Penny's poetry pages Wiki

The Country-man, from Nicholas Breton ((?1553-1625?), The Court and Country, 1618. Courtesy Poeticious.

Nicholas Breton, also Britton or Brittaine (?1553–1625?), was an English poet and prose writer, a prolific writer of religious and pastoral poems, satires, dialogues, and essays.[1]



Little is known of Breton's life. He was the son of William Breton, a London merchant; his mother later married poet George Gascoigne. Breton was perhaps at Oxford, and was a rather prolific author of considerable versatility and gift. Among his poetical works are A Floorish upon Fancie, Pasquil's Mad-cappe (1626), The Soul's Heavenly Exercise, and The Passionate Shepherd. In prose he wrote Wit's Trenchmour, The Wil of Wit (1599), A Mad World, my Masters, Adventures of Two Excellent Princes, Grimello's Fortunes (1604), Strange News out of Divers Countries (1622), etc. His lyrics are pure and fresh, and his romances, though full of conceits, are pleasant reading, remarkably free from grossness.[2]

Youth and education[]

Breton was descended from an ancient family originally settled at Layer-Breton, Essex. His father, William Breton, came to London and amassed a fortune in trade. His "capitall mansion house" was in Red Cross Street, in the parish of St. Giles Without Cripplegate, and he owned tenements in other parts of London, besides land in Essex and Lincolnshire.[3] His wife was Elizabeth, daughter of John Bacon, and by her he had 2 sons, Richard and Nicholas, and 3 daughters, Thamar, Anne, and Mary.[4]

From the fact that Breton was a boy in 1559, the year of his father's death, the date of his birth may be conjecturally placed in 1545, but no sure information is at present accessible.[4]

William Breton died 12 January 1558-9, while his sons were still boys, and left by will to Nicholas the manor of Burgh-in-the-Marsh, near Wainfleet, Lincolnshire, 40 pounds in money, "one salt, all gilte, wt a cover ... vj silver spones, and the gilte bedsted and bedd that I lye in at London," with all its furniture (will printed in Dr. Grosart's pref. to Breton's Works, pp. xii-xvii). This property was to be applied by the child's mother to his "mayntenaunce and fynding" until he was 24 years old, when he was to enter into full possession. He left much to his wife on the condition that she should remain unmarried, but before 1568 she had become the wife of poet George Gascoigne, who died 7 October 1577, and was thus for more than 9 years Nicholas Breton's stepfather.[4]

The Rev. Richard Madox, chaplain to a naval expedition in 1582, whose unpublished diary is in Sloane MS. 1008, records under date 14 March 1582-3 that while on the continent, apparently at Antwerp, he met "Mr. Brytten, once of Oriel Colledge, wch made wyts will [i.e. the prose tract, 'The Wil of Wit, Wit's Will, or Wil's Wit,' entered on the Stationers' Register 7 Sept. 1580]. He speaketh the Italian well." No university document supports the statement that Breton was educated at Oriel College, but in "The Toyes of an Idle Head," the appendix to his 1st published book, A Floorish vpon Fancie, he refers to himself as "a yong gentleman who . . . had spent some years at Oxford." He also dedicates the 'Pilgrimage to Paradise' (1592) "to the gentlemen studients and scholers of Oxforde."[4]


From his Floorish vpon Fancie we know that in 1577 Breton was settled in London and had lodgings in Holborn.[4]

His voluminous works in prose and verse were issued in rapid succession between 1577 and 1626. Among his early patrons, the chief was Mary, countess of Pembroke; he dedicated to her the Pilgrimage to Paradise, 1592, to which is added the "Countesse of Pembrooke's Love," where he speaks of himself as "Your Ladishipp's unworthy named Poet." He also wrote for her his Auspicante Jehoua, 1597, and the Countess of Pembroke's Passion. Passages in Wit's Trenchmour (1597) refer to the rejection of the poet's love-suit by a lady of high station, and it seems not improbable that Breton's intimacy with the Countess of Pembrok passed beyond the bounds of patron and poet. Whatever the character of the relationship, it ceased after 1601.[4]

On 14 Jan. 1592-3 he married Ann Sutton at St. Giles's Church, Cripplegate, the church of the parish in which stood his father's "capitall mansion house." On 14 May 1603, according to the St. Giles's parish register, a son Nicholas was born; on 16 March 1605-6 another son, Edward; and on 7 May 1607 a daughter, Matilda. In the burial register of the same church are recorded the deaths of Mary, daughter of "Nicholas Brittaine, gent.," on 2 Oct. 1603, and of Matilda, daughter of "Nicholas Brittaine, gent.," on 27 July 1625.[4]

Of Breton's own death no record has yet been found. His last published work bears the date 1626. Capt. Nicholas Breton, son of John Breton of Tamworth, who served under Leicester in the Low Countries in 1586, purchased an estate at Norton, Northamptonshire, and died there in 1624, has often been erroneously identified with the poet (Shaw, Staffordshire, i. 422; Bridges, Northamptonshire, i. 78; Phillipps, Theatrum Poetarum, 1800, p. 321).[4]

These scanty facts are all that is known of the poet's life.[4]


As a literary man Breton impresses us most by his versatility and his habitual refinement. He is a satirical, religious, romance, and pastoral writer in both prose and verse. But he wrote with exceptional facility, and as a consequence he wrote too much. His fertile fancy often led him into fantastic puerilities.[5]


It is in his pastoral lyrics that he is seen at his best. The pathos here is always sincere; the gaiety never falls into grossness, the melody is fresh, and the style clear. His finest lyrics are in Englands Helicon and the collection of poems published by himself under the title of the Passionate Shepheard.[5]

In his religious poems and tracts there is a passionate yearning and rich imagery which often suggest Southwell, or even Crashaw, but they are defaced by wire-drawn conceits and mystical subtleties. He was probably an earnest student of Spenser, for whom he wrote a sympathetic epitaph.[5]

The enthusiasm for the Virgin Mary exhibited in a few poems, very generally attributed to Breton, has led to the belief that the poet was an ardent Catholic. But it is almost certain — as we state below — that the undoubtedly catholic poems ascribed to Breton were by another hand; his long intimacy with the protestant Countess of Pembroke, which probably rested mainly on common religious sentiments, the direct attacks on Romanism which figure in many of Breton's prose tracts, and his sympathetic references to the practices of the English reformed church, point in quite the opposite direction. His description of the Virgin, saints, and angels, only noticed by him as part of the acknowledged host of heaven, and his constantly recurring comparison of his own spiritual condition to that of Mary Magdalen, merely illustrate the strength of his religious fervour (see Dr. Brinsley Nicholson's notes in Notes and Queries, 5th series, i. 501-2).[5]

Breton's satire, most of which appeared under the pseudonym of Pasquil, is not very impressive; he attacks the dishonest practices and artificiality of town society, but writes, as a rule, like a disappointed man. Of the coarseness of contemporary satirists he knows nothing. He lacks the drastic power of Nashe, who wrote under the same pseudonym, and his refinement brought down on him Nashe's censure. Nashe speaks of Breton, in allusion to his Bower of Delights,' as "Pan sitting in his Bower of Delights, and a number of Midases to admire his miserable hornpipes."[5]


Wit's Trenchmour, an angling idyll, is the best of his prose tracts, and had the author not yielded to the temptation of digressing from his subject in the latter half of the book, he might have equalled Izaak Walton on his own ground.[5]

Throughout his works runs a thorough sympathy with country life and rural scenery; the picturesque descriptions of country customs in his Fantasticks and the Town and Country are of value to the social historian.[5]



I. Breton's Poetical productions, all bibliographical rarities, are as follows:

  1. 'The Workes of a young Wit trust up with a Fardell of prettie fancies, profitable to young Poetes, prejudicial to no man, and pleasant to every man to passe away idle time withall. Whereunto is joined an odde kinde of wooing with a bouquet of comfittes to make an end withall. Done by N. B., Gent.,' 1577. Only one copy of this work (entered on the Stationers' Register under date June 1577) is now extant; it belongs to Mr. Christie-Miller of Britwell. George Ellis printed two poems from it in his 'Specimens of Early English Poets' (3rd edition, 1803), ii. 270-8; and Mr. W. C. Hazlitt has reprinted 'The Letter Dedicatorie to the Reader' (dated 14 May 1577) in his 'Prefaces &c. from Early Books,' 1874.
  2. 'A Floorish vpon Fancie. As gallant a glose vpon so trifling a text as ever was written. Compiled by N. B., Gent. To which are annexed The Toyes of an Idle Head; containing many pretie Pamphlets for pleasaunt heads to passe away Idle time withall. By the same Authour,' London, 'imprinted by Richard Jhones,' 1577 and 1582. This work was entered on the Stationers' Register 2 April 1577; the only extant copy of the edition published in 1577 is now at Britwell; that of 1582 is carelessly reprinted in Park's 'Heliconia' (cf. W. C. Hazlitt's Prefaces, $c. (1874), p. 55).
  3. 'The Pilgrimage to Paradise, coyned with the Countesse of Penbrooke's love, compiled in verse by Nicholas Breton, Gentleman,' Oxford, by Joseph Barnes, 1592, entered on the Stationers' Register 23 Jan. 1590-1, with the dedication to Mary, countess of Pembroke. John Case, M.D., prefixes a letter, addressed in high praise of the author, 'to my honest trve friend, Master Nicholas Breton,' and William Gager, doctor of laws, and Henry Price add Latin verses (cf. Addit. MS. 22583, f. 86).[5]
  4. 'The Countess of Penbrook's Passion,' first privately printed by Mr. Halliwell-Phillipps, from a manuscript preserved in the Public Library at Plymouth in his 'Brief Description of the Plymouth Manuscripts' (1853), pp. 177-210. An anonymous writer in 'Notes and Queries' (1st series, v. 487) described another manuscript of this poem in his possession. A manuscript older than either of these is in the British Museum (Sloane MS. 1303), and this was printed for the first time in 1862, under the title of 'A Poem on our Saviour's Passion,' as the work of Mary Sidney, countess of Pembroke. Horace Walpole, in his 'Royal and Noble Authors,' similarly attributed the poem to the Countess of Pembroke, but George Steevens, to whom the Plymouth manuscript at one time probably belonged, describes it as Breton's work (Steevens's Sale Catalogue, 997); its identity of style with the 'Countesse of Pembrooke's Love,' mentioned above, removes almost all doubt as to its authorship. Dr. Brinsley Nicholson discussed the question in the 'Athenæum' (9 March 1878), and, while arriving at this conclusion, pointed out that the author was somewhat indebted to Thomas Watson's 'Tears of Fancie.' The title may be compared with 'The Countess of Pembroke's Arcadia,' by Sidney, 'The Countess of Pembroke's Emanuel' (1591), and 'The Countess of Pembroke's Yuy Church' (1591-2), by Abraham Fraunce.
  • 'Pasquil's Mad-cappe, Throwne at the Corruptions of these Times, with his Message to Men of all Estates,' 1626. It was entered on the Stationers' Register 20 March 1599-1600, and again on 29 July 1605, but no earlier copy than that of 1626 is extant.
  1. 'Pasquil's Fooles-cap sent to svch (to keepe their weake braines warme) as are not able to conceive aright of his Mad-cap. With Pasquil's Passion for the World's waywardnesse, begun by himselfe and finished by his friend Morpherius,' 1600 (entered on Stationers' Register 10 May 1600). The only copy known is in the Bodleian. The dedication, addressed 'to my very good friende, Master Edward Conquest,' is signed ' N. B.'
  2. 'Pasquil's Mistresse, or the Worthie and Vnworthie Woman; with his Description and Passion of that Furie, Jealousie,' 1600. The dedicatory epistle is signed #'Salohcin Treboun,' apparently an anagram upon Nicholas Breton. A unique copy is at Britwell.
  3. 'Pasquil's Passe and Passeth Not, set downe in three pees, his Passe, Precession, and Prognostication,' London, 1600 (entered on Stationers' Register 29 May 1600). The dedication, signed 'N. B.,' is addressed 'to my . . . good friend M. Griffith Pen.'
  4. 'Melancholike Humours, in verses of Diverse Natures set downe by Nich. Breton, Gent.,' London, 1600. This was reprinted privately at the Lee Priory Press by Sir S. Egerton Brydges. It is dedicated to 'Master Thomas Blunt,' and 'Ben. Iohnson' prefixes a sonnet 'in authorem.' Copies are in the Huth Library and the Bodleian.
  5. 'Marie Magdalen's Love: a Solemne Passion of the Sovles Love, by Nicholas Breton,' London, by John Danter, 1595. The first part is a prose commentary on St. John x. 1-18. The second is a poem in six-line stanzas, and was republished separately in 1598 and 1623. It was entered on the Stationers' Register 20 Sept. 1595. It is almost certain that 'Marie Magdalen's Love,' a catholic treatise, was by another hand, and bound up by the publisher—who leaned towards catholicism himself with Breton's undoubted work, to secure a sale for it.
  6. 'A Diuine Poeme diuided into two partes: The Ravisht Soule and the Blessed Weeper. Compiled by Nicholas Breton, Gentleman,' London, 1601, dedicated to the Countess of Pembroke. A copy is in the Huth Library. It was reprinted in 'Excerpta Tudoriana.'
  7. 'An Excellent Poeme, vpon the Longing of a Blessed Heart, which, loathing the world, doth long to be with Christ; with an addition vpon the definition of love. Compiled by Nicholas Breton, Gentleman,' London, 1601. It was privately reprinted by Sir Egerton Brydges in 1814. The dedication is addressed to Lord North, and 'H. T., Gent.,' contributes a sonnet in praise of the author. A copy is in the Huth Library.
  8. 'The Soules Heavenly Exercise, set down in diverse godly meditations, both prose and verse, by Nicholas Breton, Gent.,' London, 1601, dedicated to William Rider, lord mayor of London. This little quarto is not mentioned by any of the bibliographers or writers on Breton. A copy which is believed to be unique is in private hands; it is bound in old vellum, with Queen Elizabeth's crest stamped upon it in gold.
  9. 'The Soules Harmony. Written by Nicholas Breton,' London, 1602. Dedicated to Lady Sara Hastings.
  10. 'Olde Madcapps newe Gallymawfrey, by Ni. Breton,' London (Richard Iohnes), 1602, and dedicated to Mistress Anne Breton of Little Calthorpe, Leicestershire, entered on the Stationers' Register 4 June 1602. A unique copy is in Mr. Christie-Miller's library at Britwell.
  11. 'The Mother's Blessing,' London, 1602, with a dedication signed Nich. Breton, addressed to 'M. Thomas Rowe, sonne to the Lady Bartley of Stoke.' The only complete copy known is in the library of Sir Charles Isham of Lamport Hall, Northampton.
  12. 'The Passionate Shepheard, or the Shepheardes Love; set downe in Passions to his Shepherdesse Aglaia,' London, 1604. Breton here writes under the pseudonym of Bonerto. The only perfect copy known belonged to Mr. Frederic Ouvry, and was reprinted by him in 1877.[6]
  13. 'The Soules Immortall Crowne, consisting of Seaven Glorious Graces,' London, 1605, dedicated to James I. A manuscript of the work, signed by Breton, is in the British Museum (MS. Royal, 18 A, lvii.)
  14. 'A Trve Description of Vnthankfulnesse, or an Enemie to Ingratitude. Compiled by Nicholas Breton, Gent.,' London, 1602; dedicated to 'Mistris Mary Gate,' daughter of Sir Henry Gate of Seamer, Yorkshire. A copy is in the Bodleian.
  15. 'The Honovr of Valovr. By Nicholas Breton, Gent.,' London, 1605. A unique copy is in the Huth Library; it is dedicated to Charles Blount, earl of Devon.
  16. 'An Invective against Treason,' printed by Dr. Grosart from the Royal MS. (17 C, xxxiv.) in the British Museum, with a dedication, signed 'Nich. Breton,' to the Duke of Lennox. An edition entitled 'The State of Treason with a Touch of the late Treason,' was published in 1616, but no copy is now known. The poem refers to the Gunpowder Plot.
  17. 'I would and I would not,' London, 1614. The address to the reader is signed 'B.N.,' but the style of the poem and the initials (probably reversed) give the poem a title to be connected with Breton's name.[7]

Breton was a regular contributor to the poetical collections of his age, and his poetical fame induced an enterprising publisher, Richard Jones, to put forth 2 miscellanies under his name. In the Stationers' Register, under date 3 May 1591, Bryton's Bowre of Delights was entered to Jones, and published in the same year as 'contayning many most delectable and fine deuices of rare epitaphes, pleasant poems, pastorals, and sonets, by N.B., Gent.' Of this publication Mr. Christie-Miller owns a unique copy. Breton says in an epistle (12 April 1592) prefixed to his Pilgrimage to Paradise: 'There hath beene of late printed in London by one Richarde Joanes, a printer, a booke of English verse, entituled Breton's Bower of Delights. I protest it was done altogether without my consent or knowledge, and many things of other men mingled with a few of mine, for except "Amoris Lachrimæ," an epitaph vpon Sir Phillip Sydney, and one or two other toies, which I know not how he vnhappily came by, I have no part of any of them.' George Ellis printed in his Specimens of the Early English Poets, 3rd edition, 1803 (ii. 286-8), 'a sweet contention between love, his mistress, and beauty' from a copy of 'The Bowre of Delights,' dated 1597.[7]

A similar story may be told of The Arbor of Amorous Deuices: Wherein young Gentlemen may reade many pleasant fancies and fine Deuices: And thereon meditate diuers sweete Conceites to court the loue of faire Ladies and Gentlewomen. By N.B., Gent., London, 1597 (cf. Beauclerc's Sale Catalogue, 1781; W.C. Hazlitt's Handbook). Only 1 copy of this book is still extant, and that has lost its title-page and is otherwise defective; it is in the Capell collection at Trinity College, Cambridge. There is an entry on the Stationers' Register of The Arbour of Amorus Delightes, by N.B., Gent., under date 7 Jan. 1593-4. This book is only in part Breton's; it contains poems by other hands, collected together by the printer, Richard Jones. 2 pieces are from Tottel's Miscellany, a 3rd is from Sidney's Arcadia. The most beautiful poem in the collection is the well-known "A Sweete Lullabie," beginning, 'Come little babe, come silly soule,' and it has been assumed by many to be by Breton, but Britton's Divinitie is Breton's sole undoubted contribution to the volume.[7]

In the Phoenix Nest, published in 1593, 5 poems are described as 'by N.B., Gent.' In Englands Helicon, published in 1600, 8 poems are signed 'N. Breton,' among them being the far-famed "Phyllida and Corydon" (originally printed anonymously in 1591 in The … Entertainment gieven to the Queen … by the Earle of Hertford), and several of Breton's most delicate pastorals.[7]

Some songs set to music in Morley's 'New Book of Tablature,' 1596, and Dowland's 'Third Book of Songs,' 1603 (see Collier's Lyrical Poems, published by Percy Society), have on internal grounds been ascribed to Breton. Sir Egerton Brydges printed in his 'Censura Literaria' as a poem of Breton's a few verses beginning 'Among the groves, the woods, the thickets,' described in John Hynd's 'Eliosto Libidinoso,' 1606, as 'a fancie which that learned author, N. B., hath dignified with respect.' Part of the poem was printed anonymously from Brit. Mus. MS. Harl. 6910, in 'Excerpta Tudoriana.' To 'The Scvller,' 1612, by John Taylor, the Water Poet, 'thy loving friend Nicholas Breton' contributed a poem 'in laudem authoris.'[7]

A 17th-century manuscript collection of verse by various authors of the 16th and the 17th centuries contains transcripts of many of Breton's poems, some of which were printed in Englands Helicon, others in The Arbor of Amorous Devices, 1597; and 1, "Amoris Lachrimæ for the Death of Sir Philip Sidney," in Britton's Bowre of Delights, 1591. There are also some 30 short pieces, fairly attributable to Breton, which do not appear to have been printed in the poet's lifetime; they were published for the first time by Dr. Grosart. Among the Tanner MSS. at the Bodleian are 5 short poems by Breton of no particular literary interest.[7]


II. Breton's Prose works are:—

  1. 'Auspicante Jehoua, Marie's Exercise,' London (by T. Este), 1597. There is a dedication, signed 'Nich. Breton,' addressed to Mary, countess of Pembroke, and another 'to the Ladies and Gentlewomen Readers,' One copy is in the Cambridge University Library.
  2. 'Wits Trenchmour, in a conference betwixt a Scholler and an Angler. Written by Nich. Breton, Gentleman,' London, 1597 (Trenchmour is the name of a boisterous dance). A unique copy is in Mr. Huth's library. The dedication is addressed to #'William Harbert of the Red Castle in Montgomery-shire.' Izaak Walton is usually said, without much reason, to have been indebted to this work for the suggestion of his 'Angler.'
  3. 'The Wil of Wit, Wit's Will or Wil's Wit, Chuse you whether. Compiled by Nicholas Breton, Gentleman,' London (by Thomas Creede), 1599. The book is entered on the Stationers' Register 7 Sept. 1580. The Rev. Richard Madox refers to the book as its author's chief work in his 'Diary,' under date 14 March 1582-3. There is a dedication 'To Gentlemen Schollers and Students, whatsoever,' and two copies of unsigned verses, 'ad lectorem, de authore,' together with some stanzas by W[illiam] S[mith]. The book contains: (1) 'A Pretie and Wittie Discourse betwixt Wit and Will, in which several songs appear.' (2) 'The Author's Dreame of strange effects as followeth.' (3) 'The Scholler and the Soldiour … the one defending Learning, the other Martiall Discipline, in which the Soldier gets the better of the argument.' (4) 'The Miseries of Manillia, the most unfortunate Ladie that ever lived,' a romance. (5) 'The Praise of Vertuous Ladies, an invective written against the discourteous discourses of certaine malicious persons, written against women whom Nature, Wit, and Wisedom (well considered) would us rather honour than disgrace.' This piece was reprinted by Sir Egerton Brydges in 1815. (6) 'A Dialogue between Anger and Patience.' (7) 'A Phisitions Letter,' with practical directions for healthy living. (8) 'A Farewell.' The whole work was republished in 1606*, and a very limited reprint was issued by Mr. J. O. Halliwell-Phillipps in 1860.
  4. 'The Strange Fvtvres of Two Excellent Princes [Fantiro and Penillo], in their Lives and Loves to their equall Ladies in all the titles of true honour,' 1600, a story from the Italian. A unique copy is in the Bodleian, dedicated to 'Iohn Linewray, Esquire, clerk of the deliueries, and the deliuerance of all her Maiestie's ordenance.'
  5. 'Crossing of Proverbs, Crosse Answeres and Crosse Humours, by N. B., Gent.,' London, 1616, pts. i. and *ii.
  6. 'The Figvre of Foure' was first entered on the Stationers' Register 10 Oct. 1597, and again 19 Nov. 1607. Ames notes an edition of 1631. But all that seems to have survived of this book is an edition of 'the second part,' issued in 1636 (of which a unique copy is in the Bodleian). The address to the reader is signed 'N.B.' *A reprint of this part, dated 1654, consists of 104 fantastic paragraphs, each describing four things of similar quality.
  7. 'Wonders Worth the Hearing, which being read or heard in a Winter's evening by a good fire, or a Summer's morning in the greene fields, may serve both to purge melancholy from the minde & grosse humours from the body,' London, 1602. The dedication, signed 'Nich. Breton,' and dated 22 Dec. 1602, is addressed 'to my honest and loving friend, Mr. Iohn Cradocke, cutler, at his house without Temple Barre.' The book contains quaint descriptions of Elizabethan manners.
  8. 'A Poste with a Packet of Mad Letters,' was published first in 1603 (entered on Stationers' Register 18 May 1602), of which a copy is in the Advocates' Library, Edinburgh. *An edition, 'the fourth time enlarged,' appeared in 1609, and it appeared again in a much enlarged shape (two parts)* in 1637. Frequent editions were issued down to 1685. It is dedicated to 'Maximillion Dallison, of Hawlin,' Kent. It consists of letters from persons in a variety of situations, several of which are signed 'N. B.,' and read like extracts from the author's actual correspondence. One letter (Let. ii. 19) of this kind, 'To my dearest beloved friend on earth, H. W.,' tells the story of a life of sorrows, which has been assumed to be auto-biographical.
  9. 'A Mad World, my Masters, a merry dialogue betweene two travellers [Dorindo and Lorenzo],' London, 1603 and 1635. The first edition is dedicated to John Florio. Both editions are in the Bodleian. Middleton's play with the same title was published in 1608.
  10. 'A Dialogue full of Pithe and Pleasure: between three Phylosophers: Antonio, Meondro, and Dinarco: Vpon the Dignitie or Indignitie of Man. Partly translated out of Italian and partly set down by way of observation. By Nicholas Breton, Gentleman,' London, 1603, dedicated to 'Iohn Linewray, Esquier, Marster Surveior Generall of all her Maiesties Ordinance.' 11*. Grimello's Fortunes, with his Entertainment in his Travaile,' London, 1604. Two copies are in the Bodleian and one in the Huth Library. The address 'to the reader' is signed 'B. N.'
  11. 'An Olde Man's Lesson and a Yovng Man's Love, by Nicholas Breton,' London, 1605. One copy is in the Huth Library, dedicated to Sir John Linwraye, knight … of his Maiesties Ordinance.'
  12. 'I pray you be not Angrie: A pleasant and merry Dialogue betweene two Travellers as they met on the Highway [touching their crosses, and of the vertue of patience]. By N. B.,' London, 1605 and (with a slightlydifferent title-page) 1624.[8] In the Bodleian Library copy of the first edition the signature of the address to the reader is 'Nicholas Breton.' different title-page) 1624. In the Bodleian Library copy of the first edition the signature of the address to the reader is 'Nicholas Breton.'
  13. 'A Murmurer,' written 'against murmurers and murmuring,' London, 1607. The dedication, to 'the Lords of his Maiesties most Honorable privie Counsel,' is signed 'Nicholas Breton.' One copy is at Bridgewater House.
  14. 'Divine Considerations of the Soule ... By N. B., G.,' London, 1608. It is dedicated to 'Sir Thomas Lake, one of the Clarkes of his Maiesties Signet, health, happinesse, and Heaven,' with the signature of 'Nich. Breton.'
  15. 'Wits Private Wealth stored with Choice of Commodities to content the Minde,' 1612* and 1639—a collection of proverbial remarks—dedicated to 'Iohn Crooke, son and heire to Sir Iohn Crooke, knight,' with the signature of 'N. Britton.'
  16. 'Characters upon Essaies, Morall and Diuine,' London, 1615, dedicated by #'Nich. Breton' to Sir Francis Bacon.
  17. 'The Good and the Badde, a Description of the Worthies and Vnworthies of this Age,' London, *1616 and 1643, dedicated by 'Nicholas Breton' to Sir Gilbert Houghton. 19**. 'Strange Newes ovt of Divers Countries,' London, 1622, with an address to the reader signed 'B. N.'
  18. ' Fantasticks, serving for a perpetuall Prognostication,' London, 1626. Copies are in Mr. Huth's and Dr. Grosart's libraries. There is a dedication to 'Sir Marke Ive, of Riuers Hall in Essex,' signed 'N. B.' Extracts appear in J. O. Halliwell's 'Books of Characters,' 1857.
  19. 'The Court and Country, or a briefe Discourse betweene the Courtier and Countryman, of the Manner, Nature, and Condition of their lives. Dialoguewise set downe. … Written by N.B., Gent.,' London, 1618. A unique copy belongs to Mr. Christie-Miller of Britwell. 'Nich. Breton' signs the dedication to 'Sir Stephen Poll of Blaikmoore in Essex.' Mr. W. C. Hazlitt reprinted this book in his 'Inedited Tracts' (Roxburghe Club, 1868).
  20. 'An Eulogistic Character of Queen Elizabeth, dedicated by the author, Nicholas Breton, to Robert Cecil, earl of Salisbury,' is extant in Breton's handwriting, in the Brit. Mus. MS. Harl. 6207 ff. 14-22. It was printed by Dr. Grosart for the first time.[9]

The most serious mistake made by Breton's bibliographers has been the ascription to him of 'Sir Philip Sydney's Ourania … by N. B.' 1606. The author of this work is Nathaniel Baxter In the British Museum Catalogue 'Mary Magdalen's Lamentations for the Losse of Her Maister Jesus, London, 1604, and 'The Passion of a Discontented Mind,' London, 1601, 1602, 1621, are erroneously ascribed to Breton. Robert Southwell was more probably the author of the latter. A unique copy of the first edition is in the Huth Library, and the second edition (in the Bodleian) is reprinted in J. P. Collier's 'Illustrations,' vol. i. The Rev. Thomas Corser ascribes 'The Case is Altered. How? Aske Dalio and Millo,' London, 1604 and 1635, to Breton; J.P. Collier assigns it to Francis Thynne, although internal evidence fails to support this conclusion.[9]

Critical reputation[]

Breton's popularity lasted through the first half of the 17th century. A highly eulogistic sonnet in authorem is prefixed by Ben Jonson to Breton's Melancolike Humours, 1600, and Francis Meres in his 'Palladis Tamia,' 1598, classes him with the greatest writers of the time. Sir John Suckling, in The Goblins, iv. i. (Dodsley, Old Plays, 1826, x. 143), joined his name with that of Shakespeare:

The last a well-writ piece, I assure you,
A Breton I take it, and Shakespeare's very way.[5]

Less respectful reference to the poet's voluminousness is made in Beaumont and Fletcher's Scornful Lady (ii. 3), and Wit without Money (iii. 4). At a later date, Richard Brome, in his Jovial Crew (Works, iii. 372), speaks of "fetching sweetmeats" for ladies and courting them "in a set speech taken out of old Britain's works."[5]

At the end of the 17th century Breton seems to have completely dropped out of notice, but his reputation was restored by Bishop Percy, who printed his "Phillida and Corydon" and "The Shepherd's Address to his Muse" (both from 'Englands Helicon) in his Reliques of Ancient English Poetry. In most of the subsequent poetical collections Breton has been represented.[5]


2 of his poems, "Phillida and Coridon" and "A Cradle Song", were included in the Oxford Book of English Verse, 1250-1900.[10] [11]


Nicholas Breton ((?1553-1625?), Works: In verse and prose, 1879. Courtesy [Internet Archive.


  • The Workes of a Young Wit. London: Thomas Dawson & Thomas Gardyner, 1577.
  • A Floorish upon Fancie. London: Richarde Ihones, 1582.
  • The Pilgrimage to Paradise (with a prefatory letter by John Case). London: Ioseph Barnes for Toby Cooke, 1592.
  • The Countess of Penbrook's Passion (manuscript), first printed by JO Halliwell-Phillipps in 1853 [1]
  • Pasquils mad-cap: And his message. London: Valentine Simmes for Thomas Bushell, 1600
  • Pasquils fooles-cap: Sent to such (to keepe their weake braines warme) as are not able to conceiue aright of his mad-cap. London: R. Bradock] for Thomas Iohnes, 1600.
  • Pasquil's Mistresse; or The worthie and vnworthie woman. London: Thomas Fisher, 1600.
  • Pasquil's Passe and Passeth Not. London: Valentine Simmes for Iohn Smithicke, 1600.
  • Melancholike Humours: In verses of diuerse natures. London: Richard Bradocke, 1600; London: Scholartis Press, 1929.
  • Marie Magdalen's Loue: A solemne passion of the Soules loue (the first part of which, a prose treatise, is probably by another hand; the second part, a poem in six-lined stanza, is certainly by Breton). London: I. Danter, 1595.
  • A Diuine Poeme: Diuided into two partes: The rauisht soule, and the blessed vveeper.". London: R. Bradock for Iohn Browne, and Iohn Deane, 1601.
  • An Excellent Poem, vpon the Longing of a Blessed Heart. London: R. Bradock for Iohn Browne & Iohn Deane, 1601.
  • The Soules Heavenly Exercise: Set downe in diuerse godly meditations, both prose and verse. London: R. Bradock for Willam Leake, 1601.
  • The Soules Harmony. London: S. Stafford for Randoll Bearkes, 1602.
  • Olde Madcappes newe Gaily mawfrey. London: W. White for Richard Iohnes, 1602.
  • The Mother's Blessing. London: Thomas Creede for Iohn Smethick, 1602.
  • A True Description of Vnthankfulnesse; or, An enemie to ingratitude. London: Thomas Este, 1602.
  • The Passionate Shepheard; or, The shepheades love, set down in passions to his shepheardess Aglaia. London: London: E. Allde for John Tappe, 1604.
  • The Soules Immortail Crowne. London: H. Lownes for I.C. and F.B., 1605.
  • An Olde Mans Lesson, and a Young Mans Loue. London: E. Allde for Edward White, 1605.
  • The Honour of Valour. London: Christopher Purset, 1605.
  • Cornu-copiæ: Pasquils night-cap; or, Antidot for the head-ache London: Thomas Thorp, 1612.
  • The Hate of Treason: With a touch of the late treason. London: [Eld?], 1616.
  • Pasquils Palinodia, and his progresse to the tauerne. London: Thomas Snodham, 1619.
  • contributions to England's Helicon and other miscellanies of verse.
  • Poems (edited by Jean Robertson). Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 1952.


  • Wits Trenchmour: In a conference had betwixt a scholler and an angler. London: I. Robarts for N. Ling, 1597.
  • The Wil of Wit, Wits Will, or Wils Wit, chuse you whether . London: Thomas Creede, 1597.
  • A Poste with a Packet of Mad Letters.London: Thomas Creede for Iohn Browne & Iohn Smethicke, 1605.
  • A dialogue Full of Pithe and Pleasure: betweene three phylosophers. London: Thomas Creede for Iohn Browne, 1603.
  • Two Pamphlets of Nicholas Breton: Grimellos fortunes (1604), An olde mans lesson (1605) (edited by Enid Grace Morice). Bristol, UK: J.W. Arrowsmith for University of Bristol, 1936.
  • A Mad World My Masters, and other prose works (edited by Ursula Kentish-Wright). London: Cresset Press, 1929.

Collected editions[]

Except where noted, bibliographical information courtesy WorldCat.[12]

Poems by Nicholas Breton[]


Poetry Reading Series Country Song

  1. Phyllida and Coridon

See also[]


  •  Lee, Sidney (1886) "Breton, Nicholas" in Stephen, Leslie Dictionary of National Biography 6 London: Smith, Elder, pp. 275-277  Wikisource, Web, 2017.


  1. Nicholas Breton, Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica Inc.,, Web, May 14, 2012.
  2. John William Cousin, "Breton, Nicholas," A Short Biographical Dictionary of English Literature, 1910, 46. Web, Dec. 16, 2017.
  3. Lee, 275.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 4.6 4.7 4.8 Lee, 276.
  5. 5.00 5.01 5.02 5.03 5.04 5.05 5.06 5.07 5.08 5.09 5.10 Lee, 277.
  6. Lee, 278.
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 7.5 Lee, 279.
  8. Lee, 280.
  9. 9.0 9.1 Lee, 281.
  10. "Phillida and Coridon", Oxford Book of English Verse, 1250-1900 (edited by Arthur Quiller-Couch). Oxford, UK: Clarendon, 1919)., Web, May 14, 2012.
  11. "A Cradle Song", Oxford Book of English Verse, 1250-1900 (edited by Arthur Quiller-Couch). Oxford, UK: Clarendon, 1919)., Web, May 14, 2012.
  12. Search results = au:Nicholas Breton, WorldCat, OCLC Online Computer Library Center Inc. Web, Feb. 18, 2016.

External links[]


This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain, the Dictionary of National Biography (edited by Leslie Stephen). London: Smith, Elder, 1885-1900. Original article is at: Breton, Nicholas