Tuesday, 21 November 2017

Hervé Leuwers: the rehabilitation of Robespierre

I have just acquired the "must-have" 2106 biography of Robespierre by Hervé Leuwers.   .

Since there is no translation yet, and hardly even a book review in English, I thought a I would translate this interview which I found (from the website of the newspaper L'Humanité).

Hervé Leuwers teaches at the University of Lille III, and has written widely on French legal history. He is chief editor of the Annales historiques de la Révolution française

What was your starting point?

The initial inspiration for the book was the availability of new archive resources, in particular, unedited judicial memoirs which shed new light on Robespierre's career as a lawyer in Arras.  
I also felt that it was time for a new approach.  I wanted to avoid the reduction of Robespierre's life to the years 1793-4 and  to recover his identity as "a man of the 18th century".

Do you condemn retrospective analysis? 

Absolutely -  "Too many portraits of Robespierre, particularly in the 2000s, were retrospective portraits.  They started from the principle that Robespierre was the incarnation of the "Terror" and tried to understand how he arrived there." They detailed his frustrated ambition, political humiliation, psychological coldness etc.  This type of a priori construct, began as early as the time of the Constituent Assembly [as Jean-Clément Martin shows in his Robespierre: la fabrication d'un monstre, 2016].

Have all Robespierre's biographers done this?

No. Some of the best biographies are in English - notably  Peter McPhee; also Norman Hampson's The Life and Opinions of Maximilien Robespierre (1974).  In French, there is the classic biography by Gérard Walter; also  Henri Guillemin (1987) who emphasised the religious dimension of Robespierre's thought.

How would you characterise the early Robespierre? 

The Arras lawyer favoured new ideas and believed in progress.  One of his favourite targets was what he termed "prejudices" - exclusion of women from the Academies, inequality before the law, discrimination against illegitimate children, lettres de cachet...  Robespierre was a man of the Enlightenment;  he was not just a lawyer, he saw himself as an homme de lettres  and he participated in Academic competitions.  He showed that same commitment to the Enlightenment in his legal work.  Once of his first cases concerned a  lightning conductor at Saint-Omer (1783) which had been taken down because it was feared it would  cause a fire.  In defence of the owner, Robespierre employed all his adversarial skills, which bore the strong mark of his Parisian education.   In Arras his style astonished and pleased.   His legal speeches have not been edited.  However,  his pleas, which drew applause in the national press, reveal an excellent orator and able defender of the Enlightenment.  He had an ability to formulate an issue and knew how to draw in the judges to see his point of view.  In the lightning conductor case he argued forcefully that the lightning conductor needed to be authorised for the honour of the magistrature, of science and of Artois and that to forbid it would be to invite ridicule ....He won. The case, which was also defended in writing by his friend Buissart, was included in the collection of Causes célèbres  published by des Essart's.  As a result, Robespierre acquired other high-profile cases.

Was there a political, even revolutionary agenda?

When Robespierre began his legal career the mobilisation of public opinion against judicial error in the cases of Calas and Silven was still fresh in people's minds.  Following on from Voltaire, Elie de Beaumont and Servan, a campaign for judicial reform had been launched.  Robespierre participated in this by undertaking the defence of "oppressed innocence".  Robespierre, like many others, believed in reform.  He was aware that he lived in turbulent times and  occasionally referred to the revolutions which had recently taken place in America and, unsuccessfully, in the United Provinces. At certain points his judicial and academic goals coincided with those of the revolutionaries abroad, but he certainly did not call for an insurrection in France.  Up until 1789 he expressed his trust in Louis XVI and hoped that the monarch would bring about the triumph in France of the ideals of liberty, happiness and justice. 

When did Robespierre discover Jean-Jacques Rousseau?

It is difficult, from the existing documents, to determine this precisely.  However, there were two separate aspects to Robespierre's engagement. The first was with Rousseau's political thought.  As a jurist Robespierre was influenced by Montesquieu, but his attachment to Rousseau was more profound and more emotionally committed.  In his writings, there are numerous references to The Social Contract.  Nonetheless, Robespierre was not an uncritical "Rousseauist"; he adapted Rousseau's ideas to the conditions of the time.  During the Revolution he rejected Rousseau's contention that democracy was a form of government "for the gods", and entertained the possibility of political representation.  Also, unlike Rousseau, he did not consider that atheists should be rejected from society, even though he too saw belief in a Supreme Being as essential to "public virtue".

There was also a second manner in which Rousseau influenced him. The Rousseau which Robespierre admired was not just the writer of The Social Contract, but also of the Reveries and the Confessions.  Robespierre had read the posthumous works of Rousseau, which had given birth to a new genre of introspective autobiography.  He was touched by Rousseau's sensibility.  When Robespierre the Revolutionary talks about himself, surveys his career, he sometimes seems to be attempting a sort of biography à la Rousseau, repeatedly affirming his sensibility to the fate of the "people".

Who was the second Robespierre, the young deputy?

Firstly he was a man with a particularly sharp sense of politics.  There were few individuals in the run up to the convocation of the Estates General who participated in debates with as much conviction and with such well-formulated ideas.  He was not the only one to enter into the political arena in Arras in the spring of 1789, but he was one of the most determined.  As a lawyer of reputation, an member of the town Academy and of the Rosati, his stance counted: and he took up positions hostile to the nobility, the municipality and the provincial Estates.  He was one of those who wanted the Third Estate to be represented without the mediation of traditional corporate bodies.  Since the political battle was acute in Artois, the deputies from the province, like those of Brittany and Provence, were thought of in Versailles as being particularly "patriotic".

From the time of his election, Robespierre was convinced he must live the Revolution.  His political maturity was recognised by his contemporaries:  According to the Mercure national in April 1790, he was a man in matters of liberty, whereas many citizens were only children.

The Mercure also referred to to his political opinions which were shared by only a minority of deputies.  He wished to extend full citizenship to all, including the right to vote and membership of  the National Guard.  It was not possible to go backwards; those who had already taken part in the elections to the Estates General could not be disenfranchised; though he did not advocate the vote for women, he thought that it should be the right of all adult men.   He demanded, and obtained, full citizenship for Protestants, Jews and actors.  He defended free people of colour in the colonies, denounced slavery, condemned the death penalty.....  "The people" was central to his agenda; as Robespierre himself was aware, the word was ambiguous.  Many deputies reproached him for his support of popular action on 14th July and in October 1789.

Robespierre's political choices were considered dangerous: he supported insurrection in the countryside against seigneurial dues, and in the army against noble officers.  Although his campaigns against slavery or the death penalty have been validated by history, they were perceived at the time as irresponsible.  There is nothing paradoxical in this;  many deputies wanted to bring the Revolution to a rapid conclusion and saw Robespierre as encouraging disorder.   He wanted to remain faithful to his election undertakings and persisted, for example, in his demand for universal male suffrage. However, once the Constitution was accepted, he gave his support, not because he approved of it totally, but because he was committed to the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen which preceded it.  For him the Declaration provided a weapon with which to fight for the complete realisation of the promises of summer 1789.

And in your view this was the time that saw the birth of  the "black legend" of Robespierre?

Yes - there is no need to wait until after his death to trace the emergence of the legend;  its construction began under the Constituent, long before the Terror.  Thus a letter from Arras dated April 1790 refers to Robespierre as a monster who "has neither faith, law nor religion and whose spirit breaths only blood and destruction"....  At the same time, notably at the Jacobin Club, he impressed audiences with his oratory, his disinterest, his energy; witnesses testifed that he brought tears to the eyes of his hearers. Thus for some he was an "Incorruptible" and for others already a "Monster"..

And it was from the beginning of the Revolution  that Robespierre took his position in the debate which led to the abolition of slavery in 1794?

Robespierre rejected slavery from the time of the Constituent Assembly.  He was not a member of the Société des Amis des noirs but he shared its position.  In May 1791 he spoke in support of the citizenship of  "freemen of colour" in the colonies. Three years later he did not take part personally in the debate on the abolition of slavery but he certainly approved the measure.

You show that Robespierre did not act alone in  his conflicts?

Indeed. Others always thought and acted with him.  In the Constituent Assembly about a hundred of the 1,200 members could be considered as democrats, among them Robespierre, the abbé Grégoire, Pétion. They did not form a party, but united to fight particular issues; Robespierre followed this same strategy in the Jacobins at the time of the Legislative Assembly and later in the Convention.  Thus in the Constituent he formed not only his political ideas, but the tactics he would later use to defend them. The Robespierre of the Terror cannot be understood without evoking this Robespierre of the early Revolution.


Hervé Leuwers, "Les combats de Robespierre se rejoignent dans ses références au peuple" interview by Jérôme Skalski, L'Humanité.fr, 12 December 2014

Here, also translated and summarised, a review from the Annales historiques de la Révolution française by Jean Bart.

Book Review 

Though conscious of the difficulties of biography, "the most subjective" of all historical exercises, Hervé Leuwers seeks to move away from partisan debate.  His approach is characterised by its methodological rigour.  He has taken account of new sources:  the eleven volumes of Oeuvres reedited in 2011 by the SER, also the manuscripts acquired by the State in 2011.  In addition he has utilised neglected documents in both private and public collections, for example the correspondence of Robespierre's colleague in the Academy of Arras,  Ferdinand Dubois de Fosseux (Departmental Archives of the Pas-de-Calais) or the Marzet Collection of judicial memoirs in Paris.

This has allowed the author to illuminate little-known aspects of Robespierre's life....

The work is divided into twenty chronological but thematic sequences, interspersed with illustrative passages from the sources:  the 1783 In praise of the tart (p.37-8) reveals the young Maximilien's humour; the pen portrait by Dubois-Crancé (p.169-70) shows Robespierre's growing reputation at the end of 1791; notes on "the virtues of the Brutuses" (p.311-2) demonstrate his continued reference to classical precedents.

Hervé Leuwers devotes a quarter of his text to the hitherto neglected pre-Revolutionary period. He shows how Robespierre's education and legal career informed his later attitudes and opinions. He exposes certain myths, for instance the famous schoolboy oration before Louis XVI which almost certainly did not take place.

Leuwers emphasises the talent and conviction with which Robespierre pursued his legal career in Arras.  He pleaded influential cases - notably the lightning conductor case  - and established his reputation as an orator.  His speeches were printed.  He became an avocat-homme de lettres, member of the local Academy and, in 1784,  won a prize from the Academy of Metz for his memoir on the collective responsibility of families of condemned criminals; his demand for suppression of confiscation of goods as a penalty placed him in the vanguard of enlightened legal reform. In the following years, he held office in the Academy of Arras, where he pronounced an influential discourse on improving the lot of bastards. His professional life likewise gave him the chance to express new ideas and to champion the disadvantaged;  thus the Dupond case, in which he denounced lettres-de-cachet and arbitrary imprisonment. Not long afterwards Robespierre was elected to the Assembly. Even if his name was frequently mistaken - Robert, Robert-Pierre, Robesse-Pierre....- he quickly gained a reputation as defender of the people.   He was considered a fervent patriot, who, according to the famous dictim of Mirabeau, "will go far, since he believes what he says".  He welcomed the popular insurrection of October which brought the King back to Paris and spoke frequently in the Constituent Assembly, notably in support of universal male suffrage. His discourses were printed.  By Spring 1791 he had gained the epithet "the Incorruptible".

Hervé Leuwers often corrects a date or challenges a received interpretation.  For instance he exposes as a forgery a pamphlet which has often been credited, in which Robespierre calls for the death of the King after the flight to Varennes.

After the massacre of the Champs-de-Mars, Robespierre, already accused of aspiring to dictatorship, turned to the Jacobins as his main forum; here he "could be himself, lively, pugnacious and without concession." However, once the Constitution was voted, he supported it. Hervé Leuwers gives a fine analysis of his opposition to the war. He cites one of the manuscripts recently acquired by the Archives nationales: "Let us fight the people's war not that of kings" ("Fesons la guerre du peuple et non celle des rois"). Likewise he  traces the nuances of Robespierre's responses to a series of key situations - the September Massacres, the execution of Louis XVI, the opposition of Girondins and Montagnards; the conflicting claims of freedom of trade in grain and the fight against hoarders.  He offers a new reading of Robespierre's speech of 5th February 1794 (17 pluviôse Year II) on the relation of virtue and terror.  The final months and days of the Incorruptable are recounted with careful fidelity to the sources and acknowledgment of the lacunae.  However, Leuwers is clear in his refutation of the idea that Thermidor put an end to the Terror.

A scrupulous professional historian, Hervé Leuwer resists both psychological interpretations and the dubious speculations that have surrounded the Tussaud deathmask. He provides a major contribution to the renewal of Robespierre studies.

Jean Bart, « Hervé Leuwers, Robespierre », Annales historiques de la Révolution française, 380 2015, 183-6.

Saturday, 18 November 2017

The trial and execution of Joseph Le Bon

It is not as your husband that I must die, it is as a true citizen, as one of the leaders of the popular cause.
 Le Bon's last letter to his wife.

In the months leading up to fall of Robespierre, there was increased criticism of Le Bon's high-handed conduct.  In April 1794 he cut across the loyalty of the Arras revolutionaries by arresting several prominent former members the Revolutionary Tribunal - the president Beugniet, the public prosecutor Demuliez and Gabriel Leblond and his wife – who were escorted to Paris to face trial.  Criticism was orchestrated by the Pas-de-Calais deputy Armand Guffroy, who wrote against Le Bon's violence and denounced his irregularities to  the Convention.  Robespierre himself seems to have hesitated for some time over leaving Le Bon in Arras: his longstanding friend Buissart wrote to Robespierre that he and his wife were “outraged by your silence”; Charlotte Buissart came to Paris to plead personally.  Guffroy, a former colleague in the episcopal court,  appealed to Robespierre against the “tyrant”.  Lebas, on the other hand, maintained that Le Bon was "worth a whole garrison of soldiers".   At this point, the Committee of Public Safety decided to keep him in post, probably persuaded by Saint-Just who had entrusted him with the administration of justice in Cambrai.  He was briefly recalled in May 1794 but vindicatedOn 21 Messidor (9th July 1794) Barère spoke in his defence before the Assembly.  However,  the following day the Committee relieved him of his authority and suspended the tribunals in Arras and Cambrai.

These events were interrupted by 9 Thermidor. Le Bon returned hurriedly to Paris where he was accused in the Convention of being a "second Robespierre". Arrested on 15 Thermidor, he was incarcerated in abject conditions in the Luxembourg, at Meaux, then in the Conciergerie, whilst a commission of twenty-one members of the Convention examined his acts.  Among those sitting in judgment were Collot d'Herbois and Billaud-Varenne, both of whom were anxious to defect attention from their own deeds.  Finally s on 19 Thermidor Year III he was transferred to Amiens to face trial before a specially constituted jury.

In all he was held for fourteen months. During this time he conducted a correspondance of "great sensibility" with his wife.  (His son Émile Le Bon, later a juge d'instruction, published these letters in 1845 with a preface in which he attempted to rehabilitate his father).

Le Bon asked in vain for his dossiers which had been seized in Arras. He was without money to pay a lawyer or to pay for witnesses.  He was condemned for excessive abuse of power by the criminal tribunal of the Somme on 13 Vendémiaire IV (5th octobre 1795).  The death sentence was ratified by the Convention and read to him at 11 o'clock in the morning of 
24 Vendémiaire IV, 13th October 1795. He was executed on the place du Grand-Marché, the central square of Amiens, on the same day.

He was thirty years old.

As Le Bon was taken from the prison to the guillotine the executioner was obliged to support him to prevent him from falling.  Following the execution on the crowded square, his remains were buried in a fosse commune in a nearby cemetery.  A baying crowd followed the executioners' assistants, invaded the cemetery and threw stones into the ditch after him.  Forty years later his remains were rediscovered, recognised by the stones that still covered them;  the skeleton was exhumed and a doctor in Amiens examined the skull which, in Lenotre's time, still resided "in a collection".


Le Bon's defence

Barère's defence of Le Bon in July 1794; the reference to "des formes un peu acerbes" later became notorious:
The man who crushes the enemies of the people, albeit with an excess of zeal and patriotism, cannot be the object of censure.  Le Bon's measures were "a little harsh" but these measures  destroyed the progress of aristocracy.  He has been reproached with excessive severity, but he unmasked false patriots... What is not permitted to the hatred of a republican against aristocracy?...Revolutionary measures are always to be spoken of with respect.  Liberty is a virgin whose veil it is not lawful to lift."
Report to the National Convention on behalf of the Committee of Public Safety, 21 messidor II (9th July 1794). 

Le Bon retained the loyalty of many radicals in the Pas-de-Calais:
Since Joseph Le Bon was sent on mission to our region, patriotism has triumphed and aristocracy cowers in the houses of detention.  If the constituted authorities have been purified;  if public officials deserve the citizens' trust; if Counter-Revolutionaries have been punished for their conspiracies; the department of the Pas-de-Calais owes this to your colleague.  It is his voice which has galvanised the popular societies and inspired the whole people to revolutionary heights. Yet just as he tastes the fruits of his work, when the department, purges of traitors and enemies of liberty, breathes the pure air of republicanism, the author of this change, the regenerator of the public spirit, is calomnied.
Letter from the Jacobins of Boulogne, in support of Le Bon, July 1794. quoted, Jacob, Joseph Le Bon, vol. 2, p.280.

Le Bon's own speeches and letters of justification, produced over fourteen months, run to many thousands of words.  Much of his effort is concerned with answering specific charges of judicial misconduct and peculation.  However deluded, he seems to have sincerely believed he had done no more than carry out the will of the Convention in defence of the Revolution.  

La défense du Conventionnel Joseph Le Bon edited by Louis Jacob (1934)

Lettres de Joseph Le Bon à sa femme pendant les quatorze mois de prison, edited by Émile Le Bon (1845)

Oh my Colleagues! When in the middle of the fire of universal torment, you yourself adopted such measures, were your intentions criminal and perfidious?  No, to be sure.  Then why do you not judge my actions by your own?" 
Letter addressed to the Convention,  La défense, p.84

Will we say, because of our troubles, that virtue is a chimera, and that we were wrong to hold ourselves to it?  This blasphemy will never enter my heart. I congratulate myself that I was never a slave to riches, nor pride,  envy, debauchery or hatred towards any particular individual. I hated only the enemies of my country, the enemies of the Revolution.   I pursued scoundrels of all sorts:  that is my only crime and I do not feel so cowardly as to repent of it.
Letter to his wife, dated 19 fructidor II (5th September 1794) Lettres p.133

 Notes addressed by Le Bon the Committees of Public Safety and of Legislation shortly after his condemnation on 11 October 1795.  Le Bon argues in detail that he cannot be directly condemned for acts of judicial murder which were the result of his "provocation".  Autograph manuscript on sale with Thomas Vincent in Paris for 1,700 €. 

Le Bon's last days

A final letter to his wife:
Guard against losing your self in bitterness and resentment. Ask if you can find in the whole of history a single man who has been useful to his country that has been paid with anything other than ingratitude in his lifetime.   Such is the  fate of almost all those called by Heaven to great destinies; thus must they purchase the eternal glory of their name and the pride of their descendants.

Be, my dearest, the worthy wife of Joseph Le Bon. If the happiness of our union has been short, providence reserves for you other pleasures to compensate.  You will see all patriots moved with respect and tenderness whenever they meet the companion of their faithful and invariable friend..  Do not say that I am going to die, I am going to start a new life in all those hearts devoted to the republic!....

It is not as your husband that I must die, it is as a true citizen, as one of the leaders of the popular cause;  this great mission must be fulfilled with greatness.
Letter from Amiens "or rather the Champs-Élysées", 19 Vendémiaire IV (11th October 1794) Lettres, p.257

Le Bon's last hurried note to his brother-in-law Abraham Régniez, who followed him to Amiens:
Fairwell! Abraham!  Fine young man!  Always stay the same; hold up the courage of your sister, of my old father, her mother and all my relatives.  I shall soon be sleeping, away from all ills. Give my wife a thousand kisses from me;  Dearest Mimie, Pauline, Émile! ...let yourselves be consoled!  I send a shirt, a handkerchief, a copy of the Constitutional Act, two combs, my spoon and my fork.  I owe twenty francs to be paid to the gaoler for my sheets.  Fairwell to all our friends, and long life the Republic!
Amiens, 24 vendémiaire, Pauline's second birthday. 
Lettres...., p.258

[After his condemnation] Le Bon dined as usual; after his meal he asked for eau-de-vie and drank a pint in two sessions. As he left the maison de justice, he exhorted the prisoners to conduct themselves like good republicans.  In the tranfer from the prison to the Grand-Marche, the executioner was forced to support him on several occasions to prevent him from falling.  He kept silent until the moment of the execution.
Procès de Joseph Lebon, quoted in Auguste Paris, Terreur dans le Pas-de-Calais, vol. ii, p.338-9.

When they dressed him in the red shirt (of the parricide) to be executed, he cried out, "It isn't me who should be wearing it; it should be sent to the National Convention...." He was half-dead by the time they carried him to the scaffold, and he received the fatal blow without noticing it, as he doubtless would have wished.  The executioner took his head by the hair and showed it, at the four corners of the scaffold, to the immense crowd which filled the square even to the rooftops of the surrounding houses.

Joseph Le Bon was the last criminal condemned in the beautiful antique Salle du Baillage. He was  buried near the farm of Saint-Roch...in the field "aux Navats".

Ten years later, when they excavated the abandoned cemetery, they recognised his body from the quantity of stones thrown into the ditch by the indignant crowd.  A famous surgeon of Amiens carried off his head to conserve it in his collection of anatomical specimens.
A Goze, Histoire des rues d'Amiens, vol. iii, p.129, quoted by Paris, vol. ii, p.338-9.

A young woman from Cambrai, whose family who had been persecuted during the Terror, wished to be present at the execution of this abhorred individual;  she came to Amiens and hired a window place in an attic overlooking the town square.  At the moment the executioner positioned Le Bon on the plank, a spectator next to her keeled over and lay unconscious on the floor.  His neighbour remained unmoved;  she did not want to miss the horrible drama;  but when it was all over, she came to herself and hurried to help the striken man, though reproaching him a little for his lack of courage on such an occasion.  "Ah" mademoiselle, he responded, I imagined myself to be stronger;  but when I saw the monster on the bascule, I thought that he found himself in the same position he had forced on seventeen members of my family, and the memory overcame me"
Quelques souvenirs du règne de la Terreur à Cambrai, par P.-J. Thénard, Cambrai, 1860. Quoted by Lenotre.

The verdict of the historians

The probity and civic devotion of Le Bon, tenderness towards his family and affection for the poor,  struck even the most hostile authors. The Thermidorians, who gloried hypocritically  in having reestablished regular forms of justice, refused him the means of defence by sequestering his papers, and left him to cover the expenses of witnesses, knowing that he had no money to meet the costs (Comment of Georges Lefebvre )

Joseph Le Bon had shown in his interrogation and defence the energy of a man who wanted to save his life.  However, the letters he wrote to his wife demonstrate, that he had no illusion about the fate which awaited him.  Faced with imminent death, he fell back on the ties of family and abandoned to passionate emotion that same heart which the tears of so many widows and orphans had failed to move. 
(Auguste Paris, Le Terreur dans le Pas-de-Calais, vol.ii, p.336)

Monday, 13 November 2017

Mimie, the wife of Joseph Le Bon

As with so many implacable Revolutionaries, Joseph Le Bon's relations with his family were warm and close, especially with his wife Élisabeth, his beloved "Mimie".  His letters to her, particularly those written from prison during his trial, are models of tenderness and  affection, conditioned by a surprisingly refined Rousseauist sensibility.

The following, gathering together what little is known of Le Bon's married life, is translated and summarised from  a study by Lenotre originally published in his Vieilles Maisons, Vieux Papiers, Volume 3 in 1928.

In 1791 Le Bon became Constitutional priest of Neuville-Vitasse, a village a league from Arras, within easy reach of his father and troubled mother. The energetic and gregarious Le Bon no doubt found his situation isolating and trying.  His domestic arrangements were makeshift. The little presbytery had been left in such an empty and abandoned state after the hasty departure of the former incumbent that Le Bon was at first obliged to take lodgings in the village. Later his youngest sister Henriette would come to assist when he entertained occasional dinner guests such as the Robespierre brothers.

Among regular visitors at this time was Élisabeth Régniez, his future wife and a first cousin.  Élisabeth - Le Bon affectionately called her Mimie - was born at Saint-Pol on 7 April 1770, the daughter of Antoine-Joseph Régniez, an innkeeper (Le Bon's maternal uncle?) and Marie-Josèphe Vasseur.  Le Bon  maintained close ties with the entire family: both Élisabeth's brother Abraham and another cousin Lamoral Vasseur at one time lodged in the presbytery.  Le Bon's growing attachment to his "charming cousin" can be traced in their surviving correspondence. Mimie's pious widowed mother, Le Bon's aunt, looked upon their  intimacy with displeasure but Le Bon did little to asuage her misgivings.  Whilst he was still a priest in Neuville, he began addressing his letters to "his promised one".  On 15th September 1792 he was elected mayor of Arras  and a month later he announced his engagement.  The pair were married on 5th November 1792 in the Town Hall of Saint-Pol.  It was the first purely civil marriage in the region and the first of a priest.  The groom pronounced a discourse in Rousseauist vein in favour of ecclesiastical marriage, which he later published and addressed to the Convention:

Pierre François Legrand, Mariage républicain, print (1794). Musée Carnavalet

Magistrates of the people, I wish to give an example which has been awaited for a long time by the infinitely small number of virtuous priests.  I want to combat the fierce prejudice which condemns a whole class of men to live in crime and allows them only a choice of penalties.  By my solemn action I take from them all excuse.  They must decide finally to respect both nature and society:  nature by obeying its author's laws and not extinguishing the light of reason; society by not using their ministry to abuse the wives and daughters of other men. (Lenotre, p.8 note)

The couple settled briefly in Arras but after only seven months Le Bon was called to take his seat in the Convention.  He left for Paris on 29th June 1793 accompanied by both his wife and his brother-in-law Abraham, who acted as his secretary.  They lodged provisionally with the Pas-de-Calais deputy Armand-Joseph Guffroy before securing an apartment in the rue d'Argenteuil for a rent 650 livres. On 9th August Le Bon accepted his first mission back to the Pas-de-Calais.  In his whirlwind progression from Boulogne to Arras, to Pernes and Saint-Pol he found time to spend several days with his wife's family.  He returned to Paris in October for the birth of their first child, a daughter Pauline, born on 16th October 1793, the very day of Marie-Antoinette's execution.

By the beginning of November the whole family were once more back in Arras.  During the most sanguinary period of the Terror, the family life of the proconsul remained intimate and untroubled.  Mimie, with Pauline close by, scarcely left his side.  They lodged in an old house in the rue Saint-Maurice, with a  spiral stone staircase and a turret, arranged on two stories each with a single room.  In this town of prisons, where commerce was anihilated, Le Bon and his wife dined (at least relatively) luxuriously.  Despite the orders of the Committee of Public Safety restricting maritime commerce, the Boulogne fishing fleet went in search of oysters for the proconsul's table.  Chocolate was requisitioned for drinks and fine flour for patisseries.  Le Bon assembled around him an entourage of sure friends, several of whom were  recruited from among his former colleagues and pupils in the Oratory.  Although the reported conversations may well be apocryphal, both he and his wife clearly conducted themselves with friendly informality towards the judges of the Revolutionary Tribunal, the jurers, the prosecutors, and even the officials, gaolers and executioners.

A show of callous humour was evident, no doubt to an extent bravado in the face of mounting horrors.  The sources - universally hostile - depict Mimie as an active participant. The future public prosecutor in Cambrai, François-Joseph Caubrières was reputed to be the chief humourist, a great singer who amused citoyenne Le Bon - "il me fait rire à ventre déboutonné" - with tales from the scaffold.  According to Guffroy,  a certain Remy, dubbed by Le Bon his little canary on account of his yellow coat,  was charged by the proconsul with procuring supplies for his two "terrible friends", his wife and the guillotine.  In another anecdote, Mimie herself threatened the public accuseur Demuliez that, if he did not supply "five thousand heads", he would lose his own.  She is also much accused of petty pilfering from those condemned to die.

To an extent this picture must be accurate.  Lenotre confirms the existence of a letter in Mimie's hand denouncing two hapless women of Arras.  Ever the supportive wife, she certainly seldom missed an occasion to view the executions from the balcony of the Theatre, seated beside of her husband, with his splendid hat and sabre.

Maison Le Bon in Arras, today and in an
early 19th-century postcard

On 5th May 1794 at about five in the evening, Le Bon made his entry into Cambrai, flanked by his retainers in their carmagnoles and pantaloons, sporting plummed hats and bonnets rouges. Mimie arrived two days later.  This time they lodged in the spacious hôtel of a certain Mme Dechy, taken to the guillotine on the previous day.  The house was full of provisions, "wines, hams, sweetmeats and poultry", whilst orders were given to provide two or three pots of milk each day for the infant Paulette.  The balcony boasted a view of the scaffold, to the satisfaction of Mimie who supposedly remarked that they could watch the apricots fall.

The maison Dechy was organised "to receive guests"; the "little canary" had charge of invitations, and the denizens of Cambrai dared not refuse.  Liqueurs and canapés were served, often on glass and silverware recognisable as having belonged to those guillotined.  Mimie "faisait la reine" and carried her child around ostentatiously.   She even attended the Tribunal, where she sat next to her husband, and indicated her opinions to the jury, by swiping her hand across her throat. 
 (All these damning details cited by Lenotre are from Thénard, Quelques souvenirs du règne de la Terreur à Cambrai, 1860)

On 11 Thermidor news reached Le Bon of the death of Robespierre.  Without even gathering his papers, he immediately left Cambrai with Mimie and Pauline, dropped them in Arras, and at midnight took a carriage for Paris.  On 15 Thermidor he was imprisoned in the Luxembourg.  Mimie took refuge with her mother in Saint-Pol, where she was left untroubled for a month, then on 8 Fructidor arrested in her turn and imprisoned in La Providence. She was now pregnant for the second time.  Her husband's sister Henriette Le Bon visited her daily. Her brother Abraham meanwhile left for Paris to aid Le Bon in the preparation of his case.

Le Bon spent over a year of incarceration before his trial.  His correspondance with his wife, written during the course of fourteen months, is preserved.  His  letters, says Lenotre, are "disconcerting" in their expressions of love and sollicitude. 19 Brumaire saw the birth of their son Émile and Le Bon's letters were full of concern.  Mimie, for her part, tried to encourage her husband by recounting Pauline's games and the progress of the infant Émile. His attachment ot his daughter was deep; at one point he took a fancy to an infant girl of nine months called Julie, detained with her mother, and wondered if a man with his monstrous reputation could dare to touch her. On 24 Vendémiaire IV, 13th October 1795, he was finally executed, his last scribbled note to his brother-in-law enjoining his wife to be brave and sending her "a thousand kisses."

The next day a court official came to La Providence and declared that she was  freed. She was met at the prison door by Abraham who told her of Le Bon's death. The same day she returned with her brother and children to her mother's house in Saint-Pol.  Nothing more is recorded;  it is known only that she was in Saint-Pol in 1814,at which time she is recorded as leaving the Pas-de-Calais for fear of Royalist reprisals.  According to  Émile Le Bon, she died in 1830.  As to Le Bon's other relatives, his father and two brothers lived on in the local area but were obliged to change their names,  his mother having already died in 1795.  Henriette Le Bon married a former pupil of Le Bon's, Barthélemy Masson and settled in Mons where her husband taught literature.  The infant Émile was entrusted to their care.

G. Lenotre "Mimie" (1906), reproduced in Le Conventionnel Le Bon: textes oublies, by Jacques de Loris. Free ebook, p.1-30.

Friday, 10 November 2017

Joseph Le Bon, Terrorist (cont.)

Le Bon, Engraving by Bonneville
Lebon was carried away with a holy fury against the inertia that bogged down Revolutionary measures.  He disbanded his tribunal and filled it with sixty bougres à poil. Those arrested were closely incarcerated.  The heads of aristocrats fell like hail.  Le Bon busied himself ceaselessly with acts of accusation....
Letter of the public prosecutor Darthé to Lebas, 19 March 1794.

In northern France by mid-1793 there was mass emigration by nobles and priests, and foreign armies were only a few miles from towns like Arras and Cambrai.  It was Le Bon who was sent as représentant-en-mission with the daunting task of imposing government control in the area.  In August-September, following the fall of Valenciennes on 28th July, he undertook a first mission to the Pas-de-Calais and the Nord, during which he conscripted 6,800 men to crush the  uprising known as the “Petite Vendée”.  

On his return to Paris he became briefly a member of the Committee of General Security but by the end of October 1793, at the instigation of the Committee of Public Safety, he returned to the Pas-de-Calais.  Following the decrees of 14 Frumaire, he enjoyed virtually unlimited powers. As well as provisioning the army and ensuring security, he was charged with purifying the local administration - "gangrenous with indifference or moderatism" - and with carrying out the Revolutionary programme of class war and sequestration.

Place de la Comédie, Arras
Louis Jacob,  Joseph Le Bon, v2, plate IV
In March 1794 he overhauled the Revolutionary tribunal in Arras, replacing the judges, advocates and juries with his own nominees. Arrests multiplied, on Lebon's initiative, but also on that of Saint-Just and Lebas who were the representatives with the Armée du Nord. The tribunals in Arras and the frontier town of Cambrai were allowed to function autonomously even after the decree of 27 Germinal, which theoretically transferred jurisdiction over all those accused of conspiracy to Paris. The prisons filled with suspects. In Arras the guillotine occupied the little square in front of the new théâtre à l’italienne in the judicial quarter, where it would have been clearly visible from the Maison Robespierre.

In all 391 people were executed in Arras between February 1794 and February 1795, with a further 148 executions at Cambrai. The vast majority condemned were not active counter-revolutionaries or political opponents but ordinary respectable citizens.  They do not even profile clearly as "class enemies":  according to Auguste Paris, of those guillotined in Arras only 88 were priests, nobles or army officers; 211 were soldiers, merchants, advocates, farmers or labourers, and 93 women. In addition, by the end of June 1794, the prisons of the Arras were bulging with 1,328 "suspects", among them Le Bon's one time ally, the former mayor Dubois de Fosseux.

MS register of persons guillotined in Arras, February 1794-February 1795.  Archives du Pas-de-Calais.

Such figures earned Le Bon a well-deserved reputation for excess and lurid stories of his blood-thirsty behaviour abounded.

His reputation for savagery was undoubtedly compounded by his sense of theatre and his flair for the unfeeling bon motCeremony and symbol were always integral to the Terror, but Le Bon used them to maximum effect.  Added to incarcerations and executions, the popular accounts are full of strangely trivial and sadistic instances of harassment:  a young woman walking on the remparts of Montreuil,  arrested because her appearance was "too elegant for a Sunday" ,  others detained (though often subsequently released) for not wearing cockades, for reading novels, for answering back too freely.  

In a review article in1934 the great radical historian, Georges Lefebvre, gave his considered judgement.  He emphasised that Le Bon did not personally initiate all the arrests and executions, although the tribunals acted with his sanction.  The context needs to be considered - the nature of the Revolutionary government of the region, its origins,the role of the Representatives and the detailed functioning of the Revolutionary Tribunals; also Le Bon's relationship with the Committee of Public Safety.  

Until his entrance into the Convention, and even during his first mission to the Pas-de-Calais, Le Bon showed a moderation which contrasted curiously with the violence later imputed to him.  In September 1792, as mayor of Arras, he had the agents of executive power arrested; he was accused of rejecting the decree on the indivisibility of the Republic, and he hesitated to allow the formation of a departmental guard.  He was also said to have wanted Louis XVI deposed rather than executed. In March 1793, like Dubois de Fosseux, he supported new elections to the Convention to deal with the Revolutionary crisis.

Even after the Law of 14 Frimaire, Le Bon did not operate freely but was forced to cope with an anarchical situation.  Unlike Carrier, he always took care not to overstep his powers and consistently asked for advice from the Committee of Public Safety; for instance when he moved into Cambrai he did so at the request of Saint-Just and with the approbation of the Committee.

Nonetheless, in Lefebvre's view, Le Bon had an inherently unstable personality; he agreed with Darthé that he seemed suddenly to swing into extremism:
As far as I can judge, Le Bon was energetic to the point of being impulsive and was at the same time very succeptible to the influence of his surroundings.  The incident at Beaune which brought about his expulsion from the Oratory seems proof; from this, it is possible to understand how, at the end of 1793 and during Year II, he found harmony with the exalted mood of the sans-culottes.(p.171)

Did he misuse his power? Lefebvre noted that Le Bon's thought processes need careful unravelling.  Like Saint-Just and Lebas, Le Bon feared the development of counter-revolutionary conspiracy behind the lines of the Armée du Nord.  He also prosecuted straightforward crimes: desertion or peculation.  But there was also in his mind a third category of criminal, who undermined the Revolution by words, letters, demonstrations, and also through their religious opinions;  for Le Bon, as for Saint-Just, it was  necessary to "terrorise" such elements and reduce them to inaction. How, asks Lefebre, other than by the desire to spread fear,  can the execution of old men and the arrest of young girls be explained? 

To understand is not to exonerate. Although Le Bon acted in concert with the Revolutionary tribunal, it seems clear from the experience of Representatives elsewhere, that he could have used his influence to moderate its judgments. 
His disinterest and his conviction that he acted for the safety of the revolutionary nation, cannot be doubted. But the question is whether his impulsive temperament allowed him to exercise in his terrible functions, the sang-froid, the gravity, the judgment, that was required.  I doubt it and it is this which later singled him out as a scapegoat.

Georges Lefebvre,  Review of Louis Jacob, Joseph Le Bon, 1765-1795: la Terreur à la frontière.  Annales historiques de la Révolution française, 1932, No.62, p.170-6 [on JStor]

Pas-de-Calais, Histoire et patrimoine, "Quelques aspects de la Révolution dans le Département du Pas-de-Calais", 16 November 2015.
Archives du Pas-de-Calais, "Un document à l'honneur - L'Ogre et la Veuve"

Note on Biographies of Le Bon

The main source of information on Le Bon is still the overtly hostile account by Auguste Paris:

Auguste Paris, La Terreur dans le Pas-de-Calais et dans le Nord : histoire de Joseph Le Bon et des tribunaux révolutionnaires d'Arras et de Cambrai, 1864
(2 vols)

Le Bon's son Émile produced an apologetic biography and edited some of his private correspondance: 
Émile Le Bon, Joseph Le Bon dans sa vie privée et dans sa carrière politique (1861)

Louis Jacob produced a biography in the 1930s and edited Le Bon's defence from his trial.
Louis Jacob, Joseph Le Bon, 1765-1795: la Terreur à la frontière (Nord et Pas-de-Calais) 1932

Various accounts are brought together in a free e-book,  Le Conventionnel Joseph Le Bon: textes oubliés, edited by Jacques de Loris. 

The only modern treatment of Le Bon in English that I have found is the chapter in Joseph F. Byrnes, Priests of the French Revolution era (2014) cited in the previous post.  This concentrates mainly on his early career.  There is a modern biography in French: Ivan Gobry, Joseph Le Bon:  La Terreur dans le nord de la France (Paris, 1991).  This is described by Brynes as "a popular text built on Paris".


Le Bon's appearance and personal style 

Plate auctioned by Mitchells of Cockermouth Cumbria in 2015.

Le Bon's passport description:
Height five feet six inches, light brown hair and eyebrows, high forehead, average nose, blue eyes, medium-sized mouth, smallpox scars
Cited in Louis Jacob, Joseph Le Bon, vol. 1, p.63

The actress Louise Fusil wrote her memoirs in 1841. She was detained at Bologne during the early part of Le Bon's mission.  After an interview with him, she was forced to attend a patriot ball with her four-year-old daughter - the proconsul was "fond of children" - but then released and allowed to travel safely to Paris. 
Joseph Le Bon was of medium height and good build;  his expression, though pleasant and agreeable, had something sly and diabolical about it.  His style of dress was almost coquettish: he wore a fine grey carmagnole jacket and brilliant white linen; the collar of his shirt was open, and he wore a deputy's sash. His hands were well manicured and they say that he wore rouge.  What a bizarre mixture of ferocity and desire to please 
Louise Fusil, Souvenirs d'une actrice, p..204.

Prud'homme wrote an early account of the "crimes" of Le Bon, published in 1797.  Here he describes  Le Bon's entrance into Cambrai surrounded by members of his "redoubtable tribunal" 
Their costumes and murderous weaponry added to their air of barbarism and to their terrifying reputation
The arrest of several women without cockades, heralded their arrival.  A house had been requisitioned and fitted out for the Representative and his entourage.  Here Lebon, stretched himself out nonchalantly in an armchair, threw his authorisation papers on the table and said, "You know me no doubt".  His lackeys meanwhile searched the room.  Everywhere they found emblems of Royalty, a harmless rosette on a light become a fleur-de-lys; an old map of England stuck behind a picture, royal arms still visible - all excited their fury and cries of"A la guillotine!". Lebon, rattling his sabre threateningly, paced the room and uttered fearful oaths and imprecations against the Administration.....(p.343-4)
Prud'homme, Histoire générale et impartiale des erreurs, des fautes et des crimes commis pendant la Révolution française (1797), vol. 2 p.343-4

The language of Terror

Once he arrived in the departments of the Nord, Le Bon seemed to be seized with a murderous monomania.  "The guillotine awaits it quarry (son gibier)" he said to  the Committee of Public Safety, and Billaud-Varenne replied, "You have unlimited powers; deploy all your energies".  Armed with this open mandate, he set to work.....He maintained an active correspondence with Paris and one remains struck with sad astonishment that an assembly which represented the government of a great country could read without indignation missives where each phrase was stained with blood.  On 26th November 1793, Le Bon wrote to the Convention: "  I am progressing in a fine manner: twenty-four hours do not pass without me sending to the Revolutionary tribunal two or three gibiers de guillotine".  The sinister word is repeated endlessly  in the dispatches of the terrorist.  "Today Mme de Moderne sneezed in the guillotine's bag; - the aristocrats resist even under the blade of the guillotine;  - these messieurs, relatives and friends of the emigres, overwhelm the guillotine;  the guillotine continues to roll at full speed in Arras;  until now you have only had miserable, thin aristocrats, tomorrow I will give you one that is big and fat, a fine head for the guillotine"
Summarised from Histoire de Joseph Le Bon, par Auguste Paris, 1864, 2 vol.
 Revue des Deux Mondes, 1873 vol. 106: 667-8.

The theatre of the guillotine 

The location of the guillotine was not judged favourable for the enjoyment of the ravishing spectacle of watching heads fall, and so the instrument of death was tranported to the Marché au poisson.  Here the facade of the theatre was well-placed;  from the balcony it was possible to preside over the executions and make speeches if necessary;  Le Bon himself accompanied the transfer of the guillotine, and, indicating with the end of his sabre the desired position, he made this sacriligious and ironic allusion :  Super hanc patram aedificabo ecclesiam me.
Related by the Arras theatre director Dupré-Nyon, but probably originating from Fréron. At his trial Le Bon denied the truth of this anecdote:
I never ordered or advised that the guillotine should be set up in one place rather than another.  I could never see it from where I lived;  it was set up permanently in Arras before I arrived. 
Quotes from Hector Fleischmann's  essay, "La comédie à Arras sous la Terreur", reproduced in Le Conventionnel Joseph Le Bon, p.233  

 Eugène Vidocq, criminal and later detective,deserted the army and fled to his native Arras in 1793, Here, according to his supposed memoirs, he witnessed the guillotine at first hand. The fact that Le Bon read an army bulletin in the middle of an execution is repeated in several sources.
 Penetrating the crowd, which was thronging in the dark and winding streets, I soon reached the fish-market. Then the first object which struck my sight was the guillotine, raising its blood-red boards above the silent multitude. An old man, whom they had just tied to the fatal plank, was the victim; suddenly I heard the sound of trumpets. On a high place which overlooked the orchestra, was seated a man, still young, clad in a Carmagnole of black and blue stripes. This person, whose appearance announced monastic rather than military habits, was leaning carelessly on a cavalry sabre, the large hilt of which represented the Cap of Liberty; a row of pistols ornamented his girdle, and his hat, turned up in the Spanish fashion, was surmounted by a large tri-coloured cockade: I recognised Joseph Lebon. At this moment his mean countenance was animated with a horrid smile; he paused from beating time with his left foot; the trumpets stopped; he made a signal, and the old man was placed under the blade. A sort of clerk, half drunk, then appeared at the side of the " avenger of the people," and read with a hoarse voice a bulletin of the army of the Rhine and Moselle. At each paragraph the orchestra sounded a chord; and when the reading was concluded, the head of the wretched old man was stricken off amidst shouts of "Vive la republique!" repeated by the satellites of the ferocious Lebon. I shall never forget, nor can I adequately depict the impression of this horrible sight. I reached my father's house almost as lifeless as the miserable being whose agony had been so cruelly prolonged; and then I learnt that he was M. de Mongon, the old commandant of the citadel, condemned as an aristocrat.
Memoirs of Eugène Vidocq (1829) p.21

Le Bon addresses an individual about to be guillotined in Arras
plate from  Prudhomme's Histoire générale et impartiale des erreurs.

From the Memoirs of an Englishwoman living in Arras at the time of the Terror. 

I have already noticed the cruel and ferocious temper of Le Bon, and the massacres of his tribunals are already well known...
As he was one day enjoying his customary amusement of superintending an execution, where several had already suffered, one of the victims having, from very natural emotion, averted his eyes while he placed his body in the posture required, the executioner perceived it, and going to the sack which contained the heads of those just sacrificed, took one out, and with the most horrible imprecations obliged the unhappy wretch to kiss it:  yet Le Bon not only permitted, but sanctioned this, by dining daily with the hangman.....

When any of his colleagues passed through Arras, he always proposed their joining with him in a "partie de Guillotine", and the executions were perpetrated on a small square at Arras, rather than the great one, that he, his wife, and relations, might more commodiously enjoy the spectacle from the balcony of the theatre, where they took their coffee, attended by a band of music, which played while his human butchery lasted.
 A Residence in France during the years 1792, 1793, 1794 and 1795 (New York, 1798), p.136-7; the author is identified as Charlotte Biggs (d.1827).

We saw you in Cambrai, surrounded by your barbarous band of fellow assassins,  stretch yourself out like a ferocious sultan on a large armchair at one end of the table;  and opposite you was the executioner....He set the tone for the company;  you laughed, you provided a chorus of laughter for his bloodthirsty jokes, and during the whole meal you talked only of the guillotine, and the facility of the executioner."
A.-B.-J. Guffroy, Les Secrets de Joseph Le Bon... ; p.173-4. 

[At his trial Le Bon admitted that the Arras executioner, Pierre-Joseph Outredebanque, had been one of the party which travelled from Arras to Cambrai and that he had been allowed to share their table despite "a certain repugnance".  But he categorically denied that he ever had dinner with him in Arras.]

One holiday, Lebon took himself to the execution site, where, thanks to his barbaric tast, an orchestra played next to the scaffold.  "Young ladies, he said to those there, do not always listen to your mothers;  follow the voice of nature and abandon yourselves to the arms of your lovers."
As a result of his suggestions, a troup of young children gave themselves over to the most licentious conduct.  Their atheism and neglect of duty earned them the monstrous praise of the Proconsul.....Already familiar with blood, some of them had little guillotines with which they amused themselves executing birds and mice....
Prud'homme, p.350-51.

Le Bon's victims

Of what crimes were they guilty, these miserable people that the machine dispatched by the dozen?  The records of the tribunal of Arras still exist for us to find out. A brave peasant shelters the servant of a curé; another "claims to avoid the services of Constitutional priests"...; another has said "He who laughs last laughs longest".   Joseph Delattre, "speaks to no-one and fears no-one"; Mme de Monaldy "devalues assignats".  To the guillotine! said Joseph Le Bon, to the guillotine!  Louise Fouquart, seated at her door, nurses a baby of three months. An official notes that she is not wearing a cockade, an offence punishable by guillotining.  You have guillotined plenty of others, she replies.  That night the head of the miserable mother fell beneath the blade of the guillotine.  Le Bon's deputy Carlier, who was present, remarked that it was amusing to see milk flow at the same time as blood.
Summarised from Histoire de Joseph Le Bon, par Auguste Paris, 1864,2 vol.
 Revue des Deux Mondes, 1873 vol. 106: 667-8.
Lebon only wanted a dozen families to remain in Cambrai.  This would be enough in his view to sustain the town

p.350.   Lebon, to deter petitioners, had a notice put on his door:  "All those who come to request the release of detainees will be sent to prison themselves".  And indeed, all those who tried to do so, suffered this fate.
Prud'homme, p.348/ 350

 St. Vincent dePaul Image Archive
Citizen Fontaine is condemned as a pious anti-revolutionary, who kept hidden under a heap of straw a pile of brochures and newspapers imbued with the most unbridled royalist spirit, who has further refused the oath, and who has even insulted the district commissioners by saying that there are no more devils left in hell since they are all busy on earth.  Citizens Gérard, Lanel and Fantou are sentenced as her accomplices.
Condemnation of Mother Madeleine Fontaine, of the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul, aged 71, executed with three of her nuns in Cambrai in June 1794.  The nuns, who went to the guillotine singing “Ave Maris Stella” , were beatified in 1920.

The Popular Society was chosen to vet those detained in the prisons.  They constructed an elevated walkway where the prisoners were paraded.  Le Bon presiding, asked members of the Society to identify those who were rich, noble or the agent of an emigre... They acknowledged the social virtues of citizen Landa, but unfortunately he was rich: bring me ce bougre-la, said Le Bon.   The Proconsul asked a priest to make him see the devil.  Nuns were addressed in obscene language.  Young girls were charged with aristocracy becanse they were too modest to attend the orgies in the Temple of Reason....
Prud'homme, p.365

The author of the History of the Prisons gives the finishing touch, by the following traits, to the hideous picture of the barbarity of Lebon and his creatures towards the defenceless sex:
A woman named Duvigne was walking for the benefit of her health on the ramparts of Arras, in company with her daughter. They were reading the novel of Clarissa Harlowe. Lebon perceived them, and at first fired a pistol to alarm them. He then approached them, and commanded the mother to give him the book which she was reading. Her daughter remarked that there was nothing of a suspicious nature in it; whereupon he struck at her with his clenched fist, and knocked her down. He afterwards searched the workbags of both, but, finding nothing suspicious in them, he forced the daughter to undress herself, in order that he might make a stricter search. After having placed her in the most indecent situation, he degraded his character to such a degree as to conduct these females to prison himself. As, however, they were without reproach, he was obliged to release them the next day.
A young girl who did not know Joseph Lebon, met him. He asked her whither she was going?' What is that to you?' she replied. The proconsul felt indignant that he should be treated with so little respect. The consequence was, that the girl herself, her father, mother, and brothers, were incarcerated the next day, and all of them were condemned to death and executed.

He had a young girl of seventeen years of age publicly exposed for not having danced with the patriots. She was then in prison.

He published a decree prohibiting women and girls from decorating themselves on Sunday, under pain of imprisonment. He decreed, at the same time, that the houses of the municipal officers who should not see to the execution of his will should be razed to the ground.
Note from Louis-Eugène Poirier, Horrors of the prisons of Arras. 

A Revolutionary vision

The theatre, instead of being a brilliant foyer of patriotism and a gathering place for virtue, seems plunged in the obscenity and triviality of the Ancien regime.  At the very moment when citizens should be fired up with the love of liberty, they are invited to performances of Les Fouberies de Scapin etc.  This will happen no longer!
Declaration of Le Bon (quoted by Fleischmann)

The town theatre was soon submitted to his surveillance;  he established himself as censor of dramatic works, and disfigured them by the cuts he made...He would often arrive in the middle of a play, throw himself on the stage, draw his sabre and wave it furiously.  The audience soon departed from the arena of this gladiator.  He habitually filled the interval with discourses to the people on the Agrarian Law and the education of children.....
Prud'homme, p.352

The Agrarian law was the attraction he used to woo his Popular Society.  "San-culottes, he cries, you have lived in hovels long enough; you shall have the beautiful hotels of guillotined aristocrats. Finding the Revolutionary law too lenient...he incited the people to inform :

"Saus-culottes," said he one day, "fear not to denounce, if you wish to leave cottages. It is for you the guillotine acts. Without the guillotine you would die of hunger.  The Sans-culottes will take the place of the rich" 
Prud'homme, p.353.