Ancient and modern methods of arrow-release.
Part 15 of 17
According to Hansard, Ascham ordered 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 the French soldiers had sworn to amputate their three first fingers, so that they should never more be able to slay man or horse."
The earliest figure I have met with, illustrating archery in England, was copied from the Saxon manuscripts in the Cotton Library. These manuscripts are of the eighth century. If the wood-cut contained in Strutt's "Sports and Pastimes" is correct, then the attitude of the hands shows distinctly the three-fingered Mediterranean release. The how is short and thick, and has a double curve, something like the Roman bow, from which indeed it might naturally have been derived.
The following examples have come under my notice in a very hasty and imperfect survey of the field, principally derived from books, engravings, and ivory carvings, reproductions, etc., in museums.
The celebrated Bayeux Tapestry, a copy of which may be seen at the South Kensington Museum, represents the archers in the attitude of the two-fingered Mediterranean release, though a few are shown using three fingers. Also the following show the two-fingered form of the Mediterranean release without exception : a fresco in Kumla Church, Vestmanland Co., Sweden, 1492; a sculptured figure in wood by Albrecht Durer, figured in Som-merard's "Arts of the Middle Ages" (5th Series, Plate xxvii.), also in the same work (10th Series, Plate xxv.) ; a chess piece in ivory supposed to he of the tenth or eleventh century; in Meyrick's "Ancient Armour" (Plate viii., Vol. I.), a figure of a Norman of the eleventh century, on the doorway of the Cathedral of Amiens, a cast of which may be seen at the Trocedero Museum; and, finally, in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts are a number of Florentine engravings of the early half of the fifteenth century and these in every case; represent in the clearest manner the two-fingered variety of the Mediterranean release. A curious form of the Mediterranean release is shown on the door of the Church of the Made-leine at Vezelay, a cast of which is to be seen at Troce-dero Museum. In this release the archer has all four fingers on the string:, the arrow being; held between the second and third fingers. I had supposed that this was a mistake of the artist, as indeed it may have been, but Col. James Stevenson, in describing to me the methods of release among the Navajo Indians of North America, illustrated a release identical with this four-fingered variety.
In conclusion, it is interesting to observe that all the releases thus far described have been practiced from the earliest historic times. Each release with the exception of the primary release, which admits of no variation, has one or more varieties. The secondary release may have the second finger, or the second and third fingers on the string. Some forms of this release in India and Assyria show all the fingers on the string; it is hardly probable, however, that these are correctly represented. The tertiary release may have the first and second. or the first, second, and third fingers on the string. The Mediterranean release may be effected with two or three fingers, and in two instances all the fingers, on the string. The Mongolian release may have the assistance only of the first finger as in the Chinese and Manchu, or the first and second fingers as in the Korean and Japanese, - or, if rightly interpreted, the early Persian form, with the second and third only aiding the thumb; and if the Mongolian release described on page 161 be an established form, then we have here a mixture of Mongolian and secondary.
The persistence of a release in a people is well illustrated in the case of the Aino. For centuries the Ainos have battled with the Japanese, and must have been mindful of the superior archery of their enemies; indeed on all hands, with the exception possibly of the Kamtschadals at the north, the Ainos have been surrounded by races practicing the Mongolian release, and yet have adhered to their primitive methods of shooting.
The releases vary in their efficiency and strength.. The two strongest and perhaps equally powerful releases are the Mediterranean and Mongolian; and it is interesting to note the fact that the two great divisions of the human family who can claim a history, and who have been all dominant in the affairs of mankind, are the Mediterranean nations and the Mongolians. For three or four thousand years, at least, each stock has had its peculiar arrow-release, and this has persisted through all the mutations of time to the present day. Language, manners, customs, religions have in the course of centuries widely separated these two great division into nations. Side by side they have lived; devastating wars and wars of conquest have marked their contact; and yet the apparently trivial and simple act of releasing the arrow from the bow has remained unchanged. At the present moment the European and Asiatic archer, shooting now only for sport, practice each the release which characterized their remote ancestors.
Want of material will prevent more than a passing reference to a peculiar practice of archery which Moseley alludes to as pedestrial archery. It is a matter of common record that in widely separated parts of the world, as South America, China, and Africa, the archer uses his feet in drawing the bow. In an "Essay of Archery" by Walter Michael Moseley, 1792, the writer says : " It is recorded by ancient writers that the Ethiopians draw the bow with the feet;" and again, Xenophon speaking of the Caducians says: " They had bows which were three cubits long, and arrows two cubits. When they made use of these weapons, they placed their left foot on the bottom of the bow, and by that method they drove their arrows with great violence," etc.
It is recorded of the Arabians that they used their bows in the manner above alluded to, by the help of the foot. The release in these cases must be of a most vigorous character; and when in some accounts the archer is rep-resented as resting on his hack, with both feet bracing against the bow, the string is probably clutched with both hands, after the manner I have provisionally called the archaic release.