Edgar Allen Poe Biography
Edgar Allen Poe is one of the legendary poets to ever write. This is a short summery of his life, his works, and the sadness surrounding it all.
Edgar Allen Poe was a man of many wonders. People today still have much to say about him and have very diverse opinions of his work.
Poe’s family life was very trying. His father, David Poe Jr., was of little influence in his life. His first career study was law, but he soon left against his family’s wishes to pursue an acting career. The critical reviews of his acting were very poor. Critics thought little of his technique. He met Elizabeth Arnold in1806 and they were married later that year. In the summer of 1809, after receiving several bad reviews on his work in New York, he left his wife and three children. No one really knows what happened for sure. Speculation has it that he had another lover and yet others claim he died. The mystery of David Poe Jr. will remain just that, a mystery.
Elizabeth Arnold, often called Eliza, lived with her mother. Her father died when she was the tender age of two. They lived In London, England until Eliza was nine years old. She and her mother rode on the boat Outram over to Boston. She was orphaned at the age of eleven when her mother passed on. At the age of fifteen she married the actor Charles Hopkins, in Alexandria, Virginia. Hopkins died at the age of twenty, leaving Eliza alone yet again at the age of eighteen. In the year 1806 she met David Poe Jr. and fell deeply in love with him.. Now as Mrs. Poe, Eliza got rave reviews from critics. She was said to be one of the most prominent actors of her time. In the summer of 1811 she became very ill and finally gave up acting that October. By the time November came she had become a charity case and her family was both unwilling to help and relentlessly rude to her. She was all alone and on her deathbed. Eliza finally gave up the battle the morning of December 8, 1811. She did not have much to give her three children whom she loved and cherished. To her eldest son, William, she gave a locket of her hair. To Edgar she left a miniature picture of herself and a watercolor sketch of Boston. She had written a message to her three year old son. It read, "For my little son Edgar, who should ever love Boston the place of his birth, and where his mother found her best and most sympathetic friends." Elizabeth Poe was buried in the graveyard of St. John’s Church. The cause of her death was Tuberculosis.
Edgar had two siblings. The first-born was William Henry Leonard Poe. His parents were unable to care for him properly. David Poe Jr.’s father, and grandfather to William, took him in and cared for him most of his life. A relationship between the brothers was not properly established until later in life, when William was on his deathbed. They reconciled at their Aunt Mary Clem’s house. By that time William was in very poor health and was not expected to live much longer. The date of his death was not specially noted, but the fact that the brothers got to know each other before his death was a benefit to both of their lives. Poe also had one sister, Rosaline Poe. She was taken in by a family by the name of MacKenzie. She and Edgar probably got to meet on several occasions because the family that took in Edgar lived nearby. After they got older, they had no contact with each other. It says little in the history books as to the whereabouts of Rosaline.
Edgar moved in with John and Fanny Allen after his mother died. They lived in Richmond, Virginia at the time, but moved frequently. The Allens never formally adopted Edgar, but Fanny often thought of him as their own. Mr. Allen had promised Edgar’s family he would give him a good education, since that was the basis of a good business. Fanny had been orphaned at the tender age of ten. It was often thought that they took Edgar in because of pity. Fanny was a good housekeeper and very organized, although she was not well educated. John started his own tobacco plant. By the year 1817, his business was worth more than $300,000. The Allen’s family never really accepted Edgar, often ignoring the fact that John and Fanny would adopt such a hooligan. This never seemed to affect Edgar, although the lonely times must have come often. During their five year stay in England, Fanny became very ill. Most blamed it on homesickness. They returned back to New York right after John’s business collapsed. During the stay in New York, the relationship between Edgar and John got increasingly worse. In the year 1827, Edgar moved out. On February 28, 1829, Fanny Allen died. She asked to see Edgar on the night before she died, but was unable to. John did not tell Edgar Fanny’s wishes. After that the relationship became better between the two, but Edgar did not go home. John gave him a sum of money and not much else was said between the two for many years.
Edgar met Sarah Elmira Royster in the Allen neighborhood. He had fallen hopelessly in love with her and she for him. Edgar would often draw pictures of Elmira and would sing to her. She was quite fond of music. After a month, they were engaged. Sarah’s father disapproved of the marriage because at this time Edgar was sixteen and Sarah was only fifteen. Edgar had to leave for Charlottesville, but promised to write her often and she did the same. Sarah’s father intercepted all the letters from Edgar, thereby delaying Sarah’s responses. She decided to end the engagement because she thought Edgar had found someone new. When Edgar came back to Richmond, he was devastated and tried to explain, but her father would not allow them to continue seeing each other. About twenty years later Edgar went searching for Sarah. He found her widowed with three children. She was as beautiful as ever and time did not seem to touch her beautiful black hair or sparkling brown eyes. Sarah had married into a rich family. Her former husband was Alexander Shelton, a rich and powerful man. He died at the age of thirty-six. Sarah had since then devoted her life to the church. She was baptized at the St. John’s Episcopal Church. She and Edgar dated and talked of marriage once again, although they never did because of Sarah’s youngest son. If Sarah got married the fortune would then be turned over to her ten year old son and he had no likes for Edgar. They said good-bye and never crossed paths again.
The second most notable love of his life was Virginia. She was Edgar’s cousin. At the time, it was not uncommon to marry within the family. Edgar went to live with his Aunt Clemm, who was already housing Henry, another cousin, Virginia, his brother William, and his paralyzed grandmother. Edgar called Virginia "my own darling". Edgar wanted to marry Virginia two weeks shy of her being thirteen. They had no money at all, so regrettably, Edgar had to leave in search of a job in Richmond. He was offered a salary of $60 a month to support his "family". Neilson Poe offered to take in Virginia to help them out and defer the cost of their living, but Edgar knew that he only wanted to get in the way of his marriage to Virginia. He wrote a letter to Virginia saying that if she accepted Neilson’s offer, he would kill himself. On September first he and Virginia took out a marriage license. They had a quiet, private ceremony. On October third, he and Virginia returned to Richmond to start a life. On Monday, May 16, 1836, Poe and Virginia were officially married, the witnesses being Muddy and her daughter. Some believe this was their second marriage, but that was never really proved. She was only 14 at the time, but they often denied it to the public, saying she was fifteen. For the first two years of marriage, Poe and Virginia kept separate bedrooms. While they lived in Philadelphia, Poe taught Virginia everything she would need to know, such as languages, and algebra. He also taught his beloved how to play the piano. Virgin’s health slowly started to get worse and Poe’s worst fears came to life again. Virginia was dying of tuberculosis. They discovered this one evening while she was playing the piano for him and began to cough up blood. This sent Edgar into bouts of depression, but he never left Virginia’s side. She died in 1847.
One of my personal favorites of Poe is the poem "The Raven". It was first published on February 1, 1845 in the American Review. It has since been published many other times. The work is a grotesque narrative poem. In the poem a man was sitting solitude one dark evening, thinking of this lost love. He was frightened by a knock at the door, not sure how to react. Thinking this was still in his dream he answers the door in darkness, apologetically answering in the darkness. No one is there and he hears a tap at the window. Going to the window he sees a beautiful bird, a Raven. Opening the window he let the bird in and it perched on his mantle. The man began talking and telling the bird of his troubles. The bird repeatedly said nevermore, nevermore. This angered the man, because he was telling the bird of his lost loves and of his sorrow. Trying to get the bird out of his house, he swooshed it, but failed. The man thought he was a godsend and thought he was there to deliver him the message of death. But all the raven would say was nevermore, nevermore. He then cursed the bird, thinking he was from Hell. Again he tried to get the bird to leave, but his attempts were in vain. In the end the bird is still perched on the mantle forever reminding the man of his lost loves and sorrow. This poem was written after Virginia’s death and some say that she was the Raven, and Poe was the man. It is more likely that Virginia was personified by Lenore the rare and radiant maiden that the narrator mourns for. This is Poe’s most well known poem and it is significant in that it shows Poe’s grief in response to the death of his beloved Virginia.
The next piece of Poe’s work I would like to comment on is the poem Tamerlane. It was first published in May or June of 1827 in the book Tamerlane and Other Poems. The first version of this poem was badly printed and needed 14 editorial fixes. The second version was written in 1823, in a shorter form, and given to Lambert Wilmar. It was not published until 1969. The third version was shortened and printed in 1829 in Al Aaraaf, Tamerlane, and Minor Poems. This is the version that is most commonly read today. The fourth version had minor revisions in an extract or the Yankee in December 1829. The fifth version was slightly edited for the book Poems. The sixth version was published in The Raven and Other Poems, with only forty lines and fifty-seven changed. A final version was produced in 1845, in Poestand Poetry of America. Mr. Griswold published it in 1850. The poem is written in iambic tetrameter. It is about a great King and his lost love. It tells of his life as a boy and his hardships. It then tells of his greed for power and his struggle to reach the top. He falls in love with a peasant girl and promises to make her his queen. He forgets about her in his greed and becomes a great warrior. When he finally returns home, he finds that his love died of a broken heart. This poem was said to symbolize his love for Sarah E. Royster and their situation. This poem first started out as two poems, but Poe put them together. It has been very well received both by the people of his time and audiences today.
Poe’s grief was unbelievable at times. Looking back at all the hardships he endured it is no wonder he fell into depressed rages. After Sarah E. Royster left him, his first depression set in and he started his first drinking binge. Then after the death of his beloved Virginia and all the failed attempts at work, the drinking and drugs got worse. It has never been proven, but some say when he was in his worst fits of rage he would do opium. There is little specific documentation of Poe’s depression. At that time they did not have all the wonder drugs as we do today, so it was left untreated.
When Poe’s mother died, it was very traumatic for a child of his age, but that didn’t hit Poe until later in his life while living with the Allens. It was then that he yearned for a mother, a real mother. Mrs. Allen was kind to him, but Mr. Allen, as well as their extended family, treated Edgar very harshly. Not including him in the celebrated holidays and ignoring his existence most of the time. When he finally left the Allens, and said good-bye to his love Sarah, he was again saddened by loneliness. Every day that passed without a letter made him even more homesick. Coming home to find out that Sarah received only a few of these letters and that they could not marry made Edgar distraught with the feeling of being alone. He began his drinking bouts at that time. Then as job after job failed his feelings of rejection mounted. Mrs. Allen died of the same disease as his mother, yet another person in the world that left him alone. Things picked up from time to time. But it seemed that whenever things seemed like they would be all right, they quickly turned bad. Virginia also died of tuberculosis. Poe was at the lowest point in his life when she died
Poe died as mysteriously as the victims in stories. On October 3, 1849, Poe was sent in a carriage to the Washington College Hospital. The only written document as to why Poe died was hand written by Dr. John J. Moran. Poe was taken to a room where drunks are normally put in so as to not disturb the other ill people. It was quickly decided though that he was not drunk and had not been intoxicated at all. They thought that he may have been mugged because his clothes were very worn and torn. In his four day stay he went in and out of consciousness, and refused the brandy that was offered to him as a stimulant. In his stay at the hospital Poe was asked about his friends and he is quoted with these words; “My best friend would be the man who gave me a pistol that I might blow out my brains". A week before he was admitted to the hospital he was diagnosed with a weak heart and another doctor said that he might have lesions on the brain. The cause that is stated on his official death certificate is "congestion of the brain". He was originally buried in 1849, and placed in an unmarked grave. After the trees had grown over it, George Spence placed a small block of sandstone, bearing a carved number 80 in it. Nelson Poe heard of this and bought a beautiful three-foot high, white Italian marble tablet, inscribed with the following epitaph: "Hic Tandem Felicis Conduntur Reliquae. Edgar Allen Poe, Obiit Oct. VII 1849" Before it could be placed, a train ran off the tracks and destroyed it. Nelson was not very wealthy and could not afford another one. Another head stone was made, but the creator of this stone had Poe’s birth marked incorrectly. Finally the people decided to use the corner of the cemetery block. The remains of Virginia Poe were brought to Baltimore and added to those of Poe and Maria Clemm in 1855. The three that struggled together in life were now reunited in eternity.