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The Second Book of The School of Shooting.
Part 5 of 8

The men of Scythia used heads of brass. The men of Inde used heads of iron. The Ethiopians used heads of a hard sharp stone, as both Herodotus and Pollux do tell. The Germans, as Cornelius Tacitus doth say, had their shafts headed with bone; and many countries, both of old time and now, use heads of horn. But, of all other, iron and steel must needs be the fittest for heads. Julius Pollux calleth otherwise than we do, where the feathers be the head, and that which we call the head, he calleth the point.

Fashion of heads is divers, and that of old time : two manner of arrow heads, saith Pollux, was used in old time. The one he calleth greek describing it thus, having two points or barbs, looking backward to the stele and the feathers, which surely we call in English a broad arrow head, or a swallow tail. The other he calleth greek having two points stretching forward, and this Englishmen do call a fork head; both these two kinds of heads were used in Homer's days; for Teucer used forked heads, saying thus to Agamemnon:

Eight good shafts have I shot sith I came, each one with a fork head.

Pandarus heads and Ulysses' heads were broad arrow heads, as a man may learn in Homer, that would be curious in knowing that matter. Hercules used forked heads, but yet they had three points or forks, when other men's had but two. The Parthians at that great battle where they slew rich Crassus and his son, used broad arrow heads, which stuck so sore that the Romans could not pull them out again. Commodus the Emperor used forked heads, whose fashion Herodian doth lively and naturally describe, saying, that they were like the shape of a new moon, wherewith he would smite off the head of a bird, and never miss : other fashion of heads have not I read on. Our English heads be better in war than either forked heads or broad arrow heads. For first, the end being lighter, they fly a great deal the faster, and, by the same reason, giveth a far sorer stripe. Yea, and I suppose, if the same little barbs which they have were clean put away, they should be far better. For this every man doth grant, that a shaft, as long as it flieth, turns,[14] and when it leaveth turning, it leaveth going any further. And everything that enters by a turning and boring fashion, the more flatter it is, the worse it enters; as a knife, though it be sharp, yet, because of the edges, will not bore so well as a bodkin, for every round thing enters best; and therefore nature, saith Aristotle, made the rain-drops round, for quick piercing the air. Thus, either shafts turn not in flying, or else our flat arrow heads stop the shaft in entering.

Phi. But yet, Toxophile, to hold your communication a little, I suppose the flat head is better, both because it maketh a greater hole, and also because it sticks faster in.

Tox. These two reasons, as they be both true, so they be both naught. For first, the less hole, if it be deep, is the worse to heal again : when a man shooteth at his enemy, he desireth rather that it should enter far, than stick fast. For what remedy is it, I pray you, for him which is smitten with a deep wound, to pull out the shaft quickly, except it be to haste his death speedily? Thus heads which make a little hole and deep, be better in war, than those which make a great hole and stick fast in. Julius Pollux maketh mention of certain kinds of heads for war, which bear fire in them, and Scripture also speaketh somewhat of the same. Herodotus doth tell a wonderful policy to be done by Xerxes, what time he besieged the great tower in Athens : he made his archers bind their shaft heads about with tow, and then set it on fire and shoot them ; which thing done by many archers, set all the places on fire, which were of matter to burn; and, besides that, dazed the men within, so that they knew not whither to turn them. But, to make an end of all heads for war, I would wish that the head-makers of England should make their sheaf-arrow heads more harder pointed than they be : for I myself have seen of late such heads set upon sheaf-arrows, as the officers, if they had seen them, would not have been content withal.

Now as concerning heads for pricking, which is our purpose, there be divers kinds; some be blunt heads, some sharp, some both blunt and sharp. The blunt heads men use, because they perceive them to be good to keep a length withal; they keep a good length, because a man pulleth them no further at one time than at another; for in feeling the plump end always equally, he may loose them. Yet, in a wind, and against the wind, the weather hath so much power on the broad end, that no man can keep no sure length with such a head ; therefore a blunt head, in a calm or down a wind, is very good, otherwise none worse. Sharp heads at the end, without any shoulders, (I call that the shoulder in a head which a man's finger shall feel afore it comes to the point,) will perch quickly through a wind; but yet it hath two discommodities; the one that it will keep no length; it keepeth no length, because no man can pull it certainly as far one time as at another: it is not drawn certainly so far one time as at another, because it lacketh shouldering, wherewith, as with a sure token, a man might be warned when to loose; and also because men are afraid of the sharp point for setting it in the bow. The second incommodity is, when it is lighted on the ground, the small point shall at every time be in jeopardy of hurting, which thing, of all other, will soonest make the shaft lose the length. Now, when blunt heads be good to keep a length withal, yet naught for a wind; sharp heads good to perch the weather withal, yet naught for a length ; certain head-makers dwelling in London, perceiving the commodity of both kind of heads joined with a discommodity, invented new files and other instruments, wherewith they brought heads for pricking to such a perfectness, that all the commodities of the two other heads should be put in one head, without any discommodity at all. They made a certain kind of heads, which men call high-rigged, creased, or shouldered heads, or silver-spoon heads, for a certain likeness that such heads have with the knob end of some silver spoons. These heads be good both to keep a length withal, and also to perch a wind withal. To keep a length withal, because a man may certainly pull it to the shouldering every shoot, and no further; to perch a wind withal, because the point, from the shoulder forward, breaketh the weather, as all other sharp things do. So the blunt shoulder serveth for a sure length keeping, the point also is ever fit for a rough and great weather piercing. And thus much, as shortly as I could, as concerning heads both for war and peace.

Phi. But is there no cunning as concerning setting on of the head ?

Tox. Well remembered. But that point belongeth to fletchers ; yet you may desire him to set your head full on, and close on. Full on, is when the wood is bet [beat] hard up to the end or stopping of the head; close on, is when there is left wood on every side the shaft enough to fill the head withal, or when it is neither too little nor yet too great. If there be any fault in any of these points, the head, when it lighteth on any hard stone, or ground, will be in jeopardy, either of breaking, or else otherwise hurting. Stopping of heads, either with lead or any thing else, shall not need now, because every silver spoon, or shouldered head, is stopped of itself. Short heads be better than long: for first, the long head is worse for the maker to file straight compass every way ; again, it is worse for the fletcher to set straight on; thirdly, it is always in more jeopardy of breaking when it is on. And now, I trow, Philologe, we have done as concerning all instruments belonging to shooting, which every sere archer ought to provide for himself. And there remaineth two things behind, which be general or common to every man, the weather and the mark ; but, because they be so knit with shooting straight, or keeping of a length, I will defer them to that place; and now we will come (God willing) to handle our instruments, the thing that every man desireth to do well.

Phi. If you teach me so well to handle these instruments as you have described them, I suppose I shall be an archer good enough.

Tox. To learn any thing, (as you know better than I, Philologe,) and specially to do a thing with a man's hands, must be done, if a man would be excellent, in his youth. Young trees in gardens, which lack all senses, and beasts without reason, when they be young, may, with handling and teaching, be brought to wonderful things.

And this is not only true in natural things, but in artificial things too; as the potter most cunningly doth cast his pots when his clay is soft and workable, and wax taketh print when it is warm, and leathie weak, not when clay and wax be hard and old : and even so, every man in his youth, both with wit and body, is most apt and pliable to receive any cunning that should be taught him.

This communication of teaching youth, maketh me remember the right worshipful, and my singular good master, Sir Humphrey Wingfield, to whom, next God, I ought to refer, for his manifold benefits bestowed on me, the poor talent of learning which God hath lent me ; and for his sake do I owe my service to all other of the name and noble house of the Wingfields, both in word and deed. This worshipful man hath ever loved and used to have many children brought up in learning in his house, amongst whom I myself was one. For whom at term-times he would bring down from London both bow and shafts ; and, when they should play, he would go with them himself into the field, and see them shoot; and he that shot fairest, should have the best bow and shafts ; and he that shot ill-favouredly should be mocked of his fellows, till he shot better.

Would to God all England had used, or would use, to lay the foundation, after the example of this worshipful man, in bringing up children in the book and the bow ! by which two things the whole commonwealth, both in peace and war, is chiefly ruled and defended withal.

But to our purpose : He that must come to this high perfectness in shooting, which we speak of, must needs begin to learn it in his youth ; the omitting of which thing in England, both maketh fewer shooters, and also every man, that is a shooter, shoot worse than he might if he were taught.

Phi. Even as I know that this is true which you say, even so, Toxophile, have you quite discouraged me, and drawn my mind clean from shooting; seeing, by this reason, no man that hath not used it in his youth can be excellent in it. And I suppose the same reason would discourage many other mo, if they heard you talk after this sort.

Tox. This thing, Philologe, shall discourage no man that is wise. For I will prove that wisdom may work the same thing in a man, that nature doth in a child.

A child by three things is brought to excellency. By aptness, desire, and fear: aptness maketh him pliable, like wax, to be formed and fashioned, even as a man would have him. Desire, to be as good, or better than his fellows ; and fear of them whom he is under, will cause him take great labour and pain with diligent heed in learning any thing, whereof proceedeth, at the last, excellency and perfectness.