Though Marston is responding to Hall, and they both make references that point to Shakespeare’s Venus and Adonis, which Hall says was written by Labeo and published ‘under another’s name’, we do not know whether they have the same person in mind when they write about Labeo. Baconians say that Marston links Labeo to Francis Bacon when, in the Satires that follow Pygmalion’s Image, he uses the Bacon family motto ‘mediocria firma’ when defending those writers whom Hall has attacked. But it is worth looking at this phase in context. It occurs in a long poem called ‘Reactio’, in which Marston calls Hall a ‘Stinking Scavenger’. Here is the relevant passage:
Fie, inconsiderate! it grieveth me
An Academic should so senseless be.
Fond Censurer! Why should those mirrors seem
So vile to thee, which better judgements deem
Exquisite then, and in our polish’d times
May run for sensefull tolerable lines?
What, not mediocria firma from thy spite ?
But must thy envious hungry fangs needs light
On Magistrates Mirror? Must thou needs detract
And strive to work his ancient honour’s wrack ?
What, shall not Rosamond or Gaveston
Ope their sweet lips without detraction?
But must our modern Critic’s envious eye
Seem thus to quote some gross deformity?
Where Art, not error, shineth in their style,
But error, and no art, doth thee beguile.
For tell me, Critic, is not Fiction
The soul of Poesy’s invention?
There’s no mention of ‘Labeo’ here, so there’s no reason to link his quoting of the motto to Hall’s attack on Labeo; clearly Hall has been attacking numerous literary works. But there’s a larger Baconian error here in assuming that use of the phrase mediocria firma is intended to indicate Francis Bacon. The phrase means ‘mediocrity is safe’ and a search of Early English Books Online demonstrates that it is used by other writers in contexts entirely independent of the Bacon family. Richard Bancroft, the Bishop of London, for example, used it in a religious treatise published in 1593. Look again at the passage from Marston and you can see that a far more obvious reading for this line is that he is saying ‘What, mediocrity is not safe from your spite, but your envious hungry fangs must alight upon Magistrate’s Mirror [a highly-regarded anthology of poems, written by several authors]’?
So the supposed link to Francis Bacon is a red herring. But the importance of ‘Labeo’ is undiminished. Who was the original Labeo, whose name Hall appropriated?
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