Roving, or Rural Archery
Part 1 of 2
Lingua riseth in her sleep
Common Sense. How 's this ? is she asleep ? have you seen her walk thus before ?
Memory. It is a very common thing. I have seen many sick of a peripatetic disease.
Anamnestes. By the same token, my lord, I knew one that went abroad in his sleep,
bent his bow, shot at a magpie, killed her, fetched his arrow, came home, locked the doors, and went to bed again.
Common Sense. What should be the reason of it ?
Lingua, or a Combat of the Tongue. 1658.
THE author of the comedy probably witnessed this case of somnambulism, certainly a very extraordinary instance of roving.
Though constant practice at unvarying marks may enable you to exhibit advantageously on a prize day, it never makes a scientific bowman. So, by diligent attendance at Batterseafields and Chalk Farm, with the consumption of a proportionate quantity of ammunition, a man acquires the reputation of a first-rate shot, among persons knowing little of the matter. He is so at the pigeon trap, when aware of the precise moment at which the game will spring; and you may then securely back his gun for ten shots out of twelve. Beware, however, how you do so, when he attempts to range the open country in search of wild game.
Thus it is with the archer. He must not content himself simply to "read my book," and frequent the target-ground only. Let him labour from "morn till dewy eve," out of the target-ground, in acquiring a facility of deciding at a glance upon the relative distances of different objects. The trunk of some distant oak, a hillock, or a thorn-bush, barely within the range of his lightest flight-shaft; with the mole hill and the thistle top, distant, on the contrary, only a score of paces, must alternately be the objects of his aim. Birds and rabbits afford a delightful variety in these rustic rambles. Rooks, when they congregate in numbers upon the tall ancestral oaks, which shelter the
Ancient homes of England,
afford pleasant sport. Whether my archer chooses to lie in wait for the ramify gentlemen, winging their way homewards from the broad fallows, or dispatches his feathered deaths towards the branchers, perched upon the topmost boughs, a bolt is his only weapon. The Flemings use such for popinjay shooting; and the best I ever had were purchased at Ostend.
Reader, in thy lone piscatory rambles, by the rocky margin of the Doithëa, or the vast stretches of gravel which border the glittering streams of Wye, hast thou ever encountered a heron? His maw shall hold more trout, and of the best, in one morning's fishing, than occupies thy basket in three. How gladly in such a moment would Chevalier be exchanged for Waring; thy angling rod for yew and bird bolt. Mark, how like a fragment of the grey rock he appears, whilst standing with his spindle shanks half concealed in the rippling current. As to head and neck, they match his lower extremities well, but you can't see them; they, as well as his long sharp beak, being almost buried in the plumage of his breast, ready to pounce down upon the scaly prey. There I he has him; a lamprey. In vain the slimy little monster writhes his supple body round the chaps that holds his like a pincers, until, with a shake and a gobble, he is sent to join his fellows in that capacious maw; but now he hops ashore, meditative of flight That's your time, if you have a bow; if not, I'll show you how to use one on some other opportunity. Don't be hasty, treat him like a sportsman; fair law, forty yards at least. Wait till he's well balanced upon his long flagging wings; draw then to your ear, and bringing eyes and mind to bear simultaneously on that dark feathered spot, close beneath his pinion, loose sharply The world has not a fairer mark; and, unless you are a bungler, both fish and fowl shall furnish out your supper; the first will eat as well from master heron's craw, as from your own basket; and the plumed poacher himself is not only eatable, but a rare delicacy. Experto crede me Roberto.
The blunt-headed bolt, herein-before described, will be hardly sufficient to bring down so large a bird. Barbed and double-headed arrows were once used at this sport. "In shooting at birds upon houses, trees, or butts, with the longbow or arc a jallet," says the author of La Maison Rustiquet, "the sportsman should be furnished with a peculiar description of arrow. For geese or other large birds, they should be double-forked, sharp, and strong, to cut a wing or a neck clean off. The blow from a common shaft rarely inflicts a wound sufficient to bring down the game at once: notwithstanding she be hurt or shot through, she will fly off and die in another place:' Nor does even the barbed arrow constantly prove effectual, where a bird is covered with very thick and strong plumage; for Martyn, in his "Account of the Scottish Western Isles," mentions that the steward of St. Kilda had found an arrow, besides other strange items in a Solan goose's nest; the former doubtless had fallen from her wounded body: and I recollect, some few years ago, noticing an account of a stork being shot in Germany, with a barbed shaft sticking in its body. A small portion of the stele, which was of jointed cane, remained attached to the head, whence it was pronounced, by a competent judge, to be one of those used by the natives of Interior Africa, where the bird must have received its hurt.
The chase of rabbits with the longbow is also a delightful species of roving. Of course, certain situations are better adapted to this kind of shooting than others; for, unlike the sportsman with a gun, our archer, ere he makes a shot, must reflect whether his missile may be lost or injured by it.
All the world has probably seen or heard of Britton Ferry, a magnificent sea-view near Swansea, on the shores of Glamorganshire. The road thence to the Ferry passes over about four miles of beautiful velvet turf, called the "Burrows;" and although patches of yellow blossoming gorse are scattered here and there, in general, it is a plain, bare and level as a bowling green. Thousands of rabbits inhabit this charming spot; and a better situation for an archer to acquire dexterity I do not believe exists. It will greatly enhance the pleasure of this sport, if the archer provide himself with a brace of dwarf spaniels, or beagles of the smallest size, which must be broken especially to the bow, just as a falconer trains the setter for his peculiar sport. In a very short time, these dogs will recognise, and testify as much pleasure on seeing the apparatus of archery, as they commonly do at the sight of a gun.
When brought to hunt within twenty or thirty yards of the archer's feet, they may be considered sufficiently under command. If a rabbit gets up and runs in direct line from the shooter, he should aim somewhat before its head: the same allowance holds good for a cross shot; but for all this I cannot lay down any precise rules, because the distance varies, according to the power of the bow, which, for flying or running shots, should be rather below the shooter's strength; as is set forth in the Book of King Modus. Let not the thoroughbred sportsman entertain any qualms about indulging in my French style of hunting. Our most ancient game laws expressly permitted the hare or the roebuck to be killed by an arrow, even whilst the hounds were in full cry.
Perhaps the suggestions here thrown out will appear like novelties in the practice of modern archery; so much the better. But, in sober truth, they are merely drafts on the "wisdom of our forefathers ;" they knew by experiment that a correct knowledge of distance, so essential to the military archer, was only to be acquired by this desultory mode of shooting, and wisely made laws to discourage that at ordinary butts or targets.
With the exception of the poorest classes, every Englishman provided himself with a couple of bows. One of these served him in war, the other, weak and slender, was used for field sports. "Bring hither my birding bow," exclaims either Master Ford or Master Fenton, I forget which, when preparing for some rural excursions. A Sloane MS, asserts that "ille sicarius famosus, Robertus Hood," became an exile to avoid the consequences of killing a king's forester, who had insulted him. " One of his first exploits was the going abroad and bearing with him a bowe of exceeding strength. It fortuned that he got in company with certayne rangers or woodmen, who fell to quarrel with him, as making show to use such a bowe as no man was able to shoot withal. Whereto Robin replied, he had two better at Lockesley, only he bare that with him now, as a binding bowe," &c. &c.
The fragment of a romance called Wylliam and the Werwolf, written towards the close of the fourteenth century, speaks of killing game with the long bow.
A bow, also, the bold bairn got him that time,
And so to shoot under the straws, sharplie he learned,
That birdes and small beastes with his bow he quells
So plenteously in his play, that soothlie to tell,
When he went home each night with his drove of kine,
He came himself charged with coneys and hares,
With pheasants and fieldfares, and other fowls great;
That the hind and his wife, and all his whole meyne,
The bold bairn with his bowe at that time fed.
But of all modes of roving with which I am familiar, none are entitled to compete with the scientific rat shooting exploits of a Tonga island chief; but I will first describe another of their rural sports connected with archery, in which considerable ingenuity is displayed.
There is a particular kind of bird bred in the South Sea Islands, termed "Calai," a word signifying trained for sport. These are forbidden to all except the king and chiefs of high distinction; indeed, the expense and trouble of keeping and training them, renders the amusement of Fauna Calai beyond the means of ordinary men. Like our European falcon, the Calai is considered a present worthy the acceptance of a prince; and, as was usual also in our superior hawking establishments, one man is solely occupied in taking care of a single pair of birds. They teach them to utter a peculiar kind of call, by which the wild ones of the same species are attracted within bowshot, where the sportsman has concealed himself within a large wicker cage disguised with green branches. On the roof of this cage, the male Calai is secured by his leg, and the hen occupies a smaller receptacle hard by. No sooner do the decoy birds commence their treacherous manoeuvres, than numbers of the wild species, male and female, flock towards them. Whilst these are hovering in the air, or sit perched on the branches of surrounding trees, the sportsman has ample leisure to transfix them with his arrows.
This and what follows are solitary instances of archery being used merely as a pastime, by any people essentially barbarous. The care in most cases requisite for providing their daily sustenance, with its attendant fatigue, leave these children of the wilderness neither leisure nor inclination to exercise their skill unproductively. The advantages of soil and climate possessed by the South Sea islanders may account for their forming an exception to a rule so general; but let me no longer detain the reader from his interview with our accomplished rat shooters. These vermin of the Antipodes are smaller than the European rat, being somewhat between that and a mouse; and, subsisting chiefly on vegetable substances, such as sugar- cane and bread-fruit, are accounted good food by the poorer class of natives. The privilege of indulging in the game of fauna gooma, or shooting them, belongs to their chiefs, mataboots, and mooas. All unqualified persons, therefore, who venture to trespass on the rat preserves of these dignitaries, are considered poachers, and punished with even more severity than falls to the lot of the same class of audacious marauders in England.
I will now endeavour to enlighten my readers respecting the laws and regulations of fauna gooma. It will be seen that no more elaborate and arbitrary ones were ever promulgated for the use and behoof of the frequenters of the Finsbury roving marks, by those pains-taking individuals Messrs. Shotterel and D'Urfey.
When a party of chiefs signify it is their pleasure to go ratshooting, the attendants incontinently busy themselves in the preparation of a supply of roasted cocoa nut. The scene of action is the high road, and when these bait distributors have ascertained what ground the archers intend sporting over, they walk slowly along, chewing the roasted nut very finely, and spitting, or rather blowing some fragments with considerable force on the road as they proceed. The skill of the bait men consists in scattering the particles sufficiently thick to attract the attention of the rat, and in pieces small enough to tempt him to stop and eat, instead of seizing and racing off to his hole with the prize. Should this novel hunting ground be intersected by cross-ways, a reed is stuck upright, just where the latter unite with the main road, as a taboo, or mark of prohibition, warning all passengers to avoid the baited road, that the rats may not be driven off; and by a tacit understanding among these people, none will violate the taboo. A petty chief or man of the lower orders, would do so at the peril of his life, and even when a chief of the highest dignity becomes aware of this prohibition, he halts and remains quietly at some distance, out of respect and politeness to his peers.
Being arrived at the appointed termination of their labours, the attendants sit down to prepare cave or refreshments, orders having been previously issued in the names of the chiefs, that a supply of pork, fowls, yams, and ripe plaintains, should be sent from the neighbouring plantations. In the mean time, we are to suppose the princely rat shooters to have commenced the work of slaughter; for having divided themselves into two parties, they set off equipped with their bows and arrows, about ten minutes after the boohi or distributors of bait. They do not separate, however, but proceed in Indian file, along the middle of the road. The most illustrious chief goes foremost; behind him comes an antagonist, then follows one of his own party, and so on alternately.
And now for the rules of the game. As soon as each archer has made his shot, hit or miss, he changes place with the man behind him. Thus all the shooters continually vary their position in the rank; the first being sometimes last, and the last first. If a rat shows some distance in advance of the whole party, no one may shoot except he who then happens to be the leader; but as regards those which get up either behind or abreast of any individual bowman, there is no restriction. Though rats form the chief object of their pursuit, the archer is not restricted to any particular mark, so that it be a living one; should he espy a bird fairly within range, he may shoot; if the arrow kill it he reckons one, and changes place with the man behind him. Occasionally, they halt to perform a squeaking concert, in imitation of the noise uttered by the animal they are in chase of. Practice has rendered their old hands marvellously expert at this; they actually tempt the rats out of the bushes, and whilst seated upright on their haunches in the act of listening, the hunter transfixes them to the earth.
Ten's the game; and the party first triumphantly exhibiting that number of long tails, carries off the prize.
On passing each taboo the reed is pulled up, that no unnecessary hinderance may be given to passengers; and when they arrive where the attendants have made ready their repast, the jovial rat shooters cast themselves on the green turf, shadowed by some umbrageous plaintain tree. There, with bows and arrows beside them, they "taste the good the gods provide," with all the hilarity of a knot of English sportsmen, reposing about noon on a warm September day.
They usually bait the roads for about a quarter of a mile; and should there be abundance of rats, they often agree to play three or four successive games; in which case, the boohi are sent forwards to renew their former occupation. The war arrows used by the natives of the Tonga islands, measure a cloth yard only. Those appropriated to the game of fauna gooma are nearly six feet long. Their great length appears to assist the steadiness of their flight, and is advantageous in taking aim through a thick bush; they have no feathers, and are headed with a splinter of ironwood. Each bowman carries a pair of arrows only, for no sooner has one been discharged, than it is immediately fetched by the attendants. I have a bundle of these rat arrows by me; and the bow originally belonging to them is also longer than that borne in battle, being of the same dimensions as the arrow. Four feet and a half is the ordinary size of the war bow. Nor are they nearly so difficult to bend, as ought ever to be the case, where this weapon is used for the purpose of killing very small game.
It only remains for me to notice one other exercise connected with rural archery. I allude to the popinjay, a game familiar to the ancients, and forming a division of the funereal sports described by Homer and Virgil.
Those who in skilful archery contend,
He next invites the twanging bow to bend.
The mast which late a first-rate galley bore
The hero fixes on the sandy shore;
To the tall top, a milk-white dove they tie,
The trembling mark at which their arrows fly.
Whose weapon strikes yon trembling bird, shall bear
These two edged axes, terrible in war;
The single, he whose shaft divides the chord.
He said: experienced Merion took the word
And skilful Teucer: in the helm they threw
The lots inscribed, and forth the latter flew.
Swift from the string the sounding arrow flies,
But flies unblest: no grateful sacrifice,
No firstling lambs, unheedful didst thou vow
To Phoebus, patron of the shaft and bow.
For this, thy well aim'd arrow turn'd aside,
Err'd from the dove, yet cut the chord that ty'd;
Adown the mainmast fell the parting string,
And the free bird to Heaven displays her wing.
Seas, shores, and skies with loud applause resound,
And Merion, eager, meditates tile wound;
He takes the bow, directs the shaft above,
And follows with his eye the soaring dove,
Implores the god to speed it through the skies,
With vows of firstling lambs and grateful sacrifice.
The dove in airy circles as she wheels,
Amid the clouds the piercing arrow feels,
Quite through and through the point its passage found,
And at his feet fell bloody to the ground.
The wounded bird, ere yet she breathed her last,
With flagging wings alighted on the mast,
A moment hung, and spread her pinions there,
Then sudden drops, and left her life in air.