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Home > Books > The Witchery of Archery > Chapter 1: Prefatory remarks
Chapter I
Prefatory remarks

I HAVE not purposed writing a history of archery. My object has been to present, in the simplest way, some of my own adventures by field and flood, from which the reader might easily gather a comprehensive knowledge of the theory and practice of a sport which is as harmless and fascinating as it is old and honorable. It may not be amiss, however, to here sketch an outline of the rise of archery in England, the great mother of archers.

It is a well-worn saying that experience is the perfect school. In this school, at the hands of William the Norman, on the field of Hastings, the English took their first great lesson in archery, which resulted in establishing in their hearts a pro-found admiration, almost amounting to veneration, for the long-bows and resistless arrows of their conquerors. With a wise foresight the victorious invader gave into the hands of his subjugated enemies these simple but powerful weapons, and, by a shrewd stroke of policy, made the very carrying of a bow and shafts the badge of a freeman. He well knew that upon missile weapons of superior range and penetration he must depend for all future success in war, and that nothing could cement a people like a sort of democracy in the military idea. Therefore he adroitly managed to make the long-bow and arrows the weapons alike of rich and poor, noble and peasant, the miserable serf being the only person denied their use. From this time for-ward the long-bow rapidly grew in public favor, until by years of loving practice the English yeomen made it the terror of the world in battle; and it became the one instrument of forest and field sports common to patrician and plebeian, king and esquire.

It may well be said that the powerful government of Great Britain rests upon a foundation of iron arrow-heads-that its greatest glory has been achieved by the hard shooting of its archers-that its history's most brilliant pages have been graven on imperishable tablets with the bodkin-pointed shafts of the yeomen who drew bows at Crecy and Agincourt, and all those fights where its supremacy over Europe was enforced by the "whistling grey-goose wing."

Nothing but the most costly and elaborate Spanish coats of mail could withstand a cloth yard arrow from a ninety pound English long-bow. The French rulers tried in vain for many years to educate their subjects in archery so as to return their Norman-Saxon enemies missile for missile. The clumsy cross-bow, however, was their only efficient projectile weapon, and its inferiority to the six-foot yew was made patent on many a bloody field.

In a word, the history of England, from the Norman conquest down to the day when fire-arms supplanted the long-bow and arrows as military and hunting weapons, is the history of archery, and may be read otherwhere.

But the "six-foot yew" would not wholly flee before the rifle and fowling-piece. It was not so easily cast out from the hands of a people whose fathers had made it famous forevermore.

The old toxophilite societies kept up their organizations, and from time to time new ones were firmed, until archery, about the last of the eighteenth and the beginning of the nineteenth century, took shape as par excellence the sport of the nobility and gentry of England, Scotland, and Wales.

In 1840 Mr. George Agar Hansard published at London a large volume, entitled "The Book of Archery," in which was brought together every-thing of interest connected with its subject which years of careful labor had enabled him to discover This gave a new impulse to the "royal sport," which obtains to this day.

In the United States there existed no archery organizations prior to the publication, in some of our literary magazines, of a number of my own papers descriptive of long-bow shooting on the lawn and "by field and flood." At present there are hundreds of clubs from Maine to Texas. The spread of the "Toxophilite mania," as some one has named it, has been so sudden and wide that our dealers have been unable to supply the demand for archery tackle, and in most of our towns and villages the manufacture of rather clumsy, but by no means worthless, long-bows and arrows has been quite a paying business. In the following pages I have attempted to afford the newly initiated archer such entertainment as the stories of a veteran, however poorly told, arc pretty sure to possess for the tyro. If, on the other hand, this book happen to fall into the hands of an old and experienced archer, let him not cast it aside unread, for many things in it will be new, even to him. Of archery as a lawn game everything is told in the Appendix. I have there drawn together the fullest information possible on all that pertains to practical bow-shooting and the use and manufacture of all the implements of the archer craft. All is taken from my own experience; not a rule is laid clown which I have not practically tested. During the fifteen years that, as an archer, I have roamed the woods, I have tried every kind of bow I could procure, from a plain mulberry stick made with my own hands to a bow of snakewood wrought in the far East by Indian cunning, and every sort of arrow, fro in a rudely feathered reed to the finest Highfield ever made. I have shot in all kinds of weather, by day and by night, and do not feel that egotism ought to be counted against Inc, when I offer to describe some of my adventures, even if the offending pronoun does dance pretty freely along my pages. Furthermore, I have keenly enjoyed writing these chapters, as a lazy way of living over again some charming clays of excitement and novel sport, and as a tentative venture into a field of book-making as inviting as it is narrow and difficult of access.

The manual of archery given in the Appendix contains everything my experience has suggested, as well as the practical part of Mr. Hansard's work. I have spared no pains in reducing to the simplest and directest rules and maxims all that is necessary to a perfect practice of bow-shooting for either hunting or target purposes.

It was thought advisable, in the good old days of prefaces, to forestall or disarm criticism by some special plea or another; but, although I have indulged in something akin to the ancient preface, I shall not deny the critic what comfort he may find in making literary faces at my book. Let him say whatever his sense of duty compels. I know and you know, reader, that these tales of a careless archer have made him, for the time, an honest fellow, as, reading them, he listened to the twang of the bow-cord and the keen hiss of the arrow by the reedy lakes, or in the dark, lone woods of the South and West! If he give me due credit for this brief effect, he may leave the rest to the archers and all the sport-loving folk for whom this book is written.

Of one thing I am sure: no amount of criticism, just or unjust, can turn from me my staunch, sympathetic, and enthusiastic friends, the Boys and Girls of America. I know too well how the rosy-cheeked misses will enjoy the lawn practice with their associates, and the boys, how they will dream of all sorts of adventures in the wild, green woods of summer!

The chapters following arc arranged with a view to contrast, as they have nothing in them by which they can be linked together so as to form even the semblance of a continuous narrative. They are the pleasantest and cheeriest fragments of my wildwood days with bow and quiver, put together, without any attempt at high art, for those who love out-door sports and the merry life of a hunter and naturalist. Whilst it has often been necessary, in order to avoid too much skipping about, to dove-tail into certain parts of my sketches incidents and adventures not properly belonging to the time and locality, I aver that nowhere have I departed from truth in the descriptions of places and things. That I have, in a few instances, drawn upon my fancy for some local coloring when the outlines of landscapes could not be recollected, I cannot admit or deny, and if I have occasionally "dropped into poetry," I assure the reader that it does not "come higher."

After all, this book is for the archer, and every-thing in it pertaining to the sport may be relied upon as having come of the very best practice of the "noble exercise of archery."

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