Who can live in heart so gladAs the merry country lad?Who upon a fair green balkMay at pleasure sit and walk?
Thus Breton asks and gives the answer in THE PASSIONATE SHEPHERD, just as Marlowe and Raleigh and other Elizabethans, from Sidney and Spenser to Shakespeare and Jonson, lyrically spoke. The pastoral, the idyll, the lyric, and the satire reached classic heights during the period, with Nicholas Breton one of its most artistic voices.
His voice was varied; his background was obscure; he was praised and ridiculed by his eminent peers. He possessed both versatility and refinement as a writer of satire, romance, pastorals in prose and verse, but he excelled in lyric verse. His devotion to letters is unquestioned and attested to by one after another of the Elizabethan giants. As a friend of Sidney, a protege of Spenser, he was the devoted servant to a great patroness of poets, Sidney’s sister, the Countess of Pembroke. Most critics agree that this patronage, especially in Breton’s allegorical PILGRIMAGE TO PARADISE, brought to the highest his considerable talent. Also, in the lines “Nor was the labor little for to climb/The fiery ashes of a phoenix nest” he speaks not only with religious fervor of the risen Christ but of Sidney’s memory.
Apparently Breton was one of the first careful anthologizers, including leading artists in his BOWER OF DELIGHTS and ARBOR OF AMOROUS DEVICES contributing himself to another collection sometimes ascribed to him, ENGLAND’S HELICON. His scholarly nature suggests an Oxford background, accented by dedications to “schollars and students of Oxford.” His satire, expressed through the pseudonym of Pasquil, is not up to the wittier works of Nashe and Green, though he obviously moved among the university wits, “the tribe of...
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