|A consort of viols by Freyse, German, mid-17th century|
|Title page of A Musick -Lector|
Like other Friends at this time Solomon was given to preaching not only by words but by acting out his message through 'signs'. In 1662 he sat in the pulpit of a church making shoes in order to show that it was not a special place. He was thrown out of the church but returned the next day, this time reaching the pulpit by jumping from pew to pew. After this startling demonstration he was, perhaps unsurprisingly, arrested and imprisoned.
Perhaps Solomon's most famous 'sign', reported by both Samuel Pepys and Daniel Defoe, was to walk naked or semi-naked with a pan of fire and brimstone balanced on his head, threatening passers-by with the fate of Sodom if they did not repent. Solomon began acting out this 'sign' in London in 1665 so that some saw it as a prophecy of the Great Fire, but he continued with it in 1667 in Scotland when he denounced the worshippers in a Catholic church and later in Cork, where he exhibited himself stark naked and was flogged through the town and expelled.
|Solomon Eagle, 1843 (oil on canvas), Poole, Paul Falconer (1807-79) / Sheffield Galleries and Museums Trust|
Although his actions seem extreme Solomon was very clear that he was only acting as God commanded him and against his own will. In 1677 he wrote, 'I can truly say this, that I have strove much and besought the Lord that this going naked might be taken from me, before ever I went a sign at all.'
Solomon Eccles was not solely a person of extremes. George Fox trusted him and took him to the West Indies in 1671 where Solomon was very useful in organising Quakers in Barbados and Jamaica. In 1672 he went to New England but was arrested at Boston and banished. Solomon came back to England in 1680 and died in Spitalfields in London around January 1682 aged about 64. His three sons did not follow their father into Quakerism and all became musicians.
Solomon Eccles was much more than an eccentric but rather, as William Sewel who knew him well, said 'an extraordinary zealous man and what he judged evil he warmly opposed, even to the hazard of his life.' In the present day the story of Solomon Eccles has inspired the American Quaker Jon Watts to write a song about him.