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The Second Book of The School of Shooting.
Part 6 of 8

A man may, by wisdom in learning any thing, and specially to shoot, have three like commodities also, whereby he may, as it were, become young again, and so attain to excellency. For as a child is apt by natural youth, so a man by using at the first weak bows, far underneath his strength, shall be as pliable and ready to be taught fair shooting as any child; and daily use of the same shall both keep him in fair shooting, and also at the last bring him to strong shooting.

And, instead of the fervent desire which provoketh a child to be better than his fellow, let a man be as much stirred up with shamefacedness to be worse than all other. And the same place that fear hath in a child, to compel him to take pain, the same hath love of shooting in a man, to cause him forsake no labour, without which no man nor child can be excellent. And thus, whatsoever a child may be taught by aptness, desire, and fear, the same thing in shooting may a man be taught by weak bows, shamefacedness, and love.

And hereby you may see that that is true which Cicero saith ; that a man, by use, may be brought to a new nature. And this I dare be bold to say, that any man which will wisely begin, and constantly persevere in this trade of learning to shoot, shall attain to perfect-ness therein.

Phi. This communication, Toxophile, doth please me very well; and now I perceive that most generally and chiefly youth must be taught to shoot; and, secondarily, no man is debarred therefrom, except it be more through his own negligence, for because he will not learn, than any disability because he cannot learn. Therefore, seeing I will be glad to follow your counsel in choosing my bow and other instruments, and also am ashamed that I can shoot no better than I can ; moreover, having such a love toward shooting by your good reasons to-day, that I will forsake no labour in the exercise of the same; I beseech you imagine that we had both bow and shafts here, and teach me how I should handle them; and one thing I desire you, make me as fair an archer as you can.

For this I am sure, in learning all other matters, nothing is brought to the most profitable use, which is not handled after the most comely fashion. As masters of fence have no stroke fit either to hit another, or else to defend himself, which is not joined with a wonderful comeliness. A cook cannot chop his herbs neither quickly nor handsomely, except he keep such a measure with his chopping-knives, as would delight a man both to see him and hear him. Every handcraftman that works best for his own profit, works most seemly to other men's sight. Again, in building a house, in making a ship, every part, the more handsomely they be joined for profit and last,[15] the more comely they be fashioned to every man's sight and eye.

Nature itself taught men to join always well-favouredness with profitableness. As in man, that joint or piece which is by any chance deprived of his comeliness, the same is also debarred of his use and profitableness. And he that is goggle-eyed, and looks asquint, hath both his countenance clean marred, and his sight sore blemished; and so in all other members like. Moreover what time of the year bringeth most profit with it for man's use, the same also covereth and decketh both earth and trees with most comeliness for man's pleasure. And that time which taketh away the pleasure of the ground, carrieth with him also the profit of the ground, as every man by experience knoweth in hard and rough winters. Some things there be which have no other end but only comeliness, as painting and dancing. And virtue itself is nothing else but comeliness, as all philosophers do agree in opinion ; therefore seeing that which is best done in any matters, is always most comely done, as both Plato and Cicero in many places do prove, and daily experience doth teach in other things, I pray you, as I said before, teach me to shoot as fair, well-favouredly, as you can imagine.

Tox. Truly, Philologe, as you prove very well in other matters, the best shooting is always the most comely shooting ; but this you know, as well as I, that Crassus showeth in Cicero, that, as comeliness is the chief point, and most to be sought for in all things, so comeliness only can never be taught by any art or craft; but may be perceived well when it is done, not described well how it should be done. Yet, nevertheless, to come to it there be many ways, which wise men have assayed in other matters ; as if a man would follow, in learning to shoot fair, the noble painter Zeuxes in painting Helena, which, to make his image beautiful, did choose out five of the fairest maids in all the country about; and in beholding them, conceived and drew out such an image, that it far exceeded all other, because the comeliness of them all was brought into one most perfect comeliness : so likewise in shooting, if a man would set before his eyes five or six of the fairest archers that ever he saw shoot, and of one learn to stand, of another to draw, of another to loose, and so take of every man what every man could do best; I dare say, he should come to such a comeliness as never man came to yet. As for an example, if the most comely point in shooting that Hewe Prophete the king's servant hath, and as my friends Thomas and Ralph Cantrell doth use with the most seemly fashions that three or four excellent archers have beside, were all joined in one, I am sure all men would wonder at the excellency of it. And this is one way to learn to shoot fair.

Phi. This is very well, truly ; but I pray you teach me somewhat of shooting fair yourself.

Tox. I can teach you to shoot fair, even as Socrates taught a man once to know God : for, when he axed [asked] him what was God, nay, saith he, I can tell you better what God is not; as, God is not ill, God is unspeakable, unsearchable, and so forth: even likewise can I say of fair shooting, it hath not this discommodity with it nor that discommodity; and, at last, a man may so shift all the discommodities from shooting, that there shall be left nothing behind but fair shooting. And to do this the better, you must remember how that I told you, when I described generally the whole nature of shooting, that fair shooting came of these things, of standing, nocking, drawing, holding, and loosing; the which I will go over as shortly as I can, describing the discommodities that men commonly use in all parts of their bodies ; that you, if you fault in any such, may know it, and so go about to amend it. Faults in archers do exceed the number of archers, which come with use of shooting without teaching. Use and custom separated from knowledge and learning, doth not only hurt shooting, but the most weighty things in the world beside ; and, therefore, I marvel much at those people which be the maintainers of uses without knowledge, having no other word in their mouth but this, Use, use, Custom, custom. Such men, more wilful than wise, beside other discommodities, take all place and occasion from all amendment. And this I speak generally of use and custom. Which thing, if a learned man had it in hand that would apply it to any one matter, he might handle it wonderfully. But, as for shooting, use is the only cause of all faults in it; and therefore children more easily and sooner may be taught to shoot excellently than men, because children may be taught to shoot well at the first, men have more pain to unlearn their ill uses, than they have labour afterward to come to good shooting.

All the discommodities which ill custom hath graffed in archers, can neither be quickly pulled out, nor yet soon reckoned of me, they be so many. Some shooteth his head forward, as though he would bite the mark ; another stareth with his eyes, as though they should fly out; another winketh with one eye and looketh with the other; some make a face with writhing their mouth and countenance so, as though they were doing you wot what; another bleareth out his tongue ; another biteth his lips; another holdeth his neck awry. In drawing some fet such a compass, as though they would turn about, and bless[16] all the field; other heave their hand now up now down, that a man cannot discern whereat they would shoot : another waggeth the upper end of his bow one way, the nether end another way. Another will stand pointing his shaft at the mark a good while, and, by and by, he will give him a whip, and away or a man wit. Another maketh such a wrestling with his gear, as though he were able to shoot no more as long as he lived. Another draweth softly to the midst, and, by and by, it is gone you cannot know how. Another draweth his shaft low at the breast, as though he would shoot at a roving mark, and by and by, he lifteth his arm up prick height. Another maketh a wrenching with his back, as though a man pinched him behind. Another cowereth down, and layeth out his buttocks, as though he should shoot at crows. Another setteth forward his left leg, and draweth back with head and shoulders, as though he pulled at a rope, or else were afraid of the mark. Another draweth his shaft well, until within two fingers of the head, and then he stayeth a little, to look at his mark, and, that done, pulleth it up to the head, and looseth; which way, although some excellent shooters do use, yet surely it is a fault, and good men's faults are not to be followed. Some men draw too far, some too short, some too slowly, some too quickly; some hold over-long, some let go over-soon. Some set their shaft on the ground, and fetcheth him upward; another pointeth up toward the sky, and so bringeth him downwards.

Once I saw a man which used a bracer on his cheek, or else he had scratched all the skin of the one side of bis face with his drawing-hand. Another I saw which, at every shot, after the loose, lifted up his right leg so far that he was ever in jeopardy of falling. Some stamp forward, and some leap backward. All these faults be either in the drawing, or at the loose; with many other mo, which you may easily perceive, and so go about to avoid them.

Now afterward, when the shaft is gone, men have many faults, which evil custom hath brought them to ; and specially in crying after the shaft, and speaking words scarce honest for such an honest pastime.

Such words be very tokens of an ill mind, and manifest signs of a man that is subject to immeasurable affections. Good men's ears do abhor them, and an honest man therefore will avoid them. And besides those which must needs have their tongue thus walking, other men use other faults, as some will take their bow and writhe and wrench it, to pull in his shaft, when it flieth wide, as if he drave a cart. Some will give two or three strides forward, dancing and hopping after his shaft, as long as it flieth, as though he were a mad man. Some, which fear to be too far gone, run backward, as it were to pull his shaft back. Another runneth forward, when he feareth to be short, heaving after his arms, as though he would help his shaft to fly. Another writhes or runneth aside, to pull in his shaft straight. One lifteth up his heel, and so holdeth his foot still, as long as his shaft flieth. Another casteth his arm backward after the loose. And another swings his bow about him, as it were a man with a shaft to make room in a game place. And many other faults there be, which now come not to my remembrance. Thus, as you have heard, many archers, with marring their face and countenance, with other parts of their body, as it were men that should dance anticks, be far from the comely port in shooting, which he that would be excellent must look for.

Of these faults I have very many myself; but I talk not of my shooting, but of the general nature of shooting. Now imagine an archer that is clean without all these faults, and I am sure every man would be delighted to see him shoot.

And although such a perfect comeliness cannot be expressed with any precept of teaching, as Cicero and other learned men do say, yet I will speak (according to my little knowledge) that thing in it, which if you follow, although you shall not be without fault, yet your fault shall neither quickly be perceived, nor yet greatly rebuked of them that stand by. Standing, nocking, drawing, holding, loosing, done as they should be done, make fair shooting.

The first point is, when a man should shoot to take such footing and standing, as shall be both comely to the eye and profitable to his use, setting his countenance and all the other parts of his body after such a behaviour and port, that both all his strength may be employed to his own most advantage, and his shoot made and handled to other men's pleasure and delight. A man must not go too hastily to it, for that is rashness, nor yet make too much to do about it, for that is curiosity; the one foot must not stand too far from the other, lest he stoop too much, which is unseemly, nor yet too near together, lest he stand too straight up, for so a man shall neither use his strength well, nor yet stand stedfastly.

The mean betwixt both must be kept; a thing more pleasant to behold when it is done, than easy to be taught how it should be done.

To nock well is the easiest point of all, and therein is no cunning, but only diligent heed-giving, to set his shaft neither too high nor too low, but even straight overthwart his bow. Unconstant nocking maketh a man loose his length. And besides that, if the shaft hand be high, and the bow hand low, or contrary, both the bow is in jeopardy of breaking, and the shaft, if it be little, will start; if it be great, it will hobble. Knock the cock feather upward always, as I told you when I described the feather. And be sure always that your string slip not out of the nock, for then all is in jeopardy of breaking.

Drawing well is the best part of shooting. Men in old time used other manner of drawing than we do. They used to draw low at the breast, to the right pap, and no further ; and this to be true is plain in Homer, when he describeth Pandarus shooting :

Up to the pap his string did he pull, his shaft to the hard head.

The noble women of Scythia used the same fashion of shooting low at the breast, and, because their left pap hindered their shooting at the loose, they cut it off when they were young, and therefore they be called, in lacking their pap, Amazones. Now-a-day, contrariwise, we draw to the right ear, and not to the pap.