Edgar Poe was born in Boston, Massachusetts, on January 19, 1809, the second child of Elizabeth Arnold Hopkins Poe and David Poe, Jr., an actor. He became an orphan after his father abandoned the family and his mother died of consumption. He was raised by John and Frances Allan in Richmond, Virginia, from whom Poe took his middle name, though they did not adopt him. He was educated in grammar schools in Scotland and England as well as in Richmond. His foster father was wealthy from trade and sent Edgar to the best schools, including the new school, the University of Virginia, to study languages. He attended only for a semester, however. He became estranged from his foster father over gambling debts.
He went to Boston in 1827 to earn his living as a newspaper writer, enlisting in the Army when he could not support himself and publishing anonymously Tamerlane and Other Poems in 1827. He served in the Army for two years attaining the rank of Sergeant Major for Artillery. He published his second book, Al Aaraaf, Tamerlane and Minor Poems in 1829. John Allan helped Poe to enter the Military Academy at West Point in 1830.
Poe was disowned by John Allan after Allan’s second marriage, and Poe purposely arranged for his own court-martial in order to be dismissed from West Point in 1831. In 1831 he went to New York and released his third book of poems, financed by other cadets at West Point. After being awarded a prize from the Baltimore Saturday Visitor in 1833 for his short story, “MS. Found in a Bottle,” Poe became assistant editor of the Southern Literary Messenger in Richmond in 1835 but was discharged for drunkenness. Returning to Baltimore, he secretly married his 13-year-old cousin, Virginia Clemm. He got his job back and returned to Richmond with his wife and her mother.
During this time he published poems, book reviews, and short stories in newspapers. The Narrative of Arthur Gordom Pym, his only novel, was published in 1838 and widely reviewed. He became an assistant editor of Burton’s Gentleman’s Magazine, earning a reputation as a critic. His collection of short stories, Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque, was published in 1839. Virginia showed signs of consumption in 1842, and Poe began to drink more heavily. He left his job at Graham’s Magazine and went to New York where he was an editor for newspapers. His poem “The Raven,” published in the Evening Mirror in 1845, was an instant success. Virginia died in 1847, and Poe became unstable. In 1849 Poe was found delirious on the streets of Baltimore and taken to a hospital where he died on October 7, 1849. The cause of death is still unknown, though it is speculated to be alcohol-related. The editor and critic Rufus Wilmot Griswold had a grudge against Poe and tried to destroy his reputation after his death, including images of him as a drug addict in a biography.
Poe’s world reputation as an innovative artist increased in the later nineteenth century. He is hailed as an inventor of detective fiction, science fiction, and is America’s first serious literary critic. His achievements in poetry and the short story are considered landmarks of those genres.