Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Salmon, Thomas (1648-1706)

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SALMON, THOMAS (1648–1706), divine and writer on music, born in 1648, was the son of Thomas Salmon, gentleman, of Hackney. He entered Trinity College, Oxford, on 8 April 1664, and graduated B.A. 1667, and M.A. 1670. At the university he chiefly studied mathematics; but it is in connection with music that he is principally remembered. Matthew Locke [q. v.] says that Salmon applied to him for instruction in composition; adding ‘but I, never having contriv'd any method that way, referr'd him to Mr. Simpson's “Compendium of Practical Music” for the first introduction, and to Mr. Birchensha.’ Salmon, in 1672, published an ‘Essay to the Advancement of Musick,’ proposing the disuse of the Guidonian gamut-nomenclature, and the substitution of the first seven letters of the alphabet, without the further additions by which, for example, tenor C (C-fa-ut) had been distinguished from middle C (C sol-fa-ut). As the Guidonian hexachords were then falling into disuse, the nomenclature was certain to follow them into oblivion. Salmon proposed the modern octave system, which William Bathe [q. v.] had long before recommended. Salmon also added a proposal to give up the tablature then used for the lute, and in all music to substitute for the clefs the letters B, M, T (bass, mean, treble), each stave having G on the lowest line. This proposal, if adopted, would have enormously simplified the acquirement of notation; and the essay was recommended by the Royal Society. But its only result was a very scurrilous controversy. Salmon had appealed to Locke and the lutenist, Theodore Stefkins, for support; Locke answered by publishing ‘Observations upon a late Essay,’ in which Salmon's proposals are attacked with great acrimony and scarcely veiled obscenity. Salmon retorted in a ‘Vindication;’ with this was printed a tract by an unidentified ‘N. E.,’ dated from Norwich. Locke's answer, ‘The Present Practice of Music Vindicated,’ was more decently written than the ‘Observations;’ but the tracts by John Phillips and John Playford in its support are singularly coarse.

In 1673 Salmon obtained the valuable living of Mepsal or Meppershall in Bedfordshire, and he was also rector of Ickleford, Hertfordshire. He abandoned the controversy with Locke, but in 1688 issued a work on temperament, entitled ‘A Proposal to perform Music in Perfect and Mathematical Proportions,’ to which John Wallis contributed; this was apparently ignored by the musical world. Salmon's next publication, in 1701, was in favour of education and universal parochial schools, and in 1704 he published ‘A New Historical Account of St. George for England; and the Origin of the Most Noble Order of the Garter,’ in refutation of Dr. Peter Heylyn's eulogy upon the patron saint of the order. Next followed ‘Historical Collections of Great Britain’ (1706).

Returning to his musical studies, he gave, in July 1705, a lecture before the Royal Society upon ‘Just Intonation,’ with illustrative performances by the brothers Stefkins and Gasperini; the report (Philosophical Transactions) seems to show that equal temperament was already recognised in musical practice. On 4 Dec. he wrote to Sir Hans Sloane concerning Greek enharmonic music, announcing that, when again in London, he ‘would set the mechanicals at work.’ On 8 Jan. he again wrote; he was looking for a munificent patron to carry out experiments, and added: ‘There are two things before us: either to give a full consort of the present musick in the greatest perfection … or to make an advancement into the Enharmonic Musick, which the world has been utterly unacquainted with ever since the overthrow of Classical Learning.’

Salmon died at Mepsal, and was buried in the church on 1 Aug. 1706. He married Katherine, daughter of Serjeant John Bradshaw [q. v.] the regicide; his sons Nathanael [q. v.] and Thomas [q. v.] (1679–1767) are noticed separately.

[Salmon's and M. Locke's Works; Letters in Sloane MS. 4040, formerly in MS. 4058; Masters's History of Corpus Christi Coll. Cambr. p. 365; Wood's Athenæ Oxon. iv. 683, and Fasti, ed. Bliss, ii. 298, 319; Foster's Alumni Oxonienses; Hawkins's History of Music, c. 150; Burney's History of Music, iii. 473–4, iv. 627; Grove's Dictionary of Music, iii. 655; Davey's History of English Music, p. 337; Moule's Bibliotheca Heraldica, p. 264; Nichols's Literary Anecdotes, ii. 132, ix. 491; Philosophical Transactions, Nos. 80 and 302; Gentleman's Magazine, November 1796.]

H. D.