Edgar Allan Poe Tidbit #1 - His Problematic Bio

by Edgar Allen Poe

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Edgar Allan Poe Tidbit #1 - His Problematic Bio

Unread postby Liz » Mon Oct 24, 2005 9:02 am


Edgar Allan Poe

For over 150 years, legions of scholars, literary people, journalists and general Poe devotees have tried to capture Poe's complex personality and enshrine it forever in paper and ink. They have exhaustively chased every conceivable source to fill in the details of his life. Every person who met Poe (or was willing to claim so), and was still alive after 1875, was coerced to recall any scrap of fact or insight, no matter how trivial or vague. After these people had passed on, their children and even grandchildren were asked to repeat anything they had heard about Poe. From this mass of disjointed and often contradictory information, Poe's biography has been crafted, each generation relying heavily on the work of prior biographers, themselves often happy to steal from their competitors without so much as a footnote. Every letter he wrote, every note he jotted on a piece of paper, every photograph, every newspaper or magazine article, every building, stick of wood or piece of bric-a-brac with a Poe association was duly collected, catalogued and interpreted -- but Poe himself has fooled us all and remains to this day an elusive quarry.

In Poe's case, there is a great deal of information, but very few verifiable facts. Everything about him is controversial, literally from the place and date of his birth to the exact location and date of his burial. The spelling of Allan (Allen?) is even in question. There is no birth certificate, and although Poe seems to have known that he was born in Boston in 1809, most biographies claimed until 1880 that he was born in Baltimore in 1811. Poe himself once even gave 1813 as the date, two years after his mother's death. As for Poe's burial, both October 8 and 9 have been recorded. Since no headstone was placed over Poe's grave when he was buried, some sources have claimed it as to the right of his grandfather, others to the left. Poe himself began this confusion of fact and fancy in his own brief autobiographical note, provided to R. W. Griswold for The Poets and Poetry of America (1842). Among the numerous inaccuracies is the fable that Poe joined the Greeks in their fight for liberty in 1828. (While at West Point, the jokester Poe merrily spread rumors that he was the grandson of Benedict Arnold.)

Understandably, biographers are reluctant to admit the dark secrets of their craft. Many are unaware of the extent that the final product is shaped by their own personal biases and the unspoken but still very real mandate of the reader to find the presentation cohesive and, above all, interesting. To achieve these goals, biographers frequently supplement the available historical information with interpretations of Poe's personality gleaned from his writings, an act of desperation that ignores the fact that Poe's writings are more the result of his imagination than his personality. It is a common error for readers to confuse Poe's narrators with Poe himself, but trained scholars should know better.

The wide variance among interpretations of Poe's life can be seen clearly in the three most prominent "camps," each here named for its originator: The "Griswold Camp" (which vilifies Poe as a devil), the "Ingram Camp" (which glorifies Poe as an angel) and the "Baudelarie Camp" (which glorifies Poe as a devil). To some extent, nearly all biographies of Poe follow or react to this triangle of approaches.

Keeping in mind the above, the following is the bio from the Poe Museum site:

by James Southall Wilson

Edgar Allan Poe was born January 19, 1809 in Boston, where his mother had been employed as an actress. Elizabeth Arnold Poe died in Richmond on December 8, 1811, and Edgar was taken into the family of John Allan, a member of the firm of Ellis and Allan, tobacco-merchants.

After attending schools in England and Richmond, young Poe registered at the University of Virginia on February 14, 1826, the second session of the University. He lived in Room 13, West Range. He became an active member of the Jefferson Literary Society, and passed his courses with good grades at the end of the session in December. Mr. Allan failed to give him enough money for necessary expenses, and Poe made debts of which his so-called father did not approve. When Mr. Allan refused to let him return to the University, a quarrel ensued, and Poe was driven from the Allan home without money. Mr. Allan probably sent him a little money later, and Poe went to Boston. There he published a little volume of poetry, Tamerlane and Other Poems. It is such a rare book now that a single copy has sold for $200,000.00

Boston on May 26, 1827, Poe enlisted in The United States Army as a private using the name Edgar A. Perry. After two years of service, during which he was promoted to the rank of Sergeant-major, he secured, with Mr. Allan's aid, a discharge from the Army and went to Baltimore. He lived there with his aunt, Mrs. Maria Poe Clemm, on the small amounts of money sent by Mr. Allan until he received an appointment to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.

Meanwhile, Poe published a second book of poetry in 1829: Al Aaraaf, Tamerlane and Minor Poems. After another quarrel with Allan (who had married a second wife in 1830), Poe no longer received aid from his foster father. Poe then took the only method of release from the Academy, and got himself dismissed on March 6, 1831.

Soon after Poe left West Point, a third volume appeared: Poems by Edgar Allan Poe, Second Edition. While living in Baltimore with his aunt, Mrs. Clemm, young Poe began writing prose tales. Five of these appeared in the Philadelphia Saturday Courier in 1832.

With the December issue of 1835, Poe began editing the Southern Literary Messenger for Thomas W. White in Richmond; he held this position until January, 1837. During this time, Poe married his young cousin, Virginia Clemm in Richmond on May 16, 1836.

Poe's slashing reviews and sensational tales made him widely known as an author; however, he failed to find a publisher for a volume of burlesque tales, Tales of the Folio Club. Harpers did, however, print his book-length narrative, Arthur Gordon Pym in July of 1838.

Little is known about Poe's life after he left the Messenger; however, in 1838 he went to Philadelphia where he lived for six years. He was an editor of Burton's Gentleman's Magazine from July, 1839 to June, 1840, and of Graham's Magazine from April, 1841 to May, 1842. In April, 1844, with barely car fare for his family of three, [including his aunt, Virginia's mother, who lived with them], Poe went to New York where he found work on the New York Evening Mirror.

In 1840, Poe's Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque was published in two volumes in Philadelphia. In 1845, Poe became famous with the spectacular success of his poem "The Raven," and in March of that year, he joined C. F. Briggs in an effort to publish The Broadway Journal. Also in 1845,Wiley and Putnam issued Tales by Edgar A. Poe and The Raven and Other Poems.

The year 1846 was a tragic one. Poe rented the little cottage at Fordham, where he lived the last three years of his life. The Broadway Journal failed, and Virginia became very ill and died on January 30, 1847. After his wife's death, Poe perhaps yielded more often to a weakness for drink, which had beset him at intervals since early manhood. He was unable to take even a little alcohol without a change of personality, and any excess was accompanied by physical prostration. Throughout his life those illnesses had interferred with his success as an editor, and had given him a reputation for intemperateness that he scarcely deserved.

In his latter years, Poe was interested in several women. They included the poetess, Mrs. Sarah Helen Whitman, Mrs. Charles Richmond, and the widow, Mrs. Sarah Elmira Shelton, whom he had known in his boyhood as Miss Royster.

The circumstances of Poe's death remain a mystery. After a visit to Norfolk and Richmond for lectures, he was found in Baltimore in a pitiable condition and taken unconscious to a hospital where he died on Sunday, October 7, 1849. He was buried in the yard of Westminster Presbyterian Church in Baltimore, Maryland.

In personal appearance, Poe was a quiet, shy-looking but handsome man; he was slightly built, and was five feet, eight inches in height. His mouth was considered beautiful. His eyes, with long dark lashes, were hazel-gray.


• 1809 - Born in Boston
• 1826 - Attends University of Virginia
• 1827 - Enlists in US Army
o Tamerlane and Other Poems
• 1829 - Leaves Army
o Al Araff, Tamerlane, Minor Poems
• 1830 - Enters West Point
• 1831 - Leaves West Point and moves to Baltimore
• 1832 -
o "Metzengerstein"
• 1833 -
o "MS. Found in a Bottle"
• 1835 - Joins Southern Literary Messenger
o "Berinice"
o "Morella"
o "Hans Pfaal"
• 1836 - Marries Virginia Clemm
• 1838 - Moves to Philadelphia
• 1839 - Joins Burton's Gentlemen's Magazine
o "The Fall of the House of Usher"
• 1840 - Leaves Burton's magazine
o "Tales of the Grotesque andArabesque"
• 1841 - Joins Graham's Magazine
o "The Murders in the Rue Morgue"
• 1842 - Leaves Graham's Magazine
o "The Masque of the Red Death"
o "The Pit and the Pendulum"
• 1843 - Moves to 7th and Spring Garden streets
o "The Tell-Tale Heart"
o "The Black Cat"
o "The Gold Bug"
• 1844 - Moves to New York City
o "The Balloon Hoax"
o "The Oblong Box"
o "The Premature Burial"
• 1845 - Becomes owner of The Broadway Journal
o "The Raven"
• 1846 - The Broadway Journal fails
o "The Philosophy of Composition"
o "The Cask of Amontillado"
• 1847 - Virginia Dies
o "Ulalume"
• 1848 -
o "Eureka"
• 1849 - Edgar Allan Poe dies
o "Annabel Lee"
o "The Bells"




You can't judge a book by its cover.

The only thing that matters is the ending. It's the most important part of the story.

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