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Home > Books > Badminton > Chapter XXI: Ladies' Archery
Chapter XXI
Ladies' Archery
By Alice B. Legh
Part 1 of 2

ARCHERY? Oh, that's something to do with bows and arrows, isn't it? I have seen people playing with them, trying to hit a target thing; easy enough, but they are very stupid at it!' Such remarks as the above are sometimes heard, but needless to say, it is only the uninitiated who talk thus. We archers know that it is no child's play trying to hit the target thing. It is the very difficulty of hitting that round target with its bright and open countenance that makes archery so engrossing. It stands there, sixty or fifty yards from us, seemingly quite stationary; but the nasty way it has of dodging one's arrows must be experienced to be understood. However, the bump of destruction is so largely developed in true archers that they persevere in their efforts to damage it; it appears to mock them, and its large gold eye is the part they most desire to spoil. Learned and competent students of archery will tell you, better than I can, of its history from earliest times to the present day, How the women of Persia enjoyed shooting in their private gardens: how an Eastern monarch of the seventeenth century had a bodyguard of a hundred women who accompanied him to the battlefield as well as the chase; and of royal ladies of England who were provided with the necessary implements, and no doubt used them. Men have shot with bows and arrows in all ages, but they were not commonly used by ladies till comparatively modern times. I believe that all thanks are due to the Royal British Bowmen for introducing archery as an amusement suitable for ladies, and they took to it very kindly; no doubt, delighted to have. something to relieve the monotony of the daily round of needlework, harpsichord, and still-room mysteries. Cannot you imagine what trouble arose in consequence? how some of the strait-laced old ladies looked on, or perhaps turned away their heads that they should not look on, at the innovation, bemoaning the spirit of independence that was abroad amongst the maidens of the day, and their unladylike behaviour; how they. called it the thin end of the wedge. And them think if those good old ladies could Only see how far the wedge has now been driven in-maids and matrons taking part in nearly all the manly sports and pastimes of the day. Nevertheless, archery has advantages over many amusements which render it specially suitable for ladies. No hurried movements or violent exertion, no ungraceful attitudes or contortions, are necessary; it need never he anything but quiet, graceful, and ladylike. And also there is no restriction as to age; young, middle-aged, and old can all shoot in some form or other if they have bows suited to their strength. For delicate or growing girls it is a most healthy exercise, taking them out into the fresh air; they must hold themselves upright, and their chests are expanded in drawing up. It is a gentle and elegant amusement for young ladies, and most suitable to the matron who feels it undignified to take part in some outdoor games and yet is quite young enough to enjoy them.

Even quite old ladies can shoot, and shoot well too. In fact, as long as yon possess one eye, two arms, a fair number of fingers, and one leg to stand upon, you can shoot; and though your infirmities may prevent you from becoming very proficient, still you can always shoot enough for your own enjoyment, and it must be delightful to feel that you can still be an archer, though the pleasures of tennis, golf, &c., may long since have been over for you.

One of the great charms of archery is its independence; you are not obliged to get three or four friends to come and make up a set, as in tennis; you can go out and shoot a round or so, with or without a companion. Some prefer to have a friend with whom they can chat as they walk from target to target, and so enliven what is thought to be one of the drawbacks of archery, viz. having to walk to the other end after shooting only three arrows.

They find they shoot better when they can compare their score with someone else's, and it is more exciting to shoot a match than to do the round as a constitutional. Others do not feel the need of a companion, the pleasure for them lies in the fact that they can shoot alone; no one to disturb them with laments or notes of exclamation. If they shoot badly, it only affects. themselves. As they go from end. to end they can think their own thoughts and go their own pace; and there is something very soothing in taking your pleasure as you like it. I do not think shooting always by yourself is conducive to making a good score; you are apt to become careless, or to contract some bad habit which a companion would detect and warn you of But I think that those who shoot by themselves, and enjoy it, derive more pleasure from their archery than those who are dependent upon having someone with them. What a boon their bows and arrows arc to many living in quiet country places, with no near neighbours! They get their exercise and the fresh air, with a little excitement thrown in; If they are interrupted for a time, they can continue their round from where they stopped, and perhaps do alt the better for the rest.

Another point in favour of archery is that a dead level is. not absolutely necessary for your range, though I dare say many will not agree with me here. The range must be plenty long enough, some few yards over sixty or fifty, as the case may be; but, in my opinion, a perfect ground for ordinary practising spoils you for others that may not be as good as your own. Do we not notice this at the public meetings? At home, some people have good and well-kept ranges, and if the ground at a public meeting is not equally good, they arc completely thrown out and miss arrow after arrow, because the unevenness, or the rise and fall of the ground between the ends, puzzles them. It is far easier to shoot on a level range after an uneven one than the other way about; and archery might become more popular if people would only be content with a moderately good, or even a bad, range, and make the best of it.

As I have said, it is the difficulties of archery which make it so interesting to true archers; but they repel many too. People sometimes try it because it looks so easy; they think a straight eye is everything. They are perhaps very much in earnest, and when fully equipped feel Robin Hoods; but when some learned friend gives them their first real lesson, the enthusiasm is decidedly damped-so many things not to be done, so much attention needed, so many things to be remembered. I have heard it said that there are thirty-five points to bear in mind, from the time you take your arrow from your quiver till you let it fly; but this is rather a strain on the average archer, and beginners had better learn a few practical rules till they follow them by habit, and then other rules and hints can be given.

A great point gained is to have good teaching at first. Always correct a fault at once. If you find you are drawing up carelessly and uncomfortably, or that you are straining your muscles, lower your bow and draw up again; it requires great patience to do this often, but what is worth doing at all is worth doing well, so do not give up because of the difficulties. It is not in the least necessary to contort your body till your anatomy appears to be all wrong;; do everything as naturally and easily as possible. Roger Ascham says:--

Standyng, nockyng, drawyng, holdyng, lowsying, done as they shoulde be done, make fayre shootynge. The fyste poynte is when: a man shoulde shore, to take suche footing and standyng as shall he both cumlye to the eye and profytable to hys use, settyng hys countenaunce and al the other partes of hys bodye after suche a behauiour and porte, that bothe al hys strengthe may be employed to hys owne moost aduantage, and hys shoot made and handled to other mens pleasure and delyte.

Keep your body at a right angle to the targets, quite upright, your head erect and turned towards the target you intend to aim at. Hold your bow firmly with your left hand, keeping your left arm almost straight; pull up with your right hand till the arrow is drawn up to the pile, ending with your hand pressed against your jaw, on the right of your face. Never alter the position of this hand, whatever the distance you are shooting at. When you have your arrow drawn up and your right hand in its proper place, then take aim by moving your left up or down, right or left, and, having found your point of aim, let off the bowstring sharply and yet smoothly from your. fingers, and keep your position, viz. left arm raised and right band against the face till the arrow has reached its destination --which, I hope, will be the target you aimed at: It takes many words to describe the process of drawing up, but the deed takes a very few seconds, and it is 'a thing more pleasaunte to behoulde when it is done, than easie to be taught howe it shoulde be done.'

A great secret is to be very quiet and rather deliberate in all your movements; never hurry, never pull up by jerks; do not talk or move your feet--it will spoil your shooting. Equally fatal is it to be very slow; you tire yourself your bow, and occasionally your friends. You can also do yourself harm by too much devotion; some people make a rule of practising every day; and shoot two and three rounds in a day, and then wonder how it is that they. do not improve; whereas they are really overshooting, weakening their arms and their bows, and having too much of a good thing.

When you thoroughly understand how you should hold yourself while drawing up, it wilt be found a great help to practise before a looking glass with or without an arrow in your bow. Stand before the glass and pull up carefully, over and over again; see that you are in' the right position, and note exactly what it feels like. If you practise in this way till you are quite at home with your bow, taking aim will be comparatively easy. Most people agree that a good style is absolutely necessary if you intend to shoot really well. Archers with a bad style may make some occasional very good scores, or even take a good place for a few seasons, but they cannot be depended upon for lasting.

A few words as to costume. I know many lady archers will differ from me on this point. People who take up some outdoor amusement in earnest often think it necessary to adopt a loose and easy sort of dress, not always becoming. Archery is an outdoor amusement, hut you need not have your dresses made specially loose or anything out of the common. Of course, flowing ribbons, clouds of lace, and befrilled fronts get in the way; but it is quite possible to shoot well in a fashionably cut, good-fitting dress. Make love to your dressmaker, and explain to her that you particularly wish to be able to raise your arms, bend them, and also to turn your head; and she must be a tyrant indeed if she will not allow you so much freedom! Archery gives you good opportunities for showing off your dress if you wish to, and I think everyone should be. careful how they dress at a public meeting. There is no chance of hiding yourself; you must cross the ground, and stand out to shoot in your turn, so that your costume has every chance of being criticised. I was once showing a new outdoor game to a lady who had daughters; she showed her appreciation of it by the remark: 'My dear, how nice! Why the girls could wear their best dresses, at it!, This is exactly what one can do at archery. Anyone looking on at the 'Tox' on the Ladies' Day will notice that the ladies all take pains to do honour to their hosts by paying attention to their toilettes, and still very good scores are frequently made on that day. This ought to be some proof to us lady archers that good dressing and good shooting go very well together. On a wet day it is certainly difficult to keep up appearances; waterproof cloaks are not becoming, and we can never quite decide whether we will put our mackintosh on ourselves or devote it to keeping our precious bow and arrows dry. And, apart from the cloaks, there is a damp and dejected air about archers on one of those days when the rain is not heavy enough to drive us in altogether, and yet enough to make us feel decidedly uncomfortable.

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