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Happy Birthday, Edgar Allan Poe
Happy Birthday, Edgar Allan Poe

Happy Birthday, Edgar Allan Poe

“Depend upon it, after all, Thomas, Literature is the most noble of professions. In fact, it is about the only one fit for a man. For my own part, there is no seducing me from the path.” —  From a letter by Edgar Allan Poe to Frederick W. Thomas (February 14, 1849). (Quote from the Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore.) The Poe Society of Baltimore has a chronology of the life of Poe and has the works of Poe. James Southall Wilson wrote a biographical sketch of Poe at the Poe Museum; here is an excerpt:
Edgar Allan Poe was born January 19, 1809 in Boston, where his mother had been employed as an actress. Elizabeth Arnold Poe died in Richmond on December 8, 1811, and Edgar was taken into the family of John Allan, a member of the firm of Ellis and Allan, tobacco-merchants. After attending schools in England and Richmond, young Poe registered at the University of Virginia on February 14, 1826, the second session of the University. He lived in Room 13, West Range. He became an active member of the Jefferson Literary Society, and passed his courses with good grades at the end of the session in December. Mr. Allan failed to give him enough money for necessary expenses, and Poe made debts of which his so-called father did not approve. When Mr. Allan refused to let him return to the University, a quarrel ensued, and Poe was driven from the Allan home without money. Mr. Allan probably sent him a little money later, and Poe went to Boston. There he published a little volume of poetry, Tamerlane and Other Poems. It is such a rare book now that a single copy has sold for $200,000.00 Moldavia, Poe’s last home in Richmond located at Fifth and Main Streets. John Allan bought the house in 1825, and Edgar lived there before entering the University of Virginia in 1826. In Boston on May 26, 1827, Poe enlisted in The United States Army as a private using the name Edgar A. Perry. After two years of service, during which he was promoted to the rank of Sergeant-major, he secured, with Mr. Allan’s aid, a discharge from the Army and went to Baltimore. He lived there with his aunt, Mrs. Maria Poe Clemm, on the small amounts of money sent by Mr. Allan until he received an appointment to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. Meanwhile, Poe published a second book of poetry in 1829: Al Aaraaf, Tamerlane and Minor Poems. After another quarrel with Allan (who had married a second wife in 1830), Poe no longer received aid from his foster father. Poe then took the only method of release from the Academy, and got himself dismissed on March 6, 1831. … In 1840, Poe’s Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque was published in two volumes in Philadelphia. In 1845, Poe became famous with the spectacular success of his poem “The Raven”….
The Poe Society of Baltimore has some interesting commentary on the spelling of his middle name:
Although there is no birth certificate, Poe is presumed to have been born as simply Edgar Poe. We can, at least, be certain that “Allan” was not originally part of his name. Neither his father, grandfather nor great-grandfather had middle names, suggesting the form of first and last names only was a sort of family tradition. A curious exception to this apparent pattern was Poe’s older brother, William Henry Leonard Poe, with not one but two middle names. Edgar’s middle name of “Allan” was added by John and Frances Allan, who took Poe in as an orphan and served as his foster parents. Although Poe was never legally adopted, he became “Edgar Allan Poe” at his christening on January 7, 1812. As a child, ironically, he was generally known at school as “Edgar Allan” or “Master Allan.” It has sometimes been stated that Poe dropped the use of his full middle name following his estrangement from John Allan, about 1827. At best, no matter how appealing and romantic, this notion may be dismissed as unsubstantiated nonsense. Throughout his life, Poe most typically signed his name “Edgar A. Poe,” with the initial rather than the full name. His name appears this way beginning with the very earliest surviving manuscript, a few lines written about 1824 as “Poetry — by Edgar A. Poe.” He continued, however, to use “Edgar Allan Poe” as a signature in some letters as late as 1849. Indeed, his handwritten title page for the proposed edition of “Phantasy Pieces” clearly gives his name as “Edgar Allan Poe.” A quick survey of his extant letters shows an overwhelming preference for “Edgar A. Poe,” followed closely by “E. A. Poe.” Only eight letters are signed “Edgar Allan Poe,” spread widely over his life. A few carry only his last name “Poe.” Personal notes, primarily to his mother-in-law Maria Clemm, are usually signed “Eddy,” although one has the form “Eddie.” A serious evaluation of signatures is complicated, of course, by the fact that we have no idea what percentage of Poe’s letters may be lost and how those letters may have been signed. In addition, the signatures from a number of surviving letters have been clipped, presumably by autograph collectors. (Maria Clemm, Poe’s mother-in-law, made some money during her final years by selling Poe’s signature from whatever letters remained in her possession.) Poe’s marriage bond uses the “Edgar A. Poe” form. A number of receipts also carry the “Edgar A. Poe” signature. After Poe’s death, two volumes of his collected writings were published as The Works of the Late Edgar Allan Poe (edited by R. W. Griswold, 1850). Since that time, common use has enshrined his full middle name in its current place of prominence. It has, however, suffered the odd fate of repeatedly being misspelled as “Allen.” So frequently does this error occur that it seems to be a sort of typographical curse. It has mistakenly appeared as “Edgar Allen Poe” in popular and scholarly articles, in book titles and in full color on flamboyant movie posters. Even a handsome commemorative centennial engraving of Poe, prepared with special care in 1909, was marred by this misspelling. Typically, the “Allen” error tends to appear in such secondary text as page headings, footnotes, picture captions and bibliographies. About 1983, a columnist for the Baltimore Sun actually had the audacity to blame Poe for the problem, absurdly accusing Edgar of not having known how to spell his own name. Somewhere, perhaps, Poe is laughing at such foolishness. He always did love a good joke.
There is more on their site…like his famous poem “The Raven.” The University of Virgina’s Poe Project might be worth a read. Edgar Allan Poe went to school at UVa. His dorm room was arranged to look as it had when he stayed there, I believe, and is now sealed off. Visit also the Poe Museum.

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