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Home > Books > Book of archery > Section X: Of the Shaft, Ancient and Modern
Section X
Of the Shaft, Ancient and Modern
Part 3 of 3

Turkeys' wings are also in much request with the Belgian archers, either in the natural state, or dyed scarlet, blue, green, or yellow. The tints are very skilfully applied, and much enhance the beauty of these feathers.

The natives of the Jesso Isles rear a species of bird of prey, called sima fokoro, for winging arrows[27]; and the Turkish city of Babadagy derives no trifling advantage from trading in eagles' wings, as that bird frequents a neighbouring mountain in vast numbers. "The bow-makers throughout Turkey and Tartary are all supplied from thence, although they use only the twelve tail feathers, which are commonly sold for a Leonine. They are esteemed superior to all others for winging arrows, and a skilful archer does not care to use any other. If a man has several shafts in his quiver, with other feathers, and but one among them fledged with an eagle's quill, that one, remaining untouched, will eat all the rest to the wood.[28]" This property certainly savours a little of the marvellous; yet Saxo Grammaticus, who belonged to a very different age and nation, also ascribes a corrosive property to the plumage of this

King of all that beat the air with wings.[29]

The term cock-feather is applied to the one standing perpendicularly, when the arrow is properly nocked upon the string. It was formerly, and at the present time is, often black or grey, to distinguish it from the rest.

Old English archers carried into the field a sheaf of twenty-four barbed arrows, buckled within their girdles. A portion of these, about six or eight, were longer, lighter, and winged with narrower feathers than the rest. With these flight shafts, as they are termed, they could do execution further than with the remaining heavy sheaf arrows. The advantages occasionally derivable from this superiority of range, when directed by a skilful leader, have led to very important results, of which the reader has seen a remarkable instance at the commencement of this work.[30]

The ancient fletchers frequently sheared their shafts somewhat convex, and round at the broad end, nearest the nock. In almost every painting and print I have met with, on the subject of archery, particularly in a very beautiful family portrait, the size of life, representing a gentleman charging his arquebuse with a fire shaft, the wings are exactly of this form. Ascham makes favourable mention of the triangular fashion, and gives several ingenious reasons why it should be adopted.

A few hints respecting the mode of setting on this important part of the arrow will be prized by archers. My ingenuity has been sadly taxed, at times, to repair a favourite shaft when injured by moths, a blow against the target stand, or other contingency, and I invented all sorts of complicated, perhaps some of them were ingenious, instruments, for holding on the feather until the glue became dry. However, after witnessing the process in the workshop of a Brussels fletcher, my own laboured contrivances, and its simplicity, formed an amusing contrast.

Split the quill down its stem, which must be cut to a proper length, and pared until of the requisite thickness, with a sharp and thin-bladed knife. A flat piece of iron is afterwards to be moderately heated, over which the stem of the feather, so cut and dressed, should be passed rapidly, till all its inequalities being charred off it is rendered smooth and dry to receive the cement. For this, take equal parts of isinglass and the best common glue, dissolved in brandy, which is of a proper consistency, if when heated, it will barely drop from the point of a slip of wood The stele of the arrow being ready prepared, or, where only a single feather is to be set on, after all the old glue has been removed with sand paper or a fine rasp, you may commence operations. Dip a cloth in hot water; squeeze it, and lay the feathers therein, until quite limp and soft. Take out a single one, and with a morsel of wood apply the glue, the heat of which will cause the feather to curl round. Place the centre of this convexity upon the centre of that part of the stele usually occupied by the feather, and if your glue be thick enough, it will closely adhere there. Then, with finger and thumb, immediately press down and settle the remainder straight and even. Arrange the other feathers in a similar manner, and lay your arrow to dry, in a warm situation somewhere near the fireside, but do not attempt to shear it, until all is firm. In this, as in every other manual operation, much depends on practice; for a regular fletcher can wing many arrows in a very short space of time; Mr. Waring having the reputation of being able to finish a dozen per minute. It is unnecessary to describe the piles of modern arrows. Our ancestors, even when shooting for pastime, used them much heavier than we do. One of their high-crested silver spoon shouldered heads, to which Ascham alludes, probably outweighed three of the present time. For military purposes they were still larger, since my Agincourt arrow is equal to even thrice that number. Specimens of ancient war heads are to be seen in many collections: they generally weigh from half an ounce to one ounce and a quarter, and measure an inch in breadth, from barb to barb; it is worthy of notice that the mark set upon government stores, &c. should be a "broad arrow," to which it has some resemblance. I am not aware of the existence of any ancient butt or roving piles; yet it is possible such may be found at Goodrich Court. Brown Willis's MS.-account of the parish of Bletchley[31], mentions an' ancient cross on the village green, and two large-butts or hillocks for the bowmen, which stood near it. At their base--for this Goth dug them down for the sake of their earth, when building his seat of Waterhall, in 1711--were discovered many steel arrow heads, which, being shot deep into the earth, came off, and were never drawn out again.

Modern archers paint their arrows with the pattern of some riband immediately above the feathering. I have seen in the British Museum a small thick duodecimo volume, pasted full of exquisite patterns of this sort, once belonging to Miss Bankes, the daughter of Sir Joseph, and collected from the elder Mr. Waring, about the year 1790. By the by, they prove an absolute decay in the riband manufactory; since nothing comparable to them could be purchased at the present day.

The American Indian warriors carefully mark every arrow of their quivers, whether designed for war or the chase. As the amount of enemies slain decides their pretensions to military merit, each combatant is thus enabled to ascertain with exactness the number which has fallen victims to his prowess; and in the chase, whilst the plain is strewed with the carcasses of bisons and moose deer, disputes about the possession of any particular piece of game are avoided, because each takes quiet possession of the animals transfixed by the arrow bearing his own mark.

The barbed arrow is a truly inhuman weapon; and how feelingly the torture it inflicts has been alluded to by some of the older writers: the effects of some ten thousand alighting among a large body of cavalry, is painted with no fancied exaggeration, by our poet Drayton:--

Upon the horses, as in chase they fly,
Arrows so thick in such abundance light,
That their broad buttocks men like butts might see,
Whereat, for pastime, bowmen shooting be.

Again, he compares the anguish inflicted upon these poor animals to the stings of envenomed insects.[32]

And in their flanks like cruel hornets hung.

The Lord de Joinville dwells with much enthusiasm upon the impetuous velour displayed by the French monarch in his encounters with the Saracens. On one occasion, news was brought him that his brother lay in the greatest peril. Nothing could check his ardour. He would wait for no one, but striking spurs into his horse, galloped into the midst of the battle. He suffered many hard blows; and the enemy shot barbed arrows at him, until they covered his horse's rump and tail with Greek fires.

In another passage, he affords a curious illustration of the prodigious quantity of these missiles expended in a single engagement. " The Saracens vigorously attacking the Templars, defeated them in a short time. It is certain that, in the rear of the Christians, there was about an acre of ground so covered with bolts, darts, and arrows, that you could not see the earth beneath them, such showers had been discharged against the Templars by the Saracens. The commander of our battalion had lost an eye in the preceding battle of Shrove Tuesday, and thistime he received an arrow shot in the other, and was slain: God have mercy on his soul!"[33]

When Zisca lay encamped before the town of Rubi, he rode out to view a portion of the works where he intended an assault. Being observed by the besieged, an arrow shot from the wall struck him in the eye. The wound proving exceedingly dangerous, the army surgeons proposed his being carried to Prague, where the arrow was extracted; but being barbed, it tore out the eye along with it.

Whilst leading a furious charge against the enemy at the head of his Saxon billmen, our English King Harold fell among heaps of slain, pierced to the brain by two Norman shafts; and his gallant brethren, fighting valiantly in front of their respective battalions, shared the same fate. With day dawn on the morrow, some monks of Waltham, (a religious establish. ment founded by the sons of Godwin,) were seen slowly pacing over the field of slaughter, towards the conqueror's tent. Entering, they bent humbly before this stern soldier, presented him ten marks of gold, and obtained leave to search for, and carry away to decent burial, the corpse of their benefactor. They withdrew; and, hurrying to the spot where death seemed to have been busiest, examined the heap of bodies one after the other, but in vain, the trampling of the iron heels of horses and men, together with the wounds of which he died, had so disfigured the king's person, that they failed to recognise him. Despairing to succeed in further search, alone, they applied to a female called Edith, poetically named, in Saxon, Swanes Hals, or Swan's Neck, once beloved by Harold, and entreated her to assist them. She joined in the melancholy procession; and by the instinct of affection was not long in discovering the remains of him to whom she was devoted even in death.

Even the unbarbed arrow has been found to inflict wounds far more painful and difficult to heal than the stroke of a musket ball. Whilst Mariner resided at the Tonga islands, he frequently accompanied their warriors on hostile expeditions against the surrounding insular tribes. In one of these affairs, he received an arrow in his foot, which passed through the broadest part. Luckily it was not a bearded arrow; but the wound, nevertheless, proved a very bad one, and he was disabled by it for several months. On another occasion, the follower of a chief named Timon had made himself a sort of breast-plate of an earthen strainer, such as is placed at the bottom of dishes when fish appears at table. The man had procured this unique piece of armour at Port au Prince; but unluckily it happened that an arrow pierced him directly through the hole which is commonly in the middle of such utensils. This wound laid him up eight months, and he was never afterwards, in Mariner's time, able to hold himself perfectly erect.[34]

That jolly Dominican, Fray Juan de Gallegos, who accompanied Hernando de Soto in his expedition to the Floridas, was rather more fortunate, although his armour was of a nature still more extraordinary than that of the poor South Sea islander. In a very sanguinary battle, which took place between the Indians of Florida and their Spanish invaders, a gentleman named Baltazer de Gallegos greatly distinguished himself; for he was ever foremost in the hottest of the melee, and fought on foot. The peril to which he thus became exposed was anxiously observed by his brother, the portly friar just alluded to. Our ghostly father, therefore, rode forth in his sacerdotal habit, with the intention of resigning his ambling palfrey to the soldier; but influenced by that wholesome maxim, which terms discretion the better part of velour, he kept himself warily on the outskirts of the field. There he vainly continued hallooing and making the most energetic signals; for Gallegos, who loved glory as a passion, resolutely maintained his rank, and refused the proferred steed. In the mean time, his cries and gesticulations were observed by an Indian, who, imagining him to be one of the Spanish generals encouraging his men, let fly an arrow, which struck the fat monk just between his brawny shoulders. The wound proved trivial, because he wore a double hood with a large hat of felt, which being secured by a string, had fallen backwards, and hung like a shield upon his back. It was, however, enough; and the wandering savage saw the man, whom he looked upon as the bulwark of the Christian army, turn his bridle, and make an inglorious, hasty retreat in the direction of the Spanish camp.

The Inca Garcilasco de Vega, in his amusing history of Hernando de Soto's expedition against the Floridans, relates a singular instance of suicide perpetrated by means of a barbed arrow.

Orders had been issued by the Spanish general, that Juan de Anasco, with thirty of his comrades, should descend along the banks of the river Cofaciqui, to a spot at some distance from the native villages, where it was expected the princess of the country lay concealed, whom they were commissioned to bring with all gentleness to the camp. Anasco accordingly set out with his companions, taking with them an Indian youth of high rank, whom the queen-mother had appointed for their guide. This Indian, who was accompanied by several domestics, had been ordered to press onwards when he arrived near their de stination, give notice of the Spaniards' approach, and conjure his mistress, in the name of her daughter and the inhabitants generally, to set out for the camp where preparations had been made for giving her an honourable reception, and where she would be received with affectionate joy. The lady of Cofaciqui had despatched this young noble, because, having been brought up by her mother, he was tenderly beloved by her, and on which account, she imagined she might more favourably entertain the Spaniards' request; besides, he possessed all those external advantages which are calculated for materially assisting the success of such a design, since to an address at once noble and prepossessing, he added a lofty stature, and handsome countenance. His step was light and active, like the rest of his countrymen; his head was gaily adorned with a majestic plume of different coloured feathers; a beautiful mantle of deer skin hung from his shoulders; he carried in his hand a glittering painted bow, and a quiver filled with arrows was suspended at his back. Thus, with a gallant bearing, worthy of his distinguished rank, this young Indian preceded the Spaniards, every word and look expressive of the gratification he derived from being instrumental in promoting their desires. When Anasco and his associates had journeyed about three leagues, they halted beneath the shelter of a large tree, to repose themselves during the noontide heat. Then it happened, that the young chieftain, who was seated in the centre of the band, which he had been hitherto delighting with descriptions of his native province and the sur- rounding districts, suddenly became moody and thoughtful, and at length falling into a deep reverie, leaned his head disconsolately on his shoulder, and uttered loud and repeated sighs. Every one noticed his dejection, but from a fear of increasing it, they forbore to inquire the cause. At length his sighs became interrupted for a short period, during which he unslung his quiver, and drew forth, one after another, nearly the whole of its contents. These arrows were singularly remarkable for the beauty of their workmanship, and tile Spaniards passed them successively- from hand to hand around the group, pointing out to each other the exquisite delicacy of their form, for a Floridan of rank greatly prides himself on the perfection of this kind of arm. As the reader, also, will doubtless derive satisfaction from knowing how they are made, I will as briefly as possible describe those carried by this young Indian noble. They were formed of reeds, winged with the feathers of birds of the most gaudy plumage, each arrow having something peculiar in its construction, which distinguished it from the rest. Some were headed with deer's horn, or the pointed bone of a fish; others with palm wood, carefully pointed and indented at the sides with an elegance and uniformity, which our best artists in steel could hardly hope to rival. Whilst the Spaniards were thus busily employed, the Indian, watching an opportunity when he fancied himself to be unobserved, gently drew out of the quiver an arrow headed with flint, long, and resembling a dagger blade, and stabbed himself desperately in the throat. He immediately fell dead; when his friends, astonished at the catastrophe, and shocked that they were unable to prevent it, called together the native attendants, eagerly inquiring what motive could have hurried their master to this act of desperation.With tearful eyes they answered he had destroyed himself from a fear that his errand, and above all the services he was rendering the Christians, would draw upon him the displeasure of her who had been the guide and protectress of his youth. That, as she had not come when first requested, they believed her to be offended; and their young chieftain, doubtless, considered the course he was pursuing, an unbefitting return for the care bestowed upon his nurture, and the love she had vouchsafed him. The poor attached slaves added, that a failure in his mission would, on the other hand, draw upon him the displeasure of the younger princess, and thus harassed between love towards one and duty to the other, he had chosen to die, as the best proof of his loyalty and devotion to both.

The book of "Messire Ambroise Paré, Concilleur et Premier Chirurgeon du Roy Frances I.," who followed the armies of that monarch, treats extensively of the wounds peculiar to military men, especially those inflicted by arrows. In order that his professional brethren might more fully comprehend the method of cure, the precautions to be adopted, the incisions they might venture upon, and the use of the necessary instruments, he has delineated these, as well as many different kinds of arrows in use in his time, and particularly the form of their heads' on a proper acquaintance with which, the cure of such rounds much depended. Thus, in exerting himself to promote a knowledge of surgery, he also performed unconsciously a very signal service to the antiquarian.[35] Among the arrows he has introduced, I remark several where the stele[36] into the head, while in others the head is inserted into the stele; so that in either case, the point remained behind in the flesh and rendered the wound extremely dangerous. He does not pretend to give the forms of every arrow used in his age, but of those only which he himself had at various times extracted. Pare thus describes his mode of removing an arrow from fleshy parts of the body:--

"Si le fer estoit barblé ainsi, qui souvent est les flèches Angloises, et estoit a l'endroit d'un os, ou inséré dedans, ce qui souvent advient au profond des muscles de la cuisse, des bras, des jambes, ou d'autres parties des-quelles y auroit grande distance, lors ne le convient pousser, mais plustôt dilater la playe, en évitant les nerfs et grands vaisseaux, ainsi que fait le bon et expert chirurgien anatomique. Aussi faut appliquer un dilatatoire, cavé en sa partie intérieure, et faire en sorte, que l'on puisse prendre les deux ailes du fer, puis avec le bec de Grüe le tenir ferme, et firer les trots ensemble."

It would appear that arrows having their heads poisoned were used by certain European nations of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries; for Paré enters largely into the mode of extracting the venom from wounds arising therefrom. In my dissertation on the cross-bow, I have stated that the Spaniards frequently shot at game with poisoned quarrils, and the general sanguinary character of that people leads us to suspect they availed themselves of the same deadly expedient in the battlefield. Such wounds, says Pare, are to be detected by the great and poignant agony they cause to the patient, exactly as if he were stung by a swarm of bees. He recommends deep and immediate sacrification of the part, and that it should be carefully sucked by a person, holding in his mouth a small quantity of sweet oil, to attract and dilute the venom, and being particularly cautious that he has himself no ulcer on the gums or lips to be injured thereby.

One John Morstede appears to have been our surgeon-general in the reign of Henry V., who authorised him to press into the army, as many of his brethren as were considered necessary for the expedition against France.[37] Yet one only, the same John Morstede landed there; and though he afterwards selected fifteen assistants, three of them served as archers under Sir Thomas Erpingham at Agincourt instead of dressing the wounded! Probably all did military duty of some kind, and consequently were in like manner exposed to a soldier's fate. The wounded, therefore, had no assistance beyond nature and their own exertions. On the English side, they were certainly few; while those of the enemy, as we learn from the details of the battle, perished without the slightest efforts being made for their relief.[38]

So much for the ancient treatment of arrow-wounds received in the field of Mars. Instances of their voluntary infliction in that of Venus, the reader may glean from "Lady Mary Wortley Montague's" amusing gossip. She informs us that Turkish lovers manifest

The pangs they endure for the fair,

by enacting Cupid in their own persons, and pierced with barbed arrows, present themselves torn and bleeding before their inexorable mistresses. Among the savage tribes of North and South America, these weapons are used to preserve life as well as to destroy it. After Lionel Wafer quitted the buccaneering vessel to which he had acted as surgeon, he was detained captive, somewhere about the Isthmus of Darien, by an Indian chief named Lacenta. It so happened that Lacenta's wife, a woman of great beauty, being taken ill, they wished to bleed her, an operation there performed by seating the patient upon a large stone in the middle of some shallow stream, and with a small bow shooting little arrows up and down her body, not missing any part. The arrows being gagged, did not penetrate further than we usually thrust our lancets; and when the operators chanced to hit a vein, so that the blood spirted out ever so little, the Indians leaped and skipped about, making many antic gestures of triumph. Wafer, who witnessed this exhibition of primitive phlebotomy, now told Lacenta that he would show him a method far less tormenting to the lady. "Let me see," quoth the great man. Our Englishman accordingly bound up her arm with strips of bark, and drawing forth his case of lancets which he had preserved, instantly breathed a vein. But the attempt had nearly cost him his life, for when the chief saw a stream of blood, which before came only drop by drop, following the wound of the polished and formidable-looking steel, he started up, and laying hold of a lance, swore by his "tooth, that if, she did otherwise than well, he would have his heart's blood." The squaw recovered health, and Wafer liberty, as the recompense of his skill. I observe the following entry in a catalogue of the museum at Don Saltero's coffee-house, a place of entertainment well known to the visitors of Chelsea during the past age:--

"Indian arrows for bleeding; Glass Case, No. 11."

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