Study Guide

Edgar Allan Poe Childhood

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Edgar Poe (the Allan came later) was born 19 January 1809 in Boston to Elizabeth Arnold Poe and David Poe, Jr. His parents were traveling actors. The family was dirt poor. By 1811, his father had abandoned the family, leaving Elizabeth Poe alone with two-year-old Edgar, his elder brother Henry, and his infant sister Rosalie. And things soon got worse. On 8 December 1811, Elizabeth Poe died of tuberculosis in Richmond, Virginia. News soon arrived that David Poe had also died of the same disease, within days of his estranged wife. The three Poe children were split up. Henry went off to live with his paternal grandparents. Rosalie was adopted by the Mackenzie family of Richmond. And Edgar was taken in by the family of John and Frances Allan, a well-to-do Richmond couple unable to have children of their own. He added his foster family's name to his own, becoming Edgar Allan Poe.

John Allan was a successful merchant, and Edgar grew up fairly comfortably. He was close to his foster mother, Frances, but never with to foster father, who always thought Edgar was a punk, shamefully ungrateful for all the couple did for him. From 1815 to 1820, the family lived in England, where young Edgar got a good education at a school outside of London. In 1824, when he was fifteen and back in Richmond, Poe penned his first poem: "Last night, with many cares & toils oppres'd,/ Weary, I laid me on a couch to rest." In typical fashion, Poe intentionally misstated both the date of his enrollment and the length of time he was at college. In reality, Poe was a good student with a bad gambling problem. By the end of his first semester he had run up a $2,000 debt, which John Allan refused to pay. Poe ditched both the Allans and Virginia, and headed north to live with relatives in Baltimore.

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