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Edgar Allan Poe was a man who had passion and talent for literature. He was a writer, editor, and critic from the Gothic Era who dug deep in the human heart. Although he lived a dark past, he still had the ability to look at the positive aspects of life. The tragedies that occured during his childhood, his heartbreaks, the death of loved ones, and his bad habits led him to produce quality short stories.
Poe was born on January 19, 1809, in Boston, Massachusetts.
Eliza Arnold and David Poe Jr., parents of Edgar, were both very successful when it came to their occupations. Eliza was an actress while David pursued law. During the peak of their career, two years prior, they gave birth to Edgar’s older brother, William Henry Leonard. Soon after Edgar was born, he caused a financial crisis to the Poe family. The birth of Edgar left his parents with no money, causing David to beg for money (“Edgar Allan Poe is born”).
Soon after their marriage, David thought it was best to join his wife in the acting career. Unlike his wife, he did not have the skill to win the heart of the audience. Dealing with an unsuccessful career and harsh criticism, David fell into depression and picked up a serious drinking problem (Meyers 3-4).
Because of lack of money and depression, his parents thought it was best to leave five-week-old Edgar in Baltimore with his grandparents, David and Elizabeth Poe.
After some time, Edgar’s parents came back to pick him up.
He and his newly born sister, Rosalie, were in the hands of an old nursemaid who was thin and weak. The nursemaid fed them bread soaked in gin and opium dissolved in alcohol to make them strong and healthy (Meyers 5).
At the age of two, Edgar’s dad left the family due to harsh criticism for his poor acting skills. David Jr. later died on December 11, 1811. After David’s death, Eliza and her three unwanted children dealt with poverty and had to move from lodge to lodge. After a short and stressful life, Eliza died of tuberculosis at the age of twenty-four on December 8. Edgar never really knew his mother and didn’t enjoy the company of his alcoholic father. Due to severe poverty, Edgar’s paternal grandparents could not care for him. Poe and his sister were sent to separate families but lived close to each other. Poe was then in the care of John and Frances Allan (Meyers 6-7).
John and Frances Allan lived in a two story house in Richmond, Virginia. The couple ran a company beneath their house. They lived with Nancy Allan, Frances’ sister. John ran the business with his partner, Charles Ellis. They sold merchandise to the town people, and exported tobacco and flour to other countries (Binns 11). John was an orphan himself. He grew up to be a successful man, was quick tempered, and often harsh on Edgar. Frances was eighteen-years-old when she married John. Rather young, she suffered from poor health. Despite this, she was willing to bring in Edgar (Meyers 8-9).
Although brought in by the Allans, Poe was never actually adopted. John and Frances were considered his foster parents (“Edgar Allan Poe is born”). Being their only son, Poe was very spoiled and well attended too. After living with a financially struggling family, he now lived with a plantation family. He dressed like a prince and attended the finest schools throughout his childhood. With the constant spoiling by his father, Poe never cared about the difference from right and wrong. He did whatever he felt like doing, knowing that if he got in trouble, John was always there to back him up (Meyers 9).
With a failing business, the Allan family had no option but to sail to Liverpool. The trip lasted thirty-four days. They endured horrible conditions aboard the ship, John slept on the floor while Frances got very sick, and was homesick. After settling in, the family decided to stay in London. There, they visited John’s family hoping for some comfort. After John was financially stable, he opened a business. This meant he could send Poe to school. At the age of seven, he was sent to boarding school. A few years later, at the age of nine, Poe went to the Reverend John Bransby’s Manor House. The school was known for its richness in literature. Here, he learned French, Latin, History, and Literature (Binns 11-13).
Going to a new country and attending a new school was difficult for Poe. Despite his rough past, he was welcomed by his peers and teachers. Poe excelled amongst his peers when it came to literature. He was praised by many of his teachers and looked up to by many students. Giving and willing to learn, his attitude got in the way. Many teachers blamed John for his attitude due to being spoiled. Not letting this get to him, John wrote letters and was proud of Poe’s literary accomplishments as a young boy. Poe’s education in England came to an end because of Frances’ poor health. The Allans thought it was best to return to Richmond. The voyage lasted thirty-one days (Meyers 13-14).
After the return, they moved in with Charles Ellis, hoping to rebuild the successful business they once had. While John worked on his business, Poe attended school. At the age of fourteen, he attended William Burke’s School. With the he education he gained in England, he was brighter and had more understanding of the material than most boys. Many knew of his past, but being a foster child gave him less social standing. Although Richmond was based was a class-based society, Edgar had no trouble fitting in with the others. He was considered a leader and influenced many with his ability to write. Not only was he great at writing, he was also very athletic and played many sports including swimming, shooting, and ice skating. With such athletic ability, he met a friend named Robert (Meyers 14-17).
Poe and Robert became close friends. Edgar often went to his house after school. His reason to go to his house was to see Jane Stanard, Robert’s mother. Edgar felt loved and went to her to find comfort (Meyers 17). At the age of twenty-eight, Jane died. This confused Edgar, making him believe he will not find someone who would give him the attention she did. Poe grew depressed, writing poems about his nightmares. He was afraid of the dark, inspiring him to write one of his most famous love poems, “Helen” (Binns 19). Shortly after writing this poem, Edgar fell in love and became secretly engaged to a young girl named Elmira Royster. Their love came to a quick end after her father found out about the engagement. Her father thought she was too young to marry. All this frustration led Edgar to turn on his foster parent, John (Meyers 19).
After dealing with so much in a short period of time, Edgar couldn’t take it much longer and let his frustration out on his foster parent due to the loss of Jane. He grew insecure and didn’t know where to turn for help. John wrote a letter, criticising Poe’s behavior. Four months after writing this letter, John’s uncle, William Galt died. He was a wealthy man who left John several hundred thousand dollars. Now with money, the family settled and bought a big house. Realizing that all this money could go to him, Poe started to act nice and be on good terms with his foster parents (Meyers 20).
On February 1826, Edgar entered the university of Virginia. Life on campus was hard. It was everyone for him or herself. Unlike many other universities, the University of Virginia was not religious. There was no church and students with different aspects and religions were welcomed. Due to the lack of religion, many students did whatever they wanted. Students brought in drugs and gambled. All this influenced Edgar’s gambling and drinking addictions (Meyers 22).
Edgar started off well at college. Poe studied ancient and modern languages such as Greek, Latin, French, Spanish, and Italian. Classes were two hours per day, six days a week (Binns 20). He got along well with his professors. Just like his early school years, he thrived and was the best in his class when it came to writing. His professors were impressed with his talent. His ability to understand literature was looked up by his peers. He needed little time for preparation and had a good memory. During his second year at the University, he was awarded the highest honor in ancient and modern languages by president James Madison and James Monroe (Meyers 23).
Students had mixed emotions about Poe. Some thought that he was extremely athletic and others considered him unsocial and depressing. Still, he didn’t really have friends. No one really knew the true Poe. What people knew about him is that he had a serious drinking addiction (Binns 22). He also had a thing for playing cards, particularly the game loo (Meyers 25). Poe felt the urge to gamble all the time, because his foster father never gave him the sufficient amount of money to continue with his studies. After hearing that Poe got into fights and about his insufficient funds, John Allan, often sent money and clothes to help him out. Still being short in money, Poe borrowed money and was in debt, around $2,000. Not learning his lesson, Poe soon returned to Richmond to ask Allan for more money (Binns 23).
After lending Poe money for some time, Allan finally made a decision. He thought it would be best for Edgar to solve his own problems. Allan was angered by the way Poe treated him and blamed him for his unsuccessful years at the university. Poe roamed the streets of Richmond, eating bread and constantly moving to find shelter. This experience impacted him dearly and he wrote stories about these times. His ability to come up with supernatural and individualistic ideas led him to produce great stories (Meyers 31).
In conclusion, Edgar went through a rough childhood, from his parents leaving him to multiple heart breaks. Despite the tragedies, Poe was able to produce short stories that dug deep into the human heart.
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