Nicholas Breton (1545-1626) was a poet, novelist, and miscellaneous writer of the English Renaissance. He was born in London about 1545. After completing his former school, Breton studied at Oxford. His father, William Breton, a London merchant who had made a considerable fortune, died in 1559, and his mother then married the poet George Gascoigne before her sons had attained their majority.
Breton’s early work was influenced by his stepfather, the poet George Gascoigne. His early poetry of the 1570s is laboured with poetic diction and excessive alliteration, but it improves by the 1590s. Some of his best poems appeared in the anthology, England’s Helicon (1600). This anthology contains some of the best pastoral lyrics written by the Elizabethan poets. Breton’s earliest work is A Small Handful of Fragrant Flowers (1575), The Wil of Wit (1599), A Poste with a Packet of Mad Letters, Grimello’s Fortunes (1603), Olde Man’s Lesson, Divine Considerations, Mary Magdalen’s Lamentations (1604) and his last Strange News out of Divers Countries (1622).
He specialised in the poetry of escape and his skillful songs have been repeated and put to music countless times. No one knew better than Breton how to mingle art and artificiality with an effect of simple spontaneity. He wrote two character books, The Good and the Badde (1616) and Characters Upon Essaies (1615), the latter containing essays as well.
Breton also wrote religious poetry, prose tracts, and satires which are rather mild and general. Although at the end of the sixteenth century, he was accounted one of the best lyrical poets, he outlived his reputation. Today, Breton is best known for his descriptions of simple country pleasures, as in pastoral poems like The Passionate Shepherd (1604).