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Edgar Allan Poe's life begins and ends in obscurity, and includes several years aboutwhich little is known. For this his secretiveness and mendacity are some what responsible.He is authority for the statements that he was born in 1811 and in 1813. The date acceptedas true, January 19,1809, is that which he wrote in the matriculation book of theUniversity of Virginia. When Poe died at the age of forty, famous in three nations, hisclosest literary associates thought that his birthplace was Baltimore. It was in factBoston, the " Frogpondium" which he satirized in undutiful despite.
The Poe family may be traced back to one of Cromwell's Irish officers through John Poe,who came from the north of Ireland to Pennsylvania in 1745. Who ever will may discern theCeltic strain in Poe, and by it account for his melancholy, his sentimentalism, and themagic of his poetry. Perhaps his want of humour may be ascribed to his English mother.Conjectures as to Poe's inherited characteristics are safest when they deal only with hisimmediate ancestry, his stage-struck father and his pretty mother, actress, dancer, andsinger.
Poe's father was David, son of David Poe, of Baltimore. The first David was assistantquartermaster-general during the Revolution. He was patriotic and valorous. To his countryin the throes of rebellion he gave money, and after the successful issue of the Revolutionhe was not reimbursed. In our second war he fought in the ranks at the age of seventy-two.A dozen years later Lafayette . kissed the grave of David Poe, and said, "Ici repose uncceur noble." Warrior David was not the man to forgive his son for quitting the soberprofession of law and pulling on the poor actor's undarned buskin and sock. Until geniuschose to shine in a poor relation, the other Poes were not friendly to the family ofDavid, the actor, though some of them lent Edgar money and the General took care ofEdgar's brother, William. Player father and poet son were social outcasts andne'er-do-wells.
David was a poor performer, unthrifty and addicted to drink. He rendered no service toart except to beget an artist, and he disappears early from the records. The distinguishedson says that his mother and father died within the same few weeks.
The mother was Elizabeth Arnold, widow of an actor named Hopkins. As if foreseeing thatshe would be of interest to biographers, she failed to carry out the elopement theyafterward planned for her, and instead married David Poe in regular manner. They livedthree years in Boston, and played in the principal American cities. She is well spoken ofin the newspapers of the time as entertaining actress and good woman. But the theatre inAmerica was not a prosperous institution, and the family knew poverty and misery.
Elizabeth and David Poe had three children. The first, William Henry Leonard, who diedin early manhood, was reputed clever and adventuresome. The third, Rosalie, outlived herillustrious brother, but seems not to have been strong of mind or body. Elizabeth ArnoldPoe died in Richmond on December 8,1811. On the following Christmas night the RichmondTheatre was burned, and many were lost, including the Governor of Virginia. The Memo rialChurch in Richmond marks the place of real and mimic tragedy. Those who died in the firelie buried in the portico. In the rush of charity succeeding the disaster prompt refugewas offered to the actress's children. William was taken by his father's friends orkinsmen in Baltimore; a Richmond lady, Mrs. McKenzie, mothered Rosalie; and Edgar becamesocially, though never formally, the adopted son of Mr. and Mrs. John Allan.
John Allan was a Scotsman. The house of Ellis & Allan was building up a tobaccobusiness in Richmond. Stories abound of the rich man's suppers at which young Edgar stoodon the table and amused the company by precocious song and declamation. Some biographersare moved by the picture of the young Poe sent downward on his road to ruin by theindulgent hand of an opulent foster-father. In point of fact, Mr. Allan was not rich. Hisfirm assigned in the year when Edgar was thirteen. At the time that Poe came under Allan'sroof, that roof was above the second or third story of his tobacco shop. It was not untillater that the death of a relative made the Allans wealthy. Mr. Allan opened his house toPoe probably at the
instance of his young wife, - they were childless after several years of marriedlife,-and he was a sensible, long-suffering guardian to his wayward charge. There isnothing to censure in Allan except his failure to recognize genius before it revealeditself.
In the summer of 1815 he went to Eng land to establish a London branch of his business.His six-year-old proteg6 was sent to the Manor House School in Stoke Newington, a suburbof London. This school is shadowed forth in " William Wilson.' 7 The biographer finds inthe relation between the school at Stoke Newington and the early career of William Wilsonan instance of Poe's remark able sensational memory. No record, however, that Poe makes ofhis experiences, either in avowed autobiography or in fiction, can be accepted at facevalue. It is not the part of the fiction-maker to reveal himself directly in his stories,and Poe was a fictionist, not only in his narratives, but in his letters and other recordsof his life and character.
The Allans stayed in England five years. That the Virginian merchant was in a measureprosperous is indicated by the recollection many years later of the head of the school,Dr. Bransby, that young Poe had too much pocket money. The Poe records contain a largeamount of reminiscence accordant with some be lief or fact about Poe which developed inafter years.
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