Edgar Allan Poe- Biography

  Edgar Allen Poe

Edgar Allan Poe’s life was abounding with accomplishment and yet laden with misfortune. From his family life and education to his career as a writer and critic, he continues to mystify and intrigue. Poe was a literary genius and a profound dramaticist, and today he is even debated as a scientific revolutionary.

  Edgar Poe’s childhood was wrought with tragedy. He was born in Boston on January 19, 1809, to the actors Eliza and David Poe, and was left orphaned at an early age. His father disappeared and was never heard from again and his mother died soon after (Nilsson, “Eliza” par. 6-10). Edgar and his two siblings were split up between homes and he ended up with John and Frances (Fanny) Allan. From that point on he was known as Edgar Allan Poe, though never formally adopted (Scott II). Poe went from poverty to wealth and was given a good education where he thrived on language, but at the same time he was lonely and unhappy (Nilsson, “Edgar’s childhood” par. 7). Once in his teens his attitude towards John Allan’s family changed and was seen as a “sign of thanklessness” (Nilsson, “Edgar’s teens” par. 7). By the age of 13, Poe already had enough verse to make a volume, but his teacher advised Allan not to publish it (Silverman 24).

 In 1826 Edgar began his education at the University of Virginia (Nilsson, “Edgar’s teens” par. 11) Still thriving with Mathematics, Language, and even debate, Poe was also noted for his athletic abilities, charcoal sketches and having a good singing voice. However, a classmate found that he was “moody, frolicsome…at times morose.” After a year of school, Poe returned to Richmond in debt and Allan refused to pay for them or to send him back to school (Silverman 30-34).

  At the age of 16 Poe moved out of the Allan’s home, due to tension between the two (Nilsson, “Edgar’s teens” par. 19). He began his journey as a writer and ended up in Boston, where he managed to support himself, and experienced his first publication, entitled Tamerland and Other Poems (Silverman 38). Soon, he joined the army and within a couple of years was promoted to Seargent Major. Despite his advances he did not finish his tenure in the Army and for a period of time was reconciled with Allan (Nilsson, “Army” par. 5-11). Poe convinced Allan to help him get in to West Point and in the meantime he lived with his father’s family in Baltimore and worked on his poetry (Silverman 47,53). Once in West Point he did very well, but did not see it to completion and due to deliberate neglect was dismissed (Nilsson, “Al Aaraaf” par. 12-17). Before leaving West Point, he was able to collect money from the cadets to publish his poetry . He used the money to publish Poems by Edgar A. Poe. . .Second Edition and dedicated it “To the U.S. Corps of Cadets.” The volume did not receive very much recognition (Silverman 67-69).

 Once again, Poe and Allan were in disagreement due to his premature departure from West Point. He then returned to his father’s family in Baltimore where he lived with his Aunt, Maria (Muddy) Clemm. He was reunited with his brother, William Henry, during his time in Baltimore and their lives seemed to parallel each other. In addition to being writers and alcoholics, they had both served in the military and suffered from the death of their mother. Henry passed away in 1831 from alcohol abuse and was the same age as his mother at the time of her death (Nilsson, “Poems by Edgar” par. 6-12).

 Poe published his first story “The dream” in 1831. His writing of short stories increased during this period and one of his more renown titles was published, “Ms. Found in a Bottle” (Nilsson, “Saturday Visiter” par. 2-6). This was his first real mark as a writer and “was in effect the inauguration of Poe as one of the great story-tellers of the 19th century.” This also introduced him to the literary world and won him a position with the Southern Literary Messenger (Scott IX).

 Dissension continued between Poe and Allan and in March of 1834, John Allan died and Edgar was not even mentioned in the will (Nilsson, “Saturday Visiter” par. 10-14). Now working for White at the Messenger,  he was trying to support Muddy and her daughter Virginia. Poe, now 27, had fallen in love with Virginia, who was only 13, and wished to marry her despite her age. He was unable to support them and soon found that his cousin Neilson had made an offer to take in Muddy and Virginia. Outraged, he began drinking, threatening suicide and lost his job with the magazine (Silverman 103-107). He did manage to convince Muddy not to accept the offer and regained his employment with White, though it required begging and promising that he would not drink again. Virginia and Muddy moved to Richmond with him and he acted as editor of the Messenger. His job functions included proof-reading, editing, and acting as a critic. In addition, he also used the magazine as an avenue to publish his own works. Poe not only learned the magazine business while at the Messenger, but it also promoted contact with known literary figures of his time, such as Robert Montgomery Bird and James Kirke Paulding (Silverman 107-109). His first real recognition was received during this time and it is said that “While becoming a prominent magazinist himself, Poe made the Messenger popular and respected” (Nilsson, “Messenger” par. 19).

 On May 16, 1836 Poe was “officially married (possibly for a second time) to Virginia” (Nilsson, “Break” par. 2) Shortly after, he was fired, continuing to be unstable.  This may have been partly due to the fact that “Allan’s death knawed at Poe” during his stay in Richmond (Silverman 126-128). 

  In 1838, Poe’s first fictional work “The narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, of Nantucket” was published. Poe’s work received good reviews, but he wasn’t given much credit for the work, nor received much money. Needing money, he took a job working for another magazine, Burton’s Gentleman’s magazine, as an assistant editor (Nilsson, “Break” par. 11-17). He was busy again writing reviews, articles, short stories and poetry. One of his most noted contributions during his time at Burton’s was “The Fall of the House of Usher.” Despite the new job, he was still struggling with money and turned to freelance work for additional support. In December of 1839 Poe published “Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque”. Despite successes with his writing and a growing literary reputation he was still struggling to support his family. Finding that he could not respect the magazine he worked for, nor make much money,  in 1840 he left Burton’s. George Rex Graham later bought out Burton’s and offered Poe a job. He accepted the job and found Graham to be encouraging of his writing. His fiction prospered and in 1841 he published “The Murders in the Rue Morgue”, which “is said to be the first modern detective story” (Nilsson, “Usher and Rue Morgue” par. 1-14).

 Poe’s association with Graham’s proved profitable for both Poe and the magazine. From it’s initial 5,500 subscribers, it had increased sevenfold. Poe was earning more than he ever had and was enjoying his reputation “as a literary wizard.” He was also praised as being a “fearless critic and master of German horror.” Even with these successes Poe was still discontented and even considered being a politician to “escape from literary drudgery” (Silverman 174-177).

 In 1842, Poe resigned from Graham’s and Virginia became ill with Tuberculosis. His grief over Virginia’s illness is found in his writing of “Life in Death” and “The Mask of the Red Death” (Silverman 178-181). Again, he turned to drinking and was struggling to find a job. He did succeed in arranging a meeting with Charles Dickens, whom attempted to get Poe’s work published in Europe, but the attempt was unsuccessful (Nilsson, “Virginia’s Health” par. 6-9). He and his family were destitute and both Poe and Virginia were both very ill. The press soon caught wind of their situation and both friend and foe collected money to help them in their time of need. Virginia’s illness waged on and in 1847 she passed away (Silverman 323-324, Scott III). Poe, now distressed as ever, was battling with his own sickness and according to doctors would not live very long. He was believed to suffer from a brain lesion and suffered bouts of ‘“brain fever”’ (qtd. in Silverman 329).

 Despite the loss of Virginia and his continued battle with his own sickness, Poe’s detective series continued to flourish. Some of his more popular works published were, “The Tell-Tale Heart”, “The Black Cat” and “The Gold-Bug.” Again, Poe found that his successes did not provide much monetary reward.(Nilsson, “Virginia’s Health” par. 11-16).

 Poe desired to put his reputation back in good standing. In 1848, he published a book, “Eureka”, an extension of a lecture he had given called “The Universe.” “Eureka” was an exploration of philosophy and science and was not received very well. Very few copies of it were sold and it received harsh reviews (Silverman 332-339).

 After losing Virginia, Poe struggled for his sanity and was suffering from possible heart problems. Convinced that he needed a wife to keep him alive and stable he embarked on a  journey that led him to four prospective wives. This did not seem to calm him as he continued to drink as well as attempting suicide (Silverman 342-374).

 Following Poe’s engagement to a Mrs. Shelton he left for Baltimore to retrieve Muddy so she could attend the wedding. What exactly happen to Poe on his journey is unknown, but on October 7, 1849 Poe “was found dirty, injured, and sick, and taken to a hospital where he died four days later.” Not many details are known about Poe’s death, but there have been speculations (Scott III).

 Poe has been considered a literary genius and as a critic was considered among the best in America in the 19th century (Scott XII). On the other hand, he has been called erratic, half-crazed, brooding, and a drunkard. Yet, more often Poe is considered a genius of his time (Scott I-V). Not only a literary genius, he is now being debated as a scientific revolutionary. In his book, “Eureka”, Poe predicted many things, such as the origin of the universe, black holes, the big bang theory, relativity, and the big crunch. These examples are but few that can be found throughout “Eureka” (Lartigue par. 9-13).

 Poe is known for his “dramatization” (Scott X) found in all aspects of his life. No doubt, each poem or story he wrote was inspired by the tragedies that plagued him, the people that surrounded him, and the emotional whirlwind that was his life. The following is an exert from Poe’s poem “alone,” which seems to encompass Poe as a person.

 From childhood’s hour I have not been
 As others were—I have not seen
 As others saw—I could not bring
 My passions from a common spring.
 From the same source I have not taken
 My sorrow; I could not awaken
 My heart to joy at the same tone;
 And all I lov’d, I lov’d alone. (Scott III)

 Poe was a genius who thrived on drama and used it as inspiration for his writing. His life was wrought with tragedy and yet full of accomplishments that were not appreciated in his time. He was an intriguing man who excelled in his career as a writer and critic, an inspiration and a man of many talents who will be remembered through the ages.

Works Cited
Lartigue, Juan G. “Edgar Allan Poe and Science: A Cosmic Poet.”
     The Poe Decoder. 2001. 10 September 2004.
     <http://www.poedecoder.com/essays/lartigue/>.
Nilsson, Christoffer. “Al Aaraaf and West Point.”
     Qrisse’s Edgar Allan Poe Pages.. 10 September 2004.
     <http://www.poedecoder.com/Qrisse/westpoint.html>.
–. “Army and the Death of Fanny Allan, The.”
     Qrisse’s Edgar Allan Poe Pages. 1998. 10 September 2004.
     <http://www.poedecoder.com/Qrisse/army.html>.
–. “Break with the Messenger and the Blank Period.”
     Qrisse’s Edgar Allan Poe Pages. 1998. 10 September 2004.
     <http://www.poedecoder.com/Qrisse/blank.html>.
–. “Edgar’s childhood.” Qrisse’s Edgar Allan Poe Pages. 1998.
     10 September 2004. <http://www.poedecoder.com/Qrisse/allans.html>.
–. “Edgar’s teens and the parting with John Allan.”
     Qrisse’s Edgar Allan Poe Pages. 1998. 10 September 2004.
     <http://www.poedecoder.com/Qrisse/teens.html>.
–. “Eliza.” Qrisse’s Edgar Allan Poe Pages. 1998. 10 September 2004.
     <http://www.poedecoder.com/Qrisse/eliza.html>.
–. “Messenger and Marriage to Virginia Clemm, The.”
     Qrisse’s Edgar Allan Poe Pages. 1998. 10 September 2004.
     <http://www.poedecoder.com/Qrisse/messenger.html>.
–. “Poems by Edgar A. Poe.” Qrisse’s Edgar Allan Poe Pages. 1998.
     10 September 2004. <http://www.poedecoder.com/Qrisse/henry.html>.
–. “Saturday Visiter Contest, The.” Qrisse’s Edgar Allan Poe Pages. 1998.
     10 September 2004. <http://www.poedecoder.com/Qrisse/visiter.html>.
–. “Usher and Rue Morgue.” Qrisse’s Edgar Allan Poe Pages. 1998.
     10 September 2004. <http://www.poedecoder.com/Qrisse/usher.html>.
–. “Virginia’s Health and Tales of Ratiocination.”
     Qrisse’s Edgar Allan Poe Pages. 1998. 10 September 2004.
     <http://www.poedecoder.com/Qrisse/ratio.html>.
Scott, Wilbur S. “Introduction.” Edgar Allan Poe Complete Takes & Poems.
     Edison: Castle Books, 2001.
Silverman, Kenneth. Edgar A. Poe Mournful and Never-ending Remembrance.
     New York: HarperCollins Publishers, Inc, 1991.

 (c) Jennifer Randall

47 Comments

  1. Jacklyn said,

    November 14, 2006 at 1:56 am

    This is a great article about him and since I’m doing a essay in school about him, it helped me out lots. So thanks

  2. smileyarts said,

    November 15, 2006 at 8:10 am

    Thanks! It was a very interesting experience for me. I have always been fascinated with Poe, but it was really something to learn about him as a person. He was a very enigmatic, multi-faceted person. I hope you enjoy your research as much as I did.

  3. dct6uj said,

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  4. Zach said,

    April 10, 2008 at 11:57 pm

    I am doing a report at my school on Edgar Allan Poe and this helped me out a lot. I’m am not very facinated about Poe, but he has made some interesting stories over his career.

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  6. GennWu said,

    July 28, 2008 at 8:19 pm

    I’m glad to see this is useful information to everyone; and I’m always glad to see interest in such an amazing poet. 😀

  7. August 1, 2008 at 12:54 am

    7/30/08

    Hello Jennifer,

    Please send your reply asap/immediately to Hollmarsh1/aol.com.

    Could you please tell me from what source you acquired the digital image above that is also located at http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Image:Edgar_Allan_Poe_portrait_B.jpg
    ?
    I am specifically seeking to confirm the source where you acquired this digital file and contact that party immediately. I work for a publisher who wishes to possibly publish it within them within the curriculum.

    I look forward to hearing from you as quickly as possible; the publisher is eager to finalize images to be used.

    Thank you,
    Holly Marshall

    Photo Researcher for Pearson Digital Learning Group Washington, D.C.
    Email: Hollmarsh1@aol.com

  8. Debora said,

    September 9, 2008 at 9:11 pm

    The house in which I live in in Florida is the house that Edgar Allen Poe’s neice built. Do you have any information on her?

  9. Ryan said,

    October 11, 2008 at 5:27 am

    well Zach from the previous greatful and not so greatful comments above goes to my school, Washington Middle School and i do believe it is not a report it is a web questionaire on his life asking many questions not answered by the page which i find highly indesirable.

  10. January 31, 2009 at 3:35 am

    […] Edgar Allen Poe has been criticized and ridiculed for the life he lead and his works have been sadly neglected by some, because of this. Poe lived a very disheveled life, and many tragedies befell him starting at an early age. Poe pushed past these constraints and stereotypes and plowed forward with passion and ambition. He may have suffered from the failures and tragedies that plagued him, but it did not stop him from influencing the world and using his talent. […]

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    The “RAVEN” so impressed me that as a teenager I memorizes it, few poems have touched me so.

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