The Life Of Edgar Alan Poea Biography1809 — 1849 He gained some fame from the publication in 1845 of a dozen stories as well as ofThe Raven and Other Poems, and he enjoyed a few months of calm as a respected criticand writer. After his wife died in 1847, however, his life began to unravel even faster as hemoved about from city to city, lecturing and writing, drinking heavily, and courting severalolder women. Just before marrying one, he died in Baltimore after being foundsemiconscious in a tavern – possibly from too much alcohol, although it is a myth that hewas a habitual drunkard and drug addict. Admittedly a failure in most areas of his personal life, he was recognized as anunusually gifted writer and was admired by Dostoevsky and Baudelaire, even if not alwaysappreciated by many of his other contemporaries. Master of symbolism and the macabre,he is considered to be the father of the detective story and a stepfather of science fiction,and he remains one of the most timeless and extraordinary of all American creative artists.Order now
Edgar Poe was born in Boston, Massachusetts, on January 19, 1809, the second ofthe three children of David Poe and Elizabeth (Arnold) Poe, both of whom wereprofessional actors and members of a touring theatrical company. Eclipsed by his morefamous wife, his own promising career ruined by alcoholism, Poe’s father deserted thefamily when Edgar was still an infant; nothing conclusive is known of his life thereafter. While appearing professionally in Richmond, Virginia, Poe’s mother became ill and died onDecember 8, 1811, at the age of twenty-four. Her three children, who wouldmaintain contact with one another throughout their lives, were sent to live with differentfoster families.
Edgar became the ward of John Allan, a successful tobacco merchant inRichmond, and his wife Frances, who had no children of their own. Although neverformally adopted by them, Poe regarded the couple, especially Mrs. Allan, as parents, andhe took their surname as his own middle name. In 1815, business reasons led Allan tomove to England for what would be a five-year stay.
Both in London and then inRichmond after the family’s return, Poe was well educated in private academies. In 1825,he became secretly engaged to a girl named Elmira Royster. The engagement, opposed byboth families, was subsequently broken off. In 1826, Poe entered the University of Virginia, newly founded by formerPresident Thomas Jefferson. He distinguished himself as a student, but he also took todrinking, and he amassed gambling debts of $2,000, a significant amount of money at thetime, which John Allan, although he had recently inherited a fortune, refused to honor. After quarreling with Allan, Poe left Richmond in March 1827 and sailed to Boston,where, in relatively short order, he enlisted in the United States Army (under the nameEdgar A.
Perry, and claiming to be four years older than his actual age of eighteen) andpublished a pamphlet called Tamerlane and Other Poems, whose author was cited on thetitle page only as “a Bostonian. ” This little book did not sell at all, but its few survivingcopies are among the most highly prized items in the rare-book market; one accidentallydiscovered copy, bought for a dollar, was recently auctioned for $150,000. Poe’s militarycareer went more successfully. After two years, he had been promoted to sergeant major,the highest noncommissioned rank.
He was honorably discharged in 1829, and decided toseek an appointment to West Point in the hope of becoming a career commissionedofficer. He entered West Point in May of 1830, but chafed under the regimen and, afterdeliberately missing classes, roll-calls, and compulsory chapel attendance, was expelled inJanuary 1831. He gained some fame from the publication in 1845 of a dozen stories as well as ofThe Raven and Other Poems, and he enjoyed a few months of calm as a respected criticand writer. After his wife died in 1847, however, his life began to unravel even faster as hemoved about from city to city, lecturing and writing, drinking heavily, and courting severalolder women. Just before marrying one, he died in Baltimore after being foundsemiconscious in a tavern – possibly from too much alcohol, although it is a myth that hewas a habitual drunkard and drug addict. Admittedly a failure in most areas of his personal life, he was recognized as anunusually gifted writer and was admired by Dostoevsky and Baudelaire, even if not alwaysappreciated by many of his other contemporaries.
Master of symbolism and the macabre,he is considered to be the father of the detective story and a stepfather of science fiction,and he remains one of the most timeless and extraordinary of all American creative artists. In 1829, Poe had published a second collection of verse, which attracted littlemore attention than its predecessor. A third volume, funded through contributions fromfellow cadets, appeared in 1831. Among its contents was “To Helen,” which had beeninspired by Jane Stanard, the mother of one his Richmond schoolmates. Poe referred toher as “the first, purely ideal love of my soul. ” Also in 1831, Poe went to Baltimore, wherehe moved in with his widowed aunt Maria Clemm, his father’s sister, who was to be themost deeply devoted of his several mother-figures, and her eight-year-old daughterVirginia.
It was in this period that he began to achieve wider recognition as a writer. In1832, he published five tales in the Philadelphia Saturday Courier. In 1833, he entered acompetition sponsored by the Baltimore Saturday Visiter (sic), winning the second prize inpoetry for “The Coliseum” and the first prize in fiction for “MS. Found in a Bottle.
” In1834, the publication of “The Visionary” in Godey’s Lady’s Book marked the first timethat his fiction appeared in a magazine of more than local circulation. Frances Allan had died in February 1829, and John Allan, who was by this timepermanently alienated from Poe, had remarried in October 1830. On Allan’s death in 1834,Poe received nothing. Effectively disinherited, unsuited for business or the military, Poeturned to journalism, the one avenue likely to afford a successful career to someone of his interests and abilities.
Through therecommendation of the novelist John Pendleton Kennedy, who had been one of the judgesof the Saturday Visiter contest, Poe began in March 1835 to contribute short fiction andbook reviews to the Richmond-based Southern Literary Messenger. In a period ofAmerican literature not notable for them, Poe exhibited coherent aesthetic principles andhigh critical standards, and within months his vigorous and uncompromising reviewsbegan to increase the Messenger’s circulation and to enhance its reputation, prompting itspublisher to make Poe his principal book reviewer and editorial assistant. By the end ofthe year, Poe, who had moved to Richmond with Virginia and Mrs. Clemm, was namededitor in chief.
In May of 1836, he secretly married Virginia, his first cousin, who was thennot quite fourteen years of age. Dissatisfied both with his salary and with limits on his editorial independence, heresigned from the Southern Literary Messenger in January 1837. Struggling to supportVirginia and Mrs. Clemm through freelance writing, he moved his family first to NewYork and then to Philadelphia as he sought another editorial position. Despite financialdifficulties, Poe was able in this period to advance his own writing career, publishingreviews, poems, and especially fiction in various journals and in several volumes. In 1839,he began to write regularly for Thomas Burton’s Gentleman’s Magazine, contributing afeature article and a number of book reviews each month.
Once again, Poe’s editorshipbrought dramatic advances in both quality and circulation, but he was dismissed from thisposition in June 1840 after once again quarreling with his publisher. Failing in attempts tofound his own journal, in 1841 Poe became an editor of Graham’s Magazine, a new journalformed by George Graham through a merger of his magazine The Casket with theGentleman’s Magazine, which he had bought from Burton. Once more the pattern playeditself out: the magazine thrived under Poe’s direction, he wanted a higher salary and a freereditorial hand, and he left his position–although this time on relatively good terms withthe publisher. Poe’s personal fortunes once more suffered reverses as his writing careeradvanced.
In January 1842, Virginia suddenly began to hemorrhage from the mouth, thefirst indication that she had contracted tuberculosis. She was seriously ill for a time, andwould never again be truly healthy. Poe also had renewed difficulties in his attempts tofind steady employment. But in 1843 he published several works, including “The Tell-TaleHeart,” in James Russell Lowell’s short-lived journal The Pioneer, and in June of that yearhis story “The Gold-Bug” won a $100 prize in a contest sponsored by the PhiladelphiaDollar Newspaper. Widely reprinted, it made Poe famous with a broad fiction-readingpublic, but he did not become financially secure. Owing to lax copyright standards at thetime that allowed for widespread reprinting–a condition that Poe himself editorializedabout–writers did not profit directly from the popularity of their work.
In 1844, Poemoved to New York, where he lectured on American poetry and contributed articles tonewspapers and magazines. The year 1845 would bring both triumphs and the beginning of a final downwardspiral in Poe’s life. His poem “The Raven” appeared in the New York Evening Mirror inJanuary, and was an instant success with both readers and critics. He began writing for theBroadway Journal, became its editor in July, and shortly thereafter fulfilled a longstandingdream by becoming its owner as well. But a series of articles in which he groundlesslyaccused Henry Wadsworth Longfellow of plagiarism did harm to Poe’s reputation, andVirginia’s health problems became severe. Financial difficulties, his worry over Virginia,and his own precarious physical and emotional state caused him to cease publication of theBroadway Journal after less than six months as its proprietor.
He moved out of New YorkCity to a cottage in then-rural Fordham (now a heavily urban section of the Bronx), wherein the midst of poverty, ill health, and Virginia’s now grave illness, he still somehowcontinued to earn a small income writing reviews and articles. A satirical piece on fellowwriter Thomas Dunn English provoked from its subject a scurrilous personal attack in theEvening Mirror, which led Poe to sue the publication. Although he would win the suit andcollect damages the following year, the whole episode was a great strain upon Poe’salready fragile nervous system. On January 30, 1847, Virginia died, plunging Poe into an emotional and physicalcollapse that lasted for most of the year. In 1848, he was briefly engaged to marry SarahHelen Whitman, a widowed poet several years his senior, but their relationship was tenseand strained, and the engagement was broken off. He went to Richmond in the summer of1849, hoping to find financial backing for yet another journal, and while there he wasreunited with and re-engaged to Elmira Royster, his first love, now herself a widow.
Hesailed from Richmond to Baltimore, where on October 3, 1849, he was found outside apolling place (it was election day), in a state of delirium and wearing shabby and ill-fittingclothing. He was taken to a nearby hospital, where he raved feverishly for several daysbefore dying on October 7 at the age of forty. Neither the circumstances that had led to hiscondition nor the exact cause of his death have ever been satisfactorily determined. Poe’sposthumous reputation sustained grievous and long-lasting damage from a libelousbiography by Rufus Griswold, whom Poe himself had appointed his literary executor, andrumors, mostly unfounded, circulate to this day about Poe’s mental state and personalhabits.