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Edgar Allan Poe

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Edgar Allan Poe
1848 daguerreotype

Edgar Allan Poe (January 19, 1809 – October 7, 1849) was born Edgar Poe in Boston, Massachusetts, but was later adopted by a Scottish tobacco merchant and educated at Irvine Royal Academy in North Ayrshire.

Edgar was the second child of American actor David Poe Jr and his English-born wife, actress Elizabeth Arnold Hopkins Poe. His elder brother was William Henry Leonard Poe, and he was later joined by a younger sister, Rosalie Poe. Edgar may have been named after the character Edgar, son of Gloucester, taken from William Shakespeare's play King Lear, which his parents were performing during 1809. In 1810, the family was abandoned by his father, then his mother died from consumption (pulmonary tuberculosis) during the following year.

It's not clear how, but after losing his parents he was taken into the home of John Allan, a successful Scottish merchant residing in Richmond, Virginia, who dealt in a variety of goods including tobacco, cloth, wheat, tombstones, and slaves. The Allan family became his foster family and gave him the name Edgar Allan Poe, although he was never formally adopted. The Allan family had Edgar baptised in the Episcopal Church in 1812. His foster father is said to have alternated between spoiling him, and aggressively disciplining him.

In 1815, the family sailed to Britain, where Edgar attended the grammar school in Irvine (birthplace of his adoptive father) for a short time, before joining the family in London, in 1816. He then attended a boarding school in Chelsea until the summer of 1817, when he entered the Reverend John Bransby’s Manor House School at Stoke Newington, which was then a suburb lying four miles (6 km) to the north of London.

In 1820, the Allan family, including Edgar, moved back to Richmond, Virginia.

Court Martial and conviction

Poe's foster father gave him the money to cover a year's living expenses when he enrolled in the University of Virginia, $100 (about $2,000 in 2013). However, he quickly fell into debt as his expenses mounted, the young Poe had also developed a gambling habit.

He quit university and moved to Boston, where he tried to survive on odd jobs. When this failed, the 18-year old lied about his age, claimed he was 22, gave his name as Edgar Allan Perry, and enlisted in the army in 1827. With a warrant issued for his arrest, he did not want the authorities to find him. First posted to Fort Independence, Boston, he was transferred to Fort Monroe, Virginia, and was being paid $5 per month by the military. He appeared to thrive in the military environment, being promoted to sergeant major for artillery after only two years of his five year commitment, but he then asked for an early discharge. His commanding officer agreed to the request, but only on condition that Poe (Perry) make amends his foster father, with whom he had never had particularly good relationship.

His father was initially unwilling to cooperate, but the death of his wife and reduction in hostility between the pair led to their reconciliation, and once a replacement was found for Poe's post, he was honourably discharged in 1827.

In 1830, Poe returned to the military, enrolling in West Point and matriculated as a cadet in 1830. Again he proved suited to environment, was diligent, and developed skills in maths and languages.

Poe attendance was financed by this foster father, which also meant Poe would need his permission if he ever wanted to leave early. Unfortunately, the relationship between the two soured when his foster father remarried, and Poe also learned that his foster parent had father illegitimate children by another woman, one being some 29 years his junior. The pair rowed and Poe sent his foster father a letter detailing his grievances over the years, and demanding he be allowed to drop out of West Point - he ended the letter with a threat to have himself thrown out if he was not allowed to leave gracefully.

Poe's foster father did not reply, and Poe made good his threat. The once outstanding student fell from grace, committing an impressive total of 44 offences and 106 demerits in a single term, followed by 66 offences in one month the following term. He was duly court-martialed and tried at the beginning of February for "gross neglect of duty." His offences included being absent from class parades, guard mounting, and church parades, together with failing to attend academic classes, and refusing to obey officer’s orders. In general, his preferred method of offending was simply not to show up for anything at all.

Poe was, of course, found guilty of all charges and thrown out of West Point, from where next headed to New York to continue his writing.

However, he still managed to get a little more from the military, after convincing 100 cadets to contribute money to pay for a new volume of poems. Simply titles 'Poems' the volume was dedicated to his fellow cadets.

In 1835, he married Virginia Clemm, his 13-year-old cousin, in Baltimore. She died of tuberculosis in 1847, and event which some say inspired Poe's writing.

Edgar Allan Poe became an American author, poet, editor, and literary critic, and became best known for his tales of the mysterious and the macabre.

On October 7, Poe died in Baltimore, aged 40.

The circumstances of is death are mysterious, and all records appear to have been lost. What is known is that on October 3, 1849, he was found wandering found delirious in the street, "in great distress, and... in need of immediate assistance", according to the man who found him, Joseph W Walker. He was taken to the Washington Medical College, where he failed to recover, and died four day later. It has been suggested he was a victim of cooping.

In the United States, cooping was a practice whereby gangs would take people off the streets and force them to vote multiple time for a certain candidate. This involved incarceration and intimidation in a room (known as a coop), often with alcohol or drugs administered to make them compliant. Their clothes could also be changed to prevent their repeated visits to polling stations being noticed.

He was one of the earliest American practitioners of the short story genre, came to be considered the inventor of the detective fiction genre, and is further credited with contributing to the emerging genre of science fiction. He has also been described as one of the first authors to have made, or attempted to make, his living solely from writing, which meant his life was financially difficult, and his chosen career hard to support.

As far as can be gathered, there are no remaining features relating to Poe in Scotland, and all his memorials lie in the United States. For example, the Irvine Royal Academy seen today is a modern facility which inherited the title of Royal Academy from the original Irvine Academy. The honour being granted by royal charter on April 22, 1814.[1]


1 Irvine Royal Academy Retrieved April 08, 2013.

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