Edgar Allen Poe was a famous author. Since his death more books have been published about Poe than any other American author. Poe was hounded by economic troubles, hurt by his enemies, and haunted by nightmares and visions. Yet out of the very frustrations of his personal life came his artistic successes.
Poe was born in Boston on January 19, 1809. His father deserted the family and his mother died before Poe was three years old. John Allan and his wife Frances raised Poe as a foster child, but never legally adopted him. From 1815 to 1820 the family lived in England, and Poe attended a private school near London, where he did well in his studies.
In 1826, Poe entered the University of Virginia, where he was an excellent student. But because his foster family sent him barely enough money to live Poe gambled to try to win money for books and clothing. His resulting debts caused Allan to withdraw him from the university. Allan then wanted Poe to study law, but Poe determined to follow a literary career. After the two quarreled in March, 1827, Poe left home for Boston, where he later enlisted into the army as “Edgar A. Perry.” By the time he was honorably discharged in 1829, he had attained the rank of sergeant major. He then moved to Baltimore to live with his aunt, Mrs. Maria Clemm, and her daughter, Virginia Clemm. In 1830, Poe entered the U.S. Military Academy in a final effort to gain Allan’s good will. But Francis Allan had died in 1829 and when Allan decided to remarry in 1830, Poe concluded that he would never be reconciled with Allan or receive an inheritance. So he deliberately broke regulations to force his release from West Point.
Poe’s career began with two volumes of poetry, Tamerlane and Other Poems and Al Aaraaf, Tamerlane, and Minor Poems. Poems included three of his best works- “To Helen,” “The City and The Sea,” and “Israfel.” But, discouraged by lack of recognition, he started writing short stories. The first five were published in 1832. In 1833, Poe’s story “MS. Found in a Bottle” won a $50 prize and the friendship of John P. Kennedy, a novelist and lawyer. Kennedy helped Poe get a job with the Southern Literary Messenger, which Poe edited so well that the subscription increased from 500 to 3,500. On May 16, 1836, Poe married his cousin Virginia Clemm, who was then not quite 14 years old. As he could not support his wife and aunt on a salary of $10 a week, he resigned from the magazine and moved to New York City early in 1837.
Poe’s most productive period as a fiction writer and critic extended from 1837 to 1845. He spent 18 months in New York City, and published his only novel The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym during that time. Poe moved to Philadelphia in 1838, and edited two magazines there. Despite his success as an editor and writer he was so underpaid that he and his family often went without enough food. In Philadelphia, Poe wrote significant reviews of the works of Longfellow and Hawthorne. Some of Poe’s greatest tales appeared in a collection of his first 25 stories, Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque. But they brought him neither important recognition nor money.
From 1844 until his death, Poe lived in New York City. During the mid 1840’s, he wrote and edited as much as 15 hours a day and enjoyed a growing reputation as a short-story writer. His tale “The Gold-Bug” sold 300,000 copies. In many ways, 1845 was his best year-12 stories published in Tales and 30 poems in The Raven and Other Poems. “The Raven” brought him the greatest recognition. Also in 1845, James Russell Lowell wrote the first essay-length appreciation of Poe as a writer. He praised Poe as ” the most discriminating philosophical and fearless critic upon imaginative works who has written in America.”
The last years of Poe’s life were marked by tragedy. His wife died of tuberculosis in 1874 after five years of illness. This “intolerably sorrow” led Poe to occasional drinking to ease his despair. His drinking, or gossip about it, sometimes spoiled his chances to get or hold a job. But, according to his business associates, Poe was usually sober, responsible, courteous, and hard working. His drinking troubles were largely due to a low tolerance for any kind of alcohol. Contrary to what some people believe, he was neither a habitual drunkard nor a drug addict.
In 1849, Poe became engaged to marry the widowed Mrs. Sarah Royster Shelton, his boyhood sweetheart. On his way to bring Mrs. Clemm to the wedding, Poe stopped in Baltimore, probably on September 28. There are various theories about the events of the next few days. All that is known is that Poe was found lying outside a voting place on October 3. He died in a hospital four days later, without regaining consciousness. The cause of his death remains unknown.
Meyers, Jeffrey. Edgar Allen Poe: His Life & Legacy. New York, New York: Macmillan Publishing Company. 1992