Edgar Allan Poe > Biography

A Biography of Edgar Allan Poe

By Me

Edgar Poe was born on January 19, 1809 in Boston Massachusetts and died on October 7th, 1849. He was the son of two poor touring actors, Elizabeth Arnold Poe and David Poe Jr. The Poes traveled around from theater to theater, playing many different roles. While Elizabeth Arnold Poe was a somewhat well-known actor within the community of actors (a profession looked down upon), David Poe was not, and was frequently visibly drunk during performances. When David Poe abandoned his family when Edgar was about two, the rest of the Poe family left for Richmond, Virginia. Edgar’s mother died painfully of tuberculosis there in Richmond in December in a cold dwelling on a bed of straw. While Edgar was only three at the time of his mother’s death, apparently he remembered the traumatizing event later in life.

After his mother’s death, Edgar was adopted by John and Frances Allan. John Allan was a strict successful merchant who changed Edgar Poe’s name to Edgar Allan Poe when Edgar was baptized. Never legally adopted, Poe’s tough-loving guardian, John Allan, sent Poe to all the best schools. When John Allan’s business was in trouble after the end of the embargo from the war of 1812, the Allan Family left for England, where Poe continued his education at the finest of schools. While Edgar did well in school, his teachers wrote that he was “spoiled”, probably by Frances Allan, who bought Edgar puppies among other things. Edgar returned to America in 1820 where he met the mother of classmate Jane Stith Stanard, who was somewhat of a mother figure to him. Tragedy again struck Poe when she died of a brain tumor when Poe was just fifteen. John Allan’s company went belly-up then, and the family’s reputation was tarnished, as John Allan felt he was going to have to give up his families well-to-do lifestyle. Fortune found the Allan’s in 1825, when a fond uncle of John Allan died and left in his will the sum of $200,000 for John Allan. John Allan could now afford to send Edgar to the University of Virginia, where he fell into ill-favor with John Allan (not for the first or last time) by ringing up a debt of $2,000 through loans and gambling. It is at the University of Virginia where Poe probably started his habit of drinking.

Soon after leaving the University, Poe went to Baltimore in 1827, then to Baltimore seeking to publish his Poems, which nobody would buy. Poe was without any income, so he joined the army at age eighteen. While in the army, Poe gained the rank of sergeant major in just two years. While in the army, was able to write in his free time. At the peek of a strained relationship between Poe and John Allan, Frances Allan, the only mediator between the two, died. Her death would allow Poe and Allan to attempt to reconcile. Allan helped Poe enter West Point, where, in the little free-time which was allowed, poetry was prohibited. Fed up wit West Point, Poe intentionally neglected his duties and was dismissed in March, 1831.

Poe’s literary career thus began, but didn’t take off. Poe was able to publish some of his works but was still quite poor. Poe had a turn of good fortune when, in 1835, he became editor of the Southern Literary Messenger. Through his position as editor, Poe published many of his poems, as well as critical reviews, which would put him at odds with many of the prominent writers of his day. Poe then married his cousin, Virginia Clemm, in 1836, who was thirteen years old. Fired from the Messenger for persistent drinking, Poe moved from city to city with Virginia and her mother looking for employment. Poe found it at Burton’s Gentleman’s Magazine, where he became co-editor. Poe’s career hit it’s peak with The Raven which turned him into a local celebrity over night in New York. The publishing and subsequent lectures on the poem gave Poe enough money to live comfortably on his own for the first time. Poe again experienced tragedy when in 1847 when his wife died at the same age (24) and of the same disease (tuberculosis) as his mother. Poe was unable to write anything for a good half a year while he was in severe depression over the loss of Virginia. The first piece he wrote after her death was Ulalume, which was a reflection of Poe’s state of mind at the time of Virginia’s death. Poe was found in the streets of Baltimore, semi-conscious wearing clothes not of his own and possibly drunk. He died in a local hospital. His last words were either “It’s all over now: write ‘eddy is no more’”, or “Lord help my poor soul.” Poe died October 7, 1849 at the age of forty.