E s s a y o n
A r c h e r y.
THE moft fuperficial attention to Hiftory will exhibit to our view, many and extraordinary changes which have taken place in the Manners and Cuftoms of the various People in the World. We fee a part of Mankind plunged in the extreme of human debafement, while others poffefs the refinements of Literature, moral Excellence, and Eafe.
The progrefs of knowledge has been compared to a River, which in its courfe palling through a fubterraneous cavern, is there for a time loft to view, but at a diftance, again breaks forth, and purfues its current.
Scarce any Science, Art, or Cuftom, has continued in an uninterrupted courfe for many ages. The Arts of Greece and Rome which fo fplendidly flourifhed, remained but a little Time. The Sciences of Greece and Rome fared worfe. To what degree of perfection the latter arrived, is not precifely known, but the barbarity of a few fucceeding ages effaced the greater part; and it is but a fhort time fince this Stream hath again broke forth to Light.
ARCHERY tho' more permanent than many Arts, has fuffered a revolution likewife. The Bow! that weapon of remote antiquity—once fo deftructive— fo bloody—fo cruel:—that Weapon, by which Nations have fubverted Nations— among us is now known only, as an inftrument of polite amufement! Its terrors now are vanifhed ; and a company of Archers at this Day, appear lefs hoftile than the Gladiators of a fencing-fchool.
It is not an unpleafing talk, to confider the circumftances which have given Caufe to thefe changes.—It is inftructive, becaufe the Mind, in contemplating the different Scenes which different Ages have prefented on the Theatre of the Globe, cannot fail to be expanded by the knowledge of human nature; and the extent of thought muft be enlarged by the variety of Actions which, every moment, would folicit the obfervation, through the vaft Drama in View.—If we allow improvement to be in proportion to the number of Ideas prefented to the Mind, can we point out a fubject which, when, deeply confidered, is better adapted to raife numerous and exalted fentiments, than this I now mention? Can we fee the extremes of polifhed and favage characters without wonder; or can we pafs without a defire to trace (however imperfectly) the intermediate links of that Chain which connects them?
We fee the arts of War, as well as thofe which adminifter to our convenience and pleafure, have, in every Country, borne a near affinity with the State of Civilization. In the ruder Ages of the World, therefore, arms were fimple, and the difcipline of Troops imperfect; but as the understanding of Men became more and more enlightened, fo the Arts of comfort and eafe increafed — the military regulations became more complicated—weapons of various conftructions and power were introduced, till, in the prefent advanced period, the Science of Tactics is become a deep and abftrufe Study.
I fhall now, in the profecution of my fubject, take a fhort view of the different manners of nations, and point out the feveral degrees of eftimation the Bow has commanded in the progrefs of Society.
During the moft diftant periods of which any record has been transferred to us, mankind appear to have had much the fame general character with that we have prefented to our eyes among favage nations. Their manners, utenfils, and arms, feem to have had a near refemblance. A philofophic mind may have pleafure in, contemplating the human character in thefe feveral ftages, and may endeavour to trace in the conftitution of Man and the fituation of Countries, the immediate caufes which feem to influence the Mind and Habits of Mankind, A great deal has been afcribed to climate,5 but it is neceffary to add the affiftance of other and more forcible caufes, to explain the origin, or rather the continuance of favage Life. Temperature affixes a much more permanent mark on the Figure and complexion of Men, than on the internal ftructure of the Mind; and while we view a particular ftature and proportion of the body, in every different nation throughout the whole world, we fee difpofitions by no means fo provincial. There are paffions which all uncivilized people poffefs in common, and there are others peculiar to civilized Nations.