The Second Book of The School of Shooting.
Part 8 of 8
The wind is sometime plain up and down, which is commonly most certain, and requireth least knowledge, wherein a mean shooter, with mean gear, if he can shoot home, may make best shift. A side wind trieth an archer and good gear very much. Sometime it bloweth aloft, sometime hard by the ground; sometime it bloweth by blasts, and sometime it continueth all in one ; sometime full side wind, sometime quarter with him, and more; and likewise against him, as a man with casting up light grass, or else if he take good heed, shall sensibly learn by experience. To see the wind with a man his eyes it is unpossible, the nature of it is so fine and subtile ; yet this experience of the wind had I once myself, and that was in the great snow that fell four years ago. I rode in the high way betwixt Topcliff-upon-Swale and Boroughbridge, the way being somewhat trodden before, by way-faring men; the fields on both sides were plain, and lay almost yard-deep with snow; the night afore had been a little frost, so that the snow was hard and crusted above; that morning the sun shone bright and clear, the wind was whistling aloft, and sharp, according to the time of the year ; the snow in the high way lay loose and trodden with horses' feet; so as the wind blew, it took the loose snow with it, and made it so slide upon the snow in the field, which was hard and crusted by reason of the frost over night, that thereby I might see very well the whole nature of the wind as it blew that day. And I had a great delight and pleasure to mark it, which maketh me now far better to remember it. Sometime the wind would be not past two yards broad, and so it would carry the snow as far as I could see. Another time the snow would blow over half the field at once. Sometime the snow would tumble softly ; by and by it would fly wonderful fast. And this I perceived also, that the wind goeth by streams, and not whole together. For I should see one stream within a score on me ; then the space of two score, no snow would stir ; but, after so much quantity of ground, another stream of snow, at the same very time, should be carried likewise, but not equally, for the one would stand still, when the other flew apace and so continue sometime swiftlier, sometime slowlier, sometime broader, sometime narrower, as far as I could see. Nor it flew not straight, but sometime it crooked this way, sometime that way, and sometime it ran round about in a compass. And sometime the snow would be lift clean from the ground up to the air, and by and by it would be all clapt to the ground, as though there had been no wind at all, straightway it would rise and fly again. And that which was the most marvel of all, at one time two drifts of snow flew, the one out of the west into the east, the other out of the north into the east. And I saw two winds, by reason of the snow, the one cross over the other, as it had been two high ways. And, again, I should hear the wind blow in the air, when nothing was stirred at the ground. And when all was still where I rode, not very far from me the snow should be lifted wonderfully. This experience made me more marvel at the nature of the wind, than it made me cunning in the knowledge of the wind ; but yet thereby I learned perfectly that it is no marvel at all though men in wind lose their length in shooting, seeing so many ways the wind is so variable in blowing.
But seeing that a master of a ship, be he never so cunning, by the uncertainty of the wind, loseth many times both life and goods : surely it is no wonder, though a right good archer, by the self same wind, so variable in his own nature, so insensible to our nature, lose many a shoot and game.
The more uncertain and deceivable the wind is, the more heed must a wise archer give to know the guiles of it. He that doth mistrust is seldom beguiled. For although thereby he shall not attain to that which is best, yet by these means he shall at least avoid that which is worst. Beside all these kinds of winds, you must take heed if you see any cloud appear, and gather by little and little against you, or else, if a shower of rain be like to come upon you, for then both the driving of the weather and the thickening of the air increaseth the mark ; when, after the shower, all things are contrary clear and calm, and the mark, for the most part, new to begin again. You must take heed also, if ever you shoot where one of the marks, or both, stands a little short of a high wall, for there you may be easily beguiled. If you take grass and cast it up, to see how the wind stands, many times you shall suppose to shoot down the wind, when you shoot clean against the wind. And a good reason why. For the wind which cometh indeed against you, redoundeth back again at the wall, and whirleth back to the prick, and a little farther, and then turneth again, even as a vehement water doth against a rock, or an high bray; which example of water, as it is more sensible to a man's eyes, so it is never a whit the truer than this of the wind. So that the grass cast up shall flee that way which indeed is the longer mark, and deceive quickly a shooter that is not ware of it.
This experience had I once myself at Norwich, in the chapel field within the walls. And this way I used in shooting at those marks. When I was in the mid way betwixt the marks, which was an open place, there I took a feather or a little light grass ; and so, as well as I could, learned how the wind stood ; that done I went to the prick as fast as I could, and, according as I had found the wind when I was in the mid way, so I was fain then to be content to make the best of my shoot that I could. Even such another experience had I, in a manner, at York, at the pricks lying betwixt the castle and Ouse side. And although you smile, Philologe, to hear me tell mine own fondness; yet, seeing you will needs have me teach you somewhat in shooting, I must needs sometime tell you of mine own experience ; and the better I may do so, because Hippocrates, in teaching physic, useth very much the same way. Take heed also when you shoot near the sea coast although you be two or three miles from the sea; for there diligent marking shall espy in the most clear day wonderful changing. The same is to be considered likewise by a river side, especially if it ebb and flow, where he that taketh diligent heed of the tide and weather, shall lightly take away all that he shooteth for. And thus of the nature of winds and weather, according to my marking, you have heard, Philologe : and hereafter you shall mark far mo yourself, if you take heed. And the weather thus marked, as I told you before, you must take heed of your standing, that thereby you may win as much as you shall lose by the weather.
Phi. I see well it is no marvel though a man miss many times in shooting, seeing the weather is so unconstant in blowing ; but yet there is one thing which many archers use, that shall cause a man have less need to mark the weather, and that is aim-giving.
Tox. Of giving aim, I cannot tell well what I should say. For in a strange place it taketh away all occasion of foul game, which is the only praise of it; yet by my judgment, it hindereth the knowledge of shooting, and maketh men more negligent; the which is a dispraise. Though aim be given, yet take heed, for at another man's shot you cannot well take aim, nor at your own neither, because the weather will alter, even in a minute, and at the one mark, and not at the other, and trouble your shaft in the air, when you shall perceive no wind at the ground, as I myself have seen shafts tumble aloft in a very fair day. There may be a fault also in drawing or loosing, and many things mo, which altogether are required to keep a just length. But, to go forward, the next point after the marking of your weather, as the taking of your standing. And, in a side wind, you must stand somewhat cross into the wind, for so shall you shoot the surer. When you have taken good footing, then must you look at your shaft, that no earth, nor wet, be left upon it, for so should it lose the length. You must look at the head also, lest it have had any stripe at the last shoot. A stripe upon a stone, many times will both mar the head, crook the shaft, and hurt the feather, whereof the least of them all will cause a man lose his length. For such things which chance every shoot, many archers use to have some place made in their coat, fit for a little file, a stone, a hunfish skin, and a cloth to dress the shaft fit again at all needs. This must a man look to ever when he taketh up his shaft. And the head may be made too smooth, which will cause it fly too far ; when your shaft is fit, then must you take your bow even in the midst, or else you shall both lose your length, and put your bow in jeopardy of breaking. Nocking just is next, which is much of the same nature. Then draw equally, loose equally, with holding your hand ever of one height to keep true compass. To look at your shaft head at the loose is the greatest help to keep a length that can be, which thing yet hindereth excellent shooting, because a man cannot shoot straight perfectly except he look at his mark ; if I should shoot at a line, and not at the mark, I would always look at my shaft end ; but of this thing somewhat afterward. Now, if you mark the weather diligently, keep your standing justly, hold and nock truly, draw and loose equally, and keep your compass certainly, you shall never miss of your length.
Phi. Then there is nothing behind to make me hit the mark, but only shooting straight.
Tox. No truly. And I first will tell you what shifts archers have found to shoot straight, then what is the best way to shoot straight. As the weather belongeth specially to keep a length (yet a side wind belongeth also to shoot straight) even so the nature of the prick is to shoot straight. The length or shortness of the mark is always under the rule of the weather, yet somewhat there is in the mark, worthy to be marked of an archer. If the pricks stand of a straight plain ground, they be the best to shoot at. If the mark stand on a hill-side or the ground be unequal with pits and turning ways betwixt the marks, a man's eye shall think that to be straight which is crooked; the experience of this thing is seen in painting, the cause of it is known by learning ; and it is enough for an archer to mark it, and take heed of it. The chief cause why men cannot shoot straight, is because they look at their shaft; and this fault cometh, because a man is not taught to shoot when he is young. If he learn to shoot by himself, he is afraid to pull the shaft through the bow, and therefore looketh always at his shaft; ill use confirmeth this fault, as it doth many more. And men continue the longer in this fault, because it is so good to keep a length withal: and yet, to shoot straight, they have invented some ways to espy a tree or a hill beyond the mark, or else to have some notable thing betwixt the marks; and once I saw a good archer which did cast off his gear and laid his quiver with it, even in the mid-way betwixt the pricks. Some thought he did it for safeguard of his gear : I suppose he did it to shoot straight withal. Other men use to espy some mark almost a bow wide of the prick, and then go about keep himself on the hand that the prick is on ; which thing how much good it doth, a man will not believe, that doth not prove it. Other, and those very good archers, in drawing, look at the mark until they come almost to the head, then they look at their shaft; but, at the very loose, with a second sight, they find their mark again. This way and all other afore of me rehearsed, are but shifts, and not to be followed in shooting straight. For having a man's eye always on his mark, is the only way to shoot straight; yea, and I suppose, so ready and easy a way, if it be learned in youth, and confirmed with use, that a man shall never miss therein. Men doubt yet in looking at the mark what way is best, whether betwixt the bow and the string, above or beneath his hand, and many ways moo ; yet it maketh no great matter which way a man look at his mark, if it be joined with comely shooting. The diversity of men's standing and drawing causeth divers men look at their mark divers ways ; yet they all lead a man's hand to shoot straight, if nothing else stop. So that comeliness is the only judge of best looking at the mark. Some men wonder why, in casting a man's eye at the mark, the hand should go straight: surely if he considered the nature of a man's eye, he would not wonder at it: for this I am certain of, that no servant to his master, no child to his father, is so obedient, as every joint and piece of the body is to do whatsoever the eye bids. The eye is the guide, the ruler, and the succourer of all the other parts. The hand, the foot, and other members, dare do nothing without the eye, as doth appear on the night and dark corners. The eye is the very tongue wherewith wit and reason doth speak to every part of the body, and the wit doth not so soon signify a thing by the eye, as every part is ready to follow, or rather prevent the bidding of the eye. This is plain in many things, but most evident in fence and fighting, as I have heard men say. There every part standing in fear to have a blow, runs to the eye for help, as young children do to the mother; the foot, the hand, and all waiteth upon the eye. If the eye bid the hand either bear off or smite, or the foot either go forward or backward, it doth so ; and that which is most wonder of all, the one man looking stedfastly at the other man's eye, and not at his hand, will, even as it were, read in his eye where he purposeth to smite next, for the eye is nothing else but a certain window for wit to shoot out her head at.
This wonderful work of God in making all the members so obedient to the eye, is a pleasant thing to remember and look upon; therefore an archer may be sure, in learning to look at his mark when he is young, always to shoot straight. The things that hinder a man which looketh at his mark, to shoot straight, be these : a side wind; a bow either too strong, or else too weak; an ill arm, when a feather runneth on the bow too much ; a big-breasted shaft, for him that shooteth under hand, because it will hobble ; a little-breasted shaft for him that shooteth above the hand, because it will start; a pair of winding pricks, and many other things moo, which you shall mark yourself, and as ye know them, so learn to amend them. If a man would leave to look at his shaft, and learn to look at his mark, he may use this way, which a good shooter told me once that he did. Let him take his bow on the night, and shoot at two lights, and there he shall be compelled to look always at his mark, and never at his shaft: this thing, once or twice used, will cause him forsake looking at his shaft. Yet let him take heed of setting his shaft in the bow.
Thus, Philologe, to shoot straight is the least mastery of all, if a man order himself thereafter in his youth. And as for keeping a length, I am sure, the rules which I gave you will never deceive you ; so that there shall lack nothing, either of hitting the mark always, or else very near shooting, except the fault be only in your own self, which may come two ways, either in having a faint heart or courage, or else in suffering yourself overmuch to be led with affection: if a man's mind fail him, the body, which is ruled by the mind, can never do his duty; if lack of courage were not, men might do mo masteries than they do, as doth appear in leaping and vaulting.
All affections, and specially anger, hurteth both mind and body. The mind is blind thereby, and if the mind be blind, it cannot rule the body aright. The body, both blood and bone, as they say, is brought out of his right course by anger; whereby a man lacketh his right strength, and therefore cannot shoot well. If these things be avoided (whereof I will speak no more, both because they belong not properly to shooting, and also you can teach me better in them than I you), and all the precepts which I have given you diligently marked, no doubt ye shall shoot as well as ever man did yet, by the grace of God.
This communication handled of me, Philologe, as I know well not perfectly, yet, as I suppose, truly, you must take in good worth ; wherein if divers things do not altogether please you, thank yourself, which would have me rather fault in mere folly, to take that thing in hand which I was not able for to perform, than by any honest shamefacedness with-say your request and mind, which I know well I have not satisfied. But yet I will think this labour of mine the better bestowed, if to-morrow, or some other day when you have leisure, you will spend as much time with me here in this same place, in entreating the question De origine animoe and the joining of it with the body, that I may know how far Plato, Aristotle, and the Stoics have waded in it.
Phi. How you have handled this matter, Toxophile, I may not well tell you myself now; but, for your gentleness and good-will towards learning and shooting, I will be content to show you any pleasure whensoever you will; and now the sun is down, therefore, if it please you, we will go home and drink in my chamber, and there I will tell you plainly what I think of this communication, and also what day we will appoint, at your request, for the other matter to meet here again.