Edgar Allan Poe is born January 19, 1809 in Boston, Massachusetts, United States. He is the son of David Poe, Jr. and Elizabeth Arnold.
His father abandons the family in 1810, and his mother dies the following year. Orphaned, Poe is taken in by John and Frances Allan. They never formally adopt him, but serve as a foster family and give him the name "Edgar Allan Poe". Poe is baptized into the Episcopal Church in 1812.
The family sails to the United Kingdom in 1815, and Poe attends the grammar school for a short period in Irvine, Ayrshire, Scotland before rejoining the family in London in 1816. There he studies at a boarding school in Chelsea until summer 1817. He is then enters at the Reverend John Bransby's Manor House School at Stoke Newington.
Poe moves with the Allans back to Richmond in 1820. In 1824, he serves as the lieutenant of the Richmond youth honor guard.
Poe may have become engaged to Sarah Elmira Royster before he registeres at the University of Virginia in February 1826 to study ancient and modern languages. During his time there, Poe loses touch with Royster and becomes estranged from Allan over gambling debts. He claims that Allan has not given him sufficient money for school. Allan sends additional money and clothes, but Poe's debts increases. Poe gives up on the university after a year but does not feel welcome returning to Richmond, especially after learning that Royster has married another man. He travels to Boston in April 1827, working in odd jobs as a clerk and newspaper writer, and he starts using the pseudonym Henri Le Rennet during this period.
Poe is unable to support himself, so he enlists in the United States Army as a private on May 27, 1827, using the name "Edgar A. Perry". He serves at Fort Independence in Boston Harbor. That same year, he releases his first book, a 40-page collection of poetry titled Tamerlane and Other Poems, but the book receives virtually no attention. Poe is promoted to "artificer". He serves for two years and attains the rank of Sergeant Major for Artillery; he then seeks to end his five-year enlistment. Poe reveals his real name and his circumstances to his commanding officer, who only allows Poe to be discharged if he reconciles with Allan. Poe writes a letter to Allan, but he ignores Poe's pleas. Frances dies and Poe visits the day after her burial. Softened by his wife's death, Allan agrees to support Poe's attempt to be discharged. Poe is discharged on April 15, 1829
Poe moves back to Baltimore for a time to stay with his aunt Maria Clemm, her daughter Virginia Eliza Clemm, his brother Henry, and his invalid grandmother Elizabeth Cairnes Poe. Meanwhile, Poe publishes his second book Al Aaraaf, Tamerlane and Minor Poems in Baltimore in 1829.
Poe travels to West Point and graduates as a cadet on July 1, 1830. In October 1830, Allan marries his second wife Louisa Patterson. The marriage and bitter quarrels with Poe lead to the foster father disowning Poe. Poe decides to leave West Point by purposely getting court-martialed. On February 8, 1831, he is tried for gross neglect of duty and disobedience of orders for refusing to attend formations, classes, or church. He tactically pleads not guilty to induce dismissal, knowing that he would be found guilty.
Poe leaves for New York in February 1831 and releases a third volume of poems, simply titled Poems. The book is financed with help from his fellow cadets at West Point. It is printed and labeled as "Second Edition." The book once again reprints the long poems "Tamerlane" and "Al Aaraaf" but also six previously unpublished poems, including early versions of "To Helen", "Israfel", and "The City in the Sea". Poe returns to Baltimore to his aunt, brother, and cousin in March 1831.
After his brother's death, Poe begins a more serious attempt to start a career as a writer, but he chooses a difficult time in American publishing to do so. He is hampered by the lack of an international copyright law and Poe repeatedly resorts to humiliating pleas for money and other assistance.
After his early attempts at poetry, Poe turns his attention to prose. He places a few stories with a Philadelphia publication and begins working on his only drama Politian. The Baltimore Saturday Visiter awards him a prize in October 1833 for his short story "MS. Found in a Bottle". The story brings him to the attention of John P. Kennedy, who helps Poe place some of his stories and introduces him to Thomas W. White, editor of the Southern Literary Messenger in Richmond. Poe becomes assistant editor of the periodical in August 1835, but White discharges him within a few weeks for being drunk on the job.
Poe returns to Baltimore, Maryland where he marries his 13-year-old cousin, Virginia Eliza Clemm on September 22, 1835.
Poe is reinstated by White after promising good behavior, and he goes back to Richmond with Virginia and her mother. He remains at the Messenger until January 1837. He publishes several poems, book reviews, critiques, and stories in the paper. On May 16, 1836, he and Virginia held a Presbyterian wedding ceremony at their Richmond boarding house.
Poe's novel The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket is published and widely reviewed in 1838. In the summer of 1839, Poe becomes assistant editor of Burton's Gentleman's Magazine. He publishes numerous articles, stories, and reviews, enhancing his reputation as a trenchant critic which he has established at the Messenger. Also in 1839, the collection Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque is published in two volumes. Poe leaves Burton's after about a year and finds a position as assistant at Graham's Magazine.
In June 1840, Poe announces his intentions to start his own journal called The Stylus, although he originally intended to call it The Penn. He buys advertising space for his prospectus in the June 6, 1840 issue of Philadelphia's Saturday Evening Post. The journal is never produced.
Around this time, Poe attempts to secure a position within the administration of President John Tyler, claiming that he is a member of the Whig Party. He hopes to be appointed to the United States Custom House in Philadelphia with help from President Tyler's son Robert. Poe fails to show up for a meeting with Thomas to discuss the appointment in mid-September 1842, claiming to be sick, though Thomas believes that he had been drunk. Poe is promised an appointment, but all positions were filled by others.
In January 1842, Virginia shows the first signs of tuberculosis. She partially recovers, and Poe begin to drink more heavily under the stress of her illness. He left Graham's and attempts to find a new position, for a time angling for a government post. He returns to New York where he works briefly at the Evening Mirror before becoming editor of the Broadway Journal, and later its owner. There Poe alienates himself from other writers. On January 29, 1845, his poem "The Raven" appears in the Evening Mirror and becomes a popular sensation. It makes Poe a household name almost instantly.
The Broadway Journal failed in 1846, and Poe moves to a cottage in Fordham, New York. Virginia dies at the cottage on January 30, 1847. Poe is increasingly unstable after his wife's death. He attempts to court poet Sarah Helen Whitman who lives in Providence, Rhode Island. Their engagement fails, because of Poe's drinking and erratic behavior. Poe returns to Richmond and resumes a relationship with his childhood sweetheart Sarah Elmira Royster.
On October 3, 1849, Poe is found delirious on the streets of Baltimore. He is taken to the Washington Medical College, where he dies on October 7, 1849. The cause of his death is unknown and has been variously attributed to disease, alcoholism, substance abuse, suicide, and other causes. He is buried at Westminster Burial Ground in Baltimore, Baltimore City, Maryland, United States.
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