Edgar Allan Poe
- Boston, Massachusetts
Edgar Allan Poe (January 19, 1809 to October 7, 1849) was an American writer, poet, critic and editor best known for evocative short stories and poems that captured the imagination and interest of readers around the world. His imaginative storytelling and tales of mystery and horror gave birth to the modern detective story. Many of Poe’s works, including “The Tell-Tale Heart” and “The Fall of the House of Usher,” became literary classics. Some aspects of Poe’s life, like his literature, is shrouded in mystery, and the lines between fact and fiction have been blurred substantially since his death.
Poe never really knew his parents — Elizabeth Arnold Poe, a British actress, and David Poe, Jr., an actor who was born in Baltimore. His father left the family early in Poe's life, and his mother passed away from tuberculosis when he was only three.
Separated from his brother William and sister Rosalie, Poe went to live with John and Frances Valentine Allan, a successful tobacco merchant and his wife, in Richmond, Virginia. Edgar and Frances seemed to form a bond, but he had a more difficult relationship with John Allan. By the age of 13, Poe was a prolific poet, but his literary talents were discouraged by his headmaster and John Allan, who preferred that Poe follow him in the family business. Preferring poetry over profits, Poe reportedly wrote poems on the back of some of Allan's business papers.
Money was also an issue between Poe and John Allan. Poe went to the University of Virginia in 1826, where he excelled in his classes. However he didn't receive enough funds from Allan to cover all of his costs. Poe turned to gambling to cover the difference, but ended up in debt. He returned home only to face another personal setback — his neighbor and fiancée Sarah Elmira Royster had become engaged to someone else. Heartbroken and frustrated, Poe moved to Boston.
In 1827, around the time he published his first book, Poe joined the U.S. Army. Two years later, he learned that Frances Allan was dying of tuberculosis, but by the time he returned to Richmond she had already passed away.
After leaving West Point, Poe published his third book and focused on writing full-time. He traveled around in search of opportunity, living in New York City, Baltimore, Philadelphia and Richmond. In 1834, John Allan died, leaving Poe out of his will, but providing for an illegitimate child Allan had never met.
Poe, who continued to struggle living in poverty, got a break when one of his short stories won a contest in the Baltimore Saturday Visiter. He began to publish more short stories and in 1835 landed an editorial position with the Southern Literary Messenger in Richmond. Poe developed a reputation as a cut-throat critic, writing vicious reviews of his contemporaries. His scathing critiques earned him the nickname the "Tomahawk Man." His tenure at the magazine proved short. Poe's aggressive-reviewing style and sometimes combative personality strained his relationship with the publication, and he left the magazine in 1837. His problems with alcohol also played a role in his departure, according to some reports.
Poe went on to brief stints at Burton's Gentleman's Magazine, Graham's Magazine, The Broadway Journal, and he also sold his work to Alexander’s Weekly Messenger, among other journals.
In 1844, Poe moved to New York City. There, he published a news story in The New York Sun about a balloon trip across the Atlantic Ocean that he later revealed to be a hoax. His stunt grabbed attention, but it was his publication of "The Raven," in 1845, which made Poe a literary sensation.
That same year, Poe found himself under attack for his stinging criticisms of fellow poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Poe claimed that Longfellow, a widely popular literary figure, was a plagiarist, which resulted in a backlash against Poe.
Despite his success and popularity as a writer, Poe continued to struggle financially and he advocated for higher wages for writers and an international copyright law.
I became insane, with long intervals of horrible sanity.
We loved with a love that was more than love.
Quoth the raven, "Nevermore!"
Those who dream by day are cognizant of many things which escape those who dream only by night.
All that we see or seem is but a dream within a dream.
The boundaries which divide Life from Death are at best shadowy and vague. Who shall say where the one ends, and where the other begins?