Edgar Allan Poe was a distinguished American writer of short stories and poetry. He was a controversial literary editor as well as critic. Poe was best known for his Gothic literature and his association in the American Romantic Movement. His creation of “detective stories” influenced many authors today. Poe was a literary genius and possessed natural talents to write, even at a young age. The tragic occurrences during his childhood and early years, shaped him to be one of the most acclaimed men in American literature.
Edgar Allan Poe was born on January 19, 1809, in Boston, Massachusetts. He was the second child of three siblings: William Henry Leonard Poe – the eldest – and Rosalie – the youngest. Both his parents, Elizabeth Arnold Hopkins and David Poe Jr., were actors. Although they struggled financially, Poe’s mother was a well-known and praised actress. A few months after Poe was born, the family moved to New York (“Edgar Allan Poe” TheFamousPeople.com). Soon after, David abandoned his family when Poe was only two and a half years old (Meyers 5). The apostasy of Poe’s father was most likely due to his feelings of jealousy towards his wife’s successful career, heavy drinking, short temperament, and lack of responsibility to take care of his children (Meyers 5-6).
Left alone to take care of two sons, Poe’s mother – pregnant at the time – carried many hardships. Residing in New York, Elizabeth struggled to provide for her children and sustain the family financially (“Edgar Allan Poe” TheFamousPeople.com). Additionally, she had to deal with the constant moving to cheap houses and the demands of her career. As a result of the misfortunes in her life, she gradually became severely ill. Poe and his siblings, would have to just stand there along their mother and observe the sacrifices she had to make for her beloved children. Poe would be a witness of the gruesome scenes of his mother slowly dying. He observed the strained and bloody coughs, the abrupt hemorrhages, and his young mother’s body laying on her deathbed. On December 8, 1811, she died of Tuberculosis at the age of twenty-four, leaving her young sons and a daughter behind (Meyers 6-7).
After the death of his mother, Poe was separated from his siblings. Rosalie was adopted by a Richmond merchant, William Mackenzie, and his wife, Jane Scott Mackenzie. William Henry was taken in by their biological grandparents. Lastly, Poe was taken in by the Allans: John Allan, his godfather, and Frances Valentine Allan, his wife. Subsequently, Poe would acquire the middle name of “Allan” (“Edgar Allan Poe” TheFamousPeople.com). Allan, in contribution with Charles Ellis, exported Virginia tobacco, which was a profitable business at the time (Meyers 8). Tragically, two weeks after the passing of his mother, several people died in a devastating fire at Richmond Theater – where Poe’s mother would perform. The whole city mourned together, along with Poe, to remember those in the accident and one of the finest contributors to the theater… Elizabeth (Meyers 7).
Considering that Poe lost his mother at a very young age, he possessed great affection for his foster mother and father. Poe was praised as a child and would be exhibited to guests to recite poetry. He attended the finest schools and was brought up as an Episcopalian. In addition, he would visit luxurious resorts with his foster parents and never lacked materialistic things. Despite being raised like a son, Poe was never officially adopted by the Allans. Thus, always felt a void in his heart for a sense of family and paternal figures (Meyers 9).
By alternately being spoiled and scolded, Poe was a confused child. When he was punished at school for being disobedient, he was forced to wear a vegetable around his neck to face humiliation (Meyers 9). His family and him later moved to London in 1815. Around the same time, the United States was at war with Great Britain. Poe studied grammar school at Irvine and Scotland for a short period of time. He was later separated from his parents when he was sent to a boarding school at Chelsea in 1816. A year later, he attended Manor House School at Stoke Newington and finally returned to Richmond in 1820. (“Edgar Allan Poe” TheFamousPeople.com). At Stoke Newington, he described the claustrophobic environment as well as the dismal daily routine he had to endure. Additionally, many teachers would characterize him as a brilliant young boy, but would heavily criticize his parents for spoiling him. They would explain how the Allans allowed Poe to acquire considerable amounts of money, thus, become mischievous. Overall, they would feel pity for the young boy (Meyers 12-13).
In 1820, Poe entered the school of Joseph Clarke. There he learned an abundance of skills, including Greek and advanced math. After years of study there, Poe – eleven years old at the time – wanted to publish a manuscript volume of poems. However, Clarke advised him not to continue with the publication because he did not want to adulate Poe’s egotism and possibly, add on to the child’s misbehavior (Meyers 14-15).
Although Allan supported Poe financially, he discouraged his literary talents in his teenage years. Tensions between the two developed into a problematic relationship. Allan condemned of Poe’s ambition to become a writer. He believed Poe was not appreciative of his well-being and seemed compelled to take him out of his will. Instead, his foster father wanted him to pursue the family business. As a result, Poe would write poems on the back of his father’s important work papers to persevere his natural calling for writing (“Edgar Allan Poe” Biography.com).
In 1823, Poe entered William Burke’s school at the age of fourteen. Although he possessed great skill for athletics, some peers viewed him as There, he was involved in a fight with a massive boy. A friend revealed that Poe was beaten brutally until the guy was weary enough to hit him back. He would explain these situations in such a way that it would amaze his schoolmates. Later on, he got into other minor fistfights throughout the years, and soon would become reticent and despised by his peers (Meyers 16).
A year later, in October 1824, Poe had his first military experience when he became a soldier during his second year at Burke’s school. He joined General Lafayette’s company after being chosen to attend the parade in Capitol Square. As a cadet, he was assigned as a bodyguard and accompanied the General himself in a parade. That same year, Poe met Jane Stanard. When his happiness could not be fulfilled, he desired her sympathy. Hence, he constantly received her compassion and benevolence. Due to insanity, Jane died in April of 1824 at the age of twenty-eight. Soon after, Poe suffered of eerie nightmares and confessed to have horrifying visions (Meyers 17).
A year after Jane’s death, Poe fell in love with his neighbor’s daughter, Elmira Royster. She was fifteen at the time and was secretly engaged with Poe. Her father, however, did not see fit their engagement. Her father defined Poe as financially and socially unfit for a husband, not to mention that he also believed that they were too young to get married. As a result, Elmira later on married someone else, yet, claimed to still love Poe (Meyers 18). Heartbroken, he moved to Boston (“Edgar Allan Poe” Biography.com).
During this time, Poe’s relation with his foster father intensified to a point where they would separate their family ties. Although Allan was asked about the publication of Poe’s poems, he acknowledged the fact that his foster son was impetuous and erratic. Due to an economic depression in 1824, Allan was forced to quit his job, leaving him with not much money. Overall, Poe was greatly criticized by him. Allan wrote a letter to Poe’s older brother, Henry, where he described how badly he treated the family and questioned the way he raised Poe. He would recall the money put into Poe as well as the superior education he offered him and the opportunities given to him to become a prosperous man. Instead, he would be described as a rebellious adolescent and ungrateful son. This was a turning point in his life because Poe was already going through the death of Jane and the abandonment of Elmira (Meyers 19).
When Poe attended the University of Virginia in 1826, he had many financial problems. As a result, he became in debt and resulted to gambling in order to raise money. He soon fell prey to an addiction to bet money while playing cards, digging himself even further in a gambling debt. Not meeting ends meets, he demanded money from his foster father (“Edgar Allan Poe” Biography.com). Not willing to pay, Poe found himself returning home and abandoning his studies in 1827. This angered Allan, however, that Poe would throw away his exceptional academic excellence due to his addiction and lack of self control (“Edgar Allan Poe” TheFamousPeople.com).
Poe’s childhood was an occurence of unfortunate events. With the abandonment of his father, the death of his mother, the separation from his siblings, the movement of schools and homes, his conceited demeanor, the discouragement of his writing, the loss of his first love and romances, the criticisms from peers and family members, gambling addiction, and the long-lost sense of belonging, all contributed to shape Poe to the writer he is recognized today. His traumatic infancy and isolation from the world made him a notable individual. Poe will be remembered for his dark and tragic life and continue to amaze future generations through his literary legacy.
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