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

When flight-shooting, place your marks upon the greensward without triangles. There is m, object which suggests so perfect an idea of complete and beautiful repose as do these broad circles, like the disc of a full moon, when arranged upon an extensive lawn of smooth velvet turf.

Many substitutes for the regular target will suggest themselves to him who resides some six or ten score miles from the metropolis. We may choose the old Roman expedient, a large bundle of brushwood tied together, and suspended to a stake, from which the archer stood at the distance of 600 feet; or a good thick sheaf of haulme, that is, thatchers' straw. If bound tightly at the centre and the two extremities, this answers well while nothing better can be commanded. Place any neat round mark on each, and elevate them by stakes fixed slopingly in the earth.

A military writer of the 17th century, while strongly advocating the adoption of "fire shafts," suggests a most atrocious substitute for the common target, at once to render soldiers expert, and inure them to accidents and perils of the field. "Fire shafts are so neat, portable, and manageable," says he, "that even children may make their sport with them, and youths of any growth do good service. So if, at festival times, a bull, instead of baiting him with dogges, were tyed to a stake, or sheweled in with archers conveniently placed upon a common or other spacious place, men might then make trial with their fire shafts, a brave and manlie sport! where, haply, the maddening of the enraged beast, besides enuring them to conflict, would teach some profitable stratagems of war."

I will now offer a few words upon several peculiarities in the marks at which Oriental nations display their archery. The Mantchou Tartars, who practise with whistling arrows, use a target consisting of two parts. A cushion, or roll, of cloth, well stuffed with wool, and about a foot in breadth, is nailed round the edge of a circular hole of the same diameter, cut from the middle of a square board. The bull's eye, painted red on the outer edge, and black in the centre, is then made to fit tightly into this aperture, being confined there by the elasticity of the cushion. On bitting the latter, only the arrow falls uninjured to the ground, and no arrow is accounted a shot but the one which dislodges the bull's eye, by striking it out behind the target; when it does not fall to the ground, but drops a few inches' teeing sustained by a string attached to an upper projecting rod.

Altogether, this seems not a bad contrivance, as it must obviate much ill blood among a people fierce and irascible like these Tartar savages, who might otherwise be tempted, in case of a disputed shot, to "loosen the Gordian knot of it" with their dagger's point.

One is a little startled to find a treatise on the bow among the lucubrations of a grave philosopher like Confucius. Yet tile Huor Yu, or Book of Sentences, contains some curious allusions to its practice among the author's countrymen. In the third article of that work, he speaks of the adoration due to spirits; of the imperial laws of music; and the manner of drawing the bow.[37] When engaged at this exercise, they fixed up the skin of some beast as a mark. For the emperor, it was that of a bear; for a king, that of a stag; for a mandarin, that of a tiger; and for literary gentlemen, that of a wild boar. The first aimed 120 yards from the butt ; the second, 80; the third, 70; the fourth, 50.

Every Chinese who purposes entering the army is required to possess some previous knowledge of military tactics; to exhibit proofs of personal strength and adroitness in aiming with the bow[38]; and to recite from memory following precepts of archery addressed to his officers, by Yong Tcheng, third emperor of the reigning dynasty:--

"Warriors! from the moment you assume the garb of a soldier, the state provides for your subsistence, and provides for it with parental care. Doth it become you, then, to be negligent of your chief duties,--those for which you are maintained at so great a cost ?

"The accomplishment of being able to draw the arrow with precision, whether on foot or on horseback,--to know either exercise perfectly,--can be acquired only by incessant application.

"Relieved from the necessity of following uncongenial occupations, nothing should distract you from the exercise of arms; everything you see, everything you hear, incessantly reminds you of your obligations. Wherefore is it, then, that, instead of devoting all your energies to their fulfilment, you seek to dissipate those hours in enervating pleasures, which alone should be solely dedicated to bending the bow and launching the arrow at its mark ? Of what monstrous ingratitude are you not guilty towards the state?

"To draw the bow with energy and skill was an art ever highly cherished by the Manthous. By that alone did we acquire of old a mighty name amongst the nations of the earth; by that only have we been entitled to rank among the chiefest of mankind; and although, in the present degenerate age, we fall away from the discipline of our ancestors, time was, when a Mantchou who drew his arrow unskilfully, would have been exposed not only to severe personal chastisement from his officers, but to the universal derision of his comrades; he would have been regarded as a disgrace to his name and an opprobrium upon his country. In the silence of the night, then, when the hollow drum announces to you the commencement of the various watches, meditate deeply on a subject so important.[39] May each of you be animated by a noble emulation; may he incessantly direct his energies to acquire perfection in an art on which not only his own preservation, but the safety of the state, so materially depends!

"In all the contests in which you indulge, whether private or in public, be still unsatisfied if with your shaft you pierce not the centre of the butt; and when at the chase, be ever emulous to transfix the fleet objects of your aim. Remember that by your address in the noble exercise of archery the nation will measure out the portion of esteem you are destined to enjoy.

"We shall bestow on you military honours and promotion exactly in reference to your adroitness in the use of the bow. Thus, soldiers will become officers,--officers will be elevated to a more distinguished rank,--and all will partake the glory of shedding equal lustre on your ancestors and on your posterity."[40]

When Sultan Mohammed Khan became master of Constan- tinople, he distributed the chief booty among his rapacious followers, and caused the idols Vudd Yaghûs, Yaaf Surá, and Nesr, which the infidels had encrusted with jewels, to be carried to the Okmeydan, or Place of Archers, and set up there as marks for every soldier of the Faithful to level his arrows at. Hence it arose that, even at the present day, a well-delivered arrow, which hits the mark, is styled by archers Pútch Oki, an idol's shaft. One of these images remained, until knocked to pieces, about the time of Sultan Ahmed Khan: another was called Aymaïsh, because it stood on the south side, and the arrows hit it when shot with a northerly wind. A third, called Heki, near Kaás-kói, was also most easily hit from the same quarter; hence the phrase a "Heki shot," so common in Turkey, A fourth, named Pish, stood on the north-west side of the Okmeydan, and being commanded only from the south-east, gives its name to such a shot. From Pelenk, erected on the west side, and, of course, aimed at from the east, we derive the bowman's phrase, Pelenk. In short, having fixed twelve different idols on the four sides of the exercise ground, a grand archery match was proclaimed, and all the veteran bowmen, each showing his skill in taking aim at them, made a magnificent show; and hence originated the custom among the people of Istamboul [41] of meeting there on holidays, for the purpose of exercising their adroitness in archery.[42]

These repeated allusions in this passage to an allowance for the wind, so strongly recommended by our own Ascham, have probably not escaped the readers attention. l or private practice, the modern Turks place upon their butts a small white mark about the size of a dollar. Standing at the distance of thirty feet, they will place five or six successive arrows around its outer edge, never touching the centre, unless by design. At this species of short butt, one of their favourite recreations the most dexterous receives an embroidered handkerchief fur his reward.

Splendid exhibitions of archery formerly took place in the Hippodrome, or Horse Course, at Constantinople, one of which an eye-witness, thus describes[43]:-- "A brave troop of archers, mounted on the finest Arab steeds, now arrived' and their presence excited an universal murmur of applause. Indeed, their skill and adroitness were most extraordinary. Having finished several courses with the target and jareed, they again put their horses to the gallop, sheathing and unsheathing their cymetars without stopping. In the same manner they shot thrice with the bow. Each archer first aimed at and struck the hinder shoe of the horse immediately in advance of him. At the second course, they planted their arrows in a gilt ball, fixed on the top of a lofty mast that stood in the centre of the Hippodrome. And, lastly, they shot through a ring at which some Albanians had been previously exercising with the lance. One noble cavalier took off his saddle, placed it upon his courser's neck, and then re-fastened the girths while going at the top of the animal's speed. This same Turk laid an orange on the turban of one of his slaves, and, spurring his courser, struck it in pieces with an arrow, repeating the experinnent a second and even a third time, without drawing bridle, or injury to him who acted target.

Equestrian archery was likewise much practiced in Persia by the Shah and his nobles. A mark, about the size of a plate, is fastened against a tree, at which they discharge their arrows whilst riding full gallop. "I have seen the Shah," says Shirley, "tire out six or seven horses successively at this kind of pastime. He often continued on the ground from noon until four or six o'clock; and it was really astonishing how he could endure such violent exercise during the ardour of the sun, and the dust raised by the horses' feet. He once gave me an astonishing proof of his dexterity and strength. Stretched on the earth with his face downwards, he took one of the strongest bows, and drew it, as if about to discharge an arrow. Then, unassisted by his hands, and without putting them to the earth, he rose up briskly with his bonded bow,--certainly an instance of prodigious muscular power." [44]

In the centre of the Meidan, or market-place, at Ispahan, stood a high pole, much resembling those set up in some European cities for the popinjay game. Instead of a bird, however, they place on its summit a small melon, an arpus, an apple, or a trencher filled with small silver coin. At this they shoot whilst the horse is going at full speed. It is by no means unusual to see the Shah himself gallop unexpected into the Meidan, and mingle unceremoniously among his subjects whilst engaged at this sport. When plate falls, its contents become the perquisite of the king's footmen; and the most successful shot has the honour of feasting the whole company, even to the Shah himself, should the royal bow have been put in requisition.

When Karib Shah fell into the hands of his enemies, after an unsuccessful effort to throw off the Persian yoke, he was condemned to die under circumstances of the most revolting cruelty. They first shod his hands and feet with iron, like a horse, scoffingly observing, that, as he had been accustomed to the soft roads of Kilan, he would otherwise hardly endure the stony and rugged ways of Persia. After being suffered to languish in that condition for three whole days, he was brought into the Meidan, and bound to the summit of the mast. When the king had set an example by discharging at him the first arrow, he called loudly to his assembled lords, telling them that every true and loyal man should follow his example. Upon the word, he was instantly so covered with arrows that the body retained no shape of a man, and, after remaining thus during three days, was taken down and interred. On the suppression of Karib Shah's revolt, the people of Kilan were disarmed; neither have they since dared to possess any sort of weapon,--not even the sefin, or ring, with which the Persians bend their bows.[45]

I shall close this chapter with a lively anecdote of Persian butt shooting, which furnishes a general idea of the mode in which these matters are conducted throughout the East.

Whilst Shah Abbas remained encamped at Casbin, he held a grand review of cavalry, which lasted nearly a fortnight. Every day the king took his station upon an elevated throne, under the portals of the royal gardens, with his nobility and principal officers ranged on his right and left hand. The last day of this magnificent spectacle being devoted to an exhibition of archery, a select number of the finest and most expert soldiers were ordered to ride in single file before the Shah. Only one cavalier passed by at a time on the gallop, which he commenced at some distance, and, passing the throne, turned about in his scarlet morocco saddle, and drove his arrow into a butt of sand, placed on the king's left hand. At the close of the review it was usual to reward the most expert archer with a considerable increase of pay. One cavalier, however, instead of galloping and shooting as the others did, only walked his horse by, and placed his hand on his breast, and afterwards on his head, according to the Oriental mode of saluting the monarch. He possessed a singularly forbidding mien; for he had coarse, flat, Tartar features, and a complexion changed almost to blackness by the heat of the sun. On witnessing this act of audacious disobedience, the Shah's indignation burst forth; and, in allusion to his unprepossessing appearance, he fiercely exclaimed, "that they should immediately discharge the black-looking scoundrel from his service."[46]

The guards flew to execute his commands. After being dismounted, and deprived of his arms and accoutrements, he was on the point of being severely bastinadoed, when the commanding officer rode up, and, by a sign, interfered. Then, respectfully approaching the throne, he represented that this cavalier, so ill-looking, was, in reality, one of the best soldiers in the army. At the siege of Erivin [47]and Candahar he had fully proved his undaunted courage; and his father was one of those who thrice led a storming party to the gates of Bagdad.

A representation so favourable had due weight with the offended Shah, and he commanded his horse and arms to be restored. The archers, whose progress was suspended by this occurrence, again resumed their bows, and the disobedient soldier received a command to place himself at their head. He obeyed, and pushed his horse past the throne with the speed of the wind, but again reined him up on coming opposite the butt. There he remained stationary, turning first to the right hand, then to the left, and looking about on all sides, without uttering a word. His commander, who justly anticipated another burst of indignation from the monarch, when in all likelihood he would have ordered the guards to cut him in pieces, called, in a loud and peremptory tone, that he should shoot.

The soldier immediately exclaimed, "My lord, whither would you that your servant direct his arrow?" At the butt, dog of a slave!" shouted the enraged Satrap, "as your comrades have already done."

"What cloth it advantage," resumed the veteran, shaking his head, "thus to waste and spoil my good shafts against a lump of earth? Fain would I use them against the bodies of my sovereign's foes; then should you see me discharge five ere another could find time to shoot one!"

He had drawn two arrows from his quiver whilst speaking these words, and held one of them in his teeth as he fitted the other to his bow. Then pushing vigorously across the plain, until the earth seemed to tremble beneath his courser's hoofs, he passed the butt; and turning in his saddle like a Parthian[48], drove the first arrow directly into the hollow centre.[49] After contemplating this successful shot for an instant, he wheeled round, flew past the same spot, and fixed the second shaft in the hole, whence, an instant before, the attendants had drawn out the first.

The officer, who had already interceded for him, now again approached the Shah, and, touching the earth with his forehead, ventured to express a hope that the soldier's bearing justified the expectations he had raised. His Highness loudly declared his admiration of his adroitness. He was ordered to approach and kiss his royal master's feet, who forthwith increased his pay to fifteen tomes, instead of the five he had previously received.

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