Edgar Allan Poe was born in Boston on January 19, 1809. His mother, Elizabeth Arnold Poe, was an actress. His father, David Poe, Jr., had pursued a less successful career on the stage punctuated by alcoholic binges. Poe\'s father apparently abandoned his family around the time of Edgar\'s second birthday. We do know that his mother took Edgar, his brother William, and sister Rosalie with her to Richmond, Virginia sometime in 1811, and that she died there in December of that same year. Edgar was separated from his siblings and placed in the care of a childless couple, John and Frances Allan.
John Allan was an English/Scottish merchant who kept a tight hold on the family\'s purse strings but who also recognised the value of education. In 1815, he took his wife and \"stepson\" (Edgar was never legally adopted by the Allans) to England on an extended business trip. In England, Edgar spent his early childhood at prestigious boarding academies, including the Manor House School of Doctor Bransby at Stoke Newington. Evidently, he was an excellent student: in 1819. It was while he was in England that young Edgar first became acquainted with the Gothic literature that was popular in Europe at the time.
When Allan returned to Richmond in 1820, Edgar continued his education at private schools, studying Latin, verse, and oratory. He was also an athletic youth, a superior swimmer and marksman. But he was not popular. He was taunted by his peers as the son of actors who occupied an odd status in the Allan household as an unadopted stepson. Poe received support and encouragement from the mother of a classmate, Jane Stith Stanard, but she died of a brain tumor when he was fifteen years old. Around this time, John Allan\'s trading firm suffered a series of financial setbacks, the company itself was dissolved, and Poe\'s stepfather took to extramarital affairs and to the bottle.
In 1825, John Allan inherited a large sum of money, and this abrupt reversal of fortune enabled him to enrol Edgar at the University of Virginia. Shortly before his departure for college, Poe began to court a fifteen-year-old woman named Sarah Elmira Royster. Whether the two were engaged before he left for college is unclear; that he was serious about his intention to marry Sarah is fairly certain. Poe entered the University of Virginia in 1826 at the age of seventeen, concentrating on classical and modern languages. But he found it difficult to maintain a gentleman\'s life style on the relatively meagre allowance that John Allan furnished to him. He took to gambling and compiled debts of honour amounting to some $2,000, an enormous sum in the 1820s. John Allan refused to pay these debts; Poe left school and returned to Richmond where he worked for a time in Allan\'s counting house. When he tried to renew his courtship of Sarah Royster, her parents first told him that she was abroad; he eventually learned that his first fiancée had become engaged to another young man.
Alienated from his stepfather and rejected by Sarah\'s family. Poe set out on his own, moving first to Baltimore in March, 1827 and then back to the city of his birth, Boston, where he took the first of several pseudonyms, calling himself Henri Le Rennet. It was in Boston that Poe wrote the first poems that would eventually bear his real name. Without a regular source of income, Poe joined the army at the age of eighteen, enlisting under the fictitious name of Edgar A. Perry. With his keen mind and still sturdy body, Poe did well in the military, rising to the rank of sergeant major during his two years stint. While he was stationed at Fort Independence, Poe prevailed upon a local published to print his first volume of verses, Tamerlane and Other Poems, By a Bostonian in1827 under the name of Edgar Perry. To these, he would eventually add six new poems for a volume that would be published in Baltimore under his real name at the end of 1829. By then, tragedy struck Poe\'s life once more. In February, 1829, Poe\'s stepmother, Frances Allen, died, the third mother figure in his life to suffer an untimely death.
The death of Frances Allan set the stage for reconciliation between Poe and John Allan. According to some accounts, it was through Allan\'s influence that Poe received an appointment to the United States Military Academy at West Point. He did enter West Point in July, 1830, but a few months later he learned that John Allan had remarried a woman with children and realised that he would never receive any inheritance from his stepfather. Poe resumed his losing ways at cards, drank heavily, and neglected his duties, refusing to leave his room at the Academy for days on end: he was dismissed from West Point in March, 1831. Poe took up residence at the home of his aunt, Maria Clemm, with her young Virginia Clemm, and Poe\'s paternal grandmother. Shortly thereafter, he brought out a third slim volume of poems; like its predecessors, this third book was comprised on verses on conventional romantic subjects, notably the myth of an idealised world of beauty and joy recaptured as dreams and memories. Unfortunately, like his first two collections, it failed to receive any reviews. Poe applied for editorial and teaching positions, but was unsuccessful in his effort to gain regular employment.
In 1831, Poe entered into a new stage in his fledgling literary career. The tastes of the American reading public had turned from romantic poetry and toward humorous and satirical prose. By June of that year, he had submitted five comic pieces to the Philadelphia Saturday Courier---\"Metzengerstein,\" \"The Duc de L\'Omelette\" \"The Bargain Lost,\" \"A Tale of Jerusalem,\" and \"A Decided Loss\"--- all of which were first published in 1832. Throughout the remainder of his career, Poe would write comic and satiric tales, including parodies, burlesques, grotesques and outright hoaxes. In 1833 and 1834, Poe wrote two serious short stories, \"MS Found in a Bottle\" (the first of his sea tales) and \"The Assignation\" (the first Poe story to appear in a magazine with national circulation). Poe would rework both of these early efforts in the 1840s. He also proposed to publish a volume of short stories.
All eleven stories were eventually published, but not as a Folio Club group. Yet his proposal brought his talents to the attention of John Pendleton Kennedy, and through Kennedy, Poe received entree to the Southern Literary Messenger. It was in the Messenger that Poe published his first true horror story, \"Berenice,\" in 1835. Shortly thereafter, he became and editor of this journal. Many of the latter were extremely abrasive; having secured a permanent position in the literary world, Poe quickly made enemies that would come back to haunt him, even after his death.
When John Allan took ill in 1834, Poe travelled to Richmond in the hope of some positive resolution of his conflict with his erstwhile stepfather. The dying man would have none of it; Allan refused to see Poe and threatened to cane him if he dared entered his sick room. A year later, his grandmother, Elizabeth Poe died, and Poe moved from Baltimore back to Richmond with his aunt and cousin. On May 16, 1836, Poe married his cousin Virginia Clemm, who was just thirteen years old at the time. Poe, his bride and his mother-in-law then moved to New York City.
The year 1837 marked the start Poe\'s most productive period as a fiction writer; during the next eight years, Poe composed most of the tales of terror with which he is customarily identified. Following \"Berenice,\" Poe wrote \"Morella\" (1835), \"Ligeia\" (1838), \"The Fall of the House of Usher\" (1839) and \"William Wilson\" (1840). In 1839, having moved his household to Philadelphia, Poe became co-editor of Burton\'s Gentleman\'s Magazine. In 1840, Poe financed the publication of twenty-five short stories as Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque. But sales of this volume were surprisingly poor. Poe\'s unkind cuts caused him to quarrel with his co-editor, the eponymous owner of Burton\'s, and after he wrote a review in which he accused the popular American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow of plagiarism, Poe was fired by Burton. He tried to found his own literary journal, \"Penn Magazine,\" but found no financial backers for the project. Thereafter, he worked for a year (April 1841 to May, 1842) as an editor at Graham\'s Magazine. Wearied by his family\'s financial insecurity, Poe attempted to gain a position at a custom\'s house, but was again rebuffed. To earn a living, Poe wrote turned again to the composition of comic pieces like \"Never Bet the Devil Your Head.\" But in 1842, his young wife Virginia suffered a burst blood vessel and contracted tuberculosis. The influence of the latter on Poe\'s mind may be reflected in his 1842 allegory of epidemic disease, \"The Masque of the Red Death,\" published at a time when Philadelphia was suffering from an outbreak of cholera. In March, 1843, he went to Washington, D.C. in search of a job with the federal government. But he was waylaid by an extended drinking binge, Poe taking to the bottle with increasing frequency after Virginia became ill.
In 1843 as well, Poe began a series of murder stories told from the narrative perspective of the fictional murderers. These would eventual include \"The Tell-Tale Heart,\" \"The Black Cat,\" and, somewhat later, \"The Imp of the Perverse\" and \"The Cask of Amontillado.\" In that same year, Poe enjoyed the most important boost to his career with the publication of \"The Gold Bug,\" a mystery tale. The success of \"The Gold Bug,\" allowed Poe to publish three stories in which Dupin solves crimes that baffle the French police, \"Murders in the Rue Morgue,\" \"The Mystery of Marie Roget,\" and \"The Purloined\" Letter.\" He also enjoyed success at this time with some of his comic and satiric pieces such as \"Diddling Considered as One of the Exact Sciences\" (1845).
In 1845 that Poe\'s career received two additional boosts. The first came after Poe and his family moved back to New York City, taking residence at a cottage in Fordham, and began to write poetry again. It was in New York that he wrote \"The Raven.\" The poem was a popular sensation, and it gave him a new source of income, reciting his own to paying audiences. During the remaining years of his life, Poe wrote virtually all of his most famous poems, including \"Ulalume,\" and \"Annabel Lee.\" The second boost came when James Russell Lowell wrote a laudatory essay about Poe that appeared in Graham\'s Magazine. Poe became the editor of the Broadway Journal, to which he contributed some 60 reviews and essays, a few new stories, and revised versions of others. In the fall of 1845, Poe borrowed a large sum of money and bought the Broadway Journal. But it failed to turn a profit and ceased publication altogether in early1846.
Poe now watched as his wife Virginia\'s health deteriorated. In his own words, he suffered \"the horrible, never-ending oscillation between hope and despair.\" But on January 30, 1847, Virginia Poe died. Poe lapsed into depression and hard drinking. But he pulled out of this descent, turning to the composition of theoretical works about literature, human nature, and the cosmos at large, including Eureka: A Prose Poem (1848), in which he advanced a complete theory about God\'s will and the universe. He also took to the lecture circuit, giving talks on \"The Poetic Principle\" and Eureka. During this time, Poe developed friendships with several women, including Sarah Helen Whitman, Mrs. Annie Richmond, and Mrs. Sarah Elmira Shelton. He became conditionally engaged to the somewhat older Sarah Helen Whitman, but their relationship ended abruptly when he called upon her in a drunken state.
Contrary to popular belief, in his final year (1849), Poe\'s life was relatively stable. He continued to earn a living through his lectures and recital performances, he visited friends that he had made in Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Richmond. In fact, Poe spent two months in Richmond. In Richmond that Poe wrote his last poem, the melancholy \"Annabel Lee.\" In late September and in seemingly good health, Poe left Richmond for New York where he planned to assist another lady friend in the editing of her manuscripts. But for some unknown reason, Poe stopped in Baltimore. On October 3, 1849, an election day, Poe was found deliriously ill, lying half-conscious in the street outside of a polling place and a few yards away from a tavern. Whether Poe was drunk or not has never been conclusively determined. He was taken to a local hospital, still in a delirious state and calling for a polar explorer of the day named Reynolds. He uttered his final words and epitaph, \"Lord help my poor soul,\" on October 7, 1849, and was buried the next day in Baltimore\'s Presbyterian Cemetery.