After the death of his parents, both of whom were actors, by the time he was three years old, Poe was taken into the home of his godfather, John Allan, a wealthy Richmond merchant. The Allans took him to Europe, where he began his education in schools in England and Scotland. Returning to the United States in 1820, he continued his schooling in Richmond and in 1826 entered the Univ. of Virginia. He showed remarkable scholastic ability in classical and romance languages but was forced to leave the university after only eight months because of quarrels with Allan over his gambling debts. Poverty soon forced him to enlist in the army.
Because of the deathbed plea of his foster mother, he achieved an unenthusiastic reconciliation with Allan, which resulted in an honorable discharge from the army and an appointment to West Point in 1830. However, when Allan remarried the following year Poe lost all hope of further assistance from him and was expelled from the Academy for infraction of numerous minor rules. Living in a time of frequent economic crisis and depressions, he was to be plagued by poverty throughout his life, a condition that was exacerbated by his chronic alcoholism. His first book, Tamerlane and Other Poems, was published in 1827. It was followed by two more volumes of verse in 1829 and 1831. None of these early collections attracted critical or popular recognition. Poe went to Baltimore to live with his aunt, Mrs. Maria Clemm, and her daughter Virginia. In 1835, J. P. Kennedy helped him become an editor of the Southern Literary Messenger in Richmond. He contributed stories, poems, and astute literary criticism, but his drinking cost him the editorship.
In 1836 Poe married Virginia Clemm, then only 13, and in 1837 they went to New York City, where he published The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym (1838), his only novel. From 1838 to 1844, Poe lived in Philadelphia, where he edited Burton's Gentleman's Magazine (1839-40) and Graham's Magazine (1841-42). His criticism, which appeared in these magazines and in the Messenger, was keen, direct, incisive, and sometimes savage, and it made him a respected and feared critic. Some of his magazine stories were collected as Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque (1840). At that time he also began writing the mystery tales that earned him the title "father of the modern detective story." In 1844, Poe moved back to New York, where he worked on the Evening Mirror and later edited and owned the Broadway Journal.
The Raven and Other Poems (1845) won him fame as a poet both at home and abroad. In 1846 he moved to the Fordham cottage (now a museum) and there wrote "The Literati of New York City" for Godey's Lady's Book. His wife died in 1847, and by the following year Poe was courting the poet Sarah Helen Whitman. However, in 1849 he returned to Richmond and became engaged to Elmira Royster, a childhood sweetheart who was by then the widowed Mrs. Shelton. On his way north to bring Mrs. Clemm to the wedding, he became involved in a drinking debauch in Baltimore. This indulgence proved fatal, for he died a few days later.
Poe's literary executor, R. W. Griswold, overemphasized Poe's personal faults and distorted his letters. Poe was a complex person, tormented and alcoholic yet also considerate and humorous, a good friend, and an affectionate husband. Indeed, his painful life, his neurotic attraction to intense beauty, violent horror, and death, and his sense of the world of dreams contributed to his greatness as a writer. Such compelling stories as "The Masque of the Red Death" and "The Fall of the House of Usher" involve the reader in a universe that is at once beautiful and grotesque, real and fantastic.
His poems (including "To Helen," "The Raven," "The City in the Sea," "The Bells," and "Annabel Lee") are rich with musical phrases and sensuous, at times frightening, images. Poe was also an intelligent and witty critic who often theorized about the art of writing. The analytical mind he brought to criticism is evident also in his famous stories of ratiocination, notably "The Murders in the Rue Morgue" and "The Purloined Letter." Poe influenced such diverse authors as Swinburne, Tennyson, Dostoyevsky, Conan Doyle, and the French symbolists.
See his collected poems and stories (3 vol., 1969-78); his letters, ed. by J. W. Ostrom (2 vol., 1948, repr. 1966); biographies by J. Symons (1981), D. Thomas and D. K. Jackson (1987), K. Silverman (1991), and J. Meyers (1992); studies by D. Hoffman (1972), B. L. Knapp (1984), J. G. Kennedy (1989), and D. Stashower (2006).
Edgar Allan Poe (January 19, 1809 – October 7, 1849) was an American poet, short-story writer, editor and literary critic, and is considered part of the American Romantic Movement. Best known for his tales of mystery and the macabre, Poe was one of the earliest American practitioners of the short story and is considered the inventor of the detective-fiction genre. He is further credited with contributing to the emerging genre of science fiction. He was the first well-known American writer to try to earn a living through writing alone, resulting in a financially difficult life and career.
Born as Edgar Poe in Boston, Massachusetts, Poe's parents died when he was young. Poe was taken in by John and Frances Allan, of Richmond, Virginia, but they never formally adopted him. After spending a short period at the University of Virginia and briefly attempting a military career, Poe and the Allans parted ways. Poe's publishing career began humbly, with an anonymous collection of poems, Tamerlane and Other Poems (1827), credited only to "a Bostonian".
Poe switched his focus to prose and spent the next several years working for literary journals and periodicals, becoming known for his own style of literary criticism. His work forced him to move between several cities, including Baltimore, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and New York City. In Baltimore in 1835, he married Virginia Clemm, his 13-year-old cousin. In January 1845, Poe published his poem "The Raven" to instant success. His wife died of tuberculosis two years later. He began planning to produce his own journal, The Penn (later renamed The Stylus), though he died before it could be produced. On October 7, 1849, at age 40, Poe died in Baltimore; the cause of his death is unknown and has been attributed to alcohol, brain congestion, cholera, drugs, heart disease, rabies, suicide, tuberculosis, and other agents.
Poe and his works influenced literature in the United States and around the world, as well as in specialized fields, such as cosmology and cryptography. Poe and his work appear throughout popular culture in literature, music, films, and television. A number of his homes are dedicated museums today.
The Allan family had Poe baptized in the Episcopal Church in 1812. John Allan alternately spoiled and aggressively disciplined his foster son. The family, including Poe and Allan's wife, Frances Valentine Allan, sailed to England in 1815. Poe attended the grammar school in Irvine, Scotland (where John Allan was born) for a short period in 1815, before rejoining the family in London in 1816. He studied at a boarding school in Chelsea until summer 1817. He was subsequently entered at the Reverend John Bransby’s Manor House School at Stoke Newington, then a suburb four miles (6 km) north of London.
Poe moved back with the Allans to Richmond, Virginia in 1820. In March 1825, John Allan's uncle and business benefactor William Galt, said to be one of the wealthiest men in Richmond, died and left Allan several acres of real estate. The inheritance was estimated at $750,000. By summer 1825, Allan celebrated his expansive wealth by purchasing a two-story brick home named Moldavia. Poe may have become engaged to Sarah Elmira Royster before he registered at the one-year old University of Virginia in February 1826 to study languages. The university, in its infancy, was established on the ideals of its founder, Thomas Jefferson. It had strict rules against gambling, horses, guns, tobacco and alcohol, but these rules were generally ignored. Jefferson had enacted a system of student self-government, the Honor System, allowing students to choose their own studies, make their own arrangements for boarding, and report all wrongdoing to the faculty. The unique system was still in chaos, and there was a high drop-out rate. During his time there, Poe lost touch with Royster and also became estranged from his foster father over gambling debts. Poe claimed that Allan had not given him sufficient money to register for classes, purchase texts, and procure and furnish a dormitory. Allan did send additional money and clothes, but Poe's debts increased. Poe gave up on the university after a year, and, not feeling welcome in Richmond, especially when he learned that his sweetheart Royster had married Alexander Shelton, he traveled to Boston in April 1827, sustaining himself with odd jobs as a clerk and newspaper writer. At some point he started using the pseudonym Henri Le Rennet.'''
Poe finally was discharged on April 15, 1829, after securing a replacement to finish his enlisted term for him. Before entering West Point, Poe moved back to Baltimore for a time, to stay with his widowed aunt Maria Clemm, her daughter, Virginia Eliza Clemm (Poe's first cousin), his brother Henry, and his invalid grandmother Elizabeth Cairnes Poe. Meanwhile, Poe published his second book, Al Aaraaf, Tamerlane and Minor Poems, in Baltimore in 1829.
Poe traveled to West Point and matriculated as a cadet on July 1, 1830. In October 1830, John Allan married his second wife, Louisa Patterson. The marriage, and bitter quarrels with Poe over the children born to Allan out of affairs, led to the foster father finally disowning Poe. Poe decided to leave West Point by purposely getting court-martialed. On February 8, 1831, he was tried for gross neglect of duty and disobedience of orders for refusing to attend formations, classes, or church. Poe tactically pled not guilty to induce dismissal, knowing he would be found guilty.
He left for New York in February 1831, and released a third volume of poems, simply titled Poems. The book was financed with help from his fellow cadets at West Point, many of whom donated 75 cents to the cause, raising a total of $170. They may have been expecting verses similar to the satirical ones Poe had been writing about commanding officers. Printed by Elam Bliss of New York, it was labeled as "Second Edition" and included a page saying, "To the U.S. Corps of Cadets this volume is respectfully dedicated." The book once again reprinted the long poems "Tamerlane" and "Al Aaraaf" but also six previously unpublished poems including early versions of "To Helen", "Israfel", and "The City in the Sea". He returned to Baltimore, to his aunt, brother and cousin, in March 1831. His elder brother Henry, who had been in ill health in part due to problems with alcoholism, died on August 1, 1831.
After his early attempts at poetry, Poe had turned his attention to prose. He placed a few stories with a Philadelphia publication and began work on his only drama, Politian. The Saturday Visitor, a Baltimore paper, awarded Poe a prize in October 1833 for his short story "MS. Found in a Bottle". The story brought him to the attention of John P. Kennedy, a Baltimorian of considerable means. He helped Poe place some of his stories, and introduced him to Thomas W. White, editor of the Southern Literary Messenger in Richmond. Poe became assistant editor of the periodical in August 1835; however, within a few weeks, he was discharged after being found drunk repeatedly. Returning to Baltimore, Poe secretly married Virginia, his cousin, on September 22, 1835. She was 13 at the time, though she is listed on the marriage certificate as being 21. Reinstated by White after promising good behavior, Poe went back to Richmond with Virginia and her mother. He remained at the Messenger until January 1837. During this period, its circulation increased from 700 to 3,500. He published several poems, book reviews, criticism, and stories in the paper. On May 16, 1836, he had a second wedding ceremony in Richmond with Virginia Clemm, this time in public.
The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym was published and widely reviewed in 1838. In the summer of 1839, Poe became assistant editor of Burton's Gentleman's Magazine. He published numerous articles, stories, and reviews, enhancing his reputation as a trenchant critic that he had established at the Southern Literary Messenger. Also in 1839, the collection Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque was published in two volumes, though he made little money off of it and it received mixed reviews. Poe left Burton's after about a year and found a position as assistant at Graham's Magazine.
In June 1840, Poe published a prospectus announcing his intentions to start his own journal, The Stylus. Originally, Poe intended to call the journal The Penn, as it would have been based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. In the June 6, 1840 issue of Philadelphia's Saturday Evening Post, Poe bought advertising space for his prospectus: "Prospectus of the Penn Magazine, a Monthly Literary journal to be edited and published in the city of Philadelphia by Edgar A. Poe." The journal would never be produced before Poe's death. Around this time, he attempted to secure a position with the Tyler administration, claiming he was a member of the Whig Party. He hoped to be appointed to the Custom House in Philadelphia with help from President Tyler's son Robert, an acquaintance of Poe's friend Frederick Thomas. Poe failed to show up for a meeting with Thomas to discuss the appointment in mid-September 1842, claiming to be sick, though Thomas believed he was drunk. Though he was promised an appointment, all positions were filled by others.
One evening in January 1842, Virginia showed the first signs of consumption, now known as tuberculosis, while singing and playing the piano. Poe described it as breaking a blood vessel in her throat. She only partially recovered. Poe began to drink more heavily under the stress of Virginia's illness. He left Graham's and attempted to find a new position, for a time angling for a government post. He returned to New York, where he worked briefly at the Evening Mirror before becoming editor of the Broadway Journal and, later, sole owner. There he alienated himself from other writers by publicly accusing Henry Wadsworth Longfellow of plagiarism, though Longfellow never responded. On January 29, 1845, his poem "The Raven" appeared in the Evening Mirror and became a popular sensation. Though it made Poe a household name almost instantly, he only was paid $9 for its publication.
The Broadway Journal failed in 1846. Poe moved to a cottage in the Fordham section of The Bronx, New York. That home, known today as the "Poe Cottage", is on the southeast corner of the Grand Concourse and Kingsbridge Road. Virginia died there on January 30, 1847. Biographers and critics often suggest Poe's frequent theme of the "death of a beautiful woman" stems from the repeated loss of women throughout his life, including his wife.
Increasingly unstable after his wife's death, Poe attempted to court the poet Sarah Helen Whitman, who lived in Providence, Rhode Island. Their engagement failed, purportedly because of Poe's drinking and erratic behavior. However, there is also strong evidence that Whitman's mother intervened and did much to derail their relationship. Poe then returned to Richmond and resumed a relationship with a childhood sweetheart, Sarah Elmira Royster.
On October 3, 1849, Poe was found on the streets of Baltimore delirious, "in great distress, and... in need of immediate assistance", according to the man who found him, Joseph W. Walker. He was taken to the Washington College Hospital, where he died on Sunday, October 7, 1849, at 5:00 in the morning. Poe was never coherent long enough to explain how he came to be in his dire condition, and, oddly, was wearing clothes that were not his own. Poe is said to have repeatedly called out the name "Reynolds" on the night before his death, though it is unclear to whom he was referring. Some sources say Poe's final words were "Lord help my poor soul." All medical records, including his death certificate, have been lost. Newspapers at the time reported Poe's death as "congestion of the brain" or "cerebral inflammation", common euphemisms for deaths from disreputable causes such as alcoholism. However, the actual cause of death remains a mystery; from as early as 1872, cooping was commonly believed to have been the cause, and speculation has included delirium tremens, heart disease, epilepsy, syphilis, meningeal inflammation, cholera and rabies.
Rufus Griswold wrote a biographical article of Poe called "Memoir of the Author", which he included in an 1850 volume of the collected works. Griswold depicted Poe as a depraved, drunk, drug-addled madman and included Poe's letters as evidence. Many of his claims were either outright lies or distorted half-truths. For example, it is now known that Poe was not a drug addict. Griswold's book was denounced by those who knew Poe well, but it became a popularly accepted one. This occurred in part because it was the only full biography available and was widely reprinted and in part because readers thrilled at the thought of reading works by an "evil" man. Letters that Griswold presented as proof of this depiction of Poe were later revealed as forgeries.
Beyond horror, Poe also wrote satires, humor tales, and hoaxes. For comic effect, he used irony and ludicrous extravagance, often in an attempt to liberate the reader from cultural conformity. In fact, "Metzengerstein", the first story that Poe is known to have published, and his first foray into horror, was originally intended as a burlesque satirizing the popular genre. Poe also reinvented science fiction, responding in his writing to emerging technologies such as hot air balloons in "The Balloon-Hoax".
Poe's early detective fiction tales starring the fictitious C. Auguste Dupin laid the groundwork for future detectives in literature. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle said, "Each [of Poe's detective stories] is a root from which a whole literature has developed.... Where was the detective story until Poe breathed the breath of life into it? The Mystery Writers of America have named their awards for excellence in the genre the "Edgars". Poe's work also influenced science fiction, notably Jules Verne, who wrote a sequel to Poe's novel The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket called The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, Le sphinx des glaces. Science fiction author H. G. Wells noted, "Pym tells what a very intelligent mind could imagine about the south polar region a century ago.
Like many famous artists, Poe's works have spawned innumerable imitators. One interesting trend among imitators of Poe, however, has been claims by clairvoyants or psychics to be "channeling" poems from Poe's spirit. One of the most notable of these was Lizzie Doten, who in 1863 published Poems from the Inner Life, in which she claimed to have "received" new compositions by Poe's spirit. The compositions were re-workings of famous Poe poems such as "The Bells", but which reflected a new, positive outlook.
Even so, Poe has not received only praise. William Butler Yeats was generally critical of Poe and denounced him as "vulgar". Transcendentalist Ralph Waldo Emerson reacted to "The Raven" by saying, "I see nothing in it and derisively referred to Poe as "the jingle man". Aldous Huxley wrote that Poe's writing "falls into vulgarity" by being "too poetical" - the equivalent of wearing a diamond ring on every finger.
Poe had an influence on cryptography beyond increasing public interest in his lifetime. William Friedman, America's foremost cryptologist, was heavily influenced by Poe. Friedman's initial interest in cryptography came from reading "The Gold-Bug" as a child — interest he later put to use in deciphering Japan's PURPLE code during World War II.
The earliest surviving home in which Poe lived is in Baltimore, preserved as the Edgar Allan Poe House and Museum. Poe is believed to have lived in the home at the age of 23 when he first lived with Maria Clemm and Virginia (as well as his grandmother and possibly his brother William Henry Leonard Poe). It is open to the public and is also the home of the Edgar Allan Poe Society. Of the several homes that Poe, his wife Virginia, and his mother-in-law Maria rented in Philadelphia, only the last house has survived. The Spring Garden home, where the author lived in 1843–1844, is today preserved by the National Park Service as the Edgar Allan Poe National Historic Site. Poe's final home is preserved as the Edgar Allan Poe Cottage in the Bronx, New York.
Other Poe landmarks include a building in the Upper West Side, where Poe temporarily lived when he first moved to New York. A plaque suggests that Poe wrote "The Raven" here. In Boston, a plaque hangs near the building where Poe was born once stood. Believed to have been located at 62 Carver Street (now Charles Street), the plaque is possibly in an incorrect location. The bar in which legend says Poe was last seen drinking before his death still stands in Fells Point in Baltimore, Maryland. Now known as The Horse You Came In On, local lore insists that a ghost they call "Edgar" haunts the rooms above.