20 October 2012

The Sad Life of Edgar Allen Poe

From childhood's hour I have not been
As others were — I have not seen
As others saw — I could not bring
My passions from a common spring —
From the same source I have not taken
My sorrow — I could not awaken
My heart to joy at the same tone —
And all I lov'd — I lov'd alone —

-from Alone by Edgar Allen Poe

Many of us know Edgar Allen Poe as the writer of such works as The Raven, The Murders in the Rue Morgue, and The Masque of the Red Death. But not many people realize that his darkest story was his own.

Edgar Poe was born on 19 January 1809 in Boston. His parents were traveling actors, and he was the second child three children. When he was 3 years old, both his parents died suddenly, and he was taken to live with a wealthy tobacco merchant in Richmond, Virginia named John Allen, who raised Edgar to be a businessman. but Edgar wished to be a writer, like his hero, British poet Lord Byron. By the age of 13, Edgar had written enough poetry to compile into a book, but his headmaster advised Mr. Allen to not let him do it.

In 1826, Edgar attended the University of Virginia, but was already in debt. Mr. Allen only gave him about a third of the money he needed to cover the cost of his schooling, so he took up gambling to pay off some of his debt. By the end of the first year, he was so poor he had to burn furniture for warmth. In his anger at Mr. Allen for not providing enough funds to get him through school, he returned to the home of his fiancee, only to find she was engaged to someone else. He spent the next few months in the Allen home, until one day the two of them fought so much that Edgar just walked out, and decided to pursue becoming a great poet. He set out looking for adventure.

By the age of 18, he had accomplished the first goal by publishing Tamerlane. To accomplish the second goal, he decided to enlist in the United States Navy. But before he could, he got word that Mrs. Allen, the only mother he ever knew, was sick, so he made his way to go see her. By the time he made it back, she was already dead and buried. Edgar was heartbroken, but in their grief, Poe and Allen made up and Allen helped him get into West Point. Before he entered West Point, he published a second book of poems.

The feud between Edgar and Mr. Allen came back when Edgar got word that he had remarried without telling him first. He wrote to Allen letting him know how deeply offended he was, and said he would get himself thrown out of West Point, which he did. But he went on to publish a third book. Broke and alone, Edgar went to Baltimore to find some of his father's family. While there, he was robbed by his cousin. His Aunt Maria Clemm became a new mother figure to him. Her daughter (his cousin), Virginia, soon became a love interest of his.

While Edgar was in Baltimore, Mr. Allen passed away. He left Edgar out of his will, yet included an illegitimate child he'd never seen. By this time, Edgar was in poverty, but was also selling his short stories, and even won a contest by a local magazine. Because of that, he was able to get contacts on the inside that would later help him write more stories and poems. He soon landed a job at a magazine, The Messenger. Within a year, he had made that magazine one of the most popular in the South because of his stories and also for his book reviews. He was quickly getting a reputation for being ruthless in his reviewing, not only insulting the books but also insulting the author's themselves.

At the age of 27, Edgar married Virginia, his cousin, who wasn't even 14 yet. It was well-known that they were a happy family who loved to sing at night. Soon, Edgar became unhappy with his low pay and lack of editorial control at The Messenger, so he moved to New York. There, he had problems finding magazine work due to the Panic of 1837. As he was unable to find work, he published The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, his only completed novel. A year later, he moved to Philadelphia, where he worked for several different magazines of a long period of time.

Always in search of better opportunities, Poe moved to New York again in 1844 and introduced himself to the city by perpetrating a hoax. His “news story” of a balloon trip across the ocean caused a sensation, and the public rushed to read everything about it—until Poe revealed that he had fooled them all. In January of 1845, he published The Raven,which made him famous enough to draw large crowds when he did lectures or other events. He published two books that year, and briefly lived his dream of running his own magazine.

However, that failed to work out. His wife’s health was deteriorating,, and rumors spread about him having a relationship with a married woman, drove him out of the city. At this time he moved to a tiny cottage in the country. It was there, in the winter of 1847 that Virginia died at the age of 24, after only 10 years of marriage. Edgar was devastated, and was unable to write for months. His critics assumed he would soon be dead. They were right. Poe only lived another two years and spent much of that time traveling from one city to the next giving lectures and finding backers for his latest proposed magazine project.

Edgar Allen Poe died on 7 October 1849. The cause of his death remains unknown. Even though he is arguably the most famous poet who ever lived, he died penniless, homeless, and depressed.

Edgar Allen Poe


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