Edgar Allan Poe

V. EDGAR ALLAN POE: 1809-1849.

Four and a half years after the date of Hawthorne's birth, there was born in Boston another child of eccentric genius, -- like the lonely orphaned boy in Salem destined to literary fame as a dreamer of romance, -- and, alas, destined also to a career unique in the history of American letters for its brevity, its pathos, and its tragedy.


Edgar Allan Poe was born January 19, 1809. That his birth occurred in Boston was due to the fact that his parents, members of a theatrical company, were filling an engagement in that city when the event occurred. David Poe, the father of the child, was a Southerner, a native of Baltimore, where the Poes were people of character and standing. Connection with the parental home had ceased, however, when the young man had recklessly pushed his law-books aside for an uncertain career upon the stage. He was never a brilliant actor; the lady whom he married was by far his superior in their profession, and possessed the more vigorous personality of the two. It was from his mother that Edgar inherited his artistic temperament; while the prevailing weaknesses of the boy's later life, it is safe to assert, were a natural inheritance from his father. Within a year of Edgar's birth, his father died, and a year or two later Mrs. Poe also died, at Richmond, Virginia, in poverty, leaving three young children to the charity of friends. A Mrs. Allan, wife of a tobacco merchant of Richmond, had become interested in the suffering family, and took Edgar into her home.

The Adopted Child.

The black-eyed, curly-haired boy, handsome and precocious, soon won his way into the affections of Mr. and Mrs. Allan. He was given the name of his foster parents, was made the pet of the household, and treated with a degree of indulgence far from wise. One of his accomplishments was the ability to declaim childish speeches before the dinner guests, when the table was cleared for dessert, and to pledge the health of the company in wine -- "with roguish grace."


In 1815, Mr. Allan went to England, taking his family with him. Edgar, then six years old, was placed in the Manor House School, in a suburb of London, and there he remained five years. The associations of this period left a strong and not unpleasant impression on the boy's memory; they are recalled with some detail in the story William Wilson. At this old and typical English school, the youth was brought in contact with much that was ancient, with many reminders of great historic characters and events. He studied Latin and French, participated in all out-door sports, and, before the close of his residence, had begun to write occasional verse. The principal of the school had "remarked nothing in Edgar Allan, as he was called, except that he was clever, but spoilt by `an extravagant amount of pocket money.'"1

Upon the return of the family to America in 1820, the boy continued his studies at a private school in Richmond, where he appeared to be a quick and brilliant pupil, although not always steady or accurate in scholarship. He excelled in athletics, was a skillful boxer and a daring swimmer; having, it is said, one hot June day, swum six miles in the James River, against a strong tide. Like Byron, he was very proud of this accomplishment.

The University.

The University of Virginia had been opened under the patronage of Thomas Jefferson in 1825. At the beginning of 1826, Poe, then seventeen, placed his name upon the register of students. In the convivial atmosphere of undergraduate fellowship, habits of irresponsibility and reckless indulgence were easily acquired. To such habits this proud, impulsive, and highly strung youth was especially susceptible. At the same time there was a reserve and a self-absorption that checked intimacy. His classmates hardly knew him except as a person of high spirit. His favorite diversion was to wander off for a long, solitary

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