Last Update: Jan. 1, 2004 .Navigation:. Main Menu .. Poe's Misc
[Text: Anonymous, “Edgar Allan Poe,” The Biographical Cyclopedia of Representative Men of Maryland and District of Columbia, Baltimore: National Biographical Publishing Co., 1879, pp. 629-631.]


[page 629, column 1]

POE, EDGAR ALLAN, was descended from a highly respectable Irish family. In 1743 his grandfather, David Poe, came with his parents to this country from Londonderry while he was yet but two years old. During the Revolution he espoused the American cause, and became an officer in the Maryland Line and the intimate friend of Lafayette. In his patriotism he gave not only his services, but his ample means to the public good. His son, David Poe, Jr., the eldest of six children, while yet a law student in the office of William Gwynn, Esq., became enamoured of Mrs. Elizabeth Hopkins, an English actress of some repute, and on the death of her husband eloped with and married her, whereupon his father disowned him. Thrown thus upon his own resources the young husband adopted his wife’s profession, and made his debut in the Vauxhall Garden Theatre, New York, July 8, 1806, as Frank, in “Fortune’s Frolic.” Mrs. Poe died of pneumonia, December 8, 1811, during an engagement at the Richmond Theatre. David Poe, Jr., her husband, was one of the seventy victims that perished in the burning theatre on the 26th of the same month. Their three orphan children, William Henry, the eldest, Edgar, and Rosalie, were thus thrown upon the charity of the world. Henry was taken and educated by his godfather, Henry Didier, of Baltimore; Edgar was adopted by John Allan, a wealthy Scotch gentleman of Richmond; and Rosalie by Mrs. McKenzie. Edgar Poe was born in Boston January 19, 1809, while his parents were filling a theatrical engagement in that city, and his early days were spent in the green-room. His foster-father in adopting him incorporated his own name with Edgar’s, and he was afterwards known as Edgar Allan Poe. Finding him a boy of marked ability, Mr. Allan determined to give him the best advantages of education, and designed him as his heir. In the summer of 1816 Mr. and Mrs. Allan revisited their home in Scotland and took Edgar with them, where he learned the rudiments of English and Latin. On their return from [column 2:] Europe in 1818, Edgar was placed in the school of Professor of Joseph H. Clarke, where he made remarkable progress in his studies, and displayed the germs of that rich and splendid imagination which distinguished him in after-life. In 1823 he was placed under Professor Clarke’s successor, Mr. William Burke. He was of slight and graceful form, lithe and sinewy, and was foremost both in scholarship and in all athletic exercises, especially running, swimming, and boxing. February 1, 1826, he was placed at the University of Virginia. He entered the schools of ancient and modern languages, and attended the lectures in connection with them. He was a regular and successful student, and at the final examination won distinction in Latin and French. Gaming was at this time a common practice at the University, and young Poe, who had been too lavishly supplied with money to understand its proper rise, lost large sums at cards, which brought upon him the severe animadversions of his foster-father. He left the University December 15, 1826, and returned to Richmond, where his distinguished talents, brilliant conversation, polished manners, and expectations of wealth as the presumptive heir of Mr. Allan, secured him access to the best society of the city. But young Poe was not wholly engrossed with the pleasures of fashionable life; he devoted much time to reading and study, and to composition. In 1829 he gave to the world a thin octavo volume of seventy-two pages, entitled Al Aaraaf, Tamerlane, and Minor Poems, by Edgar A. Poe. It was published by Hatch & Dunning, of Baltimore, and was received with but little favor at the time. While in the city in connection with its publication, Edgar was kindly received at the house of Mrs. Clemm, his aunt, and saw for the first time his little cousin, Virginia, then in her seventh year, to whom he became greatly attached. Summoned home by the alarming illness of Mrs. Allan, his foster-mother, he hastily returned, but to find her, whom he had tenderly loved, dead and buried -- an irreparable loss to him. Mr. Allan thought it was time for Edgar to adopt a profession, and as he disliked the drudgery of legal study and the laborious life of a medical practitioner, Mr. Allan procured for him a cadetship at West Point, and he entered the Military Academy in 1830. While at West Point a second edition of his poems appeared with seven additional articles. His reading studies here showed his preference for literature over military life. The young cadet soon wearied of the dry studies and severe discipline of the Academy, and at the end of six months he asked permission of Mr. Allan to resign. This being refused he determined to get away by deliberate neglect of duty and disobedience of rules. He was tried by court-martial for “neglect of duty and disobedience of orders,” pleaded “Guilty,” and was sentenced “to be dismissed the service of the United States.” On his return to Richmond he was coldly received by Mr. Allan and the new wife he had lately married, and his proud spirit chafing at the change, he left the house of his [page 630:] foster-father never to return. Going to Baltimore he was received at the house of his aunt, Mrs. Clemm, with whom he found a home, and in her affection and that of his little cousin, Virginia, whom he afterwards married, found a soothing balm for his wounded spirit. Resolved not to be a burden to his aunt he sought employment, but finding none, devoted himself to writing the Tales of the Folio Club, and instructing his cousin Virginia. The tales comprised “The Descent into the Maelstrom,” “Adventure of Hans Pfaal,” “A Manuscript Found in a Bottle,” “A Tale of the Ragged Mountain,” “Berenice,” and “Lionizing.” In 1833 the Baltimore Saturday Visitor offered a prize of $100 for the best tale, and $50 for the best poem. In competition for the prize, Mr. Poe submitted his Tales of the Folio Club and his poem, The Coliseum. The committee, of which Hon. John P. Kennedy was chairman, awarded the $100 prize to the “Manuscript Found in a Bottle,” and to escape the charge of favoritism, the $50 prize to an obscure author, while admitting the superiority of The Coliseum. This, to Poe, was the dawn of literary success. Mr. Kennedy introduced him to Mr. White, proprietor of the Southern Literary Messenger at Richmond. He became a contributor to the magazine. His articles attracted much attention, and he was engaged first as assistant editor and then editor-in-chief, in which position his reviews, critiques and tales made the Messenger of national reputation. When he first went to Richmond he missed the society of his aunt and cousin, brooded over his changed prospects, and fell into a settled melancholy and gloom until they came to reside with him. In 1837 Mr. Poe was invited to accept the position of associate editor of the New York Quarterly Review. The field here was wider and more remunerative. He accepted it and removed to New York, but occasionally wrote for the Messenger as long as he lived. His critiques and reviews in the Quarterly were scholarly, but unsparing in exposing literary pretension and mediocrity, and made him many enemies. In the fall of 1838 Poe removed to Philadelphia. During the year he contributed “Ligeia,” and others of his best tales, and the airy little poem, “The Haunted Palace,” to the American Museum, edited by Professor N. C. Brooks, and also wrote many articles for the Gentleman’s Magazine, published by Burton. In less than six months he became editor of that monthly, and when Mr. George R. Graham, proprietor of The Casket, in 1840 purchased the Gentleman’s Magazine, and incorporated the two under the title of Graham’s Magazine, be was continued editor of the new monthly. The various articles he wrote greatly added to the list of its subscribers, and increased his own reputation. His articles on “ Autography and Cryptography” discovered great ingenuity and power of analysis. That he possessed this power to a remarkable degree is shown by his prophetic analysis of Dickens’s Barnaby Rudge. From a few initial chapters that were published he detailed in advance the entire plot and denouement of [column 2:] the story. In 1839 Lea & Blanchard published in two volumes the principal tales he had written, under the title of Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque, which met a very favorable reception from the public In 1842 the declining health of his child-wife seriously afflicted him, and worn out with watching by her bedside, and the constant tax upon his weary brain to produce some article for the press whereby he could procure the merest necessaries of life for his little family, he wrote to a friend in Washington to get him a clerkship, “ even a five hundred dollar one, so that I have something independent of letters for a subsistence. To coin one’s brain into silver at the word of a master is, I am thinking, the hardest task in the world.” In the spring of 1843 Poe achieved another conquest, the winning of the $100 prize offered by The Dollar Magazine [[sic]] of Philadelphia, for the best story. “The Gold Bug” was the title of the tale. It was founded upon the story of Captain Kyd’s adventures. During this year Poe and T. C. Clarke projected The Stylus, a monthly magazine, which Poe was to edit. Presuming from his intimacy with the sons of President Tyler that he could interest the President and his Cabinet and prominent members of Congress, Mr. Poe went to Washington, and, unfortunately, meeting with friends who induced him to drink, became intoxicated, and blasted at the outset all hopes of establishing the magazine, and abandoned the idea. Near the close of the year he delivered a lecture in Baltimore on American Poetry, which he repeated in Philadelphia. In 1844 Poe became associate editor of The Mirror, an evening paper published by Willis & Morris. A daily journal he found wearing upon his strength, and at the end of six months left The Mirror to join Mr. C. H. Briggs in the publication of The Broadway Journal. During his connection with The Mirror he published in the American Review “The Raven,” that wild, weird poem, without a parallel in English poetry. About this time he wrote for Godey’s Lady’s Book a series of papers entitled “ The Literati of New York,” which produced such a sensation that extra editions of the magazine were necessary to supply the demand. Thomas Dunn English being severely criticized, published a libellous retort, which was copied in The Mirror. Poe brought a suit for damages, and the paper was mulcted several hundred dollars. In the spring of 1846 Poe removed to Fordham, in Westchester County, that the pure air of the country might be beneficial to his wife, now in a rapid decline, and to his own failing strength, exhausted by mental effort, pecuniary anxieties, and by watching at the sick-bed of his cherished wife. As the winter came on they were reduced to extremity and wanted even the barest necessaries of life, and though pecuniary relief came at length, disease and poverty bad done their work, and on January 30, 1847, the beautiful and gentle sufferer entered into rest. Her husband’s sorrow was inconsolable. He seemed utterly incapable of mental exertion, and he often wandered at midnight in the snow and [page 631:] rain and threw himself upon her grave, calling upon her with words of the most devoted affection. Under the pressure of his sorrows he took to drink, not for the pleasure it afforded him, but, as he expressed it, “to escape from torturing memories, from a sense of insupportable loneliness, and a dread of some strange, impending doom.” The only article published by him in 1847 was “Ulalume,” a wild, weird threnody of overwhelming melancholy. He was engaged, however, in the preparation of a lecture, “The Universe,” which he delivered February 3, 1848, at the Society Library, New York. He printed it afterwards under the name “Eureka.” he had hoped to obtain means from its sale to take the first steps towards bringing out his projected magazine, The Stylus, but it brought him neither fame nor money. In September, 1848, he published in the Southern Literary Messenger an elaborate review of Mrs. Lewis’s poems, and in October his discriminating article on “The Rationale of Verse.” Poe spent the summer of 1849 in Richmond, and seemed to have recovered his strength and conquered the temptation to drink. At this time be paid his addresses to Mrs. Elmira Shelton, to whom he had been attached in early life, before her marriage, and they were to be joined in wedlock on the 17th of October. On his way North to bring Mrs. Clemm to the wedding he stopped in Baltimore, and had the misfortune to meet a friend who invited him to drink. Such was his delicate mental organization that a single glass was sufficient to madden him, and he became intoxicated. He was found by his cousin, Mr. Neilson Poe, at the close of a municipal election, in a state of stupefaction, in a back room of the Fourth Ward polls, and the presumption is that he had been “cooped” by one of the political clubs, drugged, and made to vote in the different wards of the city. He was taken to the Washington College Hospital, where every attention was paid him. He died on the following Sunday, October 7, and was buried with his ancestors in the cemetery of Westminster Church, corner of Fayette and Greene streets. His grave, though the Mecca of poetic pilgrims for years, was without a stone to mark the spot, till by the efforts of the teachers of Baltimore and the munificence of George W. Childs a beautiful monument of the pedestal form, with sculptured harps and a bas-relief bust of the poet, was erected over his remains, that had been removed to the northwest corner of the cemetery. Appropriate ceremonies preceded the unveiling of the monument, at which more than a thousand persons were present, many of them from other cities.


[In the original, the text is given as it is here, in one long continuous paragraph. The reference to the Dollar Magazine is incorrect. Poe's tale "The Gold-Bug" was published in the Dollar Newspaper (Philadelphia). The Dollar Magazine was a different, and later, periodical of a much smaller format.]

~~~ End of Text ~~~

[S:0 - BCRM, 1879]