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Home > Books > An Essay on Archery > Chapter II
Chapter II
Part 1 of 5

I HAVE intimated that the art of war has in every age had a near affinity with the ftate of civilization; and have, in the firft part of this Effay, endeavoured to delineate the moft prominent features of Savage life, and the tactics of uncivilized countries. I fhall now proceed to fhew the gradual improvement of arms, and the progrefs various nations have made in their conftruction, and the fkill and dexterity they have fhewn in ufing them.

The period of time in which the Bow was invented is extremely uncertain; but it was undoubtedly one of the moft ancient, as well as the moft univerfal of weapons ufed by men. Nature has given to every animal a peculiar method of protecting and defending itfelf from the affaults and injuries of its enemies, and in moft cafes, among the lower animals it proves effectual. But as there are many different ranks of beafts fuperior in fize, agility and ftrength, to man, it is by fkill and ingenuity that he muft fubdue, if he difpute the dominion of the foreft with them.

Probably the earth was but a very fhort time inhabited before contention and battle arofe, both between man and man, and man and beaft. Clafhing interefts, without much to reftrain the violence of paffion, would foon make men refort to the ufe of arms. Thofe given by Nature came firft into ufe, no doubt; but as the fuperior efficacy of flicks and ftones would not long remain unknown, thefe would be employed to aid the other.

A little experience would teach the advantage of a pointed weapon, rather than a blunt one, and hence the introduction of fwords. Thefe inftruments, I prefume, were firft made of hard wood, pointed at the end, and rendered keen on the edges, as is common at this day in fome parts of the world. The Indians retained this method to a period much later than this I am now fpeaking of, and rendered their fpears and lances harder by fire:19 indeed, the practice is ftill continued. But there is much reafon to believe, that the ufe of fire was not known in fome of the firft ages of the world; for there were fome countries, which, till lately, were ignorant of the ufe of that element, and therefore the method of hardening inftruments of this kind by heat, muft be looked upon as an improvement which did not take place immediately.

As we fuppofe the principal ufe of thefe weapons, at firft, to be that of procuring food and cloathing, it will be afked, how it was poffible for a perfon, with no other affiftance than a wooden fword, to accomplifh the end propofed? I anfwer, That there are reafons which may induce us to think, that the cattle of the field were, in the early times of the world, tame, and almoft without fear, as fome of them appear at prefent, (though to be fure thefe are not in a ftate of Nature); and if fo, the difficulty of killing them Would be little. Some writers have fuppofed, that animals were originally wild, and fled the prefence of man; but that having been taken when young, and ufed with genlenefs, they became tame, and were reduced to the difcipline of the fhepherd. Others, as I have faid, maintain that all animals were primarily tame and gregarious; and that they became wild, in confequence of the purfuit of hunters endeavouring to take them for food. There are many curious facts recorded, which tend to fhhew how gentle animals have been found in thofe parts of the world, little, or not at all inhabited. It is faid by Kempler, that in the Philippine Iflands the birds are fo tame as to be taken in the hand. In the Falkland Iflands alfo, the geefe may be knocked down with flicks. In Arabia Felix, the foxes fhew no figns of fear; and in an Uninhabited ifland near Kamfkatka, they fcarcely turn out of a man's way.20

If the latter opinion be true, (and it is as probable as the former) we fhall find no great difficulty in conceiving how a man armed with a wooden fword, might fupply himfelf with food and raiment. But this could no continue long. Experience would in a fhort time teach the unfufpecting flock to avoid the fight of him they at firft beheld with indifference; and the cries of diftrefs, and the fight of a fellow creature ftruggling in the hands of a man, would raife a dread through the whole, which foon would be increafed to greater, and ftill greater degrees of fear. Recourfe muft then be had to miffive weapons;, and from this period, whenever it may have been, we may date the ufe of Bows and Arrows.

I am inclined to think mankind, before this aera, muft have toiled many an unfuccefsful hour amidft the woods in fearch of prey, becaufe the contrivance of this inftrument appears to be complicated, and very unlikely to have been early invented.21 If we reflect upon this circumftance, it will appear extraordinary how the idea of projecting a rod, in the manner a Bow projects the Arrow, firft ftruck the mind of a favage.

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