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fectly just conclusion as to a writer's merits and defects, let us do the best we can to form a correct notion. . c "■ •"
Bourne. Mere impartiality requires that we should not pass the poem over without notice. This is indeed turning the tables upon us.
Elliot. Well, I am content; let us hear it: the reading will be the least evil of the two: malum quod minimum est, id minimum est malum. A short bad poem is better than a long bad argument.
Bourne. After all it may not be the work of Breton: Hind introduces it as "a fancie which that learned author N. B. hath dignified with respect." Now in the first place, the initials may be those of some other writer than Nicholas Breton, and in the next, it is not said that he was the author of it, but that he " dignified it with respect."
Morton. But can the letters N. B. apply to any other author than Breton?
Bourne. No, not that I know of; but still there remains the second doubt.
Elliot. It is not of much consequence whether it be or be not Breton's, for the best poets have written badly: indeed it would be difficult to find any poet, however good, who has at all times written well.
Bourne. A great deal more has been already said about the poem than it is worth, as you will find when it is finished.
"Among the groues the woods & thicks
The bushes, brambles, and the briers,
The shrubbes, the stubbes, the thornes & prickes,
The ditches, plashes lakes and miers:
Where fish nor fowle, nor bird nor beast
Within the caue of cares vnknowne,
And when I heare the stormes arise,
And when I see what paines they bide
Where losses, crosses, care and griefe,
But sigh and say and sing and sweare
It is too much for one to beare."
And so it ends, with a sufficient accumulation of words, and more than a sufficient paucity of ideas.
Morton. "It is too much for one to bear," indeed: when you came to the fourth stanza, beginning " And when I hear the storms arise," I was in hopes it was improving.
Bourne. You cannot expect a despairing but doating lady to be much more than passionate in her poetry.
Morton. And her sex may have induced the poet, for the sake of consistency of character, to heap together such a mass of reduplicated words without much meaning.
Elliot. I thought your originality would have been above such a reduplicated and threadbare observation, even putting gallantry out of the question. As to the merits of the poem, I think the internal much outweighs the external evidence, consisting, as it does, only of two initial letters: the name is as likely to have been Nathan Benjamin, or any other N. B. as Nicholas Breton.
Bourne. I am sure I have no interest in attributing the trifle to the poet for whom you have taken such a strong partiality.
Elliot. But you ought to have an interest the other way, and that is what I feel. I am anxious that what is wholly unworthy of him should not needlessly be charged against him.
Bourne, In that view of it the poem from which I will now show you a brief extract would bear your examination. It was never printed, and is among the royal MSS. having been dedicated to King James: it is rather of a pious and didactic turn, but parts of it are eloquent.
Elliot. If it do the writer credit I shall be happy to look at it: what is it called?
Bourne. It consists of eight parts: it is the praise of Virtue, Wisdom, Love, Constancy, Patience, Humility and the goodness of God, with a conclusion entitled Gloria in excelsis Deo.
Morton. One part, and one only, is mentioned by Ritson: you say you have a specimen of this curiosity; let us hear it.
Bourne. A disconnected quotation will not give you a fair notion of the whole. In describing Virtue he says she is
"The soyle wherin all sweetnes ever groweth, the Fountaine whence all Wisedome ever springeth, the winde that never but all blessing bloweth, the Aier that all comfort ever bringeth; the fire that ever life and love inflameth, the Figure that all true perfection frameth."
And "Vpon the praise of Wisedome" he has the following stanza:
"Shee feeds no fancy with an idle fashion, yitt fashions all things in a comely frame;
shee never knew Repentance wofull Passion, nor ever fear'd the blot of wicked blame; but even and true what ever she intended wrought all so well, that none could be amended."
- Elliot. As you say, two stanzas can give us no correct idea of a long poem: the verse runs very smoothly, with the exception of the line in the first quotation, where you were obliged to read Air as two syllables.
Bourne. That is a trifling defect, and warranted by the practice of the time. I am sorry I made no further extracts when the MS. poem was before me. But leaving Breton now, and his "fancy" in Eliosto Libidinoso, if you take that novel into your hand you will find on the next page another poem; read that, and tell me whom you think that worthy of.
Elliot. I do not see even initials inserted here, so that the guess is still wider. You mean the piece entitled " Eliostoes Roundelay."
Bourne. I do, and which, it is stated, is borrowed from "a worthy writer." Who was that worthy writer}
Elliot. According to your account nearly all the poets of Elizabeth's reign were ixorihy writers, so that I shall be as wide of the mark as ever.
Morton. Perhaps there is something said in the poem to let us into the secret.
Bourne. No, but it is by a man of the highest