Sunday, March 03, 2013

Quaker Alphabet Week 9 - E for Solomon Eccles

A consort of viols by Freyse, German, mid-17th century

Solomon Eccles, sometimes called Eagle, was born around 1618 in London where his father was a professor of music. Solomon became a composer and taught the virginals and viol, making a good living from his profession. Although brought up in the established church Solomon was dissatisfied and, following the spirit of his times, pursued religious truth through several different denominations, becoming a Presbyterian, an Independent and a Baptist before being convinced by Quakerism around 1660.

Title page of A Musick -Lector
On becoming a Friend Solomon came to see  music making as a vanity which he must renounce. He sold all his books and instruments for a considerable sum but then began to be afraid that they might injure the morals of the purchasers. He therefore bought them back and burned them publicly on Tower Hill. To support himself Solomon learned the trade of a shoemaker. In 1667 he published a tract A Musick Lector:OR,The Art of MUSICK that is so much vindicated in Christendom, discoursed of by way of Dialogue, between three men of several judgments. [a musician, a Baptist and a Quaker]

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.


Anonymous said...

Good to be reminded about Solomon Eccles, whose story I had heard but not in detail. It makes me wonder what kind of 'signs' we might use to preach about modern Quaker concerns - they seem to be in the same vein as some 'direct action' or 'demonstration' protests which make a big, often visual, public impression.

Carlos e Moreno said...

Today's concerns are no different than the issues Solomon faced or Jesus faced in his time...and the actions are not to be chosen as "appropriate" to our times...rather our actions are to come from being compelled by God.

Chloe Mason said...

Helpful Blog, thank you.
I was searching because of J.C. Squire's use of the pen name Solomon Eagle (satire for Eccles)writing poetry in the New Statesman during WW1.
Perhaps you may be interested to see that the Wikipedia entry is asking for more info about Solomon Eccles?
Chloe Mason

Jude Coffey said...

Interesting, researched this cus of Jamie T's new album 'trick' featuring Paul falconer poole's painting on the cover artwork

Jude Coffey said...

Interesting, researched this cus of the use of Paul falconer poole's painting on the cover artwork of Jamie T's new album 'trick'