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Home > Books > Book of archery > Section II: Juvenile Bowmen (continued)
Section II
Juvenile Bowmen (continued)
Part 2 of 7


The usage of centuries sanctions our adoption of this phrase instead of notching, with which it is synonymous.

The following hints comprise a regular gradation of positions, all of which the archer performs whenever he discharges an arrow. I therefore recommence with my pupils where I left them; viz., before the target, equipped with shooting-glove' bracer, belt, &c., containing three arrows. Draw out one of these by grasping it two or three inches above the feathers; pass its steel point beneath the string, and over the upper edge of the bow handle, now held in a horizontal position across the body, towards which the string is turned. Confine the arrow head there with the forefinger of the bow-hand, whilst shifting your shaft-hand down to the nock. Turn that round with the thumb and two first fingers, until the cock feather[6] is perpendicular, the other two being flat or parallel with the bowstring, upon which you now place the arrow nock, exactly at that spot indicated by the whipping.

Every archer who aims to keep his shafts in good preservation will carefully avoid handling the feathers, that delicate beautiful portion of an arrow being easily torn and ruffled, by which its flight and appearance will be equally damaged. One is sometimes thrown into a fever of impatience, on witnessing the absurd heedlessness of bowmen, who violently snatch from the ground such arrows as miss tile mark, or twist them out Of the target-bass by grasping at the feathers. I once observed a stout elderly gentleman busily engaged in brushing his altogether the reverse way from that in which nature had disposed them, until

Each particular plume did stand on end
Like quills upon the fretful porcupine.

This extraordinary procedure he justified, by observing, he considered it materially improverd an arrow's course through the "liquid yielding air."

Your hand ought not and need never come in contact with the feathers. In taking an arrow from butt, ground, or target, grasp it firmly as near the pile as possible, and by a gentle twist it may easily be drawn forth.

Thus, then? do the skilful manoeuvre their tackle. But accidents sometimes occur to the archer which no care or forethought can avert; and for these Shakspeare shall aid me in suggesting an ingenious and appropriate remedy, as well inserted here as elsewhere. It is from the Merchant of Venice.

In my school days, when I had lost one shaft,
I shot his fellow off the self-same flight[7], the self-same way,
With more advised watch, to find the other forth;
And by adventuring both I oft round both.

During summertide, whilst the ground is baked by the sunbeams to an almost stony hardness, arrows, unless shot at a considerable elevation, do not penetrate, but glide along the turf, until all trace of them is lost amongst the herbage.

Archers call this accident by the expressive term "snaking;" and a great annoyance it is to lose a valuable arrow entirely, or, what is as bad, to find it warped and unfeathered by remaining out a whole night among tile damp grass, because darkness had rendered the previous evening's search ineffectual. No person unacquainted with the details of archery could understand the singular manner in which an arrow threads itself among the short fine sward, and remains undiscovered, in spite of a search carried on unremittingly for hours, during which the owner passes a score times to and fro over the spot where it is thus "snaked."

On meeting with the object of your search, never drag it rudely from the matted grass, but first draw your knife on both sides from pile to nock. I will just add, that all possibility of moisture bringing off the feathers of my own arrows is obviated by oil paint applied on either side the stem of each. Their flight is by no means affected by the process, for which crimson is a very appropriate colour. Possibly Indian-rubber varnish would answer still better.

"Nihil tetigit quod non ornavit," seems equally applicable to Shakspeare, when speaking of archery, as of almost every other subject. The curious recipe for discovering a lost arrow, given in the passage to which I have already directed the reader's attention, is afterwart-is resumed in the following beautiful strain:--

I urge this childish proof, because what follows is pure innocence.
I owe you much; and, like a wilful youth,
That which I owe is lost: but, if you please to shoot
Another arrow that self-way which you did shoot the first,
I do not doubt, as I will watch the aim, or to find both,
Or bring your latter hazard back again.

I shall render this very ancient and familiar resource of archers more intelligible by a passage from Creseentius's "De Re Rustica," or Treatise on Country Life, a curious Latin work of the fifteenth century, but of which the King's library has a splendid MS. French translation, written on vellum, and adorned with beautiful water-colour drawings.

"Qu'il veult firer aux coulons, ou aultres oiseaulx sur arbres, il doit avoir matras ou bongons gros en la teste devant, et quils soyent d'un mesme poix. Et quant il veult firer, il doit signer au precise lieu ou it est. et noter le lieu ou le coulon est ou autre oisel semblable, et lors traire; et s'il l'assomme, il a son content. Et ainsi par ceste maniere il pourra trouver son matras. Si il note ces deux lieux ou il fault et pert sa sagette, il la retrouvera bien par en traire une d'un tel poix, a la place ou lui et loisel estoient." P.270

"He that purposes to disport himself with killing doves, and other birds perched upon trees, must have bolts all of equal weight; and when about to let fly an arrow, he should note the exact place where he stands at the time, and also the place of the bird; and if he succeed in bringing her down, then hath he his desire, and shall get his arrow again. So, if he miss, alla have duly marked his standing, and the place where his game was when he shot, let him return back and loose another arrow towards that spot, and there is no doubt but he shall recover both."

So in Decker's "Villanies discovered by Lanthorn;" -- "and yet I have seen a creditor in prison weep when he beheld his debtor; and to lay out money of his own purse. To free him he shot a second arrow to find the first." There is also an allusion to this practice in Howel's "Familiar Letters."[8]


Your expert archer, gazing steadfastly at the mark, combines these three divisions of his manual exercise into one deliberate, continuous action; I have, therefore, arranged them under the same head.

Although the bow is held across the body during the preparatory action of nocking, it must be ever raised perpendicularly when you shoot. Elevate your arms slowly to the level of the mark, and, whilst drawing the arrow steadily with your right, with the left hand press your whole strength into the bow. By so doing, the English yeoman was enabled to pull his cloth-yard shaft up to the head; and to this Bishop Latimer partly alludes, when he tells us "his father taught him not to draw with mere strength of arm, as other nations did, but to lay his body in his bow."

When about to loose, never look at your arrow's point; it is unnecessary: for constant exercise will so accustom your hand to obey and act in conjunction with your eye, that a wonderful precision of aim is the result. Your whole attention must be directed towards the golden centre of the target, where both eyes are to be intently fixed. Again, I remind you that drawing and loosing are to be performed together. Grasp your bow with the firmness of a smith's vice; draw steadily, until the steel pile of your arrow rests upon the knuckle of the bow hand, while the thumb of the drawing hand grazes against the upper part of the right ear. That instant of time, in which the sight suddenly concentrates itself upon the target's centre whilst every other object grows dark and indistinct, is the critical moment of your aim. Loose, then, without a second's pause, by gently relaxing the fingers of your shooting glove, and, ere your arrow has made half its flight, you may determine that its direction-point will be where every archer is ambitious to see it placed. [9]

Modern English bowmen generally draw with three fingers. The Flemings use the first and second only--a method adopted by some of our bowmen also. Those strong bows in use during the reign of military archery must have required the former number; yet it is remarkable that in most of the drawings before alluded to, tile Flemish custom prevails. [10] Ascham, however, orders the shooting glove to be made with three fingers; and when Henry the Fifth harangued his troops previous to the battle of Agincourt, he endeavoured to exasperate their minds by dwelling on the cruelties in store for them. Addressing his archers, he said that the French soldiers had sworn to amputate their three first fingers, so that they should never more be able to slay man or horse.[11]

The Indians of Demerara use only the thumb and fore finger for this purpose. Practice from early youth will necessarily strengthen the muscles of the hand; still, by their mode of drawing, none save men of great bodily power can ever shoot with force. We consequently get few bows from that part of the globe beyond fifty or five-and-fifty pounds. Their chiefs sometimes have bows which draw eighty or ninety; but these barbarians never select any individual for a leader ungifted with thews and sinews. One of our old English archers, who settled in America, makes an observation illustrative of their feeble archery. "Forty yards," says he, "will they shoot level; one hundred and twenty is their best at rovers.[12]

To hold the bow perfectly steady whilst loosing the arrow seems indispensable to accurate shooting. I will therefore describe a somewhat feeble archer's mode of fortifying the left arm, which proved very successful. He procured a bow of some common English wood--well seasoned elm or mountain ash answers sufficiently well; six or eight pounds of sheet-lead were wrapped above and below the handle, arid secured by strong whipping of waxed thread. With this ponderous instrument he exercised himself in shooting at a level mark, with heavy arrows, for the space of two hours every morning during three months. The result was most satisfactory, Crede experto me Roberto.

Shooting straight and keeping a length are equally indispensable. The best, and indeed the only, expedient for attaining perfection in the former, is to shoot in the evening at lights. To this end fix a black circular or lozenge-shaped mark in the centre of two common paper lanterns, in each a lighted candle, and place them sixty, eighty, or one hundred yards apart. The above number of hours of nightly practice, during a similar period, will amply recompense the assiduity of any enthusiastic archer, since a line drawn from target to target will not be more unerring than the flight of his arrow. Your town resident may become equally expert by a much easier process. The gas-lamp opposite his sitting-room furnishes as good a mark as any: I do not mean he is to shoot at it-- merely to elevate his arms in the attitude of drawing a bow will assuredly produce tile same effect.

"For keeping a length" no certain rules can be laid down. This phrase, borrowed from Roger Ascham, signifies the art of raising the bow hand always to one certain pitch, at unvarying marks, so that your arrow may neither fly over nor fall short of its object. Every kind of missile' whether stone' arrow, or bullet, describes a parabola or section of a circle in its flight through the air, if aimed at remote objects. Confining my observations to the weapon under discussion, I have merely to add, that as the degree of elevation necessary for planting an arrow in a mark, at any given distance, must wholly depend on the power of the how, theory earl render the archer little assistance. Every man equips himself according to his individual strength, so that incessant observation and practice can alone determine this point. He has, however, one certain rule for aiming at very remote objects. The arrow has reached its extreme flight when it descends to the earth, after being discharged at an angle of forty-five degrees; and, as ten degrees above or below that number will diminish the extent of its range, we always elevate thus in flight shooting.

I'll give my young friends a curious illustration of the fatal accuracy ill "keeping his length" to which a youth arrived when vengeance prompted him to its attainment. Fordbhuide, the young son of Conner, all ancient Irish monarch instigated by some trivial insult which he had received from the Queen of Connaught, set himself to study means of revenge. Having heard that she came every morning, without attendants, to bathe herself in one of those magnificent lakes scattered along Shannon's banks, he concealed himself in a spot where he could see without being seen. He was there during several successive days; and finding that the queen always selected the same spot, a small, shallow, sandy bay of clear water, as soon as she departed he tied the line, with which he had come provided, to the trunk of a tree growing at a convenient spot on the opposite side of the lake, which tree he carefully marked with his sword, and then plunging in, swam across to the queen's bath. The exact distance from shore to shore being thus ascertained, this young demon returned to his father's hall, and deliberately prepared to execute his murderous scheme. When he had marked off the exact length of the line on the side of a green hill, he fixed up two stales, and setting an apple on one, and taking his station at the other, passed several hours daily for some months in hurling pebbles at it with his sling, never varying his standing one single yard. At length the inhabitants of Ulster and Connaught agreed to hold a conference at Ilis Cloithroin, upon one side of the river Shannon. The son of Conner, who came with his father's deputies, and was the principal person there, thought it a good opportunity for executing his revenge upon the queen. She came, as usual, one sultry morning, to divert herself in the pure cold waters, and the prince, from his hiding place, shrug a stone so expertly that he smote her full on the forehead, when, sinking instantly to the bottom, her body floated into the depths, and was seen no more.[13]

The youthful bowman, being thus initiated into all the preparatory mysteries of his art, may nest proceed to exercise himself in shooting at the targets. The first distance should not exceed ten yards; at which, after a month's diligent practice, he will be able to strike a tennis ball suspended from a string, many successive times. Let him then remove it to twenty yards; and on acquiring a similar degree of dexterity at that distance, his next step will be the extreme point blanc range of his bow.

From shooting horizontally, proceed to acquire the habit of mechanically lifting your hand to the degree of elevation required by your bow at various distances. Your expertness in this, one of the most difficult branches of tile archer's discipline, must be in proportion to the time devoted to it. Three months of assiduity will, however, effect wonders: at the expiration of that little period of probation, you may confidently take your station among the competitors for gold medal, silver arrow, and bugle horn.

In private societies, six or eight archers are usually considered the complement for a single pair of butts or targets. The novice only, who has never witnessed an exhibition of this kind, need be informed that two marks are employed, the party standing in front of one whilst aiming at the other. When all have shot, they walk in a body towards the opposite mark, and each individual draws out his successful arrows, and gathers up those which have alighted over or under the large`. When carefully wiped, he replaces them in his belt; and the archers, resuming their station in front of the target near which they then are, aim at that they have just quitted. The number of arrows shot at each round is called an end, and the shooting up and down a double end.

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