For my first post in ‘Writing the dark side’ I choose a writer I grew up reading. There was a short time when I was little all I wanted to here was stories of princesses and knights in shining armor come to save the day. But that changed, when most girls still wanted to hear those stories I asked for Poe and Weird Tails. Weird Tails was a magazine when my father was a kid that dealt with stories of the dark and strange, but a compilation book when I was growing up. I wish I still had the copy my father got me, I loved that book.
Yes this man is long gone, but his work forever remembered by young and old.
Edgar Allan Poe
Born January 19, 1809 in Boston, Massachusetts and died October 7, 1849.
Poe was an American author, poet, editor and literary critic. He was considered part of the American Romantic Movement. Poe is best known for his tales of mystery and macabre, he was one of the earliest American practitioners of the short story and is considered the inventor of the detective fiction genre. Poe is further credited with contributing to the emerging genre of science fiction. He was the first well known American writer to try to earn a living through writing alone, resulting in a financially difficult life and career.
Born Edger Poe, the second child of English-born actress Elizabeth Arnold Hopkins Poe and actor David Poe Jr. He had an elder brother William Henry Leonard Poe, and younger sister Rosalie Poe. Poe may have been named after a character in William Shakespeare’s King Lear, a play the couple was performing in 1809. Poe was orphaned at the young age of one when his mother died of consumption (pulmonary tuberculosis) shortly after his father abandoned the family in 1810. He was taken in by John Allan, a successful Scottish merchant, and his wife Frances Valentine Allan living in Richmond, Virginia. John Allan dealt in a variety of goods including tobacco, cloth, wheat, tombstones, and slaves. The Allan served as a foster family and gave him the name ‘Edgar Allan Poe’, though they never formally adopted him.
The Allan family had Poe baptized in the Episcopal Church in 1812. John Allan alternately spoiled and aggressively disciplined his foster son. The family, including Poe and Allan’s wife, sailed to Britain in 1815. Poe attended the grammar school Irvine, Scotland (where John Allan was born) for a short time in 1815, before rejoining the family in London in 1816. There Poe studied at the boarding school in Chelsea until the summer of 1817. He was subsequently entered at the Reverend John Bransby’s Manor House School at Stroke Newington, then a suburb four miles (6 km) north of London.
Poe moved back with the Allan’s to Richmond, Virginia in 1820. In 1824 he served as the Lieutenant of the Richmond youth honor guard as Richmond celebrated the visit of the Marquis de Lafayette. In March 1825, John Allan’s uncle and business benefactor William Galt, said to be one of the wealthiest men in Richmond, died and left Allen several acres of real estate. The estimated inheritance was $750,000. By the summer of 1825 Allan celebrated his wealth by purchasing a two story brick home named Moldavia. Poe may have become engaged to Sarah Elmira Royster before he registered at the one year old University of Virginia in February 1826 to study languages. The university, in its infancy, was established on the idea of its founder, Thomas Jefferson. It had strict rules against gambling, horses, guns, tobacco and alcohol, but these rules were generally ignored (no surprise there). Jefferson had enacted a system of student self-government, allowing students to choose their own studies, make their own arrangements for boarding, and report all wrongdoing to the faculty. The unique system was still in chaos, and there was a high dropout rate. During Poe’s time there he lost touch with Royster and also became estranged from his foster father over gambling debts. Poe claimed Allan hadn’t given him sufficient funds to register for classes, purchase texts, and procure and furnish a dormitory. Allan sent additional money and clothes, but Poe’s debts increased. After only a year Poe gave up on the university, and not feeling welcome in Richmond, especially when he learned that his sweetheart Royster had married Alexander Shelton, he traveled to Boston in April 1827. Poe sustained his self with odd Jobs as a clerk and newspaper writer. At some point he started using the pseudonym Henri Le Rennet.
Poe unable to support himself enlisted in the United States Army as a private on may 27, 1827. He claimed he was 22 year old using the name ‘Edgar A. Perry’ even though he was only 18 at the time. He first served at Fort Independence in Boston Harbor for only five dollars a month. That same year Poe released his first book, a 40-page collection of poetry ‘Tamerlane and Other Poems‘, attributed with the byline “by a Bostonian”. Only 50 copies were printed, and the book received virtually no attention. (all writers have there bad start, even the grate ones). On November 8, 1827 Poe’s regiment was posted to Fort Moultrie in Charleston, South Carolina and traveled by ship on the brig Waltham. Poe was promoted to ‘artificer’, an enlisted tradesman who prepared shells for artillery, and had his monthly pay doubled. After two years in service and attaining the rank of sergeant major for artillery (the highest rank a noncommissioned officer can achieve), he sought to end his five year enlistment early. He revealed his real name and his circumstances to his commanding officer, Lieutenant Howard. Howared would only allow Poe to be discharged if he reconciled with John Allan and wrote a letter to him, Allan was unsympathetic. Several months passed and pleas to Allan were ignored (Allan may not have even written to Poe to inform him of his foster mother’s illness. She died on February 28, 1829, ans Poe visited the day after her burial. Perhaps softened by his wife’s death, John Allan agreed to support Poe’s attempt to be discharged in order to recive an appointment to the United States Military Academy at West Point.
Poe was finally discharged on April 15, 1829, after securing a replacement to finish his enlisted term for him. Before entering West Point Poe moved back to Baltimore for a time. He stayed with his widowed aunt Maria Clemm, her daughter (Virginia Eliza Clemm, Poe’s first cousin), his brother Henry, and invalid grandmother Elizabeth Cairnes Poe. Meanwhile Poe published his second book, AL Aaraaf, Tamerlane and Minor Poems, in Baltimore in 1829.
Poe traveled to West Point and matriculated as a cadet on July 1, 1830. October 1830, John Allan married his second wife, Louisa Patterson. The marriage and bitter quarrels with Poe over the children born to Allan out of affairs led to Allan finally disowning Poe. Poe decided to leave West Point by getting court martialed. February 8, 1831 he was tried for gross neglect of duty and disobedience of orders for refusing to attend formations, classes or church. Poe tactically plead not guilty to induce dismissal, knowing he would be found guilty.
Poe left for New York in February 1831, and released a third
volume of Poems, simply titled Poems. The book was financed with help from his fellow cadets at West Point, many of whom donated 75 cents to the cause, raising a total of $170. They may have been expecting verses similar to the satirical ones Poe had been writing about commanding officers. Printed by Elam Bliss of New York, it was labeled as “Second Edition” and included a page saying, “To the U.S. Corps of Cadets this volume is respectfully dedicated.” The book once again reprinted the long poems “Tamerlane” and “Al Aaraaf” but also six previously unpublished poems including early versions of “To Helen”, “Israfel”, and “The City in the Sea”. He returned to Baltimore, to his aunt, brother and cousin, in March 1831. His elder brother Henry, who had been in ill health in part due to problems with alcoholism, died on August 1, 1831.