Edgar Allan Poe was an American author, poet, editor and literary critic, who was also associated with the American Romantic Movement. He was better known for his tales of mystery and macabre. He was amongst the earliest American practitioners of short story and was generally considered as the inventor of the detective-fiction genre. Poe is also credited for his contribution in the emerging genre of science fiction. His works greatly influenced American literature and also other specialized fields like, cosmology and cryptography. His best known fiction works were generally Gothic and dealt with themes like the effects of decomposition, concerns of premature burial, the reanimation of the dead, and mourning. Poe’s works are also considered as the part of dark romanticism genre. He became famous for his popular poems like, “The Raven” and “Annabel Lee”.
Edgar Allan Poe Childhood & Early Life
Edgar Allan Poe was born on January 19, 1809 in Boston, Massachusetts. His parents were actor David Poe, Jr. and actress Elizabeth Arnold Hopkins Poe. He had two siblings, one elder brother, William Henry Leonard Poe and a younger sister Rosalie Poe. Poe’s father abandoned their family in 1810 and the following year his mother died from pulmonary tuberculosis. Poe was raised by John Allan, a successful Scottish merchant in Richmond, Virginia. John Allan had business of tobacco, cloth, wheat, tombstones, and slaves. Poe was baptized in the Episcopal Church in 1812. The family sailed to Britain in 1815, where Poe attended the grammar school in Irvine, Scotland. He rejoined his family in London in 1816. Until summer 1817, he studied at a boarding school in Chelsea. He also studied at the Reverend John Bransby’s Manor House School at Stoke Newington. Poe traveled to Richmond, Virginia in 1820. In 1824, in the celebration of the visit of Marquis de Lafayette in Richmond, he served as the lieutenant of the Richmond youth honor guard.
The death of John Allan’s wealthy uncle, William Galt in March 1825, left Allan an inheritance of several acres of real estate worth an estimated $750,000. Meanwhile, Poe was engaged to Sarah Elmira Royster. In February 1826, he left for University of Virginia to study languages. The University was newly founded and was based on the ideals of Thomas Jefferson. There were strict rules against gambling, horses, guns, tobacco and alcohol but were generally ignored. During his stay in the University, he became distant with Royster and also became increasingly habitual to gambling. His gambling debts made him estranged from his foster father. Poe even claimed that he was not given sufficient money to register for classes, purchase texts, and procure and furnish a dormitory. The additional money that was given to him for clothes was also spent on gambling, with the debts stacking. After a year, Poe dropped out from the University. He didn’t want to return to Richmond after knowing that his love, Royster was married to Alexander Shelton and so traveled to Boston, instead, in April 1827. In Boston, he did variety of odd jobs such as a clerk and newspaper writer. For a while, he even started using pseudonym Henri Le Rennet.
In May, 1827, Poe was enlisted in United States Army as a private. He registered himself with the name, Edgar A. Perry of age 22. His first posting was in Fort Independence in Boston Harbor and was paid with a salary of five dollars a month. In 1827, he published his first book, “Tamerlane and Other Poems”, which was a forty page poetry collection. His regiment was posted to Fort Moultrie in Charleston, South Carolina, wherein he was promoted to the rank of "artificer", an enlisted tradesman who prepared shells for artillery. He served for another two years and held the rank of Sergeant Major for Artillery. Before the completion of his five-year enlistment, Poe revealed his true name and his circumstances to his commanding officer, Lieutenant Howard. Howard was ready to discharge him on one condition; Poe should reconcile with his foster father John Allan and write a letter to him. Poe was finally discharged from the Army on April 15, 1829.
Poe went to Baltimore to stay with his widowed aunt Maria Clemm, her daughter, Virginia Eliza Clemm and his brother Henry. In 1829, during his stay in Baltimore, Poe published his second book, “Al Aaraaf, Tamerlane and Minor Poems”. He traveled to West Point, where he matriculated as a cadet on July 1, 1830. His foster father John Allan married his second wife, Louisa Patterson in October 1830. Following some serious quarrels with his father over Allan’s illegitimate children, Poe was disowned by John Allan. Poe left West Point by purposely getting court-martialed. He left for New York in February 1831, where he published his third volume of poems, “Poems”. This book was financed by his fellow cadets at West Point which had collected a total donation of $170. Printed by Elam Bliss of New York, the book was a dedication to the U.S. Corps of Cadets. In March 1831, he returned to Baltimore to his aunt, brother and cousin. His brother fell seriously ill due to his alcoholic habits and died on August 1, 1831.
Following his brother’s death, Poe started concentrating on his career as a writer. He was perhaps the first known writer in the America to live on writing only. Although the periodicals in America were having a booming growth, they were constantly hampered by lack of International Copyright laws. Writers were paid poorly by their publishers, which caused financial problems to Poe. After his earlier attempts as a poet, he started writing prose. Poe placed some of his stories with Philadelphia publication and even started writing a drama, “Politian”. In October 1833, he was awarded with a prize by Baltimore Saturday Visiter for his short story, “MS. Found in a Bottle”. This story was liked by John P. Kennedy which introduced Poe to Thomas W. White, editor of the Southern Literary Messenger in Richmond. In August 1835, Poe became the assistant editor of the periodical, but was discharged after few weeks for being drunk during office hours. He was reinstated to the job after his promise of good behavior. He stayed in the Messenger until 1837. During this period, he published numerous stories, poems, book reviews in the paper.
In 1839, Poe became the assistant editor of Burton's Gentleman's Magazine. The same year he published the collection “Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque” in two volumes, which received mixed reviews. After working in Burton’s for one year, he joined Graham's Magazine as an assistant. Just as he realized that he had contracted tuberculosis, Poe started drinking alcohol to relieve his stress. He left Graham’s and came back to New York. In New York, he worked at the Evening Mirror for a brief time before becoming the editor of the Broadway Journal. His public accusation of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow of plagiarism left him alienated from other writers. On January 1845, his famous poem, “The Raven” appeared in the Evening Mirror, which made him instantly popular among the masses. This poem was concurrently published in the American Review: A Whig Journal under the pseudonym “Quarles”. After the failure of “The Broadway Journal” in 1846, Poe moved to the Fordham section of The Bronx, New York.
Poe secretly married his cousin, Virginia Clemm on September 22, 1835. However, her death on January 30, 1847 made Poe increasingly unstable. He tried to court the poet Sarah Helen Whitman, but failed. He returned to Richmond, where he resumed his relationship with his childhood love, Sarah Elmira Royster.
Poe was found in a miserable state in on the streets of Baltimore, on October 3, 1849. He was taken to the Washington College Hospital, where he breathed his last on October 7, 1849.