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Edgar Allan Poe
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Edgar Allan Poe (January 19, 1809 � October 7, 1849) was an American poet, short story writer, editor and critic and one of the leaders of the American Romantics. He is best known for his tales of the macabre and his poems, as well as being one of the early practitioners of the short story and a progenitor of detective fiction, as well as crime fiction in the United States. He is also often credited with inventing the gothic fiction story. Poe died at the age of 40, the cause of his death a final mystery. His exact burial location is also a source of controversy.
Edgar Allan Poe was born to a Scots-Irish family in Boston, Massachusetts, the son of actress Elizabeth Arnold Hopkins Poe and actor David Poe, Jr. His father abandoned the family in July 1811, and his mother died of tuberculosis when he was only two, so Poe was taken into the home of John Allan, a successful tobacco merchant in Richmond, Virginia. Although his middle name is often misspelled as "Allen," it is actually "Allan," after this family.
After attending the Misses Duborg boarding school in London, England and Manor School in Stoke Newington, London, Poe moved back to the Allans in Richmond in 1820. After serving an apprenticeship in Pawtucket, Poe registered at the University of Virginia in 1826, but only stayed there for one year. He became estranged from his foster father over gambling debts Poe had acquired while trying to get more spending money, and so Poe enlisted in the United States Army as a private, using the name Edgar A. Perry, on May 26, 1827. That same year, he released his first book, Tamerlane and Other Poems. After serving for two years and attaining the rank of sergeant major, Poe was discharged.
In 1829, Poe's foster mother Frances Allan died, and he published his second book, Al Aaraf. As per his foster mother's deathwish, Poe reconciled with his foster father, who coordinated an appointment for him to the United States Military Academy at West Point. At West Point, however, Poe supposedly deliberately disobeyed orders and was dismissed. After that, Poe and his foster father disowned each other until the latter's death on March 6, 1831.
Poe next moved to Baltimore, Maryland with his widowed aunt, Maria Clemm, and her daughter, Poe's first cousin, Virginia Eliza. Poe wrote fiction to support himself, and in December 1835, began editing the Southern Literary Messenger for Thomas W. White in Richmond. In 1836, he married Virginia, then 13.
The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym was published and widely reviewed in 1838. 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. Also 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, collecting such classic Poe tales as "The Fall of the House of Usher", "MS. Found in a Bottle", "Berenice", "Ligeia" and "William Wilson". Poe left Burton's after about a year and found a position as assistant editor at Graham's Magazine.
One day in 1842 while Virginia (who reportedly had a lovely voice) was singing for Poe, she coughed and a tiny drop of blood appeared on her lip. 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 Fordham section of The Bronx, New York. He loved the Jesuits at Fordham University and frequently strolled about its campus conversing with both students and faculty. Fordham University's bell tower even inspired him to write "The Bells." The Poe Cottage is on the southeast 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.
On October 3, 1849 Poe was found on the streets of Baltimore, 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. Poe is said to have repeatedly called out the name "Reynolds" on the night before his death, though no one has ever been able to identify the person to whom he referred. One Poe scholar, W. T. Bandy, has suggested that he may instead have called for "Herring," (Poe's uncle was called Henry Herring). Some sources say Poe's final words were "It's all over now; write 'Eddy is no more'." referring to his tombstone. Others say his last words were "Lord, help my poor soul."
The precise cause of Poe's death is disputed. Dr. J. E. Snodgrass, an acquaintance of Poe who was among those who saw him in his last days, was convinced that Poe's death was a result of alcoholism, and did a great deal to popularize 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, diabetes, various types of enzyme deficiency, syphilis, 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, and more recently, rabies. The rabies death theory was proposed by Dr. R. Michael Benitez, and is based upon the fact that Poe's symptoms before death are similar to those displayed in a classic case of rabies.
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 cause of Poe's death will never be known.
Poe is buried on the grounds of Westminster Hall and Burying Ground, now part of the University of Maryland School of Law in Baltimore.
Even after death, however, Poe has created controversy and mystery. Because of his fame, school children collected money for a new burial spot closer to the front gate. He was reburied on October 1, 1875. A celebration was held at the dedication of the new tomb on November 17. Likely unknown to the reburial crew, however, the headstones on all the graves, previously facing to the east, were turned to face the West Gate in 1864. Therefore, as it was described in a seemingly fitting turn of events:
In digging on what they erroneously thought to be the right of the General Poe the committee naturally first struck old Mrs. Poe who had been buried thirty-six years before Edgar's mother-in-law; they tried again and presumably struck Mrs. Clemm who had been buried in 1876 only four years earlier. Henry's Poe's brother foot stone, it there, was respected for they obviously skipped over him and settled for the next body, which was on the Mosher lot. Because of the excellent condition of the teeth, he would certainly seem to have been the remains of Philip Mosher Jr, of the Maryland Militia, age 19.
Since Poe's death, his grave site has become a popular tourist attraction. Beginning in 1949, the grave has been visited every year in the early hours of Poe's birthday, January 19th, by a mystery man known endearingly as the Poe Toaster. 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. The three red roses supposedly are in memory of Poe himself, his mother-in-law and his wife Virginia.
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