Text: Susan Archer Weiss, “Chapter 07,” Home Life of Poe (1907), pp. 44-51


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[page 44:]

CHAPTER VII.

THE UNREST OF YOUTH.

In the summer of 1825, Mr. Allan, having come into possession of a large fortune left him by an uncle, purchased and removed to the handsome brick residence at the corner of Main and Fifth streets, built by Mr. Gallego, a wealthy Spanish gentleman, and which became known as the Allan House.

To own such a residence had long been the desire of Mrs. Allan, and upon taking possession of the house she furnished it handsomely and commenced entertaining in a style which rendered them conspicuous in Richmond society. It was even said that they lived extravagantly; and Edgar, with abundance of pocket-money, became the envy of his companions.

But he was not happy. The impatience of restraint of which the Mackenzies spoke, and the dissatisfaction of which was to him, despite its luxuries, an uncongenial home, rendered him discontented. The heart of the boy [page 45:] of fifteen began to pulse with the restlessness of the bird when it feels the first nervous twitchings of its wings, and his great desire now was to get away from home and enjoy greater freedom. He would often, when particularly dissatisfied, speak to the Mackenzies of going to sea or enlisting in the army. At present, however, he contented himself with requesting Mr. Allan to send him to the University.

Mr. Allan did not see the use of a higher education for one whom he destined for a commercial business, but finally yielded; and Edgar left Mr. Burke’s school and, under a private tutorage, commenced fitting himself for the University. This period, from June to February 14, 1825, was the only time, with the exception of two brief intervals, that he resided in the Allan House.

On another point, however, he did not so easily have his way. He was very anxious that his youthful poems should be published in book form, and importuned Mr. Allan to that effect, but this was a thing with which the latter had no sympathy. He did consent to go with the boy to hear what Mr. Clarke’s judgment of the verses would be; but finally concluded that Edgar was too young to publish a [page 46:] book; and so the latter’s eager and ambitious hopes were for the time frustrated.

Still, this must have been a pleasant summer for him, in the enjoyment of his new home, with its fine lawn and garden, in place of the cramped cottage on Clay street, and especially in the knowledge that he was breaking away from his schoolboy days and assuming something of the independence of youth. It was at this time that he made the famous swim of seven miles on James river, from Warwick Park to Richmond, which has been so much commented upon — showing with what fine athletic powers he was gifted.

It was on the 14th of February, 1825, that Poe entered the University; inscribing on the matriculation book the date of his birth as January 19, 1809, making him sixteen years of age, when he was really seventeen (born in 1808). This date, it will be observed, agrees with no other that he has given.

Of his course at the University his biographers have informed us, on the authority of professors and students, some of whom credit him with almost every vice of dissipation, while others defend him from such imputation. But when he returned home, at the end of the first year, with a brilliant scholastic record, it [page 47:] became known that Mr. Allan had been called upon to pay his gambling and other debts, amounting on the whole to over two thousand dollars. Mr. Allan went on to Charlottesville to investigate the matter, and scrupulously paid all that he considered honest debts, refusing to notice the gambling debts.

Poe, having paid little attention to his personal affairs, was almost as much surprised as was Mr. Allan at the amount of his indebtedness. He appeared truly penitent, and frankly so expressed himself to Mr. Allan, offering to repay the latter by his services in his counting-house. It was agreed that after the Christmas holidays he should take his place in the office as clerk.

This was the beginning of the declension of Poe’s social and personal reputation. By his elders he was severely condemned, while the good little boys who had formerly looked doubtfully upon the robber of orchards and turnip-patches now passed him by with sidelong glances and pursed-up lips. And yet, good cause though Mr. Allan had to be angry — as he was — we have the following account of Edgar’s reception at home when he returned from the University for the Christmas [page 48:] holidays, a reception for which he was doubtless indebted to his devoted foster-mother:

A former schoolmate of his, Charles Bolling, writes to the editor of a Richmond paper that Mr. Allan, when on a visit to the country, having given him a cordial invitation to call on him when in Richmond, he, one evening, near Christmas, went to his house, where he was kindly received. After sitting awhile, he perceived certain signs as of preparation for the entertainment of company, and at once rose to leave, but his host insisted upon his remaining, saying that Edgar had just come home from the University, and some of his young friends had been invited to meet him. Bolling replied that he was not in a suitable dress for company, when Mr. Allan said: “Go up to Edgar’s room. He will supply you with one of his own suits.” He found Edgar lying on a lounge reading, who welcomed him cordially, and, throwing open his wardrobe doors, placed the contents at his disposal.

This was a room which, on their removal to their new home, Mrs. Allan had chosen for Edgar’s occupation, furnishing it handsomely, with his books and pictures arranged in bookcases and on the wall. He took great pleasure [page 49:] in this apartment, and had always passed much of his time there.

When the two youths had attired themselves to their satisfaction, they repaired to the drawing-room, where Poe did his duty in welcoming his guests. But after awhile he took Bolling aside and proposed that they should go down the street and have a spree of their own. To this the latter very properly objected, saying: “Oh, no; that would never do.” But being urged, finally consented; and they stole away from the company together.

This was an assertion of independence which one year previous he would not have ventured upon. But he was now no longer a schoolboy, but a University student and, as he claimed, nearly eighteen years of age. This past year had wrought a great change in him; and he was already in his heart prepared to break away from the restraint and authority which he had found so irksome and assert his independence.

In due time Poe was installed in Mr. Allan’s counting-house as clerk, but had occupied that position but a short time when it became intolerable to him. He begged Mr. Allan to give him some other employment, saying that he would rather earn his living in any other way. [page 50:] Mr. Allan, still angry about the University debts, told him that he was his own master, and could choose what employment he pleased, but that henceforth he was not to look to him for assistance. After an angry scene between the two, Poe packed his traveling bag and, leaving the Allan house, did not return to it for the space of two years.

It will be observed that this was no runaway act on Poe’s part, as asserted by biographers. He took an affectionate leave of Mrs. Allan and Miss Valentine — who supplied him with money — and neither of whom believed but that he would be back in a few weeks.

He went to take leave of the Mackenzies, who, all but his friend “Jack,” advised him to return and submit himself to Mr. Allan; but this he would not, could not, do. He claimed that Mr. Allan had spoken insultingly to him, and declared that he would no longer be dependent on him. And so he went forth, as he said, to seek his fortune.

He made his way to Boston, where the first use to which he put his money was in publishing a cheap edition of his poems. They were not of a kind to attract attention, and he never realized a dollar from them. Ambitious to [page 51:] have them known, he sent a number to his friends in Richmond and other places South, and the rest turned over to his publisher, an obscure young man of the name of Thomas, in part payment of the expense of publishing.

Then followed a season of wandering in search of employment until, his money all gone, he had no resource but to enlist in the army, which he did on May 2, 1827, being then, as he claimed, eighteen (really nineteen) years of age, but representing himself as twenty-two.

 


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Notes:

None.


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[S:0 - HLFP, 1907] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Bookshelf - Home Life of Poe (S. A. Weiss) (Chapter 07)