A notorious assassin condemned by the Supreme Court of Foix and executed in September 1864.
At a private meeting of a few spiritists, at Brussels, Sept. 13th, 1864, at which we were present, a lady-medium was asked to write; no special evocation having been made, her hand wrote, with extraordinary agitation, in very large letters, and after having violently scratched the paper, the words:
“I repent! I repent! Latour.”
Surprised at this unexpected communication – for which nothing had prepared us, for no one was thinking of the unhappy criminal, whose fate was unknown to most of those who were present – a few words of commiseration and encouragement were addressed to the spirit, after which he was asked this question:
“What motive induced you to come here rather than to go elsewhere, since we did not call you?” The lady (who was also a speaking medium) replied, aloud:
“I saw that you were compassionate, and that you would take pity on me; whereas others have evoked me more from curiosity that from charity, or shrink from me in horror.”
Then began a scene, utterly indescribable, and that lasted for not less than half an hour. The medium’s words, gestures, and expression of face, all showed that the spirit had identified himself with her personality; at times, his accents of despair were so heartrending, he spoke of his anguish and his sufferings in tones so agonizing, his supplications were so vehement, that all present were deeply affected.
Some of the party was even alarmed at the excitement of the medium; but we considered that the communication of a spirit who repents and implores pity offered no danger. If he borrowed the medium’s organs, it was in order to better to depict his situation and to awaken a livelier interest in his fate, and not, as in the case of obsessing and possessing spirits, in order to obtain command of, and to dominate, the medium. We could not doubt that this temporary borrowing of the medium’s organism had been permitted both for his own good and for the enlightenment of the persons present. Borrowing the medium’s voice, he exclaimed:
“Oh! Yes, pity! You know not how much I need it, for you know not how much I suffer!... no, you know not, you could not understand it! It is horrible...the guillotine! What is it in comparison with what I have now to endure? It is nothing; it was but a moment. But the fire that now devours me is far worse; it is a continual death; it is a suffering that gives neither truce nor rest...that has no end!
“And my victims who are there, all around me, who show me their wounds, who pursue me with their eyes! They are there, before me; I see them all; yes, all, I see them all! And I cannot avoid them! And this pool of blood! And this gold covered with blood! All is there, always before me! Do you smell the stench of blood? Blood, everywhere blood!
They are there, my poor victims! They implore me to take pity on them! And I, unpitying, I strike, and strike, and strike again! The sight of their blood intoxicates me!
“I thought that, after death, all would be ended; that’s why I braved death! I braved God; I denied that there was a God! And now, when I believed that everything would be over, I have a terrible awaking! Ah, yes, terrible, indeed! I am surrounded with corpses; with threatening faces; I wade through blood! I thought I should be dead, and I am alive!... it is hideous! it is horrible! More horrible than all the tortures of the Earth!
“Oh! If men could know what there is beyond the life of the Earth! If they knew what it costs to have done evil, there would be no more assassins, no more criminals, and no more malefactors! Would that all murderers could see what I see and what I have to endure...No, no, there would be no more of them...it is too dreadful to suffer as I suffer!
“I know that I have deserved it, O my God! for I had no pity for my victims, I pushed away their supplicating hands when they besought me to spare them. Yes, I was cruel; I killed them, in my dastardly wickedness, to get their gold! I have sinned impiously; I denied Thee! I blasphemed Thy holy name! I wanted to drown all thought; and therefore I tried to persuade myself that Thou didst not exist!...O my God! I am a horrible criminal! I understand it now. But wilt thou not take pity on me? Thou art God, that is to say, goodness, mercy! Thou art all-powerful!
Pity, Lord! Oh! Pity! Pity! I pray Thee, be not inflexible; deliver me from this odious spectacle, from these horrible images...from this blood...from my victims whose glances stab me to the heart, like so many daggers!
“You are here, who hear me, you are kind and charitable; yes, I see, you will take pity on me, you will pray for me! Oh, I entreat you to do so; do not repel me. You will beg of God to take away this horrible spectacle from before my eyes; He will hear you, because you are good. I beseech you, do not repel me as I repelled others...Pray for me.”
All those who were present, touched by his regrets, addressed to him words of encouragement and consolation. “God,” we told him, “is not inflexible; what He demands of the guilty is sincere repentance, and the desire to make reparation for the evil he has done. Since your heart is no longer hardened, and since you beg Him to forgive your crimes, He will extend His mercy to you, if you persevere in your good resolutions to redeem the evil of your past. You cannot give back to your victims the life you took from them; but, if you ask it with fervor, God will grant you to find yourself thrown among them again in a new existence, in which you will be able to show them as much devotedness as you have shown them cruelty; and, when He judges your expiation to be sufficient, He will take you again into favor. The duration of your chastisement rests with yourself; it depends on you to shorten it; we promise to help you with our prayers and to demand for you the help of good spirits. We will now recite for you the prayer, contained in “The Gospel According to Spiritism,” for the suffering and repentant. We shall not employ the prayer for evil spirits, because, as you repent, as you implore God’s forgiveness and renounce your former evil, you are regarded by us as a spirit who is unhappy, only, but not as an evil one.”
The prayer having been recited, the spirit, after a few moments of calm, resumed his discourse, by exclaiming:
“Thanks, my God!...Oh! thanks! Thou hast had pity on me; those horrible images are going away...Do not forsake me...Send me Thy good spirits to sustain me! Thanks!
After this scene, the medium remained, for some little time, exhausted and overcome; she was so tired out that she could not move hand or foot; she remembered, but, at first, only confusedly, what had taken place; presently, she was able to recall something of what had been spoken by her, involuntarily, and with a vague consciousness that it was not she who was speaking.
The next day, in another gathering of spiritist friends, the same spirit again manifested himself, recommencing, though only for a few minutes, the scene of the preceding evening, with the same impressive pantomime, but less violent; after which he wrote, through the same medium, with feverish agitation, the following words: –
“Thanks for your prayers; I am already better for them. I have prayed to God with such fervor that He has granted me a lightening of my sufferings, but only for a moment; for I shall see them again, my victims...there they are! There they are!...Do you see this blood?
(The prayer of the preceding evening was repeated. The spirit then resumed, addressing himself to the medium.)
“Forgive me for thus taking possession of you. Thanks for the relief you bring to my suffering. Forgive me, all of you, the trouble I have caused you; but I so much need to manifest myself; you alone can...
“Thanks! Thanks! I am somewhat relieved; but I am not at the end of my trials. My victims will soon come back; that is my punishment; I have deserved it, O my God, but have pity on me!
“All of you pray for me! Pity me!” LATOUR
A member of the Spiritist Society of Paris, who had prayed for this unhappy spirit and evoked him, obtained from him, at different times, the following communications:
“I was evoked almost immediately after my death, but I could not communicate at once, and a good many frivolous spirits took my name and place. I availed myself of the presence, at Brussels, of the President of the Paris Society; and, with the permission of the higher spirits, I was able to make a communication.
“I will come and communicate with the Society, and will begin the reparation of my faults by making some revelations that may serve as a warning to all criminals who shall read the recital of my sufferings.
“Sermons about hell-fire have little effect on the minds of great criminals, who are still less afraid of devils than of policemen. There is no priest who can say to them, ‘I have seen all that I tell you with my own eyes, I have witnessed the tortures of the damned!” But, when I say, ‘This is what happened to me after the death of my body; this is what I underwent, when, to my horror, I found that I was not dead, as I had expected to be, and what I had mistaken for the end of my troubles was the beginning of tortures impossible to describe!’ Oh, then, more than one will draw back from the brink of the abyss into which he was about to fall; and every unhappy wretch whom I shall thus have stopped on the road of crime will be an atonement for an evil deed of my past! It is thus that good is brought out of evil, and that the goodness of God is manifested in all things, upon the Earth and in space.
“I am spared the sight of my victims, who have become my executioners, while I communicate with you; but, on leaving you, I shall see them again, and the mere thought of doing so causes me more misery than I can express! I rejoice to be evoked, because I then quit my hell for a few moments. Pray for me; pray to God that I may be delivered from the sight of my victims.
“Yes, let us pray together; prayer does so much good!...I feel less oppressed; my burden seems lighter. I see a gleam of hope before my eyes, and fully repentant I say: Bless be the hand of God, ‘His will be done.”
The Medium – Instead of beseeching God to deliver you from the sight of your victims, I advise you to join me in praying for strength to bear this expiatory torture.
Latour – I should have preferred being spared the spectacle of my victims. If you knew the suffering it causes me! The hardest heart would be touched by seeing the tortures I have to undergo. But I will do as you advise me. I see that it will enable me to complete my expiation sooner. It is like a painful operation that brings back health more quickly.
Ah! If the malefactors on the earth could see me, they would be terrified at the consequences of their crimes, which, even when hidden from the eyes of men, are always seen by spirits! How fatal is this ignorance to many an unfortunate creature! And how heavy is the responsibility of those who refuse education to the poor! They believe that, with the police force, they can prevent crime; what a mistake!
The sufferings I am undergoing are horrible; but, since you have helped me with your prayers, I feel that I am assisted by good spirits, who bid me hope. I understand the efficiency of the heroic remedy you have advised me to adopt, and I pray for strength to bear this heavy expiation. It is the equivalent, I may truly say, of the evil I have done. I would not endeavor to excuse my atrocities; but, at least, after the few moments of terror that, in the case of my victims, preceded the instant of death, all suffering ceased, for them, when once the crime was committed; and those who had finished their earthly trials entered directly upon the enjoyment of the happiness that was awaiting them. But, since my return to the spirit-world, I have never ceased, excepting for the few moments when I am permitted to communicate, to suffer the torments of hell.
The priests, notwithstanding the frightful pictures they draw of the sufferings of the reprobate, have but a very faint idea of the horror of the punishments that the justice of God inflicts on those of His children who have violated His law of love and kindness. How can they expect to make any reasoning creature believe that a soul, that is to say, something not material, can be made to suffer from the action of material fire? It is absurd; and that is why so many criminals laugh at their fantastic pictures of hell. But it is very different in regard to the moral torture undergone by the criminal, after the death of his body. Pray for me, that despair may not again take hold of me!
How grateful I am to you for enabling me to obtain some glimpses of the glorious goal at which I shall arrive when I have accomplished my purification! I still suffer dreadfully, but less than I did. I cannot believe that, in the spirit-world, we suffer less from becoming accustomed to our suffering. No, it is because your kindly prayers have increased my strength, so that, although my pains are still the same, yet, my strength being greater, my suffering seems to me to be less severe.
My thoughts go back to my last existence, to the faults I should have avoided if I had known how to pray. I now comprehend the efficacy of prayer; I comprehend the strength of the simple and weak, as the world judges, who are so strong through their faith and piety; I understand this mystery, so little understood by those who are learned only in the science of earthly things. How these learned men laugh at the idea of prayer! Let them come back into the spirit-world; and, when the veil of flesh that shuts in their minds shall have been torn away from them, they, too, will prostrate themselves at the feet of the Eternal whom they had forgotten, and they will rejoice to abase themselves that they may be delivered from their errors and from the penalties of their misdeeds! They will then understand the virtue of prayer. To pray is to love; to love is to pray! They will then love the Master and will address to Him their prayers of love and gratitude; while undergoing the purification of suffering – for they will have to suffer – they will pray, like me, for strength to expiate and to bear their suffering; and, when they have ceased to suffer, they will pray out of thankfulness to Him for the pardon they will have won by their submission and resignation. Pray with me, my brother! That I may become still stronger!
Thanks to you, O my brother! For your charitable help! I am forgiven! The infinite mercy had delivered me from the sight of my victims. My God, eternity will be too short for me to express my gratitude for this favor that Thou hast granted me! I feel the enormity of my crimes, and I humble myself before Thy power! I love Thee, O my God! with all my heart, and I beg to be permitted, when Thy will shall send me back to the Earth to undergo a new trial, to go there as a missionary of peace and charity, to teach the children to pronounce Thy name with love and reverence, to teach them to love Thee, the Parent of all creatures! I am in the category of repentant spirits, and my repentance is sincere; for I love Thee as entirely as a heart so impure as mine is capable of feeling the sentiment that is the purest emanation of Thy divinity. Brother! Let us pray together, for my heart is overflowing with gratitude! I am free! I have broken my fetters! I am no longer reprobate! I am still a suffering spirit, but I am also a repentant one, and I would like that my example might arrest, on the eve of crime, the hands that I see ready to be raised for evil! Oh, stop, brothers, stop! For the tortures you are preparing for yourselves will be horrible! Do not fancy that you will all obtain your deliverance as quickly as I have done! Deliverance only comes, in most cases, after centuries of torture!
The Medium’s Guide – You say you do not understand the spirit’s last words. You must bear in mind the vividness of his emotion, the intensity of his gratitude to God, which he want to testify by arresting the hands of all the criminals, whom he can see, though you cannot. He want his voice to reach them all; and what he has not told you, because, as of yet, he does not know it himself, he will be allowed to undertake missions of reparation, and thus to commence the work of atonement for his former crimes. He will be sent among those who were his accomplices, and he will seek to inspire them with repentance and to rouse the germ of remorse in their hearts. If the veil that separates you from the other world could be drawn aside, you would often see a spirit, who has been the accomplice or the instigator of a crime, coming back among men, and trying, as will be done by Jacques Latour, to make reparation for his former misdeeds, by awaking remorse in the mind of malefactors in the flesh.
The medium in Brussels, who received the first communication from Latour, subsequently received from him the following, which we add to the foregoing, for its instructiveness, although its date was anterior to those marked IV and V:
“Be no longer afraid of me; I am calmer, though I still suffer very much. God, who saw my repentance, has taken pity on me; but I now suffer from this repentance that shows me the enormity of my crimes.
“If I had been guided aright in the earthly life, I should not have done all the evil that I did; but my bad tendencies were not repressed, and I obeyed them blindly, no rein having been opposed to them. If all men thought more of God, if only they all believed in His existence, such horrors would no longer be committed.
“But what men call justice is badly administered. For a fault that may have been slight, a man is shut up in a prison, which is always a place of perdition and corruption; and he generally comes out completely ruined by the evil counsels and bad examples to which he has been exposed. Even if his nature is good enough and strong enough to resist this evil teaching, he finds, on quitting the prison, that every door is closed against him, and that he is spurned and shunned by all honest people. What remains to him? Scorn and want. Hunger drives him again into crime. He begins, in his turn, to despise his fellow men and to hate them; he loses all sense of good and evil, because he finds himself repelled, notwithstanding his desire to return to an honest life. To procure the necessities of life, he steals; perhaps he kills; and then society puts him to death!
“My God! at this moment, I feel that my hallucinations are about to take hold of me; but I also feel that Thy hand is extending mercy to me, that Thy goodness is enveloping and protecting me! Thanks, O my God! In my next existence, I will employ my intelligence, all that I may possess, in aiding the unhappy culprits who have succumbed to a first temptation and in preserving them from falling again into crime.
“Thanks to you all, who do not feel reluctant to communicate with me! Fear nothing; you see that I am no longer wicked. When you give me a thought, do not think of me as resembling the portrait which was then drawn of me; but think of me as a poor sorrowing soul, who begins to hope, and who thanks you for your pitying kindness.
“Farewell: evoke me again, and pray for me.” LATOUR
Consideration suggested by the case of Jacques Latour
It is impossible not to recognize the profundity and importance of the statements contained in the foregoing communication, which also offers the interesting spectacle of a spirit who, while undergoing the terrible retribution of great crimes, acquires, nevertheless, the perception of the mercy of the Divine Government. The mythological allegory of the Eumenides is seen to be less devoid of verisimilitude than has been thought; and the idea of demons, with horns and pitchforks, by which they are replaced, in modern creeds, as the official tortures of the invisible world, is seen to be far less reasonable than that of the victims of a criminal becoming, themselves, his chastisers.
Admitting the identity of this spirit, surprise may be felt at the promptitude with which his moral state was improved in the spirit-world; but we have frequently had occasion to remark that there is a better ground of improvement in a spirit who is roughly and brutally bad, than in one who is actuated by pride or hides his viciousness under the mask of hypocrisy. This prompt return to better sentiments indicates a nature that is uncultured rather than depraved, and that only needed better training. On comparing the language of this spirit with that of another criminal, mentioned further on, under the heading of “The Chastisement of Light,” it is easy to see which of the two is most advanced in a moral sense, notwithstanding the difference of their education and social position; one of them obeying a sort of natural instinct of unreasoning ferocity, while the other brings, to the perpetration of his crimes, the calmness and coolness of a slow and persevering combination, and, after death, listening only to his pride, stiffens himself against punishment. He suffers but will not confess that he does so; the other is, so to say, brought to his senses at once. It is easy to foresee which of the two will suffer the longest.
“I suffer,” says Jacques Latour, “from this repentance, which shows me the enormity of my crimes.” There is a profound truth in this remark. A spirit only arrives at the true comprehension of his misdeeds when he repents; repentance leads to regret, to remorse, to the painful feeling which is the transition from evil to good, from moral disease to moral health. It is to escape this painful feeling that perverse spirits stiffen themselves against the voice of their conscience, as a sick man sometimes rejects the remedy that would cure him; they try to keep up an illusion, to drown reflection by persisting in evil. Latour had reached the point at which obduracy finishes by yielding; remorse had entered his heart; repentance followed; he comprehended the extent of the evil he had done; he saw how abject he was, and he suffered in seeing it, which explains his saying “I suffer from this repentance.” In his preceding existence, he must have been still lower than in this one; for, if he had repented, then, as he has now done, his last life would have been a better one. The resolutions he has formed in the spirit-world will influence his next earthly life; the one he has quitted, criminal as it was, has therefore constituted for him a step in advance. It is probable that, before beginning his last life, he was, in erraticity, one of the rebellious spirits, obstinate in evil, of which we see so many.
Many persons have asked what good can be derived from our past existences, since; in general, we remember neither what we have been nor what we have done?
This question is fully answered by the fact that, if the evil we have done in the past is effaced, if no trace of it remains in our heart, the remembrance of it would be useless, since we have nothing more to do with it. As to any remains of past evil of which we have not entirely cured ourselves, we may always know them by studying our present tendencies; it is therefore upon these that we should concentrate our attention. It is sufficient to know what we are, without its being necessary to know what we were.
When we consider how difficult it is for one who has been guilty of any crime to obtain a complete rehabilitation in the course of a lifetime, when we think of the reprobation of which he continues to be the object, we may well bless the Providential ordering that throws a veil over the past. If Latour has been sentenced to any terminable punishment, or even if he had been acquitted, his antecedents would have shut him out from the society of honest people. Who would have been willing, notwithstanding his repentance, to admit him to intimacy? The sentiments that he now manifests, as a spirit, warrant the hope that, in his next earthly existence, he will then be an honest man, esteemed and respected; but suppose it should be known that he was formerly the assassin Latour, he would still be the object of horror and abhorrence. The veil that will be thrown over his past will open to him the door of rehabilitation; thanks to it, he will be able to take his place, without shame, among honest people. How many are there, among those now living around us, who would be thankful to efface, at any price, certain years of their present life from the memory of those who know them! Let anyone, who can, show us a doctrine more admirably in harmony with the justice and goodness of God than that of our successive existences! And this doctrine, it must be remembered, is not a theoretic hypothesis, but has been arrived at as a result of observation. The spiritists have not imagined it; they have seen and observed the different situations in which spirits present themselves; they have sought for the explanation of these, and, from that explanation, they have deduced this doctrine. If they have accepted it, they have done so because it follows inevitably from the facts observed by them, and because it appears to them more rational than all the other doctrines that have hitherto been broached in regard to the future destiny of the soul.
It cannot be denied that the foregoing communications convey a very high moral teaching. The spirit of Latour , indeed, must have been aided in the reflections put forth by him and especially in the choice of his language, by spirits of greater advancement; but, in such cases, the latter only assist in regard to the form of the communications and not to their substance, nor do they ever cause the inferior spirit to make statements in contradiction with his state. They have no doubt aided Latour to give a more refined form to his expressions of repentance, but they would not have led him to express his repentance against his will; nor, indeed, could they do so, for every spirit has his free-will. They would merely help him to express the better sentiments that they saw to be germinating in his mind; and, by doing this, they would both contribute to the development of those sentiments and also attract towards him the commiseration of those to whom they helped him to address himself.
Could anything be more striking, more touching, more calculated to cause a vivid impression, than the picture of this great criminal, repentant, breathing forth his despair and his remorse, and – in the midst of his tortures and haunted by the incessant sight of his victims – raising his thought toward God and imploring His mercy? Does not such a picture offer a salutary example to the guilty? The nature of his anguish is perfectly comprehensible; his sufferings are at once rational, and nonetheless terrible for being simple and devoid of phantasmagoric accessories.
Perhaps one could be astonished at a so great a change in a man like Latour; for why should he not repent? Why should the guilty be doomed to remain such forever? Why should there not be a moment when light makes its way into the darkened heart, and why should that moment not have come for him? It is precisely this change in his feelings that gives so great a moral significance to his communications; it is the understanding which he has obtained of his true position, it is his regrets, his projects for making reparation, that render them so eminently instructive. Would it have been thought extraordinary if he had repented before he died? If he had said, before his execution, what he says afterwards? Are there not plenty of examples of such repentance?
The statements of Latour are a revelation to the wicked of what is awaiting them beyond the grave. He is perfectly right in saying that his experience is more likely to influence them than the prospect of hellfire or even of the scaffold. Why, then, should it not be made known in our prisons? It would lead more than one evildoer to serious reflection, as, indeed, it has already done in a good many instances. But how shall those believe in words of a dead man who suppose that when a man is dead there is an end of him? A day will come, however, when the fact that the dead can come to instruct the living will be fully admitted.
Many other important truths are to be deduced from these communications. In the first place, the confirmation of this principle of eternal justice, viz., that repentance does not suffice to place the guilty in the ranks of the happy. Repentance is a first step towards rehabilitation and attracts the mercy of God towards the guilty; it is the prelude to forgiveness and to the shortening of suffering; but God does not forgive unconditionally; He requires expiation and the making of reparation; Latour has understood this, and we see him preparing to fulfill these conditions.
In the second place, if we compare this criminal with the one of Castelnaudary, we perceive a great difference in the chastisements inflicted upon them. In the case of the latter, his repentance had been slower in coming, and his punishment has consequently been longer. This punishment, moreover, is almost physical, while, in the case of Latour, it is principally moral, for the reason, as we remarked above, that the intelligence is much less developed in the one case than in the other. In the one case,
something was needed that could make an impression on a nature whose senses were obtuse; but moral sufferings are not less sharp for those who have reached the degree required for comprehending them, as is shown by the lamentations of Latour, the expression of a remorse that is speedily followed by repentance and by the desire to make reparation, in order to advance.