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“Of all our national pastimes, this is one which should be pursued for the sake only of the honourable distinction to be obtained, in excelling in an art, where both mental and physical gifts are developed.”

Anonymous author on match rifle shooting (1866)

Research Press

T. You have told me nothing of the meeting as a demonstration to other countries. How, think you, will it appear to them?

J. It left on my mind the deep conviction that you will hear nothing more of the invasion of England. In this respect it beat the review hollow. That was a grand thing, a noble thing; but it was soldiering, and there are others who can play at soldiers besides ourselves. The French can, the Austrians can, the Prussians can; but they can’t shoot – I mean, it does not come so natural to them as it does to us. Why, I stood in a squad of sixteen men, to shoot for the Whitworth rifles; perhaps, with three or four exceptions, not one of those men had ever fired a rifle a short year ago; and yet, as I said before, not a sheep could have lived a minute before them at 500 yards. Why, any four of them would have silenced a gun in a couple or three discharges, by striking dead every man and horse attached to it. It is true, we had the Victorias and the Inns of Court men in the squad (and right well they shot), and generally, perhaps, the volunteers who assembled at Wimbledon, in some sense, may be looked upon as picked men; but you may be sure it was but a matter of small degree, and that in any company or corps you would find the next fifteen or twenty nearly, if not quite, as good as the men that were sent. Next year I believe 1000 yards will be as readily and truly gauged as the 500 were then. All our men want now is the opportunity of practice. The position drill is a truth, and a little actual shooting is all that is now needed to turn it to account. The north countrymen did better than the south from this very cause. With us southerners, and particularly with the Londoners, it was a very difficult thing to get at a range at all, and much interest had to be used to get even the selected men a shot before the day. When once we have got ranges – and it will not now be long first – the Saxon eye, and steadiness of hand and temper will be sure to tell, and you will find the mountaineers neither from Scotland or Switzerland will beat us.

T. Talking of Switzerland, how did the Switzers do?

J. They were first-rate. They were no doubt almost without exception admirable shots, and could well be entrusted with their liberties against a whole army of Zouaves and Turcos. They were intelligent, well-conditioned men, who quickly learnt to appreciate the English rifle; and I really believe the best thing that could have happened to them was the detention of their own weapons in the French Douanes, for it was the means of introducing them to a better weapon. In this way the accident may bear upon the fortunes of Europe, should the unequal game of war be tried.

T. Some objection has been made, I believe, to opening the competition to all comers, as teaching the foreigner to beat us with our own weapons.

J. I heard of it; but don’t agree with the objectors. I believe open competition is the soul of all excellence; and, of all nations, the English are sure to profit by it. But, of all people, the Swiss should be admitted to share in the advantage as a matter of policy; because, in the game of European politics, their sympathies are sure to be with England, and thus, in giving them a better weapon, we are in fact assisting an ally.

T. Were there not some complaints of the cartridges at the meeting?

J. Yes, great complaints; but I was unable to judge of them, because, as I mentioned to you, I had not tried ball cartridge before.

T. No doubt the controversy will lead to the best thing being procured in the end; for there is nothing to prevent celerity of loading, which is the object of the easy fit, being combined with accuracy of shooting, as soon as the right measures both in powder and lead are hit. Did you witness the conclusion of the contest?

J. No, I did not. I was obliged to leave after the rifle given by the Swiss was shot for. But the practice seems to have been admirable. Twenty-four points obtained out of thirty shots – ten shots at 800, 900, and 1,000 respectively – won the Queen’s prize; and the victor was a young man, not of age – a strong argument in favour of the public school corps, which I should like to see instituted at once. It will be long a question between the young and the middle-aged men. If “years steal fire from the mind, and vigour from the limb,” in rifle-shooting at least they will impart steadiness and judgment. Still, the keenness of sight and the pliancy of body are with the youth, and they are wonderful aids in such a contest. It is, however, a great thing for the middle-aged men of this generation to find a new pastime opened to them, and one in which they can largely utilize the love of sport and exercise that they cherished in their youth, at a time when cricket and boating must be perforce foregone. The rifle is in their hands; and they can use it up to a green old age, and improve year by year in the knowledge and practice of their piece, and, if the boys beat them, they will, as was the case here, have the satisfaction of being beaten by their sons.