‘Eccles lumps all music together as an inadequate expression of the true music God requires.’

Reading about historical plagues sent Roger Ellis to the quixotic early Quaker Solomon Eccles

‘Solomon Eagle exhorting the People to Repentance during the Plague of 1665.’ | Photo: By Paul Falconer Poole, 1843.

My reading during the lockdown has thrown an interesting light on early Quaker history. I’ve been reading literary treatments of various plagues, and the parallels with the present crisis aren’t comfortable reading. There’s fourteenth-century Florence (from Giovanni Boccaccio’s The Decameron); a city on the Algierian coast in the early 1940s (Albert Camus’ The Plague); the English village of Eyam in 1665 (Jill Paton Walsh’s A Parcel of Patterns, among others); and London in 1664-6 (Daniel Defoe, A Journal of the Plague Year). These works all show: how the disease spreads; how the authorities cope with the escalating crisis; and, more importantly, how people cope, for good and ill, with their changed situation. Some of these works contain fictional lockdowns, while in The Decameron people have an option that’s unavailable to us: flight.

You need to login to read subscriber-only content and/or comment on articles.