Edgar Allan Poe-The Early Years (1809-1831) Part 1

Introducing our newest collection inspired by the master of macabre, the literary critic that basically invented the art of snarky, the detective fiction genre and the short story. I bring you, Edgar Allan Poe. I really have been in love with his poetry since I was a child. The darkness and mystery surrounding him are so intriguing. I wanted to write a brief biography, but there’s so much misinformation out there regarding him, it’s hard to find credible sources. Still to this day many sites I visited paint him as a drunkard, madman even citing his cause of death as drug overdose(if you know anything of Poe, then you know these were all slanderous rumors started by an awful bitter man) so I bring you part one of my Poe series hopefully clearing up some of these rumors.

Beautiful minds often are born in dire circumstances and the life of Edgar Allan Poe plays out much like his short stories and poems. Shrouded  in mystery and sadness. Born Edgar Poe in Boston, Massachusetts on January 19, 1809, to actors Elizabeth Arnold Hopkins Poe, and David Poe Jr. Poe. He had an older brother William Henry Leonard Poe, and younger sister Rosalie Poe. It’s believed Edgar was named after a character in William Shakespeare’s King Lear in which his parents performed the year of his birth. In 1810 Poe’s father an alcoholic abandoned them. The following year his mother died from consumption (pulmonary tuberculosis) in 1811. Soon news reached that Poe’s father had died similar to his mother only weeks apart. He and his siblings have split apart, his older brother William(Henry) went to live with a family in Baltimore, Maryland. His sister was taken in by a family in Richmond, Virginia.

The young orphaned Poe was taken in by John and Frances Allan also of Richmond. Though they never formally adopted him, they gave him the name “Edgar Allan Poe” and had him baptized in the Episcopal Church In 1812. They were a wealthy family who lacked children of their own. Young Poe quickly formed a bond with his foster mother. They provided a private education and took him along on a five-year stay in England. Poe’s youth was spent in private schools studying Latin, French as well as Math and History. He was always a brilliant young man excelling in anything he attempted. Including athletics, most famous of his athletic accomplishments was one hot June day he swam six miles up the Charles River in Virginia, wowing his peers.

He and John Allan never seemed to get along. John Allan disapproved of Edgar’s ambition to become a writer. By 13 Poe dreamt of nothing more than being a poet(already writing enough poems to compile a novel) much to the detest of Allan who wished Poe to follow in his footsteps as a businessman.

Young Poe often sought a mother’s love and although Frances was more than happy to fulfill it, her constant illnesses made it hard for her to give him the attentiveness he sought. He did, however, find it in a friend’s mother, Jane Stanard. He often sought her in times of distress. She became his main “motherly” figure during this time, (although the exact nature of their relationship is unknown). It was however short-lived when Jane(who Poe called Helen) died of a brain tumor(later inspiring the poem To Helen)

This death affected him deeply and his behavior began to display his pain in

 

This death affected him deeply, as a result his behavior grew defiant. John describes of him as, “Sulky and Ill-tempered to all the family,” and took this as a sign of Edgar being ungrateful and thankless.

Poe’s and Allan’s relationship Continued to spoil during Poe’s stay at the University of Virginia. Allan belived college a luxury rather than necessity coupled with the wild tales of the student's behavior at the new university. He only gave Edgar a meager allowance, not even enough to pay for classes. Unable to provide for the cost associated with his education, Edgar turned to gamble and borrowing to support himself, resulting in massive debt.

Poe’s time at the University of Virginia was short-lived yet he made quite the impression on his fellow students. He was known for his athleticism, his private readings of Byron and his own works, his artistic ability,(was rumored his fellow students weren’t sure if he’d be an artist or poet) and his blazing intellect.

Poe returned home in the spring of 1827 due to the embarrassment of poverty forced upon him by Allan and his ever-increasing debt. Upon returning home news of Poe’s teenage sweetheart being engaged to another left him to heartbroken. He lost his love and the means to continue his education so he went to Allan seeking help in repaying his debts. An awful quarrel was sparked. In anger and defiance, Poe left the house and moved to the city.

It was during this time he published his first book Tamerlane and Other Poems(Poe did not use his name as the author instead credited the book to “A. Bostonian”)much to Poe’s dismay the book was not a success having had only limited release(50 copies) and ignored by the local press. Having little means to support himself he enlisted in the Army under the name Edgar A. Perry (stating his age as 22 yet only 18).

Poe excelled at military life, like all other things he attempted, quickly being promoted to sergeant major of artillery. Proving his excellence did not fill the void within. He was unhappy and wished to be released of duty, Having completed 2 years of a 5-year commitment, he approached his commanding officer Lieutenant Howard for advice. Poe divulged the truth about his age, name and the tale of his troubled life. Lieutenant Howard agreed to help, on one condition, Poe makes amends with his foster father John Allan. His attempts were futile at best, letters were returned often unopened. It wasn’t until more death struck that the two would briefly be reunited.

On February 28, 1829, Frances Allan Poe’s foster mother, the only mother he really knew, with whom he referred to endearingly as “Ma” had died. Poe’s wasn’t aware of her current condition leading up to her death, because of the rift between himself and John Allan. Allan did not notify Edgar of Frances health leading up to her death. Sadly Poe Could not make it back to Richmond in time for the funeral. Having arrived a day late.

There was a brief glimpse of hope for Poe and Allan. John seemingly softens by the shared grief and help Edgar obtain leave from the army and admission into West Point. Poe was said to have felt happier than ever at the belief him and Allan had finally buried the hatchet. Even began referring to him again as “Pa”.

Little did Poe realize in a letter John Allan wrote to Secretary of War John Eaton, Allan basically dissolved any ties to Poe stating firmly, (Edgar) “is no relation to me whatever” and saying, “he’s had many he’s taken an active interest in, he only wishes to help those in distress.” Basically saying the only feelings or connection he has towards Edgar is that of a charity case he’s taken up.

In the year 1829 before entering West Point, Poe briefly moves to Baltimore to stay with his aunt Maria Clemm, her daughter Virginia Eliza Clemm(future wife), his brother Henry and his grandmother Elizabeth Cairnes Poe. Though the stay is believed to have been brief, due to the lack of funds his family had to care for him and his grandmothers and possibly aunts ill health, and the love of the drink of his brother. The whole situation may have been very off-putting to Poe. Letters from this period in his life, have stated he was staying in boarding houses and the rift between him and Allan had re-emerged much to the dismay of Poe.

It was during this time Poe published his second book Al Aaraaf, Tamerlane and Minor Poems. With 250 copies published the second Poe book only fared slightly better, most complained it unintelligible and lacked any sort of coherent flow. Some said it showed promise and even glimpsed his genius.

The summer of 1830 Poe finally was able to gain admission and into West Point and began his matriculation as a cadet. At first, he seemed to excel, gaining high marks in classes despite him describing the studying as “incessant” and seeming to be a natural at military life. He wasn’t happy, John Allan married again to a woman 20 years his junior, she felt no attachment towards Poe, Frances was likely the only reason Allan made any attempts with Edgar. Poe had also recently learned of Allan’s affairs resulting in illegitimate children. The resulting quarrels led Allan to disown Poe.

I found this letter Poe wrote to Allan too important not to include. It perfectly wraps up and summarizes this chapter in Poe’s life.

[West Point Jany 3d 1830. [1831]

Sir,

I suppose (altho’ you desire no further communication with yourself on my part,) that your restriction does not extend to my answering your final letter.

Did I, when an infant, solicit your charity and protection or was it of your own free will, that you volunteered your services in my behalf? It is well known to respectable individuals in Baltimore, and elsewhere, that my Grandfather (my natural protector at the time you interposed) was wealthy, and that I was his favorite grandchild — But the promises of adoption, and liberal education which you held forth to him in a letter which is now in possession of my family, induced him to resign all care of me into your hands. Under such circumstances, can it be said that I have no right to expect anything at your hands? You may probably urge that you have given me a liberal education. I will leave the decision of that question to those who know how far liberal educations can be obtained in 8 months at the University of Virginia. Here you will say that it was my own fault that I did not return — You would not let me return because bills were presented you for payment which I never wished nor desired you to pay. Had you let me return„ NY reformation had been sure — as my conduct, the last 3 months gave every reason to believe — and you would never have heard more of my extravagances. But I am not about to proclaim myself guilty of all that has been alleged against me, and which I have hitherto endured, simply because I was too proud to reply. I will boldly say that it was wholly and entirely your own mistaken parsimony that caused all the difficulties in which I was involved while at Charlottesville. The expenses of the institution at the lowest estimate were $350 per annum. You sent me there with $110. Of this $50 were to be paid immediately for board — $60 for attendance upon 2 professors — and you even then did not miss the opportunity of abusing me because I did not attend 3. Then $15 more were to be paid for room-rent-remember that all this was to be paid in advance, with $110. — $12 more for a bed — and $12 more for room furniture. I had, of course, the mortification of running in debt for public property — against the known rules of the institution, and was immediately regarded in the light of a beggar. You will remember that in a week after my arrival, I wrote to you for some more money, and for books — You replied in terms of the utmost abuse — if I had been the vilest wretch on earth you could not have been more abusive than you were because I could not contrive to pay $150 with $ 110. I had enclosed to you in my letter (according to your express commands) an account of the expenses incurred amounting to $149 — the balance to be paid was $39— You enclosed me $40, leaving me one dollar in pocket. In a short time afterward, I received a packet of books consisting of, Gil Blas, and the Cambridge Mathematics in 2 vols: books for which I had no earthly use since I had no means of attending the mathematical lectures. But books must be had, If I intended to remain at the institution — and they were bought accordingly upon credit. In this manner, debts were accumulated, and money borrowed of in Charlottesville at extravagant interest — for I was obliged to hire a servant, to pay for wood, for washing, and a thousand other necessaries. It was then that I became dissolute, for how could it be otherwise? I could associate with no students, except those who were in a similar situation with myself — alho’ from different causes — They from drunkenness, and extravagance — I, because it was my crime to have no one on Earth who cared for me, or loved me. I call God to witness that I have never loved dissipation — Those who know me know that my pursuits and habits are very far from anything of the kind. But I was drawn into it by my companions. Even their professions of friendship — hollow as they were — were a relief. Towards the close of the session you sent me $100 — but it was too late — to be of any service in extricating me from my difficulties — I kept it for some time — thinking that if I could obtain more I could yet retrieve my charafter — I applied to James Galt — but he, I believe, from the best of motives refused to lend me any — I then became desperate, and gambled — until I finally involved myself irretrievably. If I have been to blame in all this — place yourself in my situation, and tell me if you would not have been equally so. But these circumstances were all unknown to my friends when I returned home — They knew that I had been extravagant — but that was all — I had no hope of returning to Charlottesville, and I waited in vain in expectation that you would, at least, obtain me some employment. I saw no prospect of this — and I could endure it no longer. — Every day threatened with a warrant &c. I left home — and after nearly a years conduct with which no fault could be found — in the army, as a common soldier — I earned, myself, by the most humiliating privations — a Cadets’ warrant which you could have obtained at any time for asking. It was then that I thought I might venture to solicit your assistance in giving me an outfit — I came home, you will remember, the night after the burial — If she had not have died while I was away there would have been nothing for me to regret —Your love I never valued — but she, I believed loved me as her own child. You promised me to forgive all — but you soon forgot your promise. You sent me to West Point [like a beggar.] The same difficulties are threatening me as before at [Charlottesville] — and I must resign.

As to your injunction not to trouble you with farther communication rest assured, Sir, that I will most religiously observe it. When I parted from you — at the steam-boat, I knew that I should never see you again.

As regards Sergt. Graves — I did write him that letter. As to the truth of its contents, I leave it to God, and your own conscience. — The time in which I wrote it was within a half hour after you had embittered every feeling of my heart against you by your abuse of my family, and myself, under your own roof — and at a time when you knew that my heart was almost breaking.

I have no more to say — except that my future life (which thank God will not endure long) must be passed in indigence and sickness. I have no energy left, nor health, If it was possible, to put up with the fatigues of this place, and the inconveniences which my absolute want of necessaries subject me to, and as I mentioned before it is my intention to resign. For this end, it will be necessary that you (as my nominal guardian) enclose me your written permission. It will be useless to refuse me this last request — for I can leave the place without any permission — your refusal would only deprive me of the little pay which is now due as mileage.

From the time of writing this, I shall neglect my studies and duties at the institution — if I do not receive your answer into days — I will leave the point without — for otherwise, I should subject myself to dismission.

E A Poe ] source

Allan never sent a letter requesting Poe’s dismissal. There are many wild rumors about Poe’s behavior, while attempting to get kicked out of West Point(one story says he showed up for drill wearing belts for his cartridges, a smile and nothing else) but I’d like to share one more letter Poe wrote Allan after being discharged that paints a very different picture.

Dear Sir —

In spite of all my resolution to the contrary, I am obliged once more to recur to you for assistance — It will, however, be the last time that I ever trouble any human being — I feel that I am on sick bed from which I never shall get up. I now make an appeal not to your affection because I have lost that but to your sense of justice — I wrote to you for permission to resign because it was impossible that I could stay — my ear has been too shocking for any description — I am wearing away every day — even if my last sickness had not completed it. I wrote to you as I say for permission to resign because without your permission no resignation can be received — My reason for doing so was that I should obtain my mileage amounting to $30.35 — according to the rules of the institution. in my present circumstances a single dollar is of more importance to me than 10,000 are to you and you deliberately refused to answer my letter — I, as I told you, neglected my duty when I found it impossible to attend to it, and the consequences were inevitable — dismissal. I have been dismissed — when a single line from you would have saved it — The whole academy have interested themselves in my behalf because my only crime was being sick — but it was of no use — I refer you to Col Thayer to the public records, for my standing and reputation for talent — but it was all in vain if you had granted me permission to resign — all might have been avoided — I have not strength nor energy left to write half what I feel — You one day or other will fell how you have treated me. I left West Point two days ago and traveling to New York without a cloak or any other clothing of importance. I have caught a most violent cold and am confined to my bed — I have no money — no friends — I have written to my brother — but he cannot help me — I shall never rise from my bed — besides a most violent cold on my lungs my ear discharges blood and matter continually and my headache is distracting — I hardly know what I am writing — I will write no more — Please send me a little money — quickly — and forget what I said about you

God bless you

E A Poe

Maybe Poe was just using the excuse of sickness why he stopped attending classes, or maybe his heart was so broken his health suffered because of it. What needs to be remembered here is he was a young man 21 or 22 at most. Tragedy seemed to follow him everywhere, every woman who he thought of as mother had died, and the man he thought of as a father, had no love for him and treated him as a beggar. He was raised in privilege but was not prepared for the world. I will leave it here for now. Part II of Edgar Allan Poe’s life will continue where we left off.





 

 

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