1866 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Nicholas Breton

John Payne Collier, "The Pilgrimage to Paradise" in Bibliographical and Critical Account of the Rarest Books (1866) 1:104-07.



Unquestionably one of the rarest of Breton's many productions: we believe that only one or two copies of it are known.

It is dedicated "to the Ladie Mary Countesse of Pembrooke," followed by an address "to the Gentlemen studients and Scholars of Oxforde," dated "this 12th of AprilI, 1592." To this address is appended a singular note, regarding the frauds of booksellers, or stationers, of that day: it is this:—

"Gentlemen, there hath been of late printed in London by one Richarde Joanes, a printer, a booke of englishe verses entituled Bretons bower of delights. I protest it was donne altogether without my consent or knowledge, and many thinges of other mens mingled with a few of mine; for, except Amoris Lachrimae, an epitaphe upon Sir Phillip Sydney, and one or two other toies, which I know not how he unhappily came by, I have no part with any of them: and so, I beseech you, assuredly beleeve."

Now, it so happens that this "one Richard Jones" had printed and published Breton's earliest work, A small Handfull of Fragrant Flowers, in 1575; his second work, A Flourish upon Fancie, in 1577 (again in 1582); as well as his Bowre of Delights, in 1591 (again in 1597): so that it should seem as if Breton, at all events until 1591, had employed this "one Richard Jones," though he afterwards resorted to others. Jones may have surreptitiously obtained the MS. of the Bowre of Delights, calling it Brittons instead of "Bretons" for a fraudulent purpose, and may have mingled pieces by a then very popular author with others of less excellence and notoriety, for the sake of forming a substantial volume. Breton's popularity afterwards declined in some degree, and fluctuated considerably: he continued a writer until long after Charles I. came to the throne, and in 1625 appears to have lived in the parish of St. Giles, Cripplegate, for in the Register of that church, under date of the 27th July, 1625, we find that "Matilda the daughter of Nicholas Brittaine" was buried. His own marriage with Annes Sutton is recorded there, 14th Jan. 1592. The person we take to have been his father, or possibly grandfather, named also Nicholas Brittayne, was buried at St. James, Garlickhithe, on 24th May, 1564. Formerly we confidently believed that the Nicholas Breton, Esq., who was buried at Norton, Staffordshire, on 22d June, 1624, was the poet, but we have since found the preceding registrations, and an entry in a MS. (Cotton. Galba, D I. 135) showing that a "Capt. Nich. Breton" went with Lord Leicester to the Low Countries, who was doubtless the person buried at Norton. Nicholas Breton, the poet and pamphleteer, is twice mentioned in Beaumont and Fletcher, viz., in The Scornful Lady, edit. Dyce, III. 28, and in Wit without Money, ibid. IV. 150.

Reverting from these biographical particulars to Breton's productions, we may repeat that he sometimes published under his own name, sometimes under his initials N. B., sometimes reversing them as B. N., and sometimes anonymously. Under the last, however, in the list given in the new edition of Lowndes' Bibl. Man. I. 263, Pleasant Quippes for Upstart New-fangled Gentlewomen, 1595 and 1596, is assigned to him by mistake, because (as is stated elsewhere, B. M. p. 2030) it belongs to Stephen Gosson, who had a vein for poetry and satire. Breton often put only his initials upon the title-pages, or at the end of the dedications of his pieces; but we do not believe that he ever resorted to Richard Jones as a publisher after 1591, although Jones of his own authority put forth a second edition of what he still called Brittons Bowre of Delights in 1597.

The dedication and address by Breton before his Pilgrimage to Paradise are followed by a prose letter from John Case, M.D., in praise of the book, and in laudation of the Countess of Pembroke; and by a copy of Latin verses, Gulielmi Gageri, Legum Doctoris, the defender of dramatic performances against the celebrated Dr. John Rainoldes. The body of the book is a somewhat tedious allegory, Spenser having rendered that species of composition popular by the publication of the three first books of his Fairy Queen in 1590. We need not delay to describe the construction attempted by Breton, but we may quote with approbation the following stanza, where he rather humorously draws the portrait of a fantastical lover:—

After all these upon the right hand went
A silly foole, for so I tearme him right,
With wringing hands, that seemed to lament
Some crossing humor to a vaine delight:
For love, forsooth, and nought but love it was,
That made a woman make a man an Asse.

Of Venus frailty and of Cupids blindenes
He cried out, Oh! that ever they were borne!
And of his mistres more then most unkindnes,
That did so much his truest service skorne:
Yet still he lovde her, and he did so love her,
It was his death: he never could recover.

And then he sight, and sobde, and hong the head,
And wept and wailde, and cast up both his eies,
And in a trance, as if a man were dead,
Or did some dying kinde of fit devise;
Untill he wakte, and then he cried, Oh love!
That ever lover should such sorrowe prove!

And then he redde his verses and his rimes,
Wherein he praisde her, too too out of reason;
And then he sight to thinke how many times
He watcht the day, the night, the hower, the season,
To finde some fruite of his deserved favoure,
But al his flowers were weedes that had no savour.

"The Countess of Pembroke's Love" is merely a religious poem, which has also been mistakenly called "The Countess of Pembroke's Passion." It is an easy piece of versification, but it makes no pretension to originality: the "love" treated of is holy love, but bears no sort of resemblance, excepting in the mere subject, to Spenser's Hymn to Heavenly Love.