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EDGAR ALLAN POE.
" Das Schlimmste weisz die Welt von mir, und ich kann sagen,
ich bin besser als mein Ruf!”
Next to the Newgate Calendar, averred Dr. Johnson, the biography of authors is the most sickening chapter in the History of Man. The history of few men would appear to more thoroughly corroborate the learned lexicographer's dictum, whether regarded from a mental or personal aspect, than that of Edgar Poe. From birth to burial the hapless poet's career is an illustration of his own lines in The Raven : he it was,
" Whom unmerciful Disaster Followed fast and followed faster till his songs one burden boreTill the dirges of his Hope the melancholy burden bore
Edgar Poe was the inheritor of trouble : his misfortunes have been deemed, and justly, to have preceded his birth. His father, David, was a scion of an Irish family holding a foremost position amongst the citizens of Baltimore. Instead of fulfilling his parents' wish that he should qualify for the bar, young Poe forsook his legal studies and became an actor.
It is doubtful whether Love or Thespis induced the youth to take this rash step; one thing only being certain, that on the stage he beheld a beautiful young English girl and married her. Elizabeth Arnold, whom the young American took for his wife, is believed to have descended from a family of even higher rank than her husband's and, what is of more importance, possessed no slight talent both as singer and actor. Her famous son speaks of her as “a woman who, although well born, hesitated not to consecrate to the drama her brief career of genius and beauty,” whilst many contemporary records allude to her beauty, and her musical and dramatic powers.
In those days, however, an actor's life in the United States was one of ceaseless wandering from town to town. The company to which the Poes were attached happened to be in Boston during January 1809, and in that city, on the 19th of the month, their second son, Edgar, was born. In 1811, the little family was staying in Richmond, Virginia, and there, in the early part of the year, David Poe is said to have died of consumption, his death preceding by a few months the birth of his third child and, after a short interval, the decease of his wife.
The three orphans, William Henry Leonard, Edgar, and Rosalie, were adopted by various individuals, Edgar, already distinguished by his beauty, falling to the share of a Mr. John Allan, a wealthy Scotchman, residing in Richmond, who, although long married, was childless. In 1816, the Allans visited England, and took their adopted son, who now bore their surname, with them. The boy was placed at an academy at Stoke Newington, kept by the Rev. Dr. Bransby, and left there for five years. Edgar appears to have made a good impression upon his master, and was referred to by him in after years as "a quick and clever boy,” and as a boy whom he liked, but who was spoilt by the extravagant amount of pocket-money his parents, meaning the Allans, allowed him. What impression the Manor House School and its master made upon the plastic mind of the child may be found, vividly and faithfully related, in the partly autobiographical story of William Wilson.
Those who refer to prenatal influences the funereal gloom and sombre side of Edgar Poe's character, have probably good grounds for their theory; but apart from that, and the almost chronic ill fortune which accompanied him, there is little doubt that the friendless isolation of that lustrum of childhood spent in a foreign land, and in such a solemn old town as was Stoke Newington, must have had an awe-inspiring if not depressing effect upon the exiled orphan. Whatever may have been the influence of the venerable old town” and its “excessively ancient” school-house upon the boy's morbidly sensitive mind, it is certain that when he returned to Virginia, in 1821, it was with a good groundwork of knowledge.
After his return home Edgar appears to have had a somewhat lengthy vacation, during which he amused himself with the composition of verses.
In 1822 he was placed in one of the best schools in Richmond,