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He was at first an opponent of the new pronunciation introduced, or rather of the ancient restored, about this time by Cheke and Smith, and made fome cautious struggles for the common practice, which the credit and dignity of his antagonists did not permit to defend very publickly, or with much vehemence; nor were they long his antagonists; for either his affection for their merit, or his conviction of the cogency of their arguments, foon changed his opinion and his practice, and he adhered ever after to their method of utterance.
Of this controversy it is not necessary to give a circumftantial account; something of it may be found in Strype's life of Smith, and something in Baker's Reflections upon Learning; it is sufficient to remark here, that Cheke's pronunciation was that which now prevails in the schools of England. Disquisitions not only verbal, but merely literal, are too minute for
He was not less eminent as a writer of Latin, than as a teacher of Greek. All the publick letters of the university were of his composition; and as little qualifications must often bring great abilities into notice, he was recommended to this honourable employment not less by the neatness of his hand, than the elegance of his style.
However great was his learning, he was not always immured in his chamber; but, being valetudinary, and weak of body, thought it neceffary to spend many hours in such exercises as might best relieve him after the fatigue of study. His favourite amufement was archery, in which he spent, or, in the opinion of 7
others, loft so much 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 profeffing 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 1644, his “Toxophi“lus, or the schole or partitions of shooting,” in whică he joins the praise with the precepts of archery. He designed not only to teach the art of thooting, 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 kill or education, but by arrogance and temerity.
He has not failed in either of his purposes. He has sufficiently vindicated archery as an innocent, falucary, 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 moft but warn again error, it can never bestow excellence,
The bow has been so long disused, that most English seaders 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 refift. We were not only abler of body than the French, and
therefore superior in the use of arms, which are forcible only 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 foldiers were armed with hand-guns 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."
“ 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 o distance.
“ The musketeers on a march carried only their rests " and ammunition, and had boys to bear their mus“ kets after them, for which they were allowed great e additional pay.
“ They were very Now in loading, not only by rea“ son of the unweildiness 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 match“ lock 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 car“ ried loose in a pouch; and they had also a priming" horn hanging by their fide.
“ The old Lnglish writers call those large muskets “ calivers: the harquebuze was a lighter piece, that 66 could be fired without a rest. The match-lock 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 living
cover, which was drawn back by the hand just at of the time of firing. There was a great
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 prim
ing, 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 use. 65 less.”
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 long-bow 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, endea.. VOL. IV,
voured 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 tiine 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 superiour degrees of excellence, thought it necessary to travel into other countries. The purse of Aschain was not equal to the expence of peregrination; and therefore he hoped to have it augmented by a pension. Nor was he wholly difappointed; for the king rewarded him with an yearly payment of ten pounds.
A pension of ten pounds granted by a king of Eng. land to a man of letters, appears to modern readers so contemptible a benefaction, that it is not unworthy of enquiry 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 fame quantity of metal; so that it is equally difficult to know how much money was contained in any nominal fum, 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.