1803 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Nicholas Breton

Joseph Dennie, "Breton's Bower of Delight" Port Folio [Philadelphia] 3 (7 May 1803) 152.



In a "musty and worm-eaten" book of the fifteenth century, called "Breton's Bower of Delight," we read of the birth and nurture of Desire. The Poet, with wonderful felicity proposes a query in one line, which both poetically and concisely he answers in the next. This little poem is a striking proof of the purity, strength and grace of the English tongue, so early as the very commencement of the reign of Elizabeth. It will be read and admired, both by the lovers of women, and the lovers of literature. Let others find their gratification, or bane, in the gaudy, or poisoned novelties, with which atheists and jacobins cheat, and destroy mankind; for ourselves, we love, in the memorable phrase of Milton, to fall backward sometimes to the "rereward" of our learning, to contemplate, with veneration, the good sense and strong expression of our ancestors; to draw pure phrases from the old "wells of English undefiled" and leave bombastic liberty and written constitutions, and lengthy nonsense to drawl out their miserable existence, like reptiles, disturbing even solitude, and polluting the face of Nature.

When wert thou born, Desire?
In pomp and pride of May.
By whom, sweet boy, wert thou begot?
By good conceit, men say.

Tell me who was thy nurse?
Fresh youth in sugar'd joy.
What wast thy meat and daily food?
Sore sighs and great annoy.

What hadst thou then to drink?
Unfeigned lover's tears.
What cradle were you rocked in?
In hope, devoid of fears.

What brought you then asleep?
Sweet speech, that lik'd men best.
And where is now your dwelling place?
In gentle hearts I rest.

Doth company displease?
It doth in many a one.
Where would Desire then chuse to be?
He likes to muse alone.

What feedeth most your sight?
To gaze on favour still.
Who find you most to be your foe?
Disdain of my good-will.

Will ever age or death
Bring you unto decay?
No, no; Desire both lives and dies,
Ten thousand times a day.