1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Musket

MUSKET (Fr. mousquet, Ger. Muskete, &c.), the term generally applied to the firearm of the infantry soldier from about 1550 up to and even beyond the universal adoption of rifled small arms about 1850-1860. The word originally signified a male sparrowhawk (Italian moschetto, derived perhaps ultimately from Latin musca, a fly) and its application to the weapon may be explained by the practice of naming firearms after birds and beasts (cf. falcon, basilisk). Strictly speaking, the word is inapplicable both to the early hand-guns and to the arquebuses and calivers that superseded the hand-guns. The “musket” proper, introduced into the Spanish army by the duke of Alva, was much heavier and more powerful than the arquebus. Its bullet retained sufficient striking energy to stop a horse at 500 and 600 yards from the muzzle. A writer in 1598 (quoted s.v. in the New English Dictionary) goes so far as to say that “One good musket may be accounted for two callivers.” Unlike the arquebus, it was fired from a rest, which the “musketeer” stuck into the ground in front of him. But during the 17th century the musket in use was so far improved that the rest could be dispensed with (see Gun). The musket was a matchlock, weapons with other forms of lock being distinguished as wheel-locks, firelocks, snaphances, &c., and soldiers were similarly distinguished as musketeers and fusiliers. On the disuse, about 1690-1695, of this form of firing mechanism, the term “musket” was, in France at least, for a time discontinued in favour of “fusil,” or flint-lock, which thenceforward reigned supreme up to the introduction of a practicable percussion lock about 1830-1840. But the term “musket” survived the thing it originally represented, and was currently used for the firelock (and afterwards for the percussion weapon). To-day it is generically used for military firearms anterior to the modern rifle. The original meaning of the word musketry has remained almost unaltered since 1600; it signifies the fire of infantry small-arms (though for this “rifle fire” is now a far more usual term), and in particular the art of using them (see Infantry and Rifle). Of the derivatives, the only one that is not self-explanatory is musketoon. This was a short, large-bore musket somewhat of the blunderbuss type, originally designed for the use of cavalry, but afterwards, in the 18th century, chiefly a domestic or coachman's weapon.