Edited by Mark V. Lonsdale
The following is a chapter from Maurice Thompson’s “The Witchery of Archery: A Complete Manual of Archery” (1878), that gives an insight into how women became involved in what was previously a man’s activity.
XV. LADY TOXOPHILITES.
MUCH might be said why archery, as a lawn game, should be preferred to croquet by ladies; the reasons, however, for such a preference are not needed as arguments here. The preceding chapters of this book have shown that drawing the long-bow is an exercise, all at once, of the most important muscles of the body and limbs. Mr. Charles Reade and other eminent men lately have been at some pains to show that ambidexterity is a very great and a perfectly attainable accomplishment. How they have succeeded with the demonstration I do not care to consider; but that equal development of all the muscles of arms, legs, and body is quite desirable, and, in fact, necessary in course of a complete physical training, no one can deny.
This matter of bodily education, so to speak, is greatly overlooked in the training of our boys; and, as for our girls, such a thing has scarcely been thought fit for polite mention in connection with them. Croquet has done much. It has taught our mothers that sunshine and wind and a little outdoor physical exercise cannot quite spoil a girl. But croquet is objectionable for two reasons. The first is that, since ladies will wear corsets, stooping is to them a very unwholesome act, causing a pressure upon organs of the body very sensitive and easily injured. The second is that the right hand and arm, or the left, if the player be left-handed, are the ones used all the time, and the effort of muscle required is too slight for working any appreciable benefit even to the active members.
Archery is performed in an erect attitude; it calls into action both hands and arms, the muscles of the shoulders and back, the chest and legs. The strain on all may be just as powerful and just as slight as one may desire, and the shock of relaxation may be perfectly governed. Another thing: one is sure to draw in a deep, full breath, expanding the lungs to their utmost, with pure outdoor air, just before drawing the bow, or during the act of drawing. Archery is rowing, boxing, fencing, and club practice, all in one, so far as its exercise of the muscles is concerned, without any of the objectionable and dangerous features of those excellent athletic performances. A thoroughly trained archer is a perfectly built athlete. He has perfect control of all his physical powers. His arms are hard, supple-jointed, with biceps like those of a stonecutter; his chest is full, his back is straight, his legs quick and firm, his neck muscular, and his head well poised, his movements easy and graceful.
Ladies who wish to have rounded and beautiful forms must learn that exercise in the open air and free light of outdoors is the one thing that will gratify the desire. Pure complexions come of pure blood, and pure blood comes of sunlight and free, pure air. Deep breathing and regular use of all the muscles bring perfect health and powerful vitality.
A lady should be careful to begin shooting with a very weak bow. A twenty-pound weapon is not too light for the first month of practice. The act of bracing a bow is likely to produce pain in the right side when first attempted; but a few trials will overcome the difficulty, if the bow is not too long or too strong.
Ladies should always use the shooting-glove, as their fingers are too delicate to bear the friction of the bow-string.
It is surprising how rapidly a lady gains strength under well-directed training in archery. She begins a slow-moving, languid half-invalid, and at the end of four weeks of regular practice you see her running across the lawn to recover her arrows, like Diana pursuing the stags of old. She has thrown off her lassitude, and is already beginning to develop on her arms the outlines of perfect muscles. Let us see what has been done in modern times by female archers.
Eighty-eight years ago a match was shot at Branhope Hall, Yorkshire, England, between Miss Littledale, Mr. Wyborough, and Mr. Gilpin. The shooting lasted three hours. The targets were one hundred yards apart, four feet in diameter, with nine-inch golds. During the match, Miss Littledale hit the gold four times, the last three shots being all in the gold! Here was a lady winning a prize, by hard shooting, over two strong men! The most admirable part of it all is, that she closed up three hours of steady work with the three successive centre hits. What steadiness of nerve! what power of endurance! And then, too, to have accomplished this she must have been shooting at least a fifty-pound bow!
The Marchioness of Salisbury won the first prize of the ” Hertfordshire Archers,” which was a gold heart, bearing a bow set with diamonds.
In 1832, Miss Gresley won the gold bracelet, and Miss Isabel Simpson the turquoise gold knot, prizes offered by the ” Woodmen of the Forest of Arden.”
To this tolerance of archery by all, and the practice of it by so many distinguished ladies of England, during the past hundred years, the present generation of English women are in great part indebted for their fine physiques. Not that archery has directly done it all; but a proper appreciation of outdoor exercise was, by the fostering of target practice, thoroughly planted in the minds of mothers, and has borne fruit in the plump, muscular forms and healthful faces of their daughters.
Many of our city ladies, averse to the gayeties and fashionable dissipations of the watering-places, can find nothing to amuse them at the summerhouses in the country. Sylvan archery is just the thing they need. So soon as they have learned the use of bows and arrows, they may roam the green fields and shady woods, shooting at tufts of grass, or the slender stems of the young trees; nor need they have any fear of tramps or robbers, for a drawn bow, in the hands of a resolute woman, will bring the boldest villain to a halt, or to his death, if necessary. An arrow from a thirty-pound bow will pass entirely through the body of a man.
If you wish to sketch, take your bow and arrows with you, so as to shoot when you are tired of the pencil; and if you are fond of botanizing, your bow will serve you for a staff, and a strong arrow makes a first-rate utensil for digging up small plants.
On the soft white sand of the ocean’s beach, and along the shores of our northern lakes, a party of ladies may have fine sport, and most vitalizing recreation, shooting flight shots, or aiming at the curlews and sandpipers and plovers, a hundred yards away.
Social science begins with physical culture. The world must be moved by muscle as well as mind. The nearer women approach to the standard of the physical power possessed by men, the nearer they will be able to make their mental prowess recognized by the world. Vim, resistless energy, the magnetism of the great individual, come of powerful vital resources. The vigor of manhood on the world’s fields of battle, its tireless strength of purpose and physical execution in clearing away the forests and hewing out civilizations in different ages, and its muscular force in every way, has done as much for the world as all the operations of mind, or more. Women who are agitating the question of woman’s enfranchisement must learn that ” might makes right ” is not a maxim of immorality when clearly understood. The might of the liberally trained body, combined with the might of the broadly cultured mind, gives the right to a higher sphere of physical and intellectual action, and no power can curtail the right without first weakening the might. The ocean has the might to fill the vast hollows of the earth wherein it lies, and it has the God-given right. So with a strong body and master-mind, the right to rule is inherent, and can never be eliminated by clever sophistries or impracticable theories of moral equality.
The end of social science is in the perfection and universal adoption of liberal humanities; but this must result from a lifting, not by a lowering process, to the highest equality. Men and women must be borne together to the high plane of the millennium, and none but perfectly developed bodies and souls can bear the strain of the lifting.
Thompson, Maurice. The Witchery of Archery: A Complete Manual of Archery (1878) .