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Home > Books > An Essay on Archery > Chapter VII: Of Poisoned Arrows
Chapter VII
Of Poisoned Arrows.
Part 1 of 3

AMONG the various appendages which have been attached to the Arrow, the moft formidable feems to be that of poifon. We are told that a fluid is prepared, and loaded with fuch powerful infection, that the animal fyftem fhrinks under its effcs, almoft infantaneoufly, if it be once introduced deeper than the fkin.

The vegetable and mineral poiforns we are acquainted with in Europe, if adminiftered in fmall portions, require time to operate, and feldom produce immediate death. But we fhall find that in other parts of the world, nature has infufed into the cells of fome vegetables, fo deadly a venom, that not even the wound of the moft virulent ferpent can equal.

Mankind probably fell victims to this poifonous juice at its firft difcovery; but the firft ufe to which it was applied feems to have been the envenoming of Arrows, which were directed againft wild beafts. For this purpofe it was a very valuable acquifition, as the wound of an Arrow alone would feldom prove inftantly mortal.

The ufe of poifoned arms is of high antiquity; they were common in the time of Alexander, as Juftin records.80

Virgil, in the 9th Ænead, celebrates Amycus for this art:

" * * * * * * * * Inde ferarum
" Vaftatorem Amycum, quo non felicior alter
"Ungere tela manu, ferrumque armare veneno.
Æneid, 9. 771.

The Gauls, we find by Pliny, fhot poifoned Arrows in hunting Stags, and which were made from a tree called Limaeum.81

The poifon with which part of the inhabitants of America arm their darts, is faid by fome to be prepared from a tree called Mancanilla—they add, that it is death to thofe who take in the effluvia of it by infpiration, and for that reafon the old people and criminals are fent to gather the juice, protecting their nofe and mouth as well as they can; but this is looked upon as a fable.82

By others it is faid, the poifon applied to arms is gotten from a ferpent, which, when irritated, vomits a noxious liquor; and if the point of an Arrow be ftained with it, the wound inflicted by that weapon will prove inftantly mortal.83

But from whatever things thefe venomous ingredients are procured, it is certain the effects are often violent and dreadful. The favages in America pretend, that by compounding the liquor, into which they dip their Arrows, with a greater or lefs portion of the poifoning quality, they can caufe immediate death from a wound, or protract the effect to a few days, a week, or a fortnight.

The real advantage derived from the ufe of poifoned Arrows in war, feems fo trivial, that we may doubt whether victory was ever apparently aided by the effects of thofe weapons. And although Alexander and Cortes, as well as many warriors, have been expofed to thefe doubly armed inftruments of death, we do not find they have ever attefted the double efficacy of them.84

The natives of the eaft:, and in America, who practife the poifoning of Arrows, employ thofe inftruments in the hunting of wild beafts. But the Arrow they ufe is of a very different conftruction from thofe which are ufually fhot from the Bow. They are fimple fticks of hard wood, poifoned at the end, and are fo light as to be blown through a tube, in the manner we often fee boys blowing peas, or other fubftances, in this country.

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