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The First Book of The School of Shooting.
Part 8 of 8

Tox. Learning to shoot is little regarded in England, for this consideration, because men be so apt by nature, they have a great ready forwardness and will to use it, although no man teach them, although no man bid them ; and so of their own courage they run headlong on it, and shoot they ill, shoot they well, great heed they take not. And, in very deed, aptness with use may do somewhat without knowledge, but not the tenth part, if so be they were joined with knowledge. Which three things be separate as you see, not of their own kind, but through the negligence of men which coupled them not together. And where ye doubt, whether there can be gathered any knowledge or art in shooting or no, surely I think that a man, being well exercised in it, and somewhat honestly learned withal, might soon, with diligent observing and marking the whole nature of shooting, find out, as it were, an art of it, as arts in other matters have been found out afore ; seeing that shooting standeth by those things, which may both be thoroughly perceived, and perfectly known, and such that never fails, but be ever certain, belonging to one most perfect end ; as shooting straight and keeping of a length bring a man to hit the mark, the chief end in shooting, which two things a man may attain unto, by diligent using and well-handling those instruments which belong unto them. Therefore I cannot see, but there lieth hid in the nature of shooting an art, which by noting and observing of him that is exercised in it, if he be any thing learned at all, may be taught, to the great furtherance of artillery throughout all this realm; and truly I marvel greatly, that Englishmen would never yet seek for the art of shooting, seeing they be so apt unto it, so praised of their friends, so feared of their enemies for it. Vegetius would have masters appointed, which should teach youth to shoot fair. Leo the Emperor of Rome showeth the same custom to have been always amongst the old Romans : which custom of teaching youth to shoot (saith he) after it was omitted and little heed taken of, brought the whole empire of Rome to great ruin. Schola Persica, that is, the school of the Persians, appointed to bring up youth, whilst they were twenty year old, in shooting, is as notably known in histories as the empire of the Persians; which school, as doth appear in Cornelius Tacitus, as soon as they gave over and fell to other idle pastimes, brought both them and the Parthians under the subjection of the Romans. Plato would have common masters and stipends, for to teach youth to shoot; and, for the same purpose, he would have a broad field near every city, made common for men to use shooting in. Which saying, the more reasonably it is spoken of Plato, the more unreasonable is their deed, which would ditch up those fields privately for their own profit, which lieth open generally for the common use : men by such goods be made richer, not honester, saith Tully. If men can be persuaded to have shooting taught, this authority which followeth will persuade them, or else none, and that is, as I have once said before, of King David, whose first act and ordinance was, after he was King, that all Judea should learn to shoot. If shooting could speak, she would accuse England of unkindness and slothfulness; of unkindness toward her, because she being left to a little blind use, lacks her best maintainer, which is cunning : of slothfulness towards their own self, because they are content with that which aptness and use doth grant them in shooting, and will seek for no knowledge, as other noble commonwealths have done: and the justlier shooting might make this complaint, seeing that of fence and weapons there is made an art, a thing in no wise to be compared to shooting. For of fence, almost in every town, there is not only masters to teach it, with his provosts, ushers, scholars, and other names of art and school; but there hath not failed also, which hath diligently and favouredly[21] written it, and is set out in print, that every man may read it.

What discommodity doth come by the lack of knowledge, in shooting, it were over-long to rehearse. For many that have been apt, and loved shooting, because they knew not which way to hold to come to shooting, have clean turned themselves from shooting. And I may tell you, Philologe, the lack of teaching to shoot in England causeth very many men to play with the King's acts; as a man did once, either with the Mayor of London or York, I cannot tell whether, which did command by proclamation, every man in the city to hang a lantern, with a candle, afore his door; which thing the man did, but he did not light it: and so many buy bows, because of the act,[22] but yet they shoot not; not of evil will, but because they know not how to shoot. But, to conclude of this matter, in shooting, as in all other things, aptness is the first and chief thing; which if it be away, neither cunning nor use doth any good at all; as the Scots and Francemen, with knowledge and use of shooting, shall become good archers, when a cunning shipwright shall make a strong ship of a sallow tree; or when a husbandman shall become rich, with sowing wheat on Newmarket heath. Cunning must be had, both to set out and amend nature, and also to oversee and correct use; which use, if it be not led and governed with cunning, shall sooner go amis than straight. Use maketh perfectness in doing that thing, whereunto nature maketh a man apt, and knowledge maketh a man cunning before. So that it is not so doubtful, which of them three hath most stroke in shooting, as it is plain and evident, that all three must be had in excellent shooting.

Phi. For this communication, Toxophile, I am very glad, and that for mine own sake, because I trust now to become a shooter. And indeed I thought afore, Englishmen most apt for shooting, and I saw them daily use shooting; but yet I never found none, that would talk of any knowledge whereby a man might come to shooting. Therefore I trust that you, by the use you have had in shooting, have so thoroughly marked and noted the nature of it, that you can teach me, as it were by a trade or way, how to come to it.

Tox. I grant I have used shooting meetly well; that I might have marked it well enough, if I had been diligent. But my much shooting hath caused me study little, so that thereby I lack learning, which should set out the art or way in any thing. And you know that I was never so well seen in the posteriorums of Aristotle as to invent and search out general demonstrations, for the setting forth of any new science, Yet, by my troth, if you will, I will go with you into the fields at any time, and tell you as much as I can ; or else you may stand some time at the pricks, and look on them which shoot best, and so learn.

Phi. How little you have looked of Aristotle, and how much learning you have lost by shooting, I cannot tell ; but this I would say, and if I loved you never so ill, that you have been occupied in somewhat else beside shooting. But, to our purpose; as I will not require a trade in shooting to be taught me after the subtilty of Aristotle, even so do I not agree with you in this point, that you would have me learn to shoot with looking on them which shoot best, for so I know, I should never come to shoot meanly; for in shooting, as in all other things which be gotten by teaching, there must be showed a way, and a path, which shall lead a man to the best and chiefest point which is in shooting; which you do mark yourself well enough, and uttered it also in your communication, when you said there lay hid in the nature of shooting a certain way which, well perceived and thoroughly known, would bring a man, without any wandering, to the best end in shooting, which you called hitting of the prick. Therefore I would refer all my shooting to that end which is best, and so should I come the sooner to some mean. That which is best hath no fault, nor cannot be amended. So show me best shooting, not the best shooter; which, if he be never so good, yet hath he many a fault, easily of any man to be espied. And therefore marvel not if I require to follow that example which is without fault, rather than that which hath so many faults. And this way every wise man doth follow in teaching any manner of thing. As Aristotle, when he teacheth a man to be good, he sets not before him Socrates life, which was the best man, but chief goodness itself; according to which he would have a man direct his life.

Tox. This way which you require of me, Philologe, is too hard for me, and too high for a shooter to talk on ; and taken, as I suppose, out of the midst of philosophy, to search out the perfect end of any thing; the which perfect end to find out, saith Tully, is the hardest thing in the world; the only occasion and cause why so many sects of philosophers hath been always in learning. And although, as Cicero saith, a man may imagine and dream in his mind of a perfect end in anything, yet there is no experience nor use of it, nor was never seen yet amongst men ; as always to heal the sick, evermore to lead a ship without danger, at all times to hit the prick,[23] shall no physician, no ship-masters, no shooter ever do; and Aristotle saith that in all deeds there are two points to be marked, possibility and excellency, but chiefly a wise man must follow and lay hand on possibility, for fear he lose both. Therefore, seeing that which is most perfect and best in shooting, as always to hit the prick, was never seen nor heard tell on yet amongst men, but only imagined and thought upon in a man his mind, methink, this is the wisest counsel, and best for us to follow, rather that which a man may come to, than that which is unpossible to be attained to, lest justly that saying of the wise maid Ismene in Sophocles may be verified on us :

    A fool is he that takes in hand he cannot end.

Phi. Well, if the perfect endof other matters had been as perfectly known as the perfect end of shooting is, there had never been so many sects of philosophers as there be; for in shooting both man and boy is of one opinion, that always to hit the prick is the most perfect end that can be imagined, so that we shall not need greatly contend in this matter. But now, Sir, whereas you think that a man, in learning to shoot, or any thing else, should rather wisely follow possibility, than vainly seek for perfect excellency; surely I will prove that every wise man, that wisely would learn any thing, shall chiefly go about that whereunto he knoweth well he shall never come. And you yourself, I suppose, shall confess the same to be the best way inteaching, if you will answer me to those things which I will ask of you.

Tox. And that I will gladly; both because I think it is unpossible for you to prove it, and also because I desire to hear what you can say in it.

Phi. The study of a good physician, Toxophile, I trow be to know all diseases and all medicines fit for them.

Tox. It is so indeed. [24]

Phi. Because, I suppose, he would gladly, at all time, heal all diseases of all men.

Tox. Yea, truly.

Phi. A good purpose surely; but was there ever physician yet among so many which hath laboured in this study, that at all times could heal all diseases ?

Tox. No, truly; nor, I think, never shall be.

Phi. Then physicians, belike, study for that which none of them cometh unto. But in learning of fence, I pray you what is that which men most labour for ?

Tox. That they may hit another, I trow, and never take blow their self.

Phi. You say truth, and I am sure every one of them would fain do so whensoever he playeth. But was there ever any of them so cunning yet, which, at one time or other, hath not been touched.

Tox. The best of them all is glad sometime to escape with a blow.

Phi. Then in fence also, men are taught to go about that thing, which the best of them all knoweth he shall never attain unto. Moreover you that be shooters, I pray you, what mean you, when ye take so great heed to keep your standing, to shoot compass, to look on your mark so diligently, to cast up grass divers times, and other things more you know better than I. What would you do then, I pray you ?

Tox. Hit the mark if we could.

Phi. And doth every man go about to hit the mark at every shot ?

Tox. By my troth I trow so ; and, as for myself, I am sure I do.

Phi. But all men do not hit it at all times.

Tox. No, truly, for that were a wonder.

Phi. Can any man hit it at all times ?

Tox. No man, verily.

Phi. Then belikely, to hit the prick always is impossible. For that is called impossible which is in no man his power to do.

Tox. Unpossible indeed.

Phi. But to shoot wide and far of the mark is a thing possible.

Tox. No man will deny that.

Phi. But yet to hit the mark always were an excellent thing.

Tox. Excellent, surely.

Phi. Then I am sure those be wiser men which covet to shoot wide, than those which covet to hit the prick.

Tox. Why so, I pray you ?

Phi. Because to shoot wide is a thing possible, and therefore, as you say yourself, of every wise man to be followed. And as for hitting the prick, because it is impossible, it were a vain thing to go about it in good sadness,[25] Toxophile; thus you see that a man might go through all crafts and sciences, and prove that any man in his science coveteth that which he shall never get.

Tox. By my troth (as you say) I cannot deny but they do so; but why and wherefore they should do so, I cannot learn.

Phi. I will tell you. Every craft and science standeth in two things: in knowing of his craft, and working of his craft; for perfect knowledge bringeth a man to perfect working: this know painters, carvers, tailors, shoemakers, and all other craftsmen, to be true.

Now, in every craft there is a perfect excellency, which may be better known in a man's mind, than followed in a man's deed. This perfectness, because it is generally laid as a broad wide example afore all men, no one particular man is able to compass it; and, as it is general to all men, so it is perpetual for all time, which proveth it a thing for man unpossible ; although not for the capacity of our thinking, which is heavenly, yet, surely for the ability of our working, which is worldly. God giveth not full perfectness to one man (saith Tully) lest if one man had all in any one science, there should be nothing left for another. Yet God suffereth us to have the perfect knowledge of it, that such a knowledge, diligently followed, might bring forth, according as a man doth labour, perfect working. And who is he, that, in learning to write, would forsake an excellent example, and follow a worse? Therefore, seeing perfectness itself is an example for us, let every man study how he may come nigh it, which is a point of wisdom, not reason with God why he may not attain unto it, which is vain curiosity.

Tox. Surely this is gaily said, Philologe : but yet this one thing I am afraid of, lest this perfectness which you speak on will discourage men to take anything in hand, because, afore they begin, they know they shall never come to an end. And thus despair shall dispatch, even at the first entering it, many a good man his purpose and intent. And I think both you yourself, and all other men too, would count it mere folly for a man to tell him whom he teacheth, that he shall never obtain that which he would fainest learn. And therefore this same high and perfect way of teaching let us leave it to higher matters, and, as for shooting, it shall be content with a meaner way well enough.

Phi. Whereas you say that this high perfectness will discourage men, because they know they shall never attain unto it, I am sure, clean contrary, there is nothing in the world shall encourage men more than it. And why % For where a man seeth, that though another man be never so excellent, yet it is possible for himself to be better, what pain or labour will that man refuse to take? If the game be once won, no man will set forth his foot to run. And thus perfectness being so high a thing that men may look at it, not come to it, and being so plentiful and indifferent to every body, that the plentifulness of it may provoke all men to labour, because it hath enough for all men, the indifferency of it shall encourage every one to take more pain than his fellow, because every man is rewarded according to his nigh coming; and yet, which is most marvel of all, the more men take of it, the more they leave behind for other, as Socrates did in wisdom, and Cicero in eloquence, whereby other hath not lacked, but hath fared a great deal the better. And thus perfectness itself, because it is never obtained, even therefore only doth it cause so many men to be well seen and perfect in many matters as they be. But whereas you think that it were fondness to teach a man to shoot, in looking at the most perfectness in it, but rather would have a man go some other way to work ; I trust no wise man will discommend that way, except he think himself wiser than Tully, which doth plainly say, that, if he teached any manner of craft, as he did rhetoric, he would labour to bring a man to the knowledge of the most perfectness of it, which knowledge should evermore lead and guide a man to do that thing well which he went about. Which way, in all manner of learning to be best, Plato doth also declare in Euthydemus, of whom Tully learned it, as he did many other things mo. And thus you see, Toxophile, by what reasons, and by whose authority I do require of you this way in teaching me to shoot; which way, I pray you, without any more delay, show me as far forth as you have noted and marked.

Tox. You call me to a thing, Philologe, which I am loth to do, and yet, if I do it not, being but a small matter as you think, you will lack friendship in me ; if I take it in hand, and not bring it to pass as you would have it, you might think great want of wisdom in me.

But I advise you, seeing ye will needs have it so, the blame shall be yours, as well as mine : yours for putting upon me so instantly[26] ; mine for receiving so fondly a greater burthen than I am able to bear. Therefore I, more willing to fulfil your mind than hoping to accomplish that which you look for, shall speak of it, not as a master of shooting, but as one not altogether ignorant in shooting. And one thing I am glad of, the sun drawing down so fast into the west shall compel me to draw apace to the end of our matter, so that his darkness shall something cloak mine ignorance.

And because you know the ordering of a matter better than I, ask me generally of it, and I shall particularly answer to it.

Phi. Very gladly, Toxophile : for so by order those things which I would know, you shall tell the better ; and those things which you shall tell, I shall remember the better.