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Edgar Allan Poe

Early Life and Works

After the death of his parents, both of whom were actors, by the time he was three years old, Poe was taken into the home of his godfather, John Allan, a wealthy Richmond merchant. The Allans took him to Europe, where he began his education in schools in England and Scotland. Returning to the United States in 1820, he continued his schooling in Richmond and in 1826 entered the Univ. of Virginia. He showed remarkable scholastic ability in classical and romance languages but was forced to leave the university after only eight months because of quarrels with Allan over his gambling debts. Poverty soon forced him to enlist in the army.

Because of the deathbed plea of his foster mother, he achieved an unenthusiastic reconciliation with Allan, which resulted in an honorable discharge from the army and an appointment to West Point in 1830. However, when Allan remarried the following year Poe lost all hope of further assistance from him and was expelled from the Academy for infraction of numerous minor rules. Living in a time of frequent economic crisis and depressions, he was to be plagued by poverty throughout his life, a condition that was exacerbated by his chronic alcoholism. His first book, Tamerlane and Other Poems, was published in 1827. It was followed by two more volumes of verse in 1829 and 1831. None of these early collections attracted critical or popular recognition. Poe went to Baltimore to live with his aunt, Mrs. Maria Clemm, and her daughter Virginia. In 1835, J. P. Kennedy helped him become an editor of the Southern Literary Messenger in Richmond. He contributed stories, poems, and astute literary criticism, but his drinking cost him the editorship.

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The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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