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time, that those whom either his faults or virtues made his enemies, and perhaps some whose kindness wished him always worthily employed, did not scruple to censure his practice, as unsuitable to a man professing learning, and perhaps of bad example in a place of education.
To free himself from this censure was one of the reasons for which he published, in 1544, his“ Toxophilus, or the schole or partitions of shooting," in which he joins the praise with the precepts of archery. He designed not only to teach the art of shooting, but to give an example of diction more natural and more truly English than was used by the common writers of that age, whom he censures for mingling exotick terms with their native language, and of whom he complains, that they were made authors, not by skill or education, but by arrogance and temerity.
He has not failed in either of his purposes. He has sufficiently vindicated archery as an innocent, salutary, useful, and liberal diversion; and if his precepts are of no great use, he has only shown, by one example among many, how little the hand can derive from the mind, how little intelligence can conduce to dexterity. In every art, practice is much; in arts manual, practice is almost the whole. Precept can at most but warn against error, it can never bestow excellence.
The bow has been so long disused, that most English readers have forgotten its importance, though it was the weapon by which we gained the battle of Agincourt, a weapon which, when handled by English yeomen, no foreign troops were able to resist. We were not only abler of body than the French, and therefore superiour in the use of arms, which are forcibleonly in proportion to the strength with which they are handled, but the national practice of shooting for pleasure or for prizes, by which every man was inured to archery from his infancy, gave us insuperable advantage, the bow requiring more practice to skilful use than any other instrument of offence.
Fire-arms were then in their infancy; and though battering-pieces had been some time in use, I know not whether any soldiers were armed with handguns when the Toxophilus was first published. They were soon after used by the Spanish troops, whom other nations made haste to imitate : but how little they could yet effect, will be understood from the account given by the ingenious author of the “ Exercise for the Norfolk Militia."
6. The first muskets were very heavy, and could not be fired without a rest; they had match-locks, and barrels of a wide bore, that carried a large ball and charge of powder, and did execution at a greater distance.
“ The musketeers on a march carried only their rests and ammunition, and had boys to bear their muskets after them, for which they were allowed great additional pay.
“ They were very slow in loading, not only by reason of the unwieldiness of the pieces, and because they carried the powder and balls separate, but from the time it took to prepare and adjust the match; so that their fire was not near so brisk as ours is now. Afterwards a lighter kind of matchlock musket came into use, and they carried their ammunition in bandeliers, which were broad belts that came over the shoulder, to which were hung several little cases of wood covered with leather, each containing a charge of powder; the balls they carried loose in a pouch ; and they had also a priming-horn hanging by their side.
“ The old English writers call those large muskets calivers : the harquebuze was a lighter piece, that could be fired without a rest. The matchlock was fired by a match fixed by a kind of tongs in the serpentine or cock, which, by pulling the trigger, was brought down with great quickness upon the priming in the pan; over which there was a sliding cover, which was drawn back by the hand just at the time of firing. There was a great deal of nicety and care required to fit the match properly to the cock, so as to come down exactly true on the priming, to blow the ashes from the coal, and to guard the pan from the sparks that fell from it. A great deal of time was also lost in taking it out of the cock, and returning it between the fingers of the left hand every time that the piece was fired; and wet weather often rendered the matches useless."
While this was the state of fire-arms, and this state continued among us to the civil war with very little improvement, it is no wonder that the longbow was preferred by sir Thomas Smith, who wrote of the choice of weapons in the reign of queen Elizabeth, when the use of the bow still continued, though the musket was gradually prevailing. Sir John Hayward, a writer yet later, has, in his History of the Norman kings, endeavoured to evince the superiority of the archer to the musketeer: however, in the long peace of king James, the bow was wholly forgotten. Guns have from that time been the weapons of the English, as of other nations, and, as they are now improved, are certainly more efficacious.
Ascham had yet another reason, if not for writing his book, at least for presenting it to king Henry. England was not then what it may be now justly termed, the capital of literature; and therefore those who aspired to superior degrees of excellence, thought it necessary to travel into other countries. The purse of Ascham' was not equal to the expense of peregrination; and therefore he hoped to have it augmented by a pension. Nor was he wholly disappointed; for the king rewarded him with a yearly payment of ten pounds.
A pension of ten pounds granted by a king of England to a man of letters appears to modern readers so contemptible a benefaction, that it is not unworthy of inquiry what might be its value at that time, and how much Ascham might be enriched by it. Nothing is more uncertain than the estimation of wealth by denominated money; the
precious metals never retain long the same proportion to real commodities, and the same names in different ages do not imply the same quantity of metal ; so that it is equally difficult to know how much money was contained in any nominal sum, and to find what any supposed quantity of gold or silver would purchase; both which are necessary to the commensuration of money, or the adjustment of proportion between the same sums at different periods of time.
A numeral pound in king Henry's time contained, as now, twenty shillings; and therefore it
must be inquired what twenty shillings could perform. Bread-corn is the most certain standard of the necessaries of life. Wheat was generally sold at that time for one shilling the bushel : if therefore we take five shillings the bushel for the current price, ten pounds were equivalent to fifty. But here is danger of a fallacy. It may be doubted whether wheat was the general bread-corn of that age; and if rye, barley, or oats, were the common food, and wheat, as I suspect, only a delicacy, the value of wheat will not regulate the price of other things. This doubt is however in favour of Ascham; for if we raise the worth of wheat, we raise that of his pension.
But the value of money has another variation, which we are still less able to ascertain : the rules of custom, or the different needs of artificial life, make that revenue little at one time which is great at another. Men are rich and poor, not only in proportion to what they have, but to what they want. In some ages, not only necessaries are cheaper, but fewer things are necessary. In the age of Ascham, most of the elegancies and expenses of our present fashions were unknown: commerce had not yet distributed superfluity through the lower classes of the people, and the character of a student implied frugality, and required no splendour to support it. His pension, therefore, reckoning together the wants which he could supply, and the wants from which he was exempt, may be estimated, in my opinion, at more than one hundred pounds a year; which, added to the income of his fellowship, put him far enough above distress.