Of the Bow-String.
Part 2 of 2
The moft general material of which Strings are now made in England, is hemp; of which the Italian anfwers the beft; and this fubftance poffeffes many advantages over all other forts. Catgut is too much under the influence of heat and moifture, to prove at all times of a proper tenfion; but hemp and flax have not this inconvenient and difadvantageous quality belonging to them.
An old phrafe fays, "It is good to have two Strings to your Bow;" and it appears to have originated from an ancient cuftom. A paffage in Afcham teaches us it was practifed in his day; and there is reafon to think it had a much earlier exiftence. "In warre," fays he, " if a Stringe breake, the man is loft, and is no man; for his weapon is gone;—and although he have two Strings put on at once, yet he fhall have fmall leafure and leffe roome to bend his Bowe; therefore, God fend us good ftringers, both for warre and peace! "
A law of Charlemagne, made in the year 813, feems to exprefs the fame cuftom:—" Et ipfe comes praevideat quomodo fint parati (milites)--aut arcum cum duabus cordis."60 I confefs that there is another fenfe in this paffage, different from that I put upon it; but as the cuftom evidently exifted in ages pofterior to the aerea of Charlemagne, it might have originated as early as that reign.
I have an additional teftimony, which appears to give weight to my conjecture on this head; and which fhews this cuftom prevailed in the beginning of the thirteenth century. I allude to the figure delineated in Plate 2, Figure 13.
This was taken from a feal fent on a letter from Sir James Pringle, to Mr. Waring, of Leicefter Houfe, who favoured me with a copy. The letter accompanying the impreffion contained the following description:—"I feal this letter with a ring, a very curious antique, —a prefent to me, as Prefident of the Council of the Royal Company of Archers, from Mr. Gray, our Secretary. Which ring was found about a month ago, near or upon the field of the famous battle of Bannockburn, feveral hundred years ago"61 This letter was dated, Edinburgh, Feb. 21, 1791.
The Bow reprefented in the hands of this Archer, feems to have two ftrings attached to it; one of which only is drawn up with the Arrow, while the other remains unemployed; and I prefume this muft have been the method of ufing the Bows, thus doubly ftrung.
In the Eaft Indies, the natives ufe a particular fort of String, by means of which they fhoot balls of clay, which are rendered hard. I he conftruction of it is very fimilar to that generally applied to the modern Crofs-bow, when ufed to difcharge leaden bullets. It is made double, and near the ends the two pieces are bound together; but as it is neceffary, in order to make a place for the ball, that thefe Strings fhould be feparated in the middle, there is a fmall piece of cane, or wood, placed between them, at each end, to keep them at a little diftance apart. The ball is placed in a cloth focket, fattened rather above the centre of the String; and when the Bow is ufed, the fhooter takes hold of the cloth focket, and preffes the ball within, by means of his finger and thumb, at the fame time drawing up the String in the ufual manner. On loofing, the ball is carried by the focket, and projected from it in the way the Crofs-bow acts. The String is fixed on the Bow fo as to drive the ball clear of the wood part, and of the hand, for if it threw it directly forwards, it would endanger both. It is faid, the Indians are very expert in managing this contrivance, and are able to hit birds, and other moving objects.
Afcham mentions, that they formerly made ufe of two Strings in England, the large, thick String; and a fort much fmaller. "The one," fays he, "is fafe for the Bow, but does not fhoot ftrong; while the other is infinitely preferable in long diftances, but at the fame time does not direct the Arrow fo true, and is fooner broken.
I am not acquainted with the feveral ways which were practifed by the ancients in ftringing their Bows; it was ufual, however, I think, to hold the Bow in the left hand by the middle, and to prefs on the upper end with the right, at the fame time flipping the String into its place, while the lower end of the weapon refted againft the knee of the left leg.
There is a figure very diftinctly drawn on a medal in Dr. Hunter's Mufeum, which reprefents an Archer ftringing his Bow, exactly in the pofition I now fpeak of, and which is copied, Plate 2, Figure II. It is a Cretan coin.
Ovid, fpeaking of Cupid going to fhoot and preparing his Bow, fays,
"Lunavit que gena finuofum fortiter arcum."
There is a figure in this pofture drawn in Plate 24, Vol. III. of the Mufeo Capitolino. And another, Pl. 21, Vol. II. of the—"Antiche Statue Greche e Romane che nell' antifala della Libreria di San Marco, e in altri luoghi publici di Venezia fi trovano."