Edgar Allan Poe was born on January 19, 1809 in Boston, Massachusetts. He was the second child of English actress, Elizabeth Arnold Hopkins, and father, David Poe Jr, who was also an actor. It is often speculated that Poe was named in accordance to the Shakespearean play in which his parents were performing at the time of his birth. His family was both was Irish and English by descent and came to America around 1750. He had two siblings, an older brother, William, and a young sister, Rosalie.
Poe’s father left his family in 1810 and unfortunately for the young children, their mother died a year later, from tuberculosis, or consumption as it was commonly known. Poe was not yet three years old. From that point on Poe was raised by a Scotsman named John Allan, in Richmond, Virginia. It was from this family that Poe took on his middle name, “Allan.” For a short time, when Poe was still quite young, the family took a trip to Scotland. While he studied at a grammar school in Irvine, and later at a boarding school in Chelsea, England.
After a temporary stay in the Great Britain, the family moved back to Richmond in 1820 and in 1826 Poe registered at the University of Virginia. It was his intention to study ancient and modern languages. Poe’s time at the university was turbulent and due to increasing gambling debts, he lost touch with his foster father. He left university after only one year and traveled to Boston where he worked as a newspaper writer and clerk. Poe’s funds and career prospects were quite limited, so in an effort to improve his circumstances he enlisted in the US Army at eighteen years old.
He served at Fort Independence in Boston at the same time that he was releasing his first volume of poetry titled, Tamerlane and Other Poems. The book had a very limited printing and received little to no attention. After two years in the army Poe sought, and was given, a discharge; after which he moved back to Baltimore where he stayed with his aunt Maria Clemm and her daughter Virginia Eliza Clemm. He was also publishing his second book this time, Al Aaraaf, Tamerlane, and Minor Poems, which was released in 1829.
Due to the circumstances of his military discharged, he was made to attend West Point Academy. His time there was also brief, during which he sought out a courtmartial for neglect of duty. The following years saw the release of his third volume of poetry, and the death of his brother. In the mid-thirties, after meeting with no poetic success, Poe turned to prose. He won a prize for his work in 1833, bringing him a small amount of attention.
In 1835, Poe became the assistant editor of the Southern Literary Messenger, was fired for drunkenness, and the next year married his thirteen year old cousin, Virginia. At their wedding ceremony the couple was forced to lie about Virginia’s age, stating she was 21 instead of 13. Poe then regained his previous job and published a number of poems, stories, and reviews. It was during this time that he wrote some of his best known stories such as, “The Fall of the House of Usher,” and “The Murders in the Rue Morgue.” These works were part of the collection, Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque published in 1839.
Three years later, Poe’s temporary good fortune took a turn for the worse. Virginia began to show signs of consumption, symptoms Poe knew well. His drinking became worse during this time period and he left his job. He worked for a couple of other journals, and his most popular poem, “The Raven,” was published in 1845.
Poe’s wife died in 1847 from tuberculosis, causing a deepening of his depression and further worsening of his alcoholism. After her death he attempted to enter into a permanent relationship with another poet. The couple became engaged, only to split up, driven apart by Poe’s habits.
Poe’s own death is still somewhat mysterious. He was found on October 3, 1849, wandering around Baltimore, in a semi-conscious state. He was taken to hospital very early in the morning but was never conscious long enough to explain his condition. It is said that he was wearing someone else’s clothes during the whole ordeal and called out for someone named, “Reynolds.” He died four days later of what was then called, “acute congestion of the brain.” It is now thought that he had perhaps suffered from rabies, syphilis, cholera or perhaps heart disease.
Edgar Allan Poe’s work as a writer and editor were notable in their contribution to world literature. He is considered to be one of the originators of deceive fiction and true gothic horror. He was also one of the first American writers to gain an international reputation.