Text: James A. Harrison, “Appendix A,” Complete Works of E. A. PoeVol. 01: Biography (1902), 1:343-346


[page 343, unnumbered:]


THE following document possesses a curious interest, being Poe’s own account of his early life as furnished by him to Dr. Rufus Wilmot Griswold. The MS. is in the possession of Mrs. Wm. M. Griswold, of Cambridge, Mass., daughter-in-law of Dr. Griswold, by whose courtesy it is here printed for the first time. The reader should compare it with the letter by Poe on his ancestry to be found in our Volume XVII, dated August 20, 1835.

The Memorandum abounds in inaccuracies. The birth-date is wrong by two years: Poe was born in 1809. The elder Mrs. Poe did not die of “consumption” but of pneumonia. Mr. Allan never legally “adopted” Poe, but befriended and reared him and gave him a home. This statement is confirmed by Mrs. S. A. Weiss and Dr. John F. Carter, who are still living and who knew Poe and the Allans intimately. Poe remained only one year (1826, not 1825) at the University of Virginia, not “three,” as he states in the Memorandum. The University of Virginia never had a “President;” its executive officer is the Chairman of the Faculty. The runaway trip to Russia is altogether mythical: Poe was a Private and then a sergeant-major in the United States army, under the name of Edgar A. Perry, from May 26, 1827, to April 15, 1829, when, having supplied a substitute, he was honorably discharged. Mr. Allan [page 344:] was not so old as Poe makes him out to be on his second marriage, and he left three children, not “one son,” to inherit his large estate. It would be most interesting to know what “two British journals” Poe “wrote continuously for,” “whose names he was not permitted to mention.” No traces of these contributions have been found; perhaps they were never printed.


Memo. Born January, 1811. Family one of the oldest and most respectable in Baltimore. Gen. David Poe, my paternal grandfather, was a quarter-master general, in the Maryland line, during the Revolution, and the intimate friend of Lafayette, who, during his visit to the U. S., called personally upon the Gen.’s widow, and tendered her his warmest acknowledgments for the services rendered him by her husband. His father, John Poe, married, in England, Jane, a daughter of Admiral James McBride, noted in British naval history, and claiming kindred with many of the most illustrious houses of Great Britain. My father and mother died within a few weeks of each other, of consumption, leaving me an orphan at two years of age. Mr. John Allan, a very wealthy gentleman of Richmond, Va., took a fancy to me, and persuaded my grandfather, Gen. Poe, to suffer him to adopt me. Was brought up in Mr. A.’s family, and regarded always as his son and heir — he having no other children. In 1816 went with Mr. A.’s family to G. Britain — visited every portion of it — went to school for 5 years to the Rev. Doctor Bransby, at Stoke Newington, then 4 miles from London. Returned [page 345:] to America in 1822. In 1825 went to the Jefferson University at Charlottesville, Va., where for 3 years I led a very dissipated life — the college at that period being shamefully dissolute. Dr. Dunglison of Philadelphia, President. Took the first honors, however, and came home greatly in debt. Mr. A. refused to pay some of the debts of honor, and I ran away from home without a dollar on a quixotic expedition to join the Greeks, then struggling for liberty. Failed in reaching Greece, but made my way to St. Petersburg, in Russia. Got into many difficulties, but was extricated by the kindness of Mr. H. Middleton, the American consul at St. P. Came home safe in 1829, found Mrs. A. dead, and immediately went to West Point as a Cadet. In about 18 months afterwards Mr. A. married a second time (a Miss Patterson, a near relative of Gen. Winfield Scott) — he being then 65 years of age. Mrs. A. and myself quarrelled, and he, siding with her, wrote me an angry letter, to which I replied in the same spirit. Soon afterwards he died, having had a son by Mrs. A., and, although leaving a vast property, bequeathed me nothing. The army does not suit a poor man — so I left W. Point abruptly, and threw myself upon literature as a resource. I became first known to the literary world thus. A Baltimore weekly paper (The Visiter) offered two premiums — one for best prose story, one for best poem. The Committee awarded both to me, and took occasion to insert in the journal a card, signed by themselves, in which I was very highly flattered. The Committee were John P. Kennedy (author of Horse-Shoe Robinson), J. H. B. Latrobe and Dr. J. H. Miller. Soon after this I was invited by Mr. T. W. White, proprietor of the [page 346:] South. Lit. Messenger, to edit it. Afterwards wrote for New York Review at the invitation of Dr. Hawks and Professor Henry, its proprietors. Lately have written articles continuously for two British journals whose names I am not permitted to mention. In my engagement with Burton, it was not my design to let my name appear — but he tricked me into it.

Written on half sheet evidently used for an envelope, marks of seal left on back, stamp, “(paid) 1 J. B.” x part of an address, severed by scissors-cut:

“ld, Esqre.,  
Mass.” T



The cut address is obviously Rufus W. Griswold, Esqre., Boston, Mass.


[S:0 - JAH01, 1902] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Articles - Complete Works of E. A. Poe (Vol. 01 - Biography) (J. A. Harrison) (Appendix A)