STORY OF A YEAR: 1798 by Raymond Postgate


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Written by an English political historian, this book is the second of a personal series in which he hopes to present ""reasonably detailed, truthful and interesting pictures of the civilized world as it was every 50 years"" over a span of 200 years. His first ""story of a year"" dealt with 1848, this second one with the simmering war of 1798 into which nearly all countries of the known world had been or were to be drawn. In January, 1798, the major European powers with the exception of England, still fighting France, met at Rastatt in Germany to make peace with their conqueror, the French Directory. As part of a plan to invade England, the Directory ordered young General Bonaparte to cut English lines to the East by ""seizing Malta, conquering Egypt, cutting a canal at Suez, entering into relations with the Sultan of Mysore and returning to France in six months to command the invasion."" This scheme foundered at Aboukir Bay when Nelson destroyed the French fleet. In Ireland a Catholic revolt sparked by intolerable oppressions collapsed when promised French help failed to appear; in the United States French threats to shipping caused a near-war. In French Saint Domingo-Haiti a slave revolt against hideous tortures brought victory to the army of the brilliant humanitarian slave, Toussaint L'Overture, and a short-lived liberal government; in India the threat of French rule ended with the defeat of the Sultan of Mysore by the British. In December, 1798, with the formation of a new coalition against France, the Rastatt conference disintegrated, and the Directory, its best general and army trapped in Egypt, did ""the only thing it could do,"" warned its armies to expect immediate war on all fronts. Finely researched with fascinating accounts of the various countries and personages, the book is a solid reconstruction of a particularly significant era.

Pub Date: May 7th, 1969
Publisher: Harcourt, Brace & World