Tuesday, December 6, 2016


Roger Ascham - Toxophilus (1545)

Archive.org direct link (original text)
Archive.org direct link (edition without long-S but worse formatting)
Open Library main page
Archery Library (online text with modernized spelling)

Ascham's Toxophilus was the first book in English about archery.  That's a distinction of limited interest but the real appeal is a rich style that's a bit overblown even by 16th century standards.  In fact Ascham was one of Francis Bacon's examples of a vanity in studies ("whereby learning hath been most traduced") where the study of antiquity and languages "grew speedily to an excess" and writers to "hunt more after words than matter".  (Advancement of Learning)

The text is in dialogue form and the odd title is the name of one of the speakers.  (Dialogue might seem unusual for an instructional manual but just think of all the corporate and institutional instructional material today done in somewhat similar formats.)  Ascham doesn't hesitate to draw in examples from nature (the belief that porcupines shoot quills) or history or what we would today consider myth.  He wrote in English supposedly with the intent of helping train British archers (though Charles d'Albret's troops might have thought that unnecessary).  One of his main purposes though was to impress Henry VIII - after presenting it he received an annual pension.  (Before writing it Aschram was Latin and Greek tutor to young Elizabeth.)

There's a full treatment of the work by Peter E. Medine "The Art and Wit of Roger Ascham's Bid for Royal Patronage: Toxophilus (1545)".