Some descriptions we have of Bows made use of in foreign nations appear the be very extraordinary; and I shall quote a passage from a traveller of distinguished rank and judgement, which represents the practice of Archery in Persia, at the time the author made his residence there. "The young Persians," says he, "learn to shoot the Bow; the art of which consists of holding it firm, drawing, and letting go the string smoothly. At first they practice with a weak bow; and afterwards, by degrees, with those which are stronger. The persons who give instructions in this art, direct the young pupils to shoot with every agility, in every direction, - before them, behind, on either side, elevated in the air, or low to the ground; in short, in every different posture. (Note: We are told the scythians could use the bow in either hand with indifference. "Scythis autem adeo sagittarum studium suit, ut dextra ac sinstra parita jaculari, et vice in alterna in hostes mittere, sublato discrimine callerent." Alex. ab Alex. vol. ii.)
Some of their bows are exceedingly strong; and the method they make use of to know their power, is by fastening them to a support driven into a wall, and suspending weights to the string at the point where the arrow is placed, when going to shoot. (Note: We are told that Apollo, by observing the different tones given out by the string of his bow, while trying its power by weights, discovered the notes of music, and constructed the Monochord, which he formed in the same figure as the bow used by his sister, Diana.) The strongest require five hundred pounds weight, to draw them up to the Arrow point. (Note: Lord Bacon says, "The Turkish Bow giveth a very forcible shoot; insomuch as it hath been known, that the Arrow hath pierced a steel target, or a piece of brass of two inches thick!!!" See Nat. Hist. Expt. 704. vol. iii.)
When the pupils can manage a common Bow, they then have another given them, which they make heavier and heavier, by means of large iron rings which are placed on the string. Some of these bows are an hundred weight. The pupils draw, string and unstring their Bows, while they leap and move about: sometimes while they stand on one leg, - sometimes on their knees, or while running about; which last action makes a great and disagreeable noise by the clinking of the iron rings.
The instructors judge this exercise to be well performed, when the left hand extended at length, supports the Bow, firm and strong, without shaking; and the right draws the string, with the thumb to the ear. - In order to prevent the effects of the Bow-string, they wear a circular ring, which projects an inch within, and a half on the outside of the thumb. It is on this rest that the string hangs when drawn up in shooting; and it is made of horn, ivory or jadde, which is a kind of green alabaster. The king has some of these rings formed of bone, coloured yellow and red, which grows, as they say, like an hoop, on the head of a large bird in the island of Ceylon.
When the young archers understand how to manage the bow well, their first exercise is to shoot into the air as high as they can. Afterwards they shook point-blanc. The art of doing this is not only in hitting the mark, but it is necessary also that the Arrow go firm and steady. Lastly they learn to shoot with very heavy shaft, and with great force." (Note: Voyages de le Chevalier Chardin, Tom. II.)
Such is the Archery of the Persians, and such the prodigious strength of their bows, which to us, who are unaccustomed to see such efforts of human power, seem almost incredible; - and perhaps by some may be esteemed among those stories of history which merit little credit. Travellers in all ages have been reproached with exaggeration; but in some cases it would be well if if their relations were judged by a train of reasoning, and not by the elusive criterion of apparent probability. But let us reflect a moment on the power of early habits, and training the body from infancy, to endure the toils of labour and fatigue; - we shall then be induced to extend our conceptions of muscular force to a much greater scale that at first sight appeared reasonable.