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HE subjoined memoir of the author of the following remarkable Tales and Poems, has been derived from the particulars of his life, by the Rev. Rufus Grimswold, prefixed to a recent edition of his works.
EDGAR ALLAN POE was born at Baltimore, in the United States, in January 1811. His father, David Poe, was descended of a good family. While a law student at Baltimore, he became enamoured of an English actress named Elizabeth Arnold, whose
prettiness and vivacity, rather than her genius for the stage, had made her a great favourite. An elopement was the result, which was followed by a marriage; when the young lawyer gave up the dryer studies he had been engaged in to follow his wife's profession, and they continued to act in company at various theatres in the principal cities of the Union till their deaths, which occurred, in the course of some few years, within a short period of each other. They left behind them three young children in a state of utter destitution.
Edgar, the eldest, who was then about six years old, was a child of remarkable beauty and precocious wit. A Mr. John Allan, a merchant of large fortune and liberal disposition, who had been intimate with his parents, having no children of his own, adopted him; and it was generally understood among his acquaintances that he intended to make him the heir of his estate.
In 1816, he accompanied Mr. and Mrs. Allan to Great Britain, when he visited the most interesting portions of the country, and afterwards passed four or five years in a school kept at Stoke Newington, near London, by the Rev. Dr. Bransby.
At the end of this period, he returned to the United States, and entered the university at Charlottesville, where he led a very dissipated life. The manners which then prevailed there were extremely dissolute, and he was known as the wildest and most reckless student of his class; but his unusual opportunities, and the remarkable ease with which he mastered the most difficult studies, kept him all the while in the first rank for scholarship, and he would have graduated with the highest honours, had not his gambling, intemperance, and other vices, induced his expulsion from the university.
At this period, he was noted for feats of hardihood, strength, and activity; and on one occasion, in a hot day of June, he swam from Richmond to Warwick, seven miles and a half, against a tide running probably from two to three miles an hour. He was expert at fence, had some skill in drawing, and was a ready and eloquent conversationist and declaimer.
His allowance of money while at Charlottesville had been liberal, but he quitted the place very much in debt; and when Mr. Allan refused to accept some of the drafts with which he had paid his losses in gaming, he wrote to him an abusive letter, quitted his house, and soon after left the country with the Quixotic intention of joining the Greeks, then in the midst of their struggle with the Turks. He never reached his destination, and we know but little of his adventures in Europe for nearly a year. By the end of this time, he had made his way to St. Petersburgh; and, shortly after, the American minister in that capital was summoned one morning to save him from penalties incurred in a drunken debauch. Through the ambassador's intercession, he was set at liberty and enabled to return to the United States.
His meeting with Mr. Allan was not very cordial, but that gentleman declared himself willing to serve him in any way that should seem judicious; and when Poe expressed some anxiety to enter the Military Academy, he induced several eminent persons to sign an application which secured his appointment to a scholarship in that institution.
For a few weeks, the cadet applied himself with much assiduity
to his studies, and he became at once a favourite with his mess and with the officers and professors of the academy; but his habits of dissipation were renewed; he neglected his duties and disobeyed orders; and, in ten months from his matriculation, he was cashiered.
He again went to Richmond, and was again received into the family of Mr. Allan, who was disposed still to be his friend, and, in the event of his good behaviour, to treat him as a son; but it soon became necessary that he should close his doors against him for ever.
According to Poe's own statement, he ridiculed the second marriage of his patron with a Miss Paterson, a lady some years his junior, with whom he stated he had a quarrel, but a different story, scarcely suitable for repetition here, which, if true, throws a dark shade upon the quarrel and a very ugly light upon Poe's character, was told by the friends of the other party. Whatever the circumstances, they parted in anger, and Mr. Allan, from that time, declined to see or in any way to assist him. Mr. Allan died in the spring of 1834, in the fifty-fourth year of his age, leaving three children to share his property, of which not a single dollar was bequeathed to Poe.
Soon after he left the Military Academy at West Point, Poe had printed at Baltimore a small volume of verses, and the favourable manner in which it was commonly referred to confirmed his belief that he might succeed in the profession of literature, to which he forthwith devoted himself. His contributions to the journals, however, attracted little attention, and his hopes of gaining a living in this way being disappointed, he enlisted in the army as a private soldier. He was recognised by officers who had known him at the Military Academy, and efforts were made, privately, but with prospects of success, to obtain for him a commission, when it was discovered by his friends that he had deserted.
He next makes his appearance as a competitor for two prizes offered by the proprietor of the Baltimore Saturday Visitor, for the best tale and poem suited to his magazine, and it seems that when the committee met to make their award, one of them, taking up a little book remarkably beautiful and distinct in caligraphy, was tempted to read several pages; and, becoming interested, summoned the attention of the company to the half-dozen compositions it contained. It was eventually unanimously decided that the prizes should be paid to “the first of geniuses who had written legibly.” Not another MS. was unfolded. Immediately the "confidential envelope" was opened, and the successful competitor was found to bear the scarcely known name of Poe. The committee, indeed, awarded to him the premiums for both the tale and the poem, but subsequently altered their decision, so as to exclude him from the second emium, in consideration of his having obtained the higher one. The prize
tale was the MS. found in a Bottle. This award was published on the 12th of October, 1833. The next day, the publisher called to see Mr. Kennedy, one of the committee and a well-known literary character, and gave him an account of the author, which excited his curiosity and sympathy, and caused him to request that he should be brought to his office. Accordingly, he was introduced; the prize-money had not yet been paid, and he was in the costume in which he had answered the advertisement of his good fortune. Thin, and pale even to ghastliness, his whole appearance indicated sickness and the utmost destitution. A well-worn frockcoat concealed the absence of a shirt, and imperfect boots disclosed the want of hose. But the eyes of the young man were luminous with intelligence and feeling, and his voice and conversation and inanners all won upon the lawyer's regard. Poe told his history, and his ambition, and it was determined that he should not want means for a suitable appearance in society, nor opportunity for a just display of his abilities in literature. Mr. Kennedy accompanied him to a clothing store, and purchased for him a respectable suit, with changes of linen, and sent him to a bath, from which he returned with the suddenly-regained style of a gentleman.
His new friends were very kind to him, and availed themselves of every opportunity to serve him. Through their efforts, te obtained the editorship of a magazine published at Richmond, Virginia, to which he contributed numerous articles; but, after the lapse of a few months, his old habits of dissipation began to show themselves, and for a week he was in a condition of brutish drunkenness, which resulted in his dismissal. When he became sober, however, he had no resource but in reconciliation; and he wrote letters and induced acquaintances to call upon his employer, Mr. White, with professions of repentance and promises of re. formation. With considerate and judicious kindness, that gentleman answered him:
My dear Edgar,-I cannot address you in such language as this occasion and my feelings demand: I must be content to speak to you in my plain way. That you are sincere in all your promises, I firmly believe; but, when you once again tread these streets, I have my fears that your resolutions will fail, and that you will again drink till your senses are lost. If you rely on your strength, you are gone. Unless you look to your Maker for help, you will not be safe. How much I regretted parting from you, is known to Him only and myself. I had become attached to you; I am still; and I would willingly say return, did not a knowledge of your past life make me dread a speedy renewal of our separation. If you would make yourself contented with quarters in my house, or with any other private family, where liquor is not used, I should think there was some hope for you; but, if you go to a tavern, or
to any place where it is used at table, you are not safe. You have fine talents, Edgar, and you ought to have them respected, as well as yourself. Learn to respect yourself, and you will soon find that you are respected. Separate yourself from the bottle, and from bottle companions, for ever. Tell me if you can and will do so. If you again become an assistant in my office, it must be understood that all engagements on my part cease the moment you get drunk. I am your true friend,
T. W. W." A new contract was arranged, but Poe's irregularities frequently interrupted the kindness, and finally exhausted the patience, of his generous though methodical employer; and in January, 1837, he took his leave of the readers of the magazine.
While in Richmond, with an income of but a hundred pounds a-year, he had married his cousin, Virginia Clemm, a very amiable and lovely girl, who was as poor as himself, and little fitted, except by her gentle temper, to be the wife of such a person. He went from Richmond to Baltimore, and, after a short time, to Philadelphia, and then to New York; and, towards the end of the year 1838, he settled in Philadelphia. He had no very definite purposes, but trusted for support to the chances of success as a magazinist and newspaper correspondent. Mr. Burton, a comedian, had recently established a magazine, in Philadelphia, and to this Poe first became a contributor and afterwards chief editor.
An awakened ambition, and the healthful influence of a conviction that his works were appreciated and that his fame was increasing, led him, for a while, to cheerful views of life and to regular habits of conduct. He wrote to one friend, that he had quite overcome “the seductive and dangerous besetment” by which he had so often been prostrated, and to another that, incredible as it might seem, he had become a “model of temperance," and of “other virtues," which it had sometimes been difficult for him to practise. Before the close of the summer, however, he relapsed into his former courses, and for weeks was regardless of cverything but a morbid and insatiable appetite for the means of intoxication.
He was with Mr. Burton until June, 1840—more than a year. Mr. Burton appreciated his abilities, and would gladly have continued the connexion, but Poe was so unsteady of purpose and so unreliable, that the actor was never sure when he left the city that his business would be cared for. On one occasion, returning after the regular day of publication, he found the number unfinished and Poe incapable of duty. He prepared the necessary copy himself, published the magazine, and was proceeding with arrangements for another month, when he received a letter from his assistant, of which the tone may be inferred from this answer:
“I am sorry you have thought it necessary to send me such a