AFTER having read the foregoing chapters, and having given some time to mastering the rules set out in the Appendix to this book, the reader who desires to taste a few, at least, of the pleasures of archery, will (for lack of time, strength, inclination or what not, to go into the woods and become a modern Nimrod indeed) take at once to target-shooting, and the competitive game on the lawn. The ladies and gentlemen will join in this, and the boys and girls will take noisy possession of their new bows and arrows. The gay targets will be arranged on the smoothly-shaven lawn and every one of the happy toxophilites will be in a great hurry to shoot his first arrow. But it is soon discovered that archery is not learned from books, and that there is no royal road to its meed of success. Again the maxim is proven: "There is no excellence without great labor."
Her Majesty Queen Victoria
[ From Hansard's "Book of Archery"]
The game of archery is as old as history, but, like everything else connected with long-bow shooting, it was brought to perfection in England during the period between the Conquest and the date of the adoption of fire-arms for the infantry of Great Britain. For, although the great aristocratic societies of toxophilites were kept alive, no sooner had guns supplanted the bow in the hands of the English yeomanry, than archery began to confine itself within the bounds set by the wealthy and exclusive. The great butt-fields made for public shooting were gradually abandoned and dismantled, and all the archery tournaments were confined to the beautifully ornamented parks belonging to the old societies, or to the lawns prepared at the country-seats of gentlemen and nobles who patronized the sport. Some of the prizes offered at the meetings of the several societies having royal and noble patronage are most magnificent, and the contests for them have developed a high degree of accuracy in shooting. The "Woodmen of the Forest of Arden," one of the oldest clubs, has three prizes exclusively for the lady members; the first, a turquoise gold knot; the second, a gold arrow; the third and highest, a gold bugle-horn. The "Hertfordshire Archers" offer the lady members a prize of great value and beauty. It is a gold heart adorned with a bow and shaft set in diamonds. The "Royal Toxophilite Society," under the patronage of the Queen, owns a grand banqueting-hall in the old English style, situated in the midst of beautifully ornamented grounds. Mr. Hansard, describing this hall, says: "The interior is fitted up with elegant simplicity. In the centre of the apartment stands a range of oak dining-tables sufficient to accommodate the members on their occasional festivals. To the left, on entering, is a lofty antique chimney-piece of oak, with a dial in the centre. The windows, opening on a broad veranda which encircles the whole edifice, are of richly stained glass, proudly decorated with the heraldic bearings of its founder, his Majesty William IV., and the Earl of Aylesford. They bear in addition the following inscriptions:
SIR ASHTON LEVER,
HIS MAJESTY WILLIAM IV.,
EARL OF AYLESFORD,
"Massive carved shields of oak, emblazoned with devices emblematical of archery, adorn the ceilings of this interesting apartment; and around its walls are placed a range of aschams, ornamented with crest and coronet, as well as the colors and pattern of each archer's arrow-mark. The badge and painting already described, with a portrait of the elder Mr. Waring, are also preserved at the banqueting-hall hall. This society possesses many valuable prizes, of which the Queen will annually present one. In 1795 Mr. Palmer, a member, bestowed an elegant silver-gilt arrow, on condition that it should be shot for during four successive years. At the expiration of that period, his crest and cipher were engraved on it, and the four archers who had already been successful again contested its final possession.
"The Toxophilite costume, in Sir Ashton Lever's time, was a single-breasted coat of grass green, with an arrow engraved on the buttons; buff kerseymere waistcoat and small-clothes; Hessian boots; hat turned up on the right side, with black feather; belt, bracer, and shooting-glove." [See Appendix for description of these accoutrements.]
The "Woodmen of the Forest of Arden" has long been one of the grandest societies of archers in the world. It was established by the Marquis of Aylesford, whose renown as a bowman was only equalled by his enthusiasm for the sport; his shooting was remarkable for the very flat trajectory of his arrows, denoting unusual strength of arm and sleight in loosing. The uniform of the Woodmen is " a plain frock of Kendal green, with gold but-tons bearing an arrow, on which is inscribed the word ‘ARDEN,' white waistcoat, round hat, and black feather."
A very beautiful "exchange of honors" occurred between the Woodmen of Arden and the Royal Toxophilite Society. The Woodmen sent the Toxophilites the "freedom of their society and grounds" by a parchment richly illuminated and inclosed in a small coffer made of oak-wood. The Toxophilites responded by sending the same in a delicately carved box of yew.
In 1834 the Royal Toxophilites and the "West Berkshire United Archery Club" had a meeting and shot for two prizes, a claret vase and stand and a silver inkstand. The shooting was exceedingly fine. The first prize was won by Edwin Myrick, Esq., the second by Rev. E. Scott.
The "Royal Edinburgh Archers" existed as far back as the reign of James I., and still lay claim by royal charter to be the king's body-guard when-ever he comes within five miles of the city. More than a thousand members belong to this great society, and their public exhibitions are on the grandest scale of splendor. When they march through Edinburgh on their way to their grounds to shoot for their annual grand prizes, they are led by an officer bearing a bow of colossal size, from which is suspended the royal purse.
One of the prizes yearly competed for by the Edinburgh archers is a vast silver bowl, called the archer's bowl, large enough to "hold two bottles of rum converted into punch." It is, like most of the others, a nominal prize, being kept at the Archers' Hall, the winners having their names with the date of shooting engraved upon it.
The purse of twenty guineas, offered yearly by the Crown, is contested for with a zeal worthy the royal gift. It is deemed the highest mark of distinction to win this munificent prize. The beautiful custom of the club is that the winner of the purse shall, with the money, purchase a piece of plate to suit his taste, bearing archery decorations and mottoes engraved upon it, which he shall pre-sent to the society, to be kept in Archers' Hall.
Says Mr. Hansard: "A singular match was decided on the 6th of June, 1827, between a portion of the married and unmarried members, at one hundred and eighty yards; the benedicts of the company, who reckoned thirteen points more than their adversaries, carried away the prize, of course."
"In the summer of 1832 the body-guard received his Majesty's gift of a pair of splendid colors, through the Duke of Buccleugh."