Mr. Letil, a manufacturer in the neighborhood of Paris, died in April 1864, under exceptionally horrible circumstances. A great cauldron of boiling varnish took fire and upset, the whole of its contents falling upon him, so that he was covered, instantaneously, with the burning matter and felt that his doom was sealed. There was no one with him in the workshop, at the time of the accident, but a young apprentice; yet he had the courage to return to his dwelling, distant some two hundred yards. When he reached the house, his flesh, completely roasted, fell from him in strips; the bones of his face and of part of his body were entirely denuded. He lingered for some twelve hours in the most horrible agony, retaining, nevertheless, the full possession of his faculties up to the last moment, and setting his affairs in order with perfect clearness of mind. Throughout this frightful suffering, he uttered no complaint, no murmur, and he died with a prayer on his lips. He was a man of most honorable character; gentle, benevolent, he was loved and esteemed by all who knew him. He had embraced the spiritist philosophy with enthusiasm, but without sufficient reflection; and consequently, being something of a medium, he was frequently the dupe of mocking spirits; which fact, however, by no means weakened his belief in the reality of spirit-manifestation, his confidence in the statements made to him by the invisibles being sometimes carried to the verge of credulity.
Evoked by the Paris Society, a few days after his death, and while still under the impression of the terrible accident of which he had been the victim, he made the following communication:
“A load of sadness still weighs upon me! Still overwhelmed with the horror of my tragic death, I seem to myself to be under the axe of the executioner. Oh, what suffering! What horrible suffering. I shudder at the thought of it. I seem still to be sickened with the fetid smell of my burning flesh. Death- agony of twelve dreadful hours – what a trial for the guilty spirit! But he suffered without complaining, and he is therefore about to receive his pardon.
“My beloved wife! Weep not for me; my pain will soon be over. I no longer suffer any real pain; but the remembrance of what I have gone through is as painful as the reality. My knowledge of Spiritism has been a great help to me; I now see that, had it not been for this consoling belief, I should have remained in the delirium into which I was thrown by my fearful death.
“But I have a comforter who has not quitted me since I drew my last breath; even before I had finished speaking, I saw him standing beside me. I fancied, at first, that my sufferings were rendering me delirious and showing me phantoms; but no, it was my Guardian Angel who, silent and motionless, consoled me with his unspoken sympathy. No sooner had I bid farewell to the Earth than he whispered: – ‘Come with me, my son, and open your eyes to the light!’ I breathed more freely; I seemed to be awakening from a hideous dream; I spoke of my beloved wife, of the courageous boy who had risked his own life helping me. ‘They are all upon the Earth,’ he replied, ‘you, my son! are now in the spirit-world!’ I looked about for my house; my Guardian Angel allowed me to go back into it, going in with me. I saw everyone in tears; all was sadness and mourning in the dwelling formerly so peaceful. I could not bear the painful sight; overcome by the sorrows of those I love, I said to my Guide, ‘O my good Angel! Let us go away!’ – ‘Yes,’ he replied, ‘let us go hence and seek rest!’
“Since then, I suffer less; if I did not see my wife inconsolable, my friends so sad, I should almost be happy.
“My kind, good Guardian Angel had given me permission to tell you the cause of my having to undergo so painful a death; for your instruction, my friends, I make the avowal of the horrible crime which I have thus expiated.
“Two hundred years ago, I caused a young maiden, innocent as is a child of her age (for she was only about twelve years old), to be burned at the stake. Of what was she accused? Alas! of having taken part in a conspiracy against the power of the priesthood. I was an Italian, a Judge of the Inquisition; the executioners dared not touch the youthful victim; I, myself, was both her Judge and her executioner. O Justice of God; how perfect art Thou! I have submitted to Thy sentence; I had resolved so firmly not to waver in the day of my trial that I was able to keep my promise; I did not murmur, and Thou, O my God! hast forgiven me! But when will the remembrance of my poor, innocent victim be effaced from my memory? It is that which makes me suffer! I must have her forgiveness also.
“Children of the new doctrine! You sometimes say: – ‘We do not remember what we did in our former lives, and we are therefore unable to avoid the evils to which we are exposed by our forgetfulness of the past.’ O my brothers! Bless God for this forgetfulness! If He had left you the memory of your past, you would have no respite upon the Earth. Incessantly pursued by remorse and shame, could you have a moment’s peace in all your life?”
“The forgetfulness of the past is a blessing; here, we remember, and this remembrance is torture. In a little while, and as a reward for the patience with which I bore my expiation, God will grant me the forgetfulness of my crime. This has just been promised me by my Guardian Angel.”
Mr. Letil’s character, in his last existence, shows how much his spirit had improved. His excellent conduct was the result of his repentance and of the good resolutions he had formed in erraticity; but it did not suffice to wipe out his past. For that, it was necessary to seal his good resolutions by a great trial, by enduring, as a man, what he had made other men endure; to be resigned, under such terrible circumstances, was the most arduous task that could be imposed upon a human being; but, happily for him, he did not fail under the trial. His knowledge of Spiritism did much to sustain his courage, through the assured belief in the future which he owed to it; he knew that the sorrows of life are trials and expiations, and he therefore submitted to his fate without a murmur, saying to himself: “God is just; therefore I must have deserved this suffering!”