Washington Irving On Spirit Communication
( Originally Published 1902 )
IN a conversation with Mr. John T. Terry, the President of the Western Union Telegraph Company, I said to him, " Did you know Washington Irving? " He replied, " Yes, very well, he was an intimate friend of mine. I was at his house the night he died, not at the hour, but just a little while before. My wife and I were there, and soon after we left he passed away suddenly. My place was near his, and we visited back and forth. I often entertained him as a guest and was entertained by him. From his boyhood he had been very fond of society, and at three score and ten he had not lost his keen relish for it. He had been entertained in the best circles of society in this country and in Europe, and was the ideal gentleman in the drawing-room. There was an irresistible charm about his personality which drew men and women, old and young, to him. I never met a man socially who had such a magical influence over me. One evening there were some guests invited to my house, Irving among the rest. When he came in, he said to me :
"'Have you any safe place, with lock and key, where you can put this package? It is very valuable.'
"I took it from his hand and locked it up. As he started home he forgot it, and so did I. In a little while he returned, greatly excited, for the bundle. Taking it from my hand, he said, ' This is the manuscript of my Life of Washington, which I have just finished.'
" I was very ill with pleurisy," continued Mr. Terry, " and Irving used to come over to see me, and sit at my bedside and cheer me. The sunshine of his loving presence was health to my body as well as my soul."
I said, " Mr. Terry, is there any incident connected with your acquaintance with Mr. Irving which impressed itself upon your memory more distinctly than the rest?"
He answered, " There is one that I shall never forget. He was at my house one evening, and in conversation with me he told this story. He said : ` I was in Spain about the time that the question whether the dead can come back to speak to the living or not, was being generally discussed. A dear friend and I talked the matter over seriously, and determined to make a practical experiment to ascertain the fact. We agreed that whichever one should die first should return to a certain place in Spain in disembodied form at a specified time, and the other was to be there to communicate with him. My friend died first, and at the appointed time, I went to the place selected and, seating myself upon the stone, I waited for him, and I called for him, and I implored him to come and speak to me. But there was no form and no voice, and I made up my mind that the dead do not communicate audibly with the living, for if they could do so, my dear friend would have come to me.' I shall never forget the impressive manner in which he related the incident. There was not a particle of the humor which usually flowed from his lips ; there was the atmosphere of another world, which seemed to settle about us as he spoke."
After hearing the incident from the lips of Mr. Terry, I said to myself, " Washington Irving has come back to earth. The Headless Horseman has found his head or sought another churchyard; he is no longer the terror of Sleepy Hollow, the spirit of Irving is now its charm. He hovers over the Hudson, which he loved so well, and over the hills upon its banks which have been consecrated by his footsteps. His voice is echoed in the song of birds and the mirth of children, his beauty is mirrored in the flower-gardens, his love is reflected in the hearts of happy people. He is present in the public library and in the private study. He speaks wherever the English language is spoken. He charms the ear with the melody of his periods, he enriches the mind with the value of his truth, he cheers the nature with his inimitable humor, he clarifies the heart with the purity of his sentiment, he inspires the soul with the loveliness of his personality. Where there is the highest appreciation of the true, the beautiful, and the good in literature, the work of Washington Irving will live in the libraries and lives of mankind."