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Encyclopedia > Edgar Allen Poe

Edgar Allan Poe (January 19, 1809October 7, 1849) was an American poet, short story writer, editor and critic. He is best known for his tales of the macabre and his poems.

Edgar Allan Poe



Poe was born in Boston, Massachusetts, the son of actress Eliza Poe and actor David Poe, Jr.. Both of Poe's parents died before he was three years old, and Poe was taken into the home of John Allan, a successful merchant in Richmond, Virginia, and baptized Edgar Allan Poe. After attending schools in England and Richmond, Virginia, Poe registered at the University of Virginia, but stayed for only one year. Poe enlisted in the US Army as a private using the name Edgar A. Perry on May 26, 1827. After serving for two years and attaining the rank of Sergeant-major, Poe was discharged. Poe received an appointment to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, but apparently deliberately disobeyed orders to compel a dismissal.

Poe next moved to Baltimore, Maryland with his widowed aunt, Maria Clemm, and her daughter, Virginia. Poe used his fiction as a means of supporting himself, and with the December issue of 1835, Poe began editing the Southern Literary Messenger for Thomas W. White in Richmond. This position was held by Poe until January, 1837. During this time, Poe married his young cousin, Virginia Clemm, in Richmond on May 16, 1836.

After spending fifteen fruitless months inyjnnsm New York, Poe moved to Philadelphia. Shortly after he arrived, his novella The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym was published and widely reviewed. In the summer of 1839, he became assistant editor of Burton's Gentleman's Magazine. He published a large number of articles, stories and reviews, enhancing the reputation as a trenchant critic that he had established at the Southern Literary Messenger. In 1839, the collection Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque was published in two volumes. Though not a financial success, it was a milestone in the history of American literature. Poe left Burton's after about a year and found a position as assistant editor at Graham's Magazine.

Virginia suffered a lung hemorrhage in January 1842. It was the first sign of the tuberculosis that would make her an invalid and eventually take her life. Poe began to drink more heavily under the stress of Virginia's illness. He left Graham's and attempted to find a new position, for a time angling for a government post.

He returned to New York, where he worked briefly at the Evening Mirror before becoming editor of the Broadway Journal. There he became involved in a noisy public feud with Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. On January 29, 1845, his poem "The Raven" appeared in the Evening Mirror and became a popular sensation.

The Broadway Journal failed in 1846. Poe moved to a cottage in the Bronx. The cottage is on the south east corner of the Grand Concourse and Kingsbridge Road and is open to the public. Virginia died there in 1847. Increasingly unstable after his wife's death, Poe attempted to court the poet Sarah Helen Whitman. Their engagement failed, purportedly because of Poe's drinking and erratic behavior; however there is also strong evidence that Miss Whitman's mother intervened and did much to derail their relationship. According to Poe's own account, he attempted suicide during this period by overdosing on laudanum. He then returned to Richmond and resumed a relationship with a childhood sweetheart, Sarah Elmira Royster, who by that time was a widow. Poe died while visiting Baltimore in 1849.

Poe was five feet, eight inches in height and slightly built.

Poe's death

This daguerreotype of Poe was taken less than a year before his death at the age of 40.

Poe arrived in Baltimore, Maryland, on September 27, 1849.

On the 3rd of October, he was found on the streets, delirious and "in great distress, and... in need of immediate assistance," according to the man who found him. He was taken to the Washington College Hospital, where he died early on the morning of October 7. Poe was never coherent long enough to explain how he came to be in his dire condition, and wearing clothes that were not his own.

The precise cause of Poe's death is disputed.

Dr. J. E. Snodgrass, an acquaintance of Poe's who was among those who saw him in his last days, was convinced that Poe's death was a result of drunkenness, and did a great deal to popularise this interpretation of the events. He was, however, a supporter of the temperance movement who found Poe a useful example in his work; later scholars have shown that his account of Poe's death distorts facts to support his theory.

Dr. John Moran, the physician who attended Poe, stated in his own 1885 account that "Edgar Allan Poe did not die under the effect of any intoxicant, nor was the smell of liquor upon his breath or person." This was, however, only one of several sometimes contradictory accounts of Poe's last days he published over the years, so his testimony cannot be considered entirely reliable.

Numerous other theories have been proposed over the years, including several forms of rare brain disease, various types of enzyme deficiency, rabies [1] (http://www.umm.edu/news/releases/news-releases-17.html) (though some consider this unlikely), syphilis, and the idea that Poe was shanghaied, drugged, and used as a pawn in a ballot-box-stuffing scam during the election that was held on the day he was found.

In the absence of contemporary documentation (all surviving accounts are either incomplete or published years after the event; even Poe's death certificate, if one was ever made out, has been lost), it is likely that the truth of Poe's death will never be known. No other major American writer in the nineteenth century except Sidney Lanier lived a shorter life span.

Poe is now buried on the grounds of Westminster Presbyterian Church in Baltimore.

Griswold and Poe's biography

The day Poe was buried, a long obituary appeared in the New York Tribune, signed "Ludwig." This remarkably bitter obituary depicted Poe as dishonest, immoral and morbidly ambitious, insane and incapable of normal human feelings. It was reprinted in numerous papers across the country. "Ludwig" was soon identified as Rufus Griswold, a minor editor and anthologist who had borne a grudge against Poe since 1842, when Poe wrote a review of one of Griswold's anthologies, a review that Griswold found insufficiently laudatory. Though they were coolly polite in person, an enmity developed between the two men as they clashed over various matters. Griswold took advantage of Poe's death to settle the score.

Griswold went on to assume the role of Poe's literary executor, though no evidence exists that Poe had ever made this exceedingly improbable choice. He convinced Poe's destitute mother-in-law Maria Clemm to hand over a mass of letters and manuscripts (which were never returned) and allow him to prepare an edition of Poe's collected works. Griswold assured Clemm that she would receive significant royalties, but she received nothing but a few sets of the edition, which she had to sell herself to realize a derisory return.

Griswold wrote a biographical "Memoir" of Poe which he included in an additional volume of the collected works. This biography depicted Poe as a depraved, drunk, drug-addled madman. It distorted almost every point of Poe's biography, and included items forged by Griswold to bolster his case. This libelous picture of Poe was immediately denounced by those who knew him well, but Griswold's account became the popularly accepted one, in part because it was the only full biography available and was widely reprinted, and in part because it seemed to accord with the narrative voice Poe used in much of his fantastic fiction.

No accurate biography of Poe appeared until John Ingram's of 1875. By then, however, Griswold's distortions were entrenched, not only in America but around the world. Griswold's false picture continues to color the popular image of Poe to this day.

Literary Theory

In his essay "The Poetic Principle" Poe argued that there is no such thing as a long poem, since the ultimate purpose of art is aesthetic, that is, its purpose is the effect it has on its audience, and this effect can only be maintained for a brief period of time (the time it takes to read a lyric poem, or watch a drama performed, or view a painting, etc.) He argued that an epic, if it has any value at all, must be actually a series of smaller pieces, each geared towards a single effect, which "elevates the soul", and attempted to show how Paradise Lost met this criterion--to a certain degree.

He was also an opponent of didacticism, arguing that the role of moral or ethical instruction lies outside the realm of poetry and art, which should only focus on the production of a beautiful work of art. He criticized James Russell Lowell for being excessively didactic and moralistic in his writings, and argued often that a poem should be written "for a poem's sake."

He was a proponent of magazine literature, and felt that short stories, or "tales" as they were called in the early nineteenth century, which were usually considered "vulgar" or "low art" along with the magazines that published them, were legitimate artforms on par with the novel or epic poem. His insistence on the artistic value of the short story was influential in the rise to prominence of the short story in later generations.


Poe's curious and often nightmarish work greatly influenced the horror and fantasy genres. He is also credited with originating the genre of detective fiction with his three stories about Auguste Dupin, the most famous of which is "The Murders in the Rue Morgue." There is no doubt that he inspired mystery writers who came after him, particularly Arthur Conan Doyle in The Hound of the Baskervilles. He also profoundly influenced the development of early science fiction author Jules Verne.

Poe's literary reputation was greater abroad than it was in the United States, perhaps as a result of America's general revulsion towards the macabre. Rufus Griswold's defamatory reminisicences did little to commend Poe to U.S. literary society. However, American authors as diverse as Walt Whitman, H. P. Lovecraft and Herman Melville were influenced by Poe's works.

In France, where he is commonly known as "Edgar Poe," Charles Baudelaire translated his stories and several of the poems into French. Baudelaire was the right man for this job, and his excellent translations meant that Poe enjoyed a vogue among avant-garde writers in France while being ignored in his native land. From France, writers like Algernon Charles Swinburne caught the Poe-bug, and Swinburne's musical verse owes much to Poe's technique. Poe was much admired, also, by the school of Symbolism, and Stéphane Mallarmé dedicated several poems to him. He was also admired and discussed by the Surrealist poet André Breton.

Poe's poetry was translated into Russian by the Symbolist poet Konstantin Bal'mont and enjoyed great popularity there in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, influencing artists such as Nabokov, who makes several referrences to Poe's work in his most famous novel, Lolita and also the composer Rachmaninoff, whose "The Bells" is a dramatization of Poe's poem. Poe influenced the Swedish poet and author Viktor Rydberg, who translated a considerable amount of Poe's work into Swedish.

Jorge Luis Borges was a great admirer of Poe's works, and translated his stories into Spanish.

The Mystery Writers of America have named their awards for excellence in the genre the "Edgars."

Eureka, a prose poem written in 1848, included a cosmological theory that anticipated the Big Bang theory by eighty years, as well as the first plausible solution to Olbers's paradox.

Poe's untimely death in Baltimore has made his grave site a popular tourist attraction - since 1949, the grave has been visited every year by a mystery man, known endearingly as the Poe Toaster, in the early hours of Poe's birthday, January 19th. It has been reported that a man draped in black with a silver-tipped cane, kneels at the grave for a toast of Martel cognac and leaves the half-full bottle and three red roses.

Even though Poe spent less than two years in the city, Baltimoreans have treated the author as a native son. Many business establishments have used Poe as a theme for their marketing.

In 1996, when the original Cleveland Browns moved to Baltimore, they were rechristened "The Baltimore Ravens", in honor of his best known tale. The team even created three "winged" mascots - naturally they named them Edgar, Allan, and Poe.

Notable works

Much of Poe's work is available on-line at Wikisource, See Wikisource Poe Archive (http://wikisource.org/wiki/Author:Edgar_Allan_Poe)


  • "A Dream" (1827) (Full Text (http://wikisource.org/wiki/A_Dream) at WikiSource)
  • "A Dream Within a Dream" (1827) (Full Text (http://wikisource.org/wiki/A_Dream_Within_a_Dream) at WikiSource)
  • "Dreams" (1827) (Full Text (http://wikisource.org/wiki/Dreams) at WikiSource)
  • "Tamerlane (1827) (Full Text (http://wikisource.org/wiki/Tamerlane) at WikiSource)
  • "Al Aaraaf" (1829) (Full Text (http://wikisource.org/wiki/Al_Aaraaf) at WikiSource)
  • "Alone" (1830) (Full Text (http://wikisource.org/wiki/Alone) at WikiSource)
  • "To Helen" (1831)
  • "Israfel" (1831) (Full Text (http://wikisource.org/wiki/Israfel) at WikiSource)
  • "The City in the Sea" (1831) (Full Text (http://wikisource.org/wiki/The_City_in_the_Sea) at WikiSource)
  • "The Conqueror Worm" (1837) (Full Text (http://wikisource.org/wiki/The_Conqueror_Worm) at WikiSource)
  • "Silence" (1840) (Full Text (http://wikisource.org/wiki/Silence) at WikiSource)
  • "Lenore" (1843) (Full Text (http://wikisource.org/wiki/Lenore) at WikiSource)
  • "Dreamland" (1844) (Full Text (http://wikisource.org/wiki/Dreamland) at WikiSource)
  • "The Raven" (1845) (Full Text (http://search.able2know.com/About/2990.html))
  • "Ulalume" (1847) (Full Text (http://wikisource.org/wiki/Ulalume) at WikiSource)
  • "Eureka" (1848)
  • "Annabel Lee" (1849) (Full Text (http://wikisource.org/wiki/Annabel_Lee) at WikiSource)
  • "The Bells" (1849)


The Auguste Dupin Stories





External links

Wikiquote has a collection of quotations related to:

  Results from FactBites:
Edgar Allan Poe - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia (4461 words)
Poe was born in Boston, Massachusetts, the son of actress Eliza Poe and actor David Poe, Jr.
Poe associated the aesthetic aspect of art with pure ideality, claiming that the mood or sentiment created by a work of art elevates the soul, and is thus a spiritual experience.
Along with Mary Shelley, Poe is regarded as the foremost proponent of the Gothic strain in literary Romanticism.
  More results at FactBites »



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