1817 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Nicholas Breton

Nathan Drake, in Shakespeare and his Times (1817; 1838) 292-93.



Of this prolific poet few authenticated facts are known. His first publication, entitled, A small handfull of fragrant flowers, was printed in 1575; if we therefore allow him to have reached the age of twenty-one before he commenced a writer, the date of his birth may, with some probability, be assigned to the year 1554. The number of his productions was so great, that a character in Beaumont and Fletcher's Scornful Lady, declares that he had undertaken "with labour and experience the collection of those thousand pieces — of that our honour'd Englishman, Nich. Breton." (Act ii.) Ritson has given a catalogue of twenty-nine, independent of his contributions to the Phoenix Nest and England's Helicon, and five more are recorded by Mr. Park in the Censura Literaria. Most of these are poetical, some a mixed composition of rhyme and prose, and a few entirely prose; they are all extremely scarce, certainly not the consequence of mediocrity or want of notice, for they have been praised by Puttenham, Meres, and Phillips; and one of his most beautiful ballads is inserted in The Muse's Library, 1740. After a lapse of twenty-five years, Dr. Percy recalled the attention of the public to our author by inserting in his Reliques the same piece which Mrs. Cowper had previously chosen; in 1801 Mr. Ellis favoured us with eight specimens, from his pamphlets and England's Helicon, and Mr. Park has since added two very valuable extracts to the number. These induce us to wish for a more copious selection, and at the same time enable us to declare, that as a lyric and pastoral poet he possessed, if not a splendid, yet a pleasing and elegant flow of fancy, together with great sweetnes and simplicity of expression, and a more than common portion of metrical harmony.

He is supposed, on the authority of an epitaph in the church of Norton, a village in Northamptonshire, to have died on the 22d of June, 1624.