Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Eccles, Solomon

ECCLES, SOLOMON (1618–1683), musician and quaker, was born in 1618 in London, where his father was a professor of music. From about 1647 he was a musical composer, and taught the virginals and viols, and in ‘A Music Lector’ he states that he made 200l. a year by his profession. About 1660 he became a quaker, and, as music was considered objectionable by the Society of Friends, sold all his books and instruments for a considerable sum, but afterwards, fearing they might injure the morals of the purchasers, bought them back and publicly burnt them on Tower Hill. To support himself he became a shoemaker, choosing this as being a trade innocuous to morality. Eccles was much given to protesting against the vices and follies of the age, and did it with the enthusiasm of an exceptionally ill-regulated mind. In 1662, during the morning service at St. Mary, Aldermanbury, he attempted to mend some shoes in the pulpit to show his contempt for the place, and had to be ejected by the congregation. On the following Sunday he went again, and by jumping from one pew to another succeeded in reaching the pulpit and working for a few minutes until arrested by the constables and taken before the lord mayor, who committed him to Newgate (see Greenway, Alarm from the Holy Mountain). How long his imprisonment lasted is unknown, but from a broadside he published he was evidently at liberty in 1663. In 1665 he was arrested by order of the Duke of Albemarle for having attended an unlawful meeting and refusing to pay certain fines, and about the same time was committed to Bridewell for having gone through Smithfield naked with a pan of fire and brimstone on his head, and threatening the people with the fate of the Sodomites if they did not repent. During the progress of the plague Eccles frequently perambulated the streets stripped to the waist, and, with a brazier of burning brimstone on his head, announced the coming destruction, when he ‘suffered much by the coachmen whipping him grievously on his naked back, but that could not allay his fervent zeal’ (Sewel, Hist. Society of Friends, iii. 283). In 1667 he was committed to Gloucester gaol for refusing to take the oaths, and after his liberation made a preaching excursion into Scotland, and at Galloway, bearing his brazier and half naked, went into a ‘popish mass house,’ and so violently denounced the worshippers that he had to be removed by force, and was sent to prison. Not long after this he went to Ireland, and is said to have exhibited himself stark naked at Cork. Here he also was flogged through the town and expelled for having upbraided a preacher in the cathedral with being a turncoat. Eccles was one of the Friends who accompanied George Fox to the West Indies in 1671, and he appears to have been very useful in organising quakerism in Barbadoes and Jamaica. In 1672 he proceeded to New England, but being arrested at a meeting at Boston was banished by order of Governor Bellingham. He again visited Barbadoes in 1680, when he was prosecuted by order of the governor on a charge of having uttered seditious and blasphemous words, but he appears only to have objected to the use of the term ‘three persons in the Godhead’ as unscriptural. He was, however, committed to prison and subsequently banished from the colony. Eccles is said to have finished his life in tranquillity but without religion (Chalmers, Biog. Dict.), but there seems no foundation for the latter statement. There is, however, some reason to believe that towards the end of his life he returned to the study of music, and is stated to have contributed several ground basses to the ‘Division Violin,’ which appeared in 1693. Several vocal pieces of his composing are to be found in contemporary collections, and a specimen is given in Hawkins's ‘History of Music,’ ii. 936. Sewel, who knew him intimately, states that he ‘was an extraordinary zealous man, and what he judged evil he warmly opposed, even to the hazard of his own life,’ and by the primitive quakers he seems to have been esteemed a pious though fanatical man. He died on 11 Feb. 1683, and was buried at Spitalfields, leaving three sons, John [q. v.], Henry [q. v.], and Thomas, who were all musicians. Eccles's chief works are: 1. ‘A Musick-Lector; or, the Art of Musick (that is so much vindicated in Christendome) discoursed of, by way of Dialogue between three men of several Judgments: The one a Musician, and Master of that Art and jealous for the Church of England, who calls Musick the Gift of God. The other a Baptist, who did affirm it to be a decent and harmless practice. The other a Quaker (so called), being formerly of that Art, doth give his Judgment and Sentence against it; but yet approves of the Musick that pleaseth God,’ 1667. 2. ‘The Quakers Challenge at Two several weapons to the Baptists, Presbiters, Papists, and other Professors,’ 1668. The last contains his famous expedient for ascertaining the true religion, which was to collect a number of the most godly men of various sects who should unanimously pray for seven days without eating or sleeping, ‘then,’ Eccles said, ‘those on whom the Spirit of God shall manifest itself in a sensible manner, i.e. by the tremblings of the limbs and interior illuminations, may oblige the rest to subscribe to their decisions.’

[George Fox's Autobiography, ed. 1763; Croese's General History of the Quakers, ed. 1696, ii. 66; Sewel's Hist. of the Rise, &c., Society of Friends, iii. 283, &c.; Besse's Sufferings of the Quakers, i. 216, &c., ii. 210, &c.; Eccles's A Musick-Lector; Grove's Dict. of Music; Hawkins's Hist. Musicians; Bickley's George Fox and the Early Quakers; Smith's Cat. of Friends' Books, i. 553.]

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