Edgar Allan Poe was born on January 19, 1809, in Boston, Massachusetts, to traveling actors David Poe and Elizabeth Arnold Hopkins.
Separated from his older brother, William Henry, and younger sister, Rosalie, following their parents’ deaths, Edgar went to live with wealthy tobacco merchant, John Allan, and his wife, Frances Valentine Allan, inRichmond,Virginia. Although John planned for Edgar to pursue a career in business, Poe desired to follow in the footsteps of his childhood hero, British poet Lord Byron. Prolific as his literary efforts were, Poe was dissuaded from publishing by his boarding school headmaster, even with enough poetry to fill a book by the age of thirteen.
Poe led a complicated life as a young man, experiencing one hardship after another. Attending the University of Virginia in 1826, he was forced to leave due to gambling debts acquired while trying to sustain himself, since John Allan had given Poe only a fraction of the stipend necessary to live. Returning home, Poe’s fiancé, Elmira Royster, had become engaged to another during Poe’s time away at school. The combined stress from Allan and Royster compelled Poe to seek out a new life, resulting in enlistment in the U.S. Army, and later at West PointAcademyafter making amends with Allan. During this time, Poe published his first book, Tamerlane, as well as a collection of poetry.
As many classic works were published (“The Raven” in 1845) and Poe gained notoriety, he sought more payment as lecture crowds increased. An advocate of author’s wages and international copyright law, Poe attempted to establish his own literary journal, but was unable to acquire the financing.
His health deteriorated in the late 1840s, and Poe was hospitalized after being found in a bar room. He died on October 7, 1849, at forty from an undetermined cause of death.
Seeking revenge for a scathing review by Poe, author Rufus Griswold wrote a defamatory obituary of him, followed by an unflattering biography filled with exaggerations of drinking and womanizing. Griswold’s attempts misfired, prompting the public to seek out Poe’s work in droves.
The dark and melancholic aura associated with Poe was more the mystique created by his rivals. Poe may have been a man presumed to have lived a licentious lifestyle, but any darkness attributed to him was committed to his work. The man himself appears nobler than credited, and sought refuge in his talents, becoming the literary giant he is known as today.