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Home > Books > Book of archery > Section I: Juvenile Bowmen
Section I
Juvenile Bowmen
Part 6 of 6

From this and many similar passages, which occur in old books, it would appear that the class of "lazy, lozel, roystering monks," of whom Tuck, Robin Hood's celebrated confessor, may be considered a type, abounded in England from the Conquest to the Reformation. Indeed it could hardly be otherwise. However unfitted for the sacred office, the cowl was the most obvious resource of the junior branches of our ancient country gentlemen. "Younger sons," they were, "of younger brothers" whom the feudal system, in most eases, left entirely destitute. They could not dig, and were ashamed to beg. As Englishmen, an ardent love of field-sports was inherent in their nature: even with their mother's milk, they imbibed a taste for those manly exercises which constitute nearly the sole occupation of a martial age.

The Curtall friar of Fountain's Abbey,
    Well can a good bowe draw,
He'll beat you and your yeomen,
    Set them all on a row,

says Scadlocke to his master, Robin Hood. The earliest recorded incident in the life of the famous Thomas a Becket, archbishop of Canterbury, is his being put in the stocks for getting drunk, and fighting with his quarter-staff at a village fair. In the records of the exchequer,[63] we find Savory, a clerk, that is, a friar, fined and imprisoned for wresting a bow out of the hands of one of the royal foresters. Whilst going his rounds, he convicted him of "stable stand;" or in the act of shooting at the king's deer. The burley friar forthwith threatened his captor with the vengeance of the church. Too ignorant to understand, or too cunning to believe, the man insisted on bringing him before the lord warden; whereupon his holiness showed fight, disarmed the keeper, and belaboured him stoutly with his own bow. [64]

A prior of Winchester, in the reign of King John, appears to have been more deeply read in the "Booke of St. Alban's" than in his breviary. The most renowned chase in England was near at hand, where many "a stag of ten" fell beneath his arrows. At length these depredations became so notorious that the king, whose veneration for monks seems; not to have been very profound [65], ordered his convent to be searched, and fined him heavily for every bow discovered there.[66] What a pretty piece of drollery to have encountered the portly abbot and his merry freres, in shaven crowns and priestly frocks, plying their sturdy bows and cloth yard shafts, among the verdant recesses of the Hampshire forest!

And of these merry monks there was not any one,
But he could kill a deer, his swiftest speed upon.

Doubtless there stood within their lordly domain of Winchester

Battes both fayre and longe;

that is to say, full fifteen score apart: for, under all circumstances, we do these holy fathers little injustice in presuming their fingers infinitely more ready with arrow nock than bead roll.

Before entering upon what may be properly styled the drill exercise of an archer, I may be alloyed a remark or two respecting "modern gymnastics," and the substitution of archery in their place at schools. A more dangerous [67], vulgar, stupid plan than the former, for exercising the limbs of boys, could hardly be devised. Let proper targets be erected on playgrounds, with the presence of teachers, to control and prevent the pupils from shooting in any other direction, or at any other objects, and all fear of accident is obviated.

That a recreation eminently conducive to health should not yet have been revived in all our private educational establishments is to be regretted. That it should be abolished in those public ones, where the rules not only expressly command in: observance, but actually provide the scholars with the whole apparatus, is very strange, but very true. At Eton, Westminster, and Harrow schools, Greek and Latin orations or plays have been substituted. Thus, the original intention is altogether perverted. To relax the pupils minds, after the arduous course of study dictated by the rules of our ancient grammar schools; to comply with the laws which enforced upon every instructor of youth and head of a family the superintendence of their initiation into this important means of national defence, and to gratify their own partiality for an accomplishment dear to Englishmen--were the reasons which made "arms for the boys" to be classed by the founders among the necessary calls upon their liberality. Foremost in the list of those writers on education, who zealously inculcate the propriety of mingling athletic with mental exercises, is Roger Ascham, sometime tutor to Queen Elizabeth, well known as the author of "Scholarca;" still better by his "Toxophilus." "Would to God!" he exclaims [68] "that all men did bring up their sons, like my worshipful master Sir Henry Wingefield, in the book and the bow." "He that shooteth in the free and open fields," observed Mulcaster[69], the first tutor appointed to the Merchant Taylor's School, "may choose whether between his marks he will run or walk; daunce or leape; halloo or sins; or do somewhat els, which belongeth to the other either vehement or gentle exercises. And whereas hunting on foot is much praised, what moving of the bodie hath the foot hunter in hilles and dales which the roving archer hath not in variety of grounds? Is his natural heat more stirred than the archer's is ? Is his appetite better than the archer's, though the proverb help the hungry hunter? Nay, in both these, the archer hath the advantage, for both his houres be much better to eat and all his moving is more at his choice. In fine, what good is there in any particular exercise, either to help natural heat, to clear the body and the senses, to provoke appetite, to strengthen the sinews, or to better all parses, which is not altogether in this? This exercise do I like best of any round stirring without doves upon the causes before alledged, which if I did not, that learned man, our late and worthy countryman, Maister Ascham, would be half angry with me, though he were of a mild disposition; who both for trayning the archer to his bow, and the scholar to his book, hath shewed himself a cunning archer, and a skilful maister."

A perusal of those laws which, until within the last two centuries, make the use of the bow compulsatory on all male children[70], will show there is nothing "strange or singular" in the shooting matches which once prevailed at all our public schools, and which were retained by a small number until within a comparatively recent period. At many, as Eton, the college school of Warwick, &c., the custom may be recognised in the appellations still borne by a portion of their respective playgrounds: in the former styled "shooting fields," in the latter "butts."

As the institution where this ancient regulation was longest respected, and even within memory of the present youthful generation, I shall introduce a description of juvenile archery as practiced at

HARROW SCHOOL.

"You shall allow your child at all times bow, shafts, bowstrings, and bracer, to exercise shooting," is the founder's third rule addressed to parents who wished their sons to enjoy the advantages of education there.

John Lyons flourished as a wealthy Middlesex yeoman in the reign of Queen Elizabeth. His rank in life is at once decisive of his being a bowman; the descendant of one of the heroes alluded to by our delightful poet Drayton, when he describes a warlike rustic elder exhorting his boy to acquit himself manfull'tmanfully beneath Henry's banner on the plains of hostile France.

The man in years preached to his youthful son,
    Pressed to this war, as they sat by the fire,
What deeds in France were by his father done,
    In this attempt to work him to aspire;
And told him there how he an ensign won,
    Which many a year hung in the village choir.

In addition to the above regulation, Lyons has perpetuated his love for archery by the representation of an arrow which appears sculptured on many parts of the old school-house, and is, or used to be, stamped on the covers of all books, &c. provided by the foundation.[71]

Many ancient allusions to

The arrow with a golden head,
And shaft of silver white,

as the meed of successful archery, will be seen in future portions of this work. That annually provided for the Harrow boys was in like manner the founder's gift, and appears to have been a rather costly affair. The twelve competitors assembled at the butts, attired in dresses of white, green, and sometimes even scarlet satin, ornamented with spangles in various fanciful devices: they were also equipped with braces, gloves, and belts, beneath which

Their shafts were buckled fast.

The juvenile who planted an arrow within any of the circles was each time saluted with a concert of French hunting-horns; and he who shot twelve times in or nearest to the centre came off victor, and claimed and carried home the silver arrow, followed by the music, and a procession of his school-fellows. A ball in the spacious school-room, which was attended by all the families in and near Harrow, concluded this happy day; when, in selecting partners for the dance, where beauty sat, the victorious archer

Claimed kindred there, and bad his claim allowed

We can trace back the winners' names, and other circumstances connected with the Harrow bow-meetings, 'for upwards of a century. I believe the first on record is the following,which occurs in the "Country Journal," or "Craftsman," for August 5th, 1727:--

"On Thursday a silver arrow, value 31., was shot for at Harrow by six youths of the free-school, a custom annually performed on the first Thursday in August; being the gift for that purpose by Mr. Lyons, an inhabitant of Harrow, and founder of the free-school there. Mr. Chandler, a captain in the tame army (militia?), marched thither from London, with about thirty or forty of his company, and performed a fine exercise in honour of the day and his son, who is one of the scholars."

Mr. Lyons fixed the 4th of August annually as the period on which the prize should be contested: and the archers were limited to six. Subsequently they enlarged the number to twelve, and selected the first Thursday in July, as more convenient than the original day. The following paragraph refers to the ancient arrangement:--

"The silver arrow was shot for at Harrow on the Hill, on the 4th of August, by the twelve following gentlemen:-- Messrs. Thomas Swale, Owen Brigstock, Robert Tomlinson' His Grace the Duke of Gordon, the Right Honourable Lord W. Gordon, the Right Honourable Lord Mountstewart, Messrs. Thomas Clerk, Wright, Henry Rooke, Darby, and Denham Skeet.[72]
"August 4. 1758. The silver arrow was won at Harrow by Master Middleton.[73]
"August 4. 1760. By Master Earle.[74]
"July--1764. The silver arrow, annually shot for by the gentlemen of Harrow school, was won by Master Mee.
"July 5. 1765.[75] Won by Master Davies, from twelve competitors. On this occasion some Irequois Indian warriors attended to witness a sport, in which they were themselves such admirable adepts. When the game had been about half won, one of them intimated to the young gentlemen, through their interpreter, that he thought he and his friends could win the prize, if they were allowed a chance of doing so.
"July--1766.[76] The silver arrow was shot for by the scholars of Harrow school, according to annual custom, and won by Master Alex."

After July 1771, from motives for which I am unable to account, the children were allowed to enjoy no more of these delightful anniversaries during the remainder of that century. The accustomed prize was indeed provided against the ensuing year, but, being never shot for, is now in the possession of the Rev. Henry Drury, of Harrow. The summer of 1816 saw the practice again revived, as appears from the following paragraph[77]:--"On Thursday, according to annual custom, the silver arrow was shot for at butts, at Harrow on the Hill, by twelve of the young gentlemen educated at that school. It was with difficulty won by Master Jenkins, who contested the prize for nearly three hours, owing to the equality of three of the young gentlemen, who gained nine each, ten being the winning number."

From that day the arrow ceased to be given, and with it expired the ancient practice of archery at public schools. Most persons familiar with the environs of London remember the pleasant butt-fields which formed the theatre of this romantic spectacle. They stand at the entrance of the village, on the left-hand side of the road leading from the metropolis, but retain nothing of their original appearance; the name alone remains. Those ancient earthern mounds, against which the targets rested' have been dug down; the beautiful isolated eminence, crowned with lofty trees, which once rose behind them, and down whose sides ranges of grassy seats sloped gradually to meet the turf below, was first stripped of its wood, and then (proh pudor!) consigned to tile tender mercies of that ancient fraternity--the brickmakers. Altogether, the scene is one of disgusting devastation, universally regretted, except by those who sanctioned it. In the true spirit of modern utilitarianism, one link more has been wrested from tire chain which connects the present and the past. By fostering a love for the robust amusements in which our martial ancestors delighted, we help to keep alive that spirit of fortitude and patriotism which they bequeathed to us as a heirloom. The prize-shooting contests at Harrow appear an unexceptionable mode of promoting health and cheerfulness among schoolboys, and of reconciling them to the performance of many a dry imposition by the anticipated pleasures of another "first Thursday in July." I consider, however, the "embryo statesmen and unfledged poets" there, exhibited unpardonable apathy whilst this inroad upon their ancient privileges was in agitation. A spirited remonstrance, arranged, for obvious reasons, after the fashion of what our sailors term a round robin, might have arrested the spoiler's hand. Failing there, we opine the malcontents would have been justified, foro conscienticæ, in pushing the matter a leetle further,--usque ad ford pessulis exclusionem, --even to a barring out, conformable to Miss Maria Edgeworth's most approved recipe. As it is, one generation more, and tile "match for the silver arrow," after surviving upwards of two centuries and a half, will become a matter of mere uncertain tradition.

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