Of this poet, as my friend Mr. Brydges has elsewhere observed, very little is known. In the Athenae of Wood his name is unregistered, nor do I trace it among the Worthies of Fuller. By Phillips he is slightly recorded as "a writer of pastoral, sonnets, canzons, and madrigals; in which kind of writing he keeps company with several other contemporary emulators of Spencer and Sir Philip Sidney, in a publisht collection of selected odes of the chief pastoral sonneteers, &c. of that age." The collection here alluded to, must have been England's Helicon, to which Spenser and Sidney were joint contributors. The critical sentence of Phillips has been re-echoed, or rather re-written by Winstanley and Jacob, in their accounts of the Lives of English Poets. Dr. Percy mentions Breton as "a writer of some fame in the reign of Elizabeth:" and so it would appear, from Puttenham's introduction of him between Gascoigne and Turberville, and from Mere's commendation of his lyric poetry and love elegies. Nor could Webbe, it is presumed, by his silent disregard, intend to incorporate Breton among "the rabble of ryming ballet-makers, or the compilers of senceless sonnets:" though he had compiled his Songes of an idle Head, and twice printed them, before Webbe's book appeared. In the following dialogue from Beaumont and Fletcher's Scornful Lady, our poet seems to be treated not more sarcastically than either Shakespeare or Drayton.
ROG. Have patience, sir, untill our fellow Nicholas be deceast; that is, asleepe. For so the word is taken: to sleep, to dye, to dye, to sleep; a very figure sir.
WILL. Our comic poet gives the reason sweetly, Plenus rimarum est, he is full of loop holes, &c.
ROG. Did I for this consume my quarters in meditation, vowes, and wooed her in Heroicall Epistles? Did I expound the Owle; and undertook with labour and experience the collection of those thousand pieces, consumed in cellars and tobacco-shops, of that our honour'd Englishman, Nich. Breton?
The Scornful Lady being first printed in 1616, it may indicate Breton to have been then living, and if the Norton epitaph produced by Mr. Brydges, belong to the poet, he continued to live till June 22, 1624. Mr. Gough seems to concur in opinion that he did so: as may be gathered from a note in Vol. II. of Queen Elizabeth's Progresses. By those, however, who possess the lonely power of inspecting the early miscellanies of Nicholas Breton, it remains to be determined whether he incidentally bespeaks himself to have held any military commission in the low countries under the Earl of Leicester, as this would identify the monumental inscription. Mr. Ellis has given some pleasing specimens from the poetry of Breton, and Mr. Brydges has done honour to his memory, be calling the ballad of Phillida and Corydon, a delicious little poem, from which if we are to judge of his poetical powers (for surely he had the powers of a poet) they were distinguished by a simplicity, at once easy and elegant.