Frer-Toki, the spirit of frost and snow. How strangely his character was misunderstood by the makers of the ballads! Those who wish to study this question may be referred to Mr. Hunter's tract on the subject.[2]

Mr. Hunter says that the lines in Langland's 'Vision of Piers Plowman,' written between 1355 and 1365, contain by far the earliest mention of Robin Hood's name: --

I can not perfitly my paternoster as the prest it sayeth,
Rut I can rymes of Robin Hode and Randolph Earl of Chester.

From this he infers that ballads of Robin Hood were well known in the reign of Edward III. He tells the story from the ballads of how the king in disguise seeks out Robin Hood in the forest; how there is a shooting contest, and how the king wins Robin's respect by the force of the buffet he gives him. The king then discloses himself and grants Robin his pardon on condition of leaving the greenwood and coming to Court in his service. Mr. Hunter identifies ' Edward our comely king' with Edward II. Many circumstances point to this conclusion, but strong evidence is afforded by the fact that Edward II. did make a progress through and Nottinghamshire in 1323. Further, strangely enough in the king's accounts for the year 1324 appears for the first time the payment of wages amongst the porters of the chamber to Robyn Hod and to Simon Hod. It seems, therefore, that there is no necessity for giving up belief in the existence of the famous outlaw.

Truly an archer who pursues his craft in the right spirit need be envious of no man. He has a hobby which will provide him with recreation and enjoyment the whole year through. In the dark and stormy days of winter, when the cricket bat is laid by, and the angler is longing for the balmy breezes of spring, when the trout will again rise, the archer will betake himself to his library, and the volumes of an archer's library are the doors to the most varied scenes and the most engaging company. If he is inclined for speculation, in a moment he is carried across the ages back to the days when the world was young, and finds himself engaged in stalking and shooting gigantic animals, long since extinct, in the company of Prehistoric Man. His mood changes, and in a moment he is sailing over the dark Mediterranean wave with Odysseus, and listening to the magic song of the great bow of Eurytus, which has been sung for us by a modern poet.

Keen and low
      Doth the arrow sing
The Song of the Bow,
      The sound of the string,
The shafts cry shrill;
      Let us forth again,
Let us feed our fill
      On the flesh of men.[3]

The bow sang only when a fight was near, and soon he will see how Antinous fell with an arrow in his throat as he lifted the wine-cup to his lips, and Eurymachus and Amphinomus and the other suitors quickly met their fate. Or he can take his stand at Thermopylae and fight once again the immortal battle which Leonidas fought against the myriad archers of Xerxes, or in the pages of Lepsius and of Layard he can be an eye-witness of the battles of the Pharaohs of Egypt or of the Assyrian kings. If he grows for a moment tired of the din of arms, he can swiftly annihilate time and space and watch the Andamanese peacefully shooting fish on the shores of their islands in the Indian Ocean, or enjoy a deer hunt with the Ainus of Sakhalin. Whatever scenes in the wide world he may wish to hear of, few indeed are there which he cannot visit in pursuit of further knowledge of his craft.

Some archers there are who have sufficient mechanical skill to employ the winter days in fashioning weapons for the coming season. These, indeed, are much to be envied, though the gift is rare. Still, an archer who prefers to trust to a self-yew by Aldred to one of home manufacture, may find plenty of occupation in executing many little repairs which are needed to keep his tackle in working order. Few of us have that confidence in our mastery of the bowyer's craft which was shown not long ago by a well-known archer at a meeting of the Grand National Archery Society. Finding, during the progress of the match, that his bow was too strong for him, he proceeded to pull out his knife, and then and there reduce it to a more manageable strength.

Of the delights of the quiet practice at the targets, when at last the winter is over, or of the keener joy of a well-contested public match, it is unnecessary to speak to archers, and it is hoped that some who are not yet archers may be led into the fold by reading the pages of this book. Certain it is that few of those who have shot the York Round in the peaceful grounds of the Royal Toxophilite Society, or on one of the many beautiful ranges to be found attached to stately halls and quiet country parsonages throughout the length and breadth of England, regret the day when first they became slaves of the bow.

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