AFTER Campo Formio and the breakdown of Anglo-French negotiations, the war could have simmered on inconclusively between Britain and France. Instead, it flared up quickly into another great Continental struggle. The reasons begin with one of the strangest episodes of the era.
Behind the French expedition to Egypt lay the difficulty France had in getting at England. Following the collapse of the peace talks at Lille, the Directors, particularly Reubell, again took up the idea of a cross-Channel invasion, despite the failure of an earlier effort and the fact that France did little to support the insurrectionary plans of the United Irishmen led by Wolfe Tone. But Bonaparte, given command of the proposed invasion force, soon decided that he would not sacrifice his popularity in this hopeless enterprise. With invasion infeasible and revolutionary subversion and raids on British commerce clearly inadequate, the idea of undermining Britain's will and capacity to fight by seizing Egypt and threatening the route to India seemed more attractive.1 Other purposes, however, were at least as important. The Directors wanted Bonaparte out of France, while Bonaparte was eager for____________________