Moody's sudden death brought Sankey to an abrupt realization that he was growing older and that if he wanted the sketch of his life and the story of the gospel hymns to reach the world he would have to get his manuscript completed. The press also said that since Moody was dead, Sankey's work was finished too. With these thoughts in mind—and the second was a challenge—he decided to make another tour of England. This would help him to meet old friends, prove to the press that his work was not "finished," and also bring back to his mind the stories of many of the hymns that had originated over there in previous campaigns.
Sankey and his wife sailed for England in September, 1900, on the "Lucania." His approaching visit had stirred up great interest in the British Isles, and when they landed there were scores of invitations waiting for him. Sankey, however, explained that this was not an evangelistic tour, but rather that he was making a "flying trip to Great Britain and Ireland, to meet old friends of years gone by who were associated with me in gospel work when Mr. Moody and I were together."
In his visit he gave services of sacred song and story. In these meetings he related stories connected with his more popular songs, sang a few solos, and sandwiched in a brief gospel message here and there. His time was short, and so, necessarily, he could visit only the larger cities. But wherever he sang, huge throngs turned out to hear him, in spite of the fact that it had been reported that he was dead.
In London, a few days after he landed, twenty thousand people tried to crowd into Exeter Hall to hear him. Those who were present said that it was like "old Moody-and-Sankey times." The chairman for this meeting was Sir George Williams, the famous founder of the Y.M.C.A. When Sankey arose to speak the applause was deafening and continued for several minutes. When Sankey was able to speak, he said:
I am glad to have been spared to have come, though there is a sad strain through my memories, for I cannot forget one who was with me in days gone by and has now passed to his reward.
He then went on to explain that he was not dead and that he was Sankey, and not Sankey's son, as had been reported. In connection with this he related a story of what had happened to him on a train in America a few years previously:
"I was seated in a train going from Chicago to New York,” he said," and got into a conversation with a stranger. After we had exhausted every available topic, we finally turned to the subject of Moody and Sankey. My companion said that he was very sorry for one thing—that he had never heard Sankey sing 'The Ninety and Nine' before he died. I asked him when Sankey had died, and he said about two years ago. 'How do you know he is dead?' I said. 'Oh, I saw it in the papers,' he replied. 'Of course, if it was in the papers, it must be true,' I answered. Then he asked me what sort of people Moody and Sankey really were, as I seemed to know about them, and I replied that they were 'just common folks like ourselves.' Just then the train stopped at a station and my friend had to get out. So I said, 'Before you go, I think it right to say to you that I am one of the men you have been discussing.' 'Oh,' he said, 'who are you?' I said I was all that was left of Sankey. But he said, 'You cannot play that trick on me—Sankey's dead! Good-by.' He rushed out of the car, and I have never seen him since."
Sankey then seated himself at an organ and sang "When the Mists Have Rolled Away." The great crowd remained as silent as it was accustomed to do a quarter of a century before. This was a veritable triumph for the singer. His voice, in spite of possibly the most strenuous use in history, still had the magic spell!
Before the evening was over, the audience prevailed on him to sing "The Ninety and Nine." Many of them had been converted as a result of this song, and they insisted that he simply must sing it again. When he was through, most of them were in tears.
Sankey went from meeting to meeting like this throughout the British Islands. Often, as was the case in London, thousands of people were turned away from the main auditorium, with the result that the ever-generous Sankey had to sing to them at an overflow meeting. Everywhere he went there was excitement. People insisted on talking to him, demanded his autograph, made him go home to dinner with them. Sankey should have refused all of this, should have cut the tour short—the doctors advised him to—but he did not have the heart to leave his friends. The people wanted to hear him sing, and he was determined to sing to the end.
At last, however, his health did break down, and he returned to America, a broken man.
From Sankey Still Sings by Charles Ludwig. Anderson, IN: The Warner Press, 1947.