Of the figure of the Bow
Part 4 of 4
The inftructors judge this exercife to be well performed, when the left hand extended at length, fupports the Bow, firm and ftrong, without fhaking ; and the right draws the ftring, with the thumb to the ear.—In order to prevent the effects of the Bowftring, they wear a circular ring, which projects an inch within, and half an inch on the outfide of the thumb. It is on this reft that the ftring hangs when it is drawn up in fhooting; and it is made of horn, ivory, or jadde, which is a kind of green alabafter. The king has fome of thefe rings of a bone, coloured yellow and red, which grows, as it is faid, like an hoop, on the head of a large bird in the ifland of Ceylon.
When the young Archers underftand how to manage the Bow well, their firft exercife is to fhoot into the air as highas they can. Afterwards they fhoot point-blanc. The art of doing this is not only in hitting the mark, but it is neceffary alfo that the Arrow go firm and fteady. Laftly, they learn to fhoot with very heavy fhafts, and with great force.42"
Such is the Archery of the Perfians; and fuch the prodigious flrength of their Bows, which to us, who are unaccuftomed to fee fuch efforts of human power, feem almoft incredible; and perhaps by fome may be efteemed among thofe ftories of hiftory which merit little credit. Travellers in all ages have been reproached with exaggeration; but in fome cafes it would be well if their relations were judged by a train of reafoning, and not by the delufive criterion of apparent probability. But let us reflect a moment on the power of early habits, and training the body from infancy, to endure the toils of labour and fatigue;—we fhall then be induced to extend our conceptions of mufcular force to a much greater fcale than at firft fight appeared reafonable.
It is evident that in the military operations of the prefent day, perfonal valour and bodily ftrength are by no means fo neceffary as formerly. The management of the mufket requires no great power;—but when the fword and javelin were the inftruments commonly in ufe, a ftrong man had greatly the advantage over a weak one, which is not now the cafe. This was the reafon why bodily flrength was efteemed and cultivated of old, among the foldiery. We do not, at this day, fee fo many inftances of mufcular power, becaufe men are trained in the gentler exercifes of modern tactics, rather than the harraffing fatigues of Campus Martius.
If we confider the great weight of every part of the armour anciently in ufe, we Khali be led to think, that under fuch an incumberance, the wearer could have but very little command over the motions of his body,—but this was far from being the cafe. Thofe helmets, cuiraffes and fhields, which to a modern, would prove infupportable, and which would gall the firmed flefh to the quick, were by the Roman veteran worn with eafe through his long and toilfome campaigns. A common fuit of armour, we, are told, weighed about fixty pounds; but fome far exceeded even that. Plutarch, in his life of Demetrius, fpeaking of one Alcimus, fays, he wore a fuit which was fix fcore pounds; but this man was a giant in ftature, and one of the ftrongeft men in the world. Indeed, we find from hiftory, that the ufual armour of fome nations was of much greater weight than that ufed by the Romans; but I do not pretend to fay they carried it with eafe and pleafure; on the contrary, Tacitus ridicules the foldiers of Gaul on that account. "They were fo armed," fays he, u that they were only able juft to move, without the power of doing injury to their enemies, or the poffibility of being injured by them; and if they were thrown on the ground, remained there under the preffure of their arms, without the ability of rifing."43 But it was not fo with the Romans: Cicero fays, their arms were but as limbs, they were fo accuftomed to carry them.44 The troops under Marius are faid to have marched the diftance of five leagues in five hours, and fometimes fix, under the weight of fixty pounds of arms each.
This docility in fuftaining burthens was unqueftionably owing to the conftant habit, and unremitted attention paid to the military difcipline. Twice a-day the legions were drawn out, and performed their long and compleat exercifes: nor was age, or knowledge allowed to excufe the veterans from their daily repetition of what they had completely learned.45 In the midft of peace, the Roman troops familiarifed themfelves with the practife of war, and engaged with vigour and animation.46
What we have here remarked will in every part apply with exactnefs to the practife of Archery. An early beginning, and conftant ufe will make a nervous arm, and increafe the mufcular power to a degree not to be limited.
It was on this principle the military exercifes in Perfia were inftituted; and they appear to have been even more fevere than thofe of the Roman legions; and therefore we may fuppofe, that the difficulty of fhooting ftrong Bows was as much diminifhed, in the one cafe, as that of fuftaining heavy armour, in the other.
The Cretans, who have been highly celebrated for their fkill and power in the management of the Bow, were kept with the ftricteft care to the perpetual practife of Archery;47 and there is reafon to think all thofe nations and people who have rendered themfelves expert in this art, have adopted the fame mode of education.