Gentlemen and Yeomen of England
BIAS the wise man came to Croesus the rich King, on a time when he was making new ships, purposing to have subdued by water the out isles lying betwixt Greece and Asia Minor. "What news now in Greece?" said the King to Bias. "None other news but these," saith Bias : "that the isles of Greece have prepared a wonderful company of horsemen to over-run Lydia withal." "There is nothing under heaven," saith the King, "that I would so soon wish, as that they durst be so bold to meet us on the land with horse." "And think you," saith Bias, "that there is any thing which they would sooner wish, than that you should be so fond to meet them on the water with ships?" And so Croesus hearing not the true news, but perceiving the wise man's mind and counsel, both gave then over making of his ships, and left also behind him a wonderful example for all commonwealths to follow: that is, evermore to regard and set most by that thing whereunto nature hath made them most apt, and use bath made them most fit.
By this matter I mean the shooting in the long bow, for Englishmen; which thing with all my heart I do wish, and if I were of authority, I would counsel all the gentlemen and yeomen of England, not to change it with any other thing, how good soever it seems to be; but that still, according to the old wont of England, youth should use it for the most honest pastime in peace, that men might handle it as a most sure weapon in war. Other strong weapons,2] which both experience doth prove to be good, and the wisdom of the King's Majesty and his council provides to be had, are not ordained to take away shooting; ]ant that both, not compared together whether should be better than the other, but so joined together that the one should be always an aid and help for the other, might so strengthen the realm on all sides, that no kind of enemy, in any kind of weapon, might pass and go beyond us.
For this purpose, I, partly provoked by the counsel of some gentlemen, partly moved by the love which I have always borne toward shooting, have written this little treatise ; wherein, if I have not satisfied any man, I trust he will the rather be content with my doing, because I am (I suppose) the first, which hath said any thing in this matter, (and few beginnings be perfect, saith wise men ;) and also because, if I have said amiss, I am content that any man amend it : or, if I have said too little, any man that will, to add what him pleaseth to it.
My mind is, in profiting and pleasing every man, to hurt or displease no man, intending none other purpose, but that youth might be stirred to labour, honest pastime, and virtue, and as much as lieth in me, plucked from idleness, unthrifty games, and vice : which thing I have laboured only in this book, showing how fit shooting is for all kinds of men ; how honest a pastime for the mind; how wholesome an exercise for the body ; not vile for great men to use, not costly for poor men to sustain, not lurking in holes and corners for ill men at their pleasure to misuse it, but abiding in the open sight and face of the world, for good men, if it fault, by their wisdom to correct it.
And here I would desire all gentlemen and yeomen to use this pastime in such a mean, that the outrageousness of great gaming should not hurt the honesty of shooting which, of his own nature, is always joined with honesty ; yet for men's faults oftentimes blamed unworthily, as all good things have been, and evermore shall be.
If any man would blame me, either for taking such a matter in hand, or else for writing it in the English tongue, this answer I may make him, that when the best of the realm think it honest for them to use, I one of the meanest sort, ought not to suppose it vile forme to write; and though to have written it in another tongue, had been both more profitable for my study, and also more honest3] for my name, yet I can think my labour well bestowed, if with a little hinderance of my profit and name, may come any furtherance to the pleasure or commodity of the gentlemen and yeomen of England, for whose sake I took this matter in hand. And as for the Latin or Greek tongue, every thing is so excellently done in them, that none can do better: in the English tongue, contrary, every thing in a manner so meanly both for the matter and handling, that no man can do worse. For therein the least learned, for the most part, have been always most ready to write. And they which had least hope in Latin, have been most bold in English : when surely every man that is most ready to talk, is not most able to write. He that will write well in any tongue, must follow this counsel of Aristotle, to speak as the common people do, to think as wise men do: and so should every man understand him, and the judgment of wise men allow him. Many English writers have not done so, but using strange words, as Latin, French, and Italian, do make all things dark and hard. Once I communed with a man which reasoned the English tongue to be enriched and increased thereby, saying, "Who will not praise that feast where a man shall drink at a dinner both wine, ale, and beer?" "Truly (quoth I) they be all good, every one taken by 'himself alone, but if you put malmsey and sack, red wine and white, ale and beer, and all in one pot, you shall make a drink neither easy to be known, nor yet wholesome for the body." Cicero, in following Isocrates, Plato, and Demosthenes, increased the Latin tongue after another sort. This way, because divers men that write do not know, they can neither follow it, because of their ignorance nor yet will praise it for very arrogancy, two faults, seldom the one out of the other's company.
English writers by diversity of time have taken divers matters in hand. In our fathers' time nothing was read but books of feigned chivalry, wherein a man by reading should be led to none other end, but only to manslaughter and bawdry. If any man suppose they were good enough to pass the time withal, he is deceived. For surely vain words do work no small thing in vain, ignorant, and young minds, especially if they be given any thing thereunto of their own nature These books (as I have heard say) were made the moat part in abbeys and monasteries, --a very likely and fit fruit of such an idle and blind kind of living. In our time now, when every man is given to know, much rather than to live well, very many do write, but after such a fashion as very. many do shoot. Some shooters take in hand stronger bows than they be able to maintain.4] This thing maketh them sometime to outshoot the mark, sometime to shoot far wide, and perchance hurt some that look on. Other that never learned to shoot, nor yet knoweth good shaft nor bow, will be as busy as the best, but such one commonly plucketh down a side,5] and crafty archers which be against him, will be both glad of him, and also ever ready to lay and bet with him, it were better for such one to sit down than shoot. Other there be, which have very good bow and shafts, and good knowledge in shooting, but they have been brought up in such evil favoured shooting, that they can neither shoot6] fair nor yet near. If any man will apply these things together, he shall not see the one far differ from the other. And I also, amongst all other, in writing this little treatise; have followed some young shooters, which both will begin to shoot, for a little money, and also will use to shoot once or twice about the mark for nought, afore they begin a-good. And therefore did I take this little matter in hand, to assay myself, and hereafter, by the grace of God, if the judgment of wise men, that look on, think that I can do any good, I may perchance cast my shaft among other, for better game. Yet in Writing this book, some men will marvel perchance, why that 1, being an unperfect shooter, should take in hand to write of making a perfect archer : the same ,,an, peradventure, will marvel how a whetstone, which is blunt, can make the edge of a knife sharp. I would the same man should consider also, that in going about any matter, there be four things to be considered, doing, saying, thinking, and perfectness : first, there is no man that doth so well, but he can say better, or else some men, which be now stark nought, should be too good : again, no man can utter with his tongue so well as he is able to imagine with his mind, and yet perfectness itself is far above all thinking: then, seeing that saying is one step nearer perfectness than doing, let every man leave marvelling why my word shall rather express, than my deed shall perform, perfect shooting.
I trust no man will be offended with this little book, except it be some fletchers7] and bowyers, thinking hereby that many that love shooting shall be taught to refuse such naughty wares as they would utter. Honest fletchers and bowyers do not so, and they that be unhonest, ought rather to amend themselves for doing ill, than being angry with me for saying well. A fletcher hath even so good a quarrel to be angry with an archer that refuseth an ill shaft, as a blade-smith hath to a fletcher that forsaketh to buy of him a naughty knife : for as an archer must be content that a fletcher know a good shaft in every point for the perfecter making of it; so an honest fletcher will also be content that a shooter know a good shaft in every point, for the perfecter using of it; because the one knoweth like a Fetcher how to make it, the other knoweth like an archer how to use it. And seeing the knowledge is one in them both, yet the end divers, surely that fletcher is an enemy to archers and artillery which cannot be content that an archer know a shaft as well for his use in shooting, as he himself should know a shaft for his advantage in selling. And the rather, because shafts be not made so much to be sold, but chiefly to be used. And seeing that use and occupying is the end why a shaft is made, the making, as it were, a mean for occupying, surely the knowledge in every point of a good shaft, is more to be required in a shooter than a fletcher.
Yet, as I said before, no honest fletcher will be angry with me, seeing I do not teach how to make a shaft, which belongeth only to a good fletcher, but to know and handle a shaft, which belongeth to an archer. And this little book, I trust, shall please and profit both parties; for good bows and shafts shall be better known to the commodity of all shooters, and good shooting may, perchance, be the more occupied to the profit of all bowyers and fletchers. And thus I pray God that all fletchers, getting their living truly, and all archers using shooting honestly, and all manner of men that favour artillery, may live continually in health and merriness, obeying their prince as they should, and loving God as they ought: to whom, for all things, be. all honour and glory for ever. Amen.
 Authority is here used not for Power, but for Credit or Influence.
 Fire-arms began about this time to be made for the hand, ordnance or great guns seem to have been near a century employed in war, before hand-guns were much used.
 Honest is here used for honourable.
 To maintain is to manage.
 To pluck down a side, I believe, is to shoot on one side into the ground.
 Neither shoot gracefully nor exactly.
 Fletcher is an arrow maker.