Text: Susan Archer Weiss, “Chapter 08,” Home Life of Poe (1907), pp. 52-56


[page 52:]



In the year 1829, my uncle, Dr. Archer, then Post Surgeon at Fortress Monroe, was one day called to the hospital to attend a private soldier known as Edgar A. Perry. Finding him a young man of superior manners and education, his interest was aroused, and his patient, won by his sympathy, finally confessed that his real name was Edgar A. Poe, and that he was the adopted son of Mr. John Allan, of Richmond; and also expressed an earnest desire to leave the army, in which he had now been for two years, the term of enlistment being five years.

Dr. Archer informed the commanding officer of these revelations, and as Perry, alias Poe, had proven himself in all respects a model soldier, interest in his case was at once aroused. It was suggested that, with his education and the social position which he had enjoyed, a cadetship at West Point would be [page 53:] more suited to him than the place of a private at Fortress Monroe. Poe, in his anxiety to be rid of the army, was willing enough to accept this proposal, and by the advice of his new friends wrote to Mr. Allan, informing him of his wishes and asking his assistance.

For some time he received no answer; but at length there came a letter which must have caused his heart a pang of real sorrow. It was from Mr. Allan, informing him of the death of his wife, and directing him to apply for a furlough and come on at once to Richmond, where he arrived two days after her burial.

Woodbury is mistaken in saying that in all this time Mr. Allan had not known of Edgar’s whereabouts. According to Miss Valentine, Poe never at any time ceased entirely to correspond with Mrs. Allan, who never, to her dying day, lost her interest in the boy whom she had loved as a son, and neither ceased her endeavors to reconcile himself and her husband, urging Edgar to return and Mr. Allan to receive him. In anticipation of such result, she kept his room as he had left it, ready for his occupation at any time that it might suit his wayward fancy to return.

Mr. Allan talked to Poe seriously, and, finding that his great desire was to get a discharge [page 54:] from the army, promised to assist him; but only upon condition of his entering West Point, by which there would be secured to him an honorable and independent position for life, and Allan himself be relieved from all responsibility concerning him. But that he had not entirely forgiven Edgar was evident from a letter to the latter’s commanding officer, wherein he exposes, unnecessarily, perhaps, the youth’s gambling habits at the University, declaring that “he is no relation of mine whatever, and no more to me than many others who, being in need, I have regarded as being my care.” Poe must have felt this latter as a humiliation; and it was certainly not calculated to increase his regard for the writer.

Poe’s career at West Point is well known. At first all went well. One of his Virginia comrades, Col. Allan Magruder, describes him as of a simple and kindly nature, but, by reason of his distance and reserve, not popular with the cadets, and that he at length confined his association exclusively to Virginians. But the old discontent and impatience of restraint returned upon him, and after some months he wrote to Mr. Allan that he wished to leave West Point — a step to which the latter positively refused his assistance. [page 55:]

Finding nobody inclined to help him, he resolved to force his discharge. He purposely neglected his studies and military duties, deliberately violated the rules, engaged — it was said by some — in all sorts of disgraceful pranks; and finally was tried by court-martial and, on March 7, 1831, dismissed from the institute.

It has been naturally inferred that Poe’s object in this voluntary self-sacrifice was simply to free himself from the irksomeness of military duties which, on trial, he found so opposed to his taste and inclination. But perhaps the real motive was one which has never yet been suspected.

Some time after Poe’s death I was informed by a lady that, being in company where the conversation turned upon the poet and his writings, one who did not admire the latter remarked that Edgar Poe could have been of more use to both himself and others by remaining at West Point and adopting the army as a profession. To this an old army officer, Capt. Patrick Galt, replied that he had been informed by one who had been a classmate of Poe that the latter had been driven away from West Point by the slights and snubs of the cadets on account of his parentage and his bringing [page 56:] up as an object of charity. West Point, this officer declared, had in Poe’s time been a very hotbed of aristocratic prejudice and pretension, and, Poe’s history being known, these young aristocrats held themselves aloof, while the more snobbish among them, probably by reason of his reserve and acknowledged superiority in some respects, did not hesitate to attempt to humiliate him on occasion. Poe, he said, probably knew that this odium would in a measure attach to him throughout his whole military career, and he acted wisely in declining to expose himself to it.

Hence the shyness and reserve of which some of his fellow-cadets speak, and his exclusive association with Virginians, who generally stand by each other.






[S:0 - HLFP, 1907] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Bookshelf - Home Life of Poe (S. A. Weiss) (Chapter 08)