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Home > Books > Toxophilus > The Second Book of The School of Shooting.
The Second Book of The School of Shooting.
Part 2 of 8

As for Brazil, elm, wych, and ash, experience doth prove them to be but mean for bows ; and so to conclude, yew, of all other things, is that whereof perfect shooting would have a bow made. This wood as it is now general and common amongst Englishmen, so hath it continued from long time, and had in most price for bows, amongst the Romans, as doth appear in this half verse of Virgil:

Taxi torquentur in arcus.
Yew fit for a bow to be made on.

Now, as I say, a bow of yew must be had for perfect shooting at the pricks; which mark, because it is certain, and most certain rules may be given of it, shall serve for our communication at this time. A good bow is known, much-what as good counsel is known, by the end and proof of it; and yet both a bow and good counsel may be made both better and worse, by well or ill handling of them, as oftentimes chanceth. And as a man both must and will take counsel of a wise and honest man, though he see not the end of it; so must a shooter, of necessity, trust an honest and good bowyer for a bow, afore he know the proof of it. And as a wise man will take plenty of counsel afore-hand, whatsoever need, so a shooter should have always three or four bows in store, whatsoever chance.

Phi. But if I trust bowyers always, sometime I am like to be deceived.

Tox. Therefore shall I tell you some tokens in a bow, that you shall be the seldomer deceived. If you come into a shop, and find a bow that is small, long, heavy, and strong, lying straight, not winding, not marred with knot gall, wind-shake, wem, fret or pinch, buy that bow of my warrant. The best colour of a bow that I find, is when the back and the belly in working be much-what after one manner, for such oftentimes in wearing do prove like virgin wax or gold, having a fine long grain, even from the one end of the bow to the other ; the short grain, although such prove well sometime, are for the most part very brittle. Of the making of the bow, I will not greatly meddle, lest I should seem to enter into another man's occupation, which I can no skill of. Yet I would desire all bowyers to season their staves well, to work them and sink them well, to give them heats convenient, and tillerings[5] plenty. For thereby they should both get themselves a good name, (and a good name increaseth a man's profit much,) and also do great commodity to the whole realm. If any men do offend in this point, I am afraid they be those journeymen, which labour more speedily to make many bows for their money sake, than they work diligently to make good bows for the commonwealth sake, not laying before their eyes this wise proverb, " Soon enough, if well enough ;" wherewith every honest handy-craftsmen should measure, as it were with a rale, his work withal. He that is a journeyman, and rideth upon another man's horse, if he ride an honest pace, no man will disallow him; but if he make post haste, both he that owneth the horse, and he peradventure also that afterward shall buy the horse, may chance to curse him. Such hastiness, I am afraid, may also be found amongst some of them which, throughout the realm, in divers places, work the King's artillery for war; thinking, if they get a bow or a sheaf of arrows to some fashion, they be good enough for bearing gear. And thus that weapon, which is the chief defence of the realm, very oft doth little service to him that should use it, because it is so negligently wrought of him that should make it; when truly I suppose that neither the bow can be too good and chief wood, nor yet too well seasoned or truly made, with heatings and tillerings, neither that shaft too good wood, or too thoroughly wrought, with the best pinion feathers that can be gotten; wherewith a man shall serve his Prince, defend his country, and save himself from his enemy. And I trust no man will be angry with me for speaking thus, but those which find themselves touched therein : which ought rather to be angry with themself for doing so, than to be miscontent with me for saying so. And in no case they ought to be displeased with me, seeing this is spoken also after that sort, not for the noting of any person severally, but for the amending of every one generally.

But turn we again to know a good shooting bow for our purpose. Every bow is made either of a bough, of a plant, or of the bole of the tree. The bough commonly is very knotty, and full of pins, weak, of small pith, and soon will follow the string, and seldom weareth to any fair colour ; yet for children and young beginners it may serve well enough. The plant proveth many times well, if it be of a good and clean growth; and, for the pith of it, is quick enough of cast, it will ply and bow far afore it break, as all other young things do. The bole of the tree is cleanest without knot or pin, having a fast and hard wood, by reason of his full growth, strong and mighty of cast, and best for a bow, if the staves be even cloven, and, be afterwards wrought, not overthwart the wood, but as the grain and straight growing of the wood leadeth a man ; or else by all reason, it must soon break, and that in many shivers. This must be considered in the rough wood, ard when the bow staves be over-wrought and fashioned. For in dressing and piking it up for a bow, it is too late to look for it.

But yet in these points, as I said before, you must trust an honest bowyer, to put a good bow in your hand, somewhat looking yourself to those tokens I showed you. And you must not stick for a groat or twelvepence more than another man would give, if it be a good bow. For a good bow twice paid for, is better than an ill bow once broken.

Thus a shooter must begin, not at the making of his bow, like a bowyer, but at the buying of his bow, like an archer. And, when his bow is bought and brought home, afore he trust much upon it, let him try and trim it after this sort.

Take your bow into the field, shoot in him, sink him with dead heavy shafts, look where he cometh most, provide for that place betimes, lest it pinch, and so fret : when you have thus shot in him, and perceived good shooting wood in him, you must have him again to a good, cunning, and trusty workman, which shall cut him shorter, and pike him and dress him fitter, make him come round compass everywhere, and whipping at the ends, but with discretion, lest he whip in sunder, or else fret, sooner than he is ware of: he must also lay him straight, if he be cast, or otherwise need require; and if he be flat made, gather him round, and so shall he both shoot the faster for far shooting, and also the surer for near pricking.

Phi. What if I come into a shop, and spy out a bow, which shall both then please me very well when I buy him, and be also very fit and meet for me when I shoot in him; so that he be both weak enough for easy shooting, also quick and speedy enough for far casting; then, I would think, I shall need no more business with him, but be content with him, and use him well enough, and so, by that means, avoid both great trouble, and also some cost, which you cunning archers very often put yourselves unto, being very Englishmen, never ceasing piddling about your bow and shafts, when they be well, but either with shorting and piking your bows, or else with new feathering, piecing and heading your shafts, can never have done until they be stark naught.

Tox. Well, Philologe, surely if I have any judgment at all in shooting, it is no very great good token in a bow, whereof nothing when it is new and fresh need be cut away; even as Cicero saith of a young man's wit and style, which you know better than I. For every new thing must always have more than it needeth, or else it will not wax better and better, but ever decay, and be worse and worse. New ale, if it run not over the barrel when it is new tunned, will soon lease [lose] his pith[6] and his head afore he be long drawn on. And likewise as that colt, which, at the first taking up, needeth little breaking and handling, but is fit and gentle enough for the saddle, seldom or never proveth well: even so that bow, which at the first buying, without any more proof and trimming, is fit and easy to shoot in, shall neither be profitable to last long, nor yet pleasant to shoot well. And therefore as a young horse full of courage, with handling and breaking is brought unto a sure pace and going, so shall a new bow, fresh and quick of cast, by sinking and cutting be brought to a stedfast shooting. And an easy and gentle bow, when it is new, is not much unlike a soft-spirited boy, when he is young. But yet, as of an unruly boy with right handling, proveth oftenest of all a well-ordered man; so of an unfit and staffish bow, with good trimming, must needs follow always a stedfast shooting bow. And such a perfect bow, which never will deceive a man, except a man deceive it, must be had for that perfect end which you look for in shooting.

Phi. Well, Toxophile, I see well you be cunninger in this gear than I; but put case that I have three or four such good bows, piked and dressed as you now speak of, yet I do remember that many learned men do say, that it is easier to get a good thing, than to save and keep a good thing; wherefore, if you can teach me as concerning that point, you have satisfied me plentifully as concerning a bow.

Tox. Truly it was the next thing that I would have come unto, for so the matter lay. When you have brought your bow to such a point as I speak of, then you must have an herden or woollen cloth waxed, wherewith every day you must rub and chafe your bow, till it shine and glitter withal: which thing shall cause it both to be clean, well favoured, goodly of colour, and shall also bring, as it were, a crust over it, that is to say, shall make it every where on the outside so slippery and hard, that neither any wet or weather can enter to hurt it, nor yet any fret, or pinch, be able to bite upon it; but that you shall do it great wrong before you break it. This must be done oftentimes, but especially when you come from shooting.

Beware also when you shoot off your shaft heads, dagger, knives, or agglets, lest they rase your bow; a thing, as I said before, both unseemly to look on, and also dangerous for frets. Take heed also of misty and dankish days, which shall hurt a bow more than any rain. For then you must either always rub it, or else leave shooting.

Your bow-case (this I did not promise to speak of, because it is without the nature of shooting, or else I should trouble me with other things infinite more : yet seeing it is a safeguard for the bow, something I will say of it) your bow-case, I say, if you ride forth, must neither be too wide for your bows, for so shall one clap upon another, and hurt them, nor yet so strait that scarce they can be thrust in, for that would lay them on side, and wind them. A bow case of leather is not the best; for that is oft-times moist, which hurteth the bows very much.

Therefore I have seen good shooters which would have for every bow a sere case, made of woollen cloth, and then you may put three or four of them, so cased, into a leather case if you will. This woollen case shall both keep them in sunder, and also will keep a bow in his full strength, that it never give for any weather. At home these wood[7] cases be very good for bows to stand in. But take heed that your bow stand not too near a stone wall, for that will make him moist and weak, nor yet too near any fire, for that will make him short and brittle. And thus much as concerning the saving and keeping of your bow; now you shall hear what things you must avoid, for fear of breaking your bow.

A shooter chanceth to break his bow commonly four ways; by the string, by the shaft, by drawing too far, and by frets. By the string, as I said before, when the string is either too short, too long, not surely put on with one wap, or put crooked on, or shorn in sunder with an evil nock, or suffered to tarry over-long on. When the string fails the bow must needs break, and especially in the middle ; because both the ends have nothing to stop them; but whips so far back, that the belly must needs violently rise up, the which you shall well perceive in bending of a bow backward. Therefore a bow that followeth the string is least hurt with breaking of strings.

By the shaft a bow is broken, either when it is too short, and so you set it in your bow, or when the nock breaks for littleness, or when the string slips without the nock for wideness, then you pull4t to your ear and lets it go, which must needs break the shaft at the least, and put string and bow and all in jeopardy, because the strength of the bow hath nothing in it to stop the violence of it. This kind of breaking is most perilous for the standers-by, for in such a case you shall see some time the end of a bow fly a whole score from a man, and that most commonly, as I have marked oft, the upper end of the bow.

The bow is drawn too far two ways. Either when you take a longer shaft than your own, or else when you shift your hand too low or too high for shooting far. This way pulleth the back in sunder, and then the bow flieth in many pieces. So when you see a bow broken, having the belly risen up both ways or tone, the string brake it. When it is broken in two pieces, in a manner even off, and specially in the upper end, the shaft nock brake it. When the back is pulled asunder in many pieces, too far drawing brake it. These tokens either always be true, or else very seldom miss.

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