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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]


Breton was born into an old family settled at Layer Breton, Essex. His father, William Breton, a London merchant who had made a considerable fortune, died in 1559, and the widow (née Elizabeth Bacon) married the poet George Gascoigne before her sons had attained their majority. Nicholas Breton was probably born at the "capitall mansion house" in Red Cross Street, in the parish of St Giles without Cripplegate, mentioned in his father's will.

There is no official record of his residence at the university, but the diary of the Rev. Richard Madox tells us that he was at Antwerp in 1583 and was "once of Oriel College." He married Ann Sutton in 1593, and had a family. He is supposed to have died shortly after the publication of his last work, Fantastickes (1626). Breton found a patron in Mary, countess of Pembroke, and wrote much in her honour until 1601, when she seems to have withdrawn her favour. It is probably safe to supplement the meagre record of his life by accepting as autobiographical some of the letters signed N.B. in A Poste with a Packet of Mad Letters (1603, enlarged 1637); the 19th letter of the second part contains a general complaint of many griefs, and proceeds as follows:

"bath another been wounded in the warres, fared hard, lain in a cold bed many a bitter storme, and beene at many a hard banquet? all these have I; another imprisoned? so have I; another long been sicke? so have I; another plagued with an unquiet life? so have I; another indebted to his hearts griefe, and fame would pay and cannot? so am I.?


Breton was a prolific author of considerable versatility and gift, popular with his contemporaries, and forgotten by the next generation. His work consists of religious and pastoral poems, satires, and a number of miscellaneous prose tracts. His religious poems are sometimes wearisome by their excess of fluency and sweetness, but they are evidently the expression of a devout and earnest mind. His lyrics are pure and fresh, and his romances, though full of conceits, are pleasant reading, remarkably free from grossness. His praise of the Virgin and his references to Mary Magdalene have suggested that he was a Catholic, but his prose writings abundantly prove that he was an ardent Protestant.

Breton had little gift for satire, and his best work is to be found in his pastoral poetry. His Passionate Shepheard (1604) is full of sunshine and fresh air, and of unaffected gaiety. The third pastoral in this book—"Who can live in heart so glad As the merrie country lad"—is well known; with some other of Breton's daintiest poems, among them the lullaby, "Come little babe, come silly soule," (This poem, however, comes from The Arbor of Amorous Devises, which is only in part Breton's work.) —it is incorporated in A. H. Bullen's Lyrics from Elizabethan Romances (1890). His keen observation of country life appears also in his prose idyll, Wits Trenckrnour, "a conference betwixt a scholler and an angler," and in his Fantastickes, a series of short prose pictures of the months, the Christian festivals and the hours, which throw much light on the customs of the times. Most of Breton's books are very rare and have great bibliographical value. His works, with the exception of some belonging to private owners, were collected by Dr AB Grosart in the Chertsey Worthies Library in 1879, with an elaborate introduction quoting the documents for the poet's history.


Two of his poems, "Phillida and Coridon" and "A Cradle Song", were included in the Oxford Book of English Verse 1250-1900.[2] [3]



Breton's poetical works, the titles of which are here somewhat abbreviated, include:

  • 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.


Of his twenty-two prose tracts may be mentioned:

  • 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 editionsEdit

Except where noted, bibliographical information courtesy WorldCat.[4]

Poems by Nicholas BretonEdit

Poetry Reading Series Country Song01:42

Poetry Reading Series Country Song

  1. Phyllida and Coridon

See alsoEdit

References Edit


  1. Nicholas Breton, Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica Inc.,, Web, May 14, 2012.
  2. "Phillida and Coridon". Arthur Quiller-Couch, editor, Oxford Book of English Verse 1250-1900 (Oxford, UK: Clarendon, 1919)., Web, May 14, 2012.
  3. "A Cradle Song". Arthur Quiller-Couch, editor, Oxford Book of English Verse 1250-1900 (Oxford, UK: Clarendon, 1919)., Web, May 14, 2012.
  4. Search results = au:Nicholas Breton, WorldCat, OCLC Online Computer Library Center Inc. Web, Feb. 18, 2016.

External linksEdit

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