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By Walter Saunders 2011

From the 1627 Title page of Bacon’s Sylva Sylvarum
From the 1627 Title page of Bacon’s Sylva Sylvarum

In 1597 Joseph Hall, a Cambridge graduate of twenty-three, published a volume containing three ‘books’ of satires, entitled Virgidemiarum or ‘of harvests of rods’. In 1598 he published a second volume of three further ‘books’. A century later Alexander Pope described this work as the ‘truest satire in the English language’. Hall’s later writings were mainly in prose and they reveal his high principles on contentious religious subjects. As an Anglican he entered the church in 1601 and became a bishop in 1627.

In about a quarter of his satires Hall attacked the poets of his time and the person he attacked more than any other he named ‘Labeo’. In Satire II, ii, he tells Labeo to ‘write better’ (three times) and to ‘write cleanly’, or to stop writing altogether. What he was objecting to most was Labeo’s poetry about love, or more explicitly sexual passion, which Hall regarded as sinful and ‘dirty’. He asks what right blind Cupid had to crown as laureates those who made decent people ‘stop their noses when they read’? But what arouses curiosity is Hall’s instruction:

Or better write, or Labeo write alone.

This suggests that Labeo worked with a co-writer, but the lines that follow indicate that he was a ‘partner’ of a different kind:

Nay, call the Cynic but a witty fool,
Thence to abjure his handsome drinking bowl:
Because the thirsty swain with hollow hand
Conveyed the stream to wet his dry weasand*. *throat

Hall draws an analogy between Labeo and and the ancient Greek Cynic philosopher, Diogenes, who cast off all his possessions as unnecessary, retaining only his drinking bowl, but when he saw a rude countryman drink from a stream by simply using his cupped hands, the philosopher realised that even his drinking bowl was unnecessary and threw it away too.

The analogy is only a partial one but what Hall is implying is that Labeo has ‘abjured’ (that is, ‘renounced’ or ‘disowned’) his poetry and foolishly allowed its ‘stream’ to become the possession of a ‘thirsty swain’ – in other words, a needy uneducated countryman. The ‘handsome drinking bowl’ was the vessel with which Labeo conveyed ‘the stream’ of poetic inspiration to his lips, referring to the Castalian spring at the foot of Mount Parnassus, near the Delphic oracle. In ancient times this spring was sacred to the Muses and to Apollo, the god of poetry. Hall is alluding to a well-known couplet by Ovid:

vilia miretur vulgus; mihi flavus Apollo
   pocula Castalia plena ministret aqua. (Amores, I, xv, 35-6)

(Let the masses admire trash; to me may golden Apollo
   serve full drinking bowls from the Castalian spring.)

This Latin couplet was often referred to and translated by Elizabethan scholars and poets, e.g. Gabriel Harvey, Marlowe and Ben Jonson. More significantly it appears on the title page of Shakespeare’s Venus and Adonis.

That Hall’s object was to criticise Labeo for allowing his poetry to pass into the hands of an uneducated countryman is confirmed in the cryptic lines:

Write they that can, though they that cannot do:
But who knows that, but they that do not know?

In other words, ‘Those who can write, do so, while though those who cannot seem to do so; but who knows that, save those who say they do not know?’ This suggests that the truth about Labeo’s authorship was known by a number of people who, out of loyalty to him, would not give away his secret. However, such a secret must have been difficult to guard, and if Hall came to know about it, one wonders how many others did, too.

In Hall’s second volume of satires, published in 1598, he refers to Labeo in several passages, devoting more than seventy lines to him. The first passage is near the beginning of the new volume:

Labeo is whipped, and laughs me in the face:
Why? for I smite and hide* the gallèd place.    *thrash
Gird but the Cynic’s Helmet on his head,
Cares he for Talus, or his flail of lead?
Long as the crafty Cuttle lieth sure
In the black Cloud of his thick vomiture;
Who list complain of wrongèd faith or fame
When he may shift it to another’s name? (IV, i, 37-44)

Again the satirist is attacking Labeo for concealing his authorship and passing it off on someone else. What really irks Hall is that, as a result, Labeo can laugh at the satirical lashes he deserves to receive, because he does not feel publicly or personally disgraced by them. When he puts on the philosopher’s helmet, which is Pallas Athena, the goddess of wisdom’s gift that makes the wearer invisible, what does he care about Talus and his ‘flail of lead’? This refers to Spenser’s iron man, who with his metal flail ‘threshed out falsehood, and did truth unfold’ (The Faerie Queene, V, i, stanza 12).

Hall then compares Labeo to a cuttlefish, or squid, which ejects an inky secretion into the sea around it, forming a black cloud within which it can hide from its attackers. Why would anyone bother to criticse Labeo, or say he is wronging the faith people had in him and damaging his good reputation by writing shameful poetry, when he can conceal himself and shift the authorship to ‘another’s name’?

Towards the end of the volume Hall acknowledges Labeo’s poetic talent:

Though Labeo reaches right: (who can deny?)
The true strains of Heroic Poesy:
For he can tell how fury reft his sense
And Phoebus filled him with intelligence.

This is a further reference to Apollo as a source of Labeo’s inspiration. But Hall soon reverts to deprecations, accusing Labeo of filching

      whole Pages at a clap for need
From honest Petrarch, clad in English weed;
While big But ohs each stanza can begin,
Whose trunk and tail sluttish and heartless been…

Here what is important is not so much the accusation of plagiarism as the contrast drawn between the work of Petrarch and Labeo: Petrarch was ‘honest’, that is, ‘chaste’ and ‘pure’; even when his subject was love, there was no sensuality or eroticism in it. Labeo’s poetry on the other hand was ‘sluttish’, that is ‘lewd’ and ‘dirty’, because it was erotic. Furthermore his poetry was ‘heartless’, which here does not mean callous or cruel, but without true feeling. Hall thinks as many others do that feelings based on sensual passion or what he would have called lust are short-lived and lack depth or truth.

But who was Labeo? And who was the country ‘swain’ behind whose name he hid?

Soon after Hall’s second volume of satires appeared in 1598 John Marston
published his first book of poetry, The Metamorphosis of Pigmalion’s Image and
Certain Satires
. Slightly younger than Hall, Marston was an Oxford graduate, who was for a while a lecturer at the Middle Temple in London and the writer of several successful plays, including The Malcontent. Like Hall he later became an Anglican minister.

Marston’s object in Pigmalion’s Image was to satirise the popular genre of erotic narrative poetry and the poem he singled out was the most popular of all: Shakespeare’s Venus and Adonis, which had been republished several times since it was first published a few years before in 1593.

In Pigmalion’s Image Marston does not adopt Hall’s caustic, scalding tone, but one of humorous mockery. This was partly because he knew and loved the true writer of Venus and Adonis and greatly admired his more serious work, as I hope to show later. Like the writer of Venus and Adonis, Marston took his story from Ovid’s Metamorphoses (X, 243-297); he uses the same stanzaic form as Shakespeare’s earlier poem and makes a number of deliberate allusions to it. These not only indicate the main focus of Marston’s satire but they also provide clues to the identity of Hall’s Labeo.

In Venus and Adonis (based on Metamorphoses X, 519-59 and 708-39) Adonis is a beautiful aristocratic country youth, who scorns love and prefers hunting with his horses and hounds. The goddess Venus falls in love with him and early one morning she meets him in the countryside and attempts to seduce him, actually pulling him from his horse. He angrily rejects her robust advances and is unmoved by her pleas and the accusation that he is hard and relentless as stone; but she holds him down and it is late at night before he escapes from her. Then the following day, when he is out hunting with his friends, he is killed by a wild boar. Grief-stricken, Venus metamorphoses his blood into the windflower or anemone.

In Pigmalion’s Image the first syllable, more correctly ‘P-Y-G’, is spelt P-I-G throughout. The poem describes Pigmalion as a man ‘whose high love-hating mind/ Disdained to yield….amorous suit to any woman-kind’. He thought women lacked ‘men’s perfection’, so he sculpted an ‘image’ of a perfectly beautiful woman. Then he fell in love with it and tried to make love to it. Not surprisingly he found it unresponsive, though he persisted and pleaded, like Venus in the earlier poem. So Pigmalion prayed to the same goddess of love to bring the statue alive. Obligingly Venus metamorphosed it into a living woman, who responded immediately to Pigmalion’s love and bore him a son.

The narrative of Pigmalion’s Image cannot be taken seriously. Throughout the work Marston is writing tongue in cheek. Even his references to an unresponsive loved one of his own, and his dedication of the poem to her, are not seriously intended – she is as much a comic fictional character as Pigmalion and his statue.

Marston could not have found a better subject to use for a parody of romantic passion: a misogynistic therefore seemingly self-sufficient man falling in love with his own statue (that is, in a sense, his alter ego) and actually trying to make love to it! Here is an example of the poem’s absurdly comic details:

And fondly doting, oft he kissed her lip.
Oft would he dally with her Ivory breasts.

In the first half of the poem Marston refers to the statue as being ‘wrought in purest Ivory’, following the ‘niveum…ebur’ (snow-white ivory) of Ovid (ibid.247-8), but in stanza 14 he changes it to ‘stone’ and from this point the statue is referred to as ‘stone’ or ‘stony’. The reason for this change, or downright inconsistency, was for Marston to bring out the connection between his poem and Venus and Adonis by echoing its ‘stone’ and ‘statue’ metaphors, for example in Pigmalion’s description of the statue as ‘relentless stone’ and when he beseeches Venus to change the ‘stone to flesh’ and ‘make’ the statue ‘relent’, which here means ‘soften’. Then too there is Marston’s description of his own fictitious ‘Love’ as ‘flinty hard’. Compare these phrases to Venus’s lines to Adonis:

Art thou obdurate, flinty, hard as steel?
Nay more than flint, for stone at rain relenteth. (199-200)

But Marston’s most revealing allusion to Venus and Adonis comes in his postscript when he writes:

So Labeo did complain his love was stone,
Obdurate, flinty, so relentless none:
Yet Lynceus knows that in the end of this
He wrought as strange a metamorphosis.

In the first two lines Marston is in effect identifying Labeo as the author of Venus and Adonis. He then says that Lynceus (the lynx or sharp-eyed one – that is, Marston himself) knows that ‘Labeo’ ‘wrought as strange a metamorphosis’ (by turning the blood of Adonis into the anemone) as he himself has done in Pigmalion’s Image.

As Hall’s references to Labeo were recent and substantial, and as there had not been any previous references to Labeo in Elizabethan literature, there can be no doubt that Marston was referring to the same person. What both satirists knew was that William Shakspere, the actor from Stratford, was not the writer of Venus and Adonis, but the ‘swain’, into whose hands Labeo had allowed it to pass, or in other words the countryman with little or no learning whose name Labeo was using as a front.

But who was Labeo?

Over a century ago Walter Begley found the answer and it is fitting to quote the dramatic passage from the ‘Hall and Marston’ chapter of his great book Is It Shakespeare? to which I am indebted for much of the information in this article:

“Marston’s Satire IV is entitled Reactio, and is full of railing and censure on Hall’s ‘toothless’ snarls…(He) goes through pretty well all the literary celebrities that Hall had aimed at, and defends them:

      O daring hardiment!
At Bartas’ sweet Semains rail impudent;
At Hopkins, Sternhold, and the Scottish King. (Sat. iv, 39-41)

“This was his ‘reaction’ against Hall’s satirical remarks on sacred poets, and sacred sonnets, against which, as Marston says, (he) ‘like a fierce enraged boar doth foam.’ He defends several other authors and books against the envious and spiteful satire of Hall, … but he seems to take no notice of (Hall’s) attack on Labeo, although that attack was a marked and recurrent one. Labeo seems to be omitted from the list in the Reactio altogether.

“But it is not so really; Labeo is there, but concealed in an ingenious way by Marston, and passed over in a line that few would notice or comprehend. But when it is noticed it becomes one of the most direct proofs we have on the Bacon-Shakespeare question, and what is more, a genuine and undoubted contemporary proof. The missing Labeo, the author of Venus and Adonis, appears under a Latin veil in the following interrogatory line addressed to Hall:

What, not mediocria firma from thy spite? (Sat. iv, 77)

That is to say, ‘What, did not even mediocria firma escape your spite?’ That Latin veil is thin and transparent enough in all conscience. IT’S BACON’S OWN MOTTO, and I’m gazing at it now, finely engraved over that well- known portrait of Franciscus Baconus Baro de Verulam, which faces the frontispiece of my early edition of his Sylva Sylvarum...(see photocopy, the motto is in small caps above Bacon’s hat and below the crest). No one but the Earls of Verulam or the Bacon family has used this motto… and I come to the strange conclusion that after three hundred years of mistaken identity the true author of Venus and Adonis is discovered under the very thin device of his own heraldic motto.” (Is it Shakespeare? pp.20-22)

The full proverb from which Bacon’s motto is taken is: In medio spatio mediocria firma locantur (‘in the middle ground what is moderate and firm is found,’ or ‘keep to the middle ground, avoid extremes’). When Begley wrote his book at the beginning of the last century he said the motto in Marston’s ‘odd line’ had not ‘received…a word of notice’ from any commentator or critic. Since then it has received some ‘notice’, for example from A.Davenport in his work The Collected Poems of Joseph Hall (Liverpool U.P., 1949). He includes passages from Marston’s satires on Hall in an Appendix and on p.285 he adds a footnote on the phrase in question: ‘This was the motto of the Bacon family, but I do not think Marston intends any reference to them.’

A slightly more interesting comment comes from another Stratfordian, H.N.Gibson, in his book The Shakespeare Claimants (1962). He describes Begley’s discovery as ‘the one piece of evidence in the whole Baconian case that demands serious consideration.’ But then Gibson finds his ‘answer’: what Hall and Marston reveal is not proof, he says, as both satirists might have been mistaken!

These arguments or explanations, if they can be considered such, seem to be about the best Stratfordians can do. So, to leave them and return to Labeo: once his identity is established, other lesser pieces of evidence fall into place. In ancient Rome at the time of Augustus, there was an eminent lawyer named Antistius Labeo, who had wide cultural interests apart from the law. He was denied a consulship because of his republican principles, so he withdrew from politics and became one of the greatest legal authorities of his time. The parallels are clear: in the 1590’s the brilliant lawyer, Francis Bacon, was repeatedly denied all official posts. One reason was his courageous opposition in parliament to the Queen’s demand for a treble tax, thus showing what might be called his ‘republican’ concern for the welfare of the common people. Another reason, was what was then regarded as his misuse of his time on poetry and plays, instead of devoting himself to respectable studies like philosophy and the law. He tried to keep his writing of all forms of poetry a secret, but inevitably people came to know about it, and sterner spirits like his older friend, Thomas Bodley, disapproved strongly, as did his worldly-wise uncle, Lord Burleigh, the Secretary of State. In high places there was a prejudice, or at best an ambivalent attitude towards poets, who were regarded as dreamy fantasists, unfit for offices of state.

A further reason for Hall’s choice of the name ‘Labeo’ (the first syllable pronounced with a short ‘a’) is that it means ‘I totter’, or ‘shake’in the intransitive sense. Elizabethan readers would have seen this link between the Latin word and the authorial name.

Now, too, one can understand Marston’s deliberate misspelling of Pygmalion as ‘Pigmalion’: the Pig–Bacon connection suggests an analogy between the the sculptor, whose ‘image’ was brought alive by Venus, and Bacon, who was able to bring his characters alive through the medium of poetry.

Marston made other references to Bacon in his satires, perhaps the most significant in his second volume, The Scourge of Villainy, published in 1599, when he refers to him under a different name. In the ninth of these pieces, A Toy to Mock an Ape, his initial object is to attack actors, whom he regards as ‘apes’, or ridiculous imitators, mouthing lines written by others. He goes on to say, ‘My soul adores judicial scholarship’, here the word ‘judicial’ meaning ‘judicious’, in other words scholarship put to wise and just use. He attacks ‘spruce’ university graduates who ‘apprentice’ themselves to the theatre companies by writing plays for them. That, Marston says, is worse than being an actor and those who do so should not be flattered by the false praise they receive. He then writes:

O what a tricksy learnèd nicking strain
Is this applauded, senseless, modern vein!
When late I heard it from sage Mutius lips
How ill me thought such wanton, jigging skips
Beseemed his graver speech. Far fly thy fame,
Most, most of me beloved, whose silent name
One letter bounds. Thy true judicial style
I ever honour, and if my love beguile
Not much my hopes, then thy unvalued worth
Shall mount fair place, when Apes are turnèd forth.

Marston criticises the current fashion for ‘nicking’ (that is, ‘slick’) poetry which is ‘tricksy learnèd’, or clever and artificial with an empty display of learning. When he heard poetry written by the ‘sage Mutius’ in this style with its ‘wanton, jigging skips’, in other words ‘lewd frivolous capers’ – referring to erotica and comedies of love – he thought it was unworthy of a man of such wisdom and genius. However, he then addresses Mutius with deep personal affection (‘Most, most of me beloved’), foretelling future greatness for him. This, Marston implies, is what his ‘true judicial style’ will bring him. Then, he says to Mutius, If I’m not deceiving myself through my love for you, your ‘unvalued’ (that is, ‘inestimable’) ‘worth’ will ‘mount fair place’ (achieve its just recognition) when ‘apes’ (that is, actors of wanton, shallow work and their providers, the wanton poets) will be dismissed or turned away.

‘Mutius’ means ‘silent one’ and no-one seems to fit the name better than Francis Bacon. Marston provides a clue that it is so indeed, when he says that ‘One letter bounds’ (i.e, ‘encloses’) ‘his silent name’.

Most readers are unfamiliar with numerical ciphers today, but they were well-known and often used in Shakespeare’s time. In what was called simple cipher, A=1, B=2, C=3, D=4, E=5, F=6, G=7, H=8, I and J = 9, K=10, L=11, M=12, N=13, O=14, P=15, Q=16, R=17, S=18, T=19, U and V = 20, W=21, X=22, Y=23 and Z=24. (At that time the letters ‘I’ and ‘J’ were regarded as interchangeable, as were ‘U’ and ‘V’.)

In simple cipher the letters of ‘Francis’ add up to 67 and those of ‘Bacon’ add up to 33, so the combined letters of Francis Bacon add up to 100*. This is signified by one letter in Roman numerals: C. So the ‘silent name’ that ‘one letter bounds’ is Francis Bacon.

Walter Saunders

*F6+R17+A1+N13+C3+I9+S18 = 67 B2+A1+C3+O14+N13 = 33 67+33 = 100