Edgar Allan Poe In the Valley of the Shodows Edgar Allan Poe was born at 33 Hollis Street, Boston, Mass., on January 19, 1809, the son of poverty stricken actors, David, and Elizabeth (born Arnold) Poe. His parents were then filling an engagement in a Boston theatre, and the appearances of both, together with their sojourns in various places during their wandering careers, are to be plainly traced in the play bills of the time. Paternal Ancestry The father of the poet was one David Poe of Baltimore, Maryland, who had left the study of the law in that city to take up a stage career contrary to the desire of his family. The Poes had settled in America some two or three generations prior to the birth of Edgar. Their line is distinctly traced back to Dring in the Parish of Kildallen, County Cavan, Ireland, and thence into the Parish of Fenwick in Ayrshire, Scotland. Hence they derived from Scotch-Irish stock, with what trace of the Celtic is doubtful. The first Poes came to America about 1739.
The immediate paternal ancestors of the poet landed at Newcastle, Delaware, in 1748 or a little earlier. These were John Poe and his wife Jane McBride Poe who went to settle in eastern Pennsylvania. This couple had ten children in their family, among them one David who was the grandfather of the poet. David Poe married Elizabeth Cairnes, also of Scotch-Irish ancestry, then living in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, whence, sometime prior to the outbreak of the American Revolution they moved to Baltimore, Maryland. David Poe and his wife, Elizabeth Cairnes Poe, took the patriot side in the Revolution. David was active in driving the Tories out of Baltimore and was appointed Assistant Deputy Quartermaster, which meant that he was a local purchasing agent of military supplies for the Revolutionary Army.
He is said to have been of considerable aid to Lafayette during the Virginia and Southern campaigns, and for this patriotic activity he received the courtesy title of General. His wife Elizabeth took an active part in making clothes for the Continental Army. David and Elizabeth Poe (Sr.) had seven children David, the eldest son, becoming the father of the poet. Two sisters of David, Eliza Poe (afterward Mrs. Henry Herring) and Maria Poe (later Mrs. William Clemm) enter into the story of the poet’s life, the latter particularly, as she became his mother-in-law in addition to being his aunt. With her he lived from 1835 to 1849.
Young David Poe was destined for the law, but as previously mentioned, he finally left his native city to go on the stage. His first professional appearance took place at Charleston, S. C., in December, 1803. A dramatic notice of this performance in a local paper describes David Poe as being extremely diffident while – . .
.His voice seems to be clear, melodious and variable; what its compass may be can only be shown when he acts unrestrained by timidity. His enunciation seemed to be very distinct and articulate; and his face and person are much in his favor. His size is of that pitch well fitted for general action if his talents should be suited to sock and buskin. . .
. This is perhaps the only direct evidence extant of the physical appearance of the poet’s father. No pictures of him are known to exist. His histrionic powers were at best very limited. He continued to play in minor parts in various Southern cities and in January, 1806, married Elizabeth Arnold Hopkins, a young childless widow, also an actress, whose husband had died but a few months before. Elizabeth Arnold Poe became mother of Edgar Allan Poe.
Maternal Ancestry The young widow whom David Poe married in 1806 had been born in England in the spring of 1787. She was the daughter of Henry Arnold, and Elizabeth Arnold (born Smith) both actors at the Covent Garden Theatre Royal, London. Henry Arnold died apparently about 1773. His widow continued to support herself and her child by acting and singing, and in 1796, taking her young daughter with her, she came to America and landed in Boston. Mrs. Arnold continued her professional career in America at first with considerable minor success.
Either immediately before, or just after arriving in the United States, however, she married a second time, one Charles Tubbs, an Englishman of minor parts and character. The couple continued to act, sing, and dance in various cities throughout the eastern seaboard and the young Miss Arnold was soon noticed on the play bills appearing in childish roles as a member of the various troupes to which her family belonged. Mr. and Mrs. Tubbs disappeared from view about 1798 but the career of Elizabeth Arnold, Poe’s mother, can be traced accurately by various show bills and notices in the newspapers of the different cities in which she played until her death in 1811. It was during her wanderings as an actress that she married C.
D. Hopkins, himself an actor, in August, 1802. There were no children by this union. Hopkins died three years later, and in 1806, as previously noted, his widow was married to David Poe. The couple continued to play together but with very minor success.
They had three children. William Henry Leonard born in Boston in 1807, Edgar born in Boston in 1809, and Rosalie at Norfolk, Va., probably in December, 1810. Due to their poverty, which was always extreme, the first child, Henry, had been left in the care of his grandparents in Baltimore shortly after his birth. Edgar was born while his parents were filling an engagement at the Boston Theatre. In the summer of 1809 the Poes went to New York where David Poe either died or deserted his wife, probably the former. Mrs.
Poe was left with the infant Edgar and some time afterward gave birth to a daughter. A suspicion was afterwards thrown on the paternity of this last child and on the reputation of Mrs. Poe, which played an unfortunate part in the lives of her children. It is safe to say that it was unjust. From 1810 on, Mrs.
Poe continued, although in failing health, to appear in various roles in Norfolk, Va., Charleston, S. C., and Richmond. In the winter of 1811 she was overtaken by a fatal illness and died on December 8th in circumstances of great misery and poverty at the house of a Scotch milliner in Richmond. She was buried in the churchyard of St. John’s Episcopal Church in that city two days later, but not without some pious opposition. Mrs. Poe was survived by three orphaned children.
Two of these, Edgar and Rosalie, were with her at the time of her death and were cared for by charitable persons. Edgar, then about two years old, was taken into the home of John Allan, a Scotch merchant in fairly prosperous circumstances, while the infant Rosalie was given shelter by a Mr. and Mrs. William Mackenzie. The Allans and Mackenzies were close friends and neighbors.
The children remained in these households, and the circumstances of their fostering were, as time went on, equivalent to adoption. Frances Keeling Valentine Allan, the wife of the Scotch merchant who had given shelter to the infant orphan Edgar Poe, was a childless woman who had been married for some years. The child Edgar appears to have been a bright and attractive little boy, and despite some reluctance on the part of Mr. Allan, he was soon ensconced as a permanent member of the household. Although there is some evidence of an attempt on the part of paternal relatives in Baltimore to assert their interest in the child, the young boy remained as the foster-son of John Allan in Richmond, where he was early put to a school kept by a Scotch dame and apparently later to one William Irwin, a local schoolmaster.
There is every evidence that his early years of childhood were spent in happy and comfortable surroundings. Mrs. Allan and her maiden sister, Nancy Valentine, who resided in the same household, were peculiarly fond of their pet. He seems, indeed, to have been somewhat overdressed and spoiled as a very little boy, a propensity on the part of the women which the foster-father tried to offset by occasional but probably welltimed severity. In 1815 the family sailed for England on the Ship Lothair, taking Edgar with them, After a brief stay in London they visited Scotch relatives, the Galts, Allans, and Fowlds, at Kilmarnock, Irvine, and other places about Ayrshire.
A journey was made to Glasgow and then back to London in the late fall of 1815 when Edgar was sent back to Scotland at Irvine. There for a short time he attended the Grammar School. By 1816, however, he was back in London where his foster-father was endeavoring to build up a branch of his Richmond firm, Ellis and Allan, by trading in tobacco and general merchandise. The family resided at Southampton Row, Russell Square, while the young Edgar was sent to a boarding school kept by the Misses Dubourgs at 146 Sloane Street, Chelsea. He remained there until the summer of 1817.
In the fall of that year he was entered at the Manor House School of the Rev. Mr. John Bransby at Stoke Newington, then a suburb of London. At this place be remained until some time in the spring of 1820 when he was withdrawn to return to America. The young Poe’s memories of his five years’ stay in Scotland and England were exceedingly vivid and continued to furnish him recollections for the remainder of his life.
He seems to have been a precocious and somewhat lordly young gentleman. A curious and vivid reminiscence of these early school days in England remains in his story of William Wilson. It is significant of his relations with his foster-parents that the bills for his English schooling are rendered for Master Allan. There can be little doubt that at this time Mr. Allan regarded him as a son.
Other evidence is not lacking. John Allan’s business ventures in London had been unfortunate. He returned to the United States, arriving in Richmond in August, 1820, considerably embarrassed, a condition in which his partner Charles Ellis was also involved. Assignments of real estate were eventually made to satisfy creditors. The life of the Allan family, however, continued to be comfortable. Edgar was sent to an Academy kept by William Burke, later by Joseph H.
Clarke, and attended by the sons of the best families in Richmond. At school the young Poe excelled in languages, oratory, amateur theatricals, and attained a notable prowess in swimming. He appears to have attracted the attention of his masters and elders by his brilliance and to have been well liked but somewhat aloof from most of his playmates. At a very youthful age he began to write poetry, his first verses dating from his early teens. About 1823 he became intimate in the home of a schoolmate, Robert Stanard, whose mother, Jane Stith Stanard, took a tender interest in the brilliant young boy, an affection which was ardently and romantically returned.
It was to this lady that Poe afterwards addressed his poem To Helen, beginning.. Helen, thy beauty is to me Mrs. Stanard soon went mad and died. The tragedy was undoubtedly taken to heart by Poe to whom it came as a great blow shocking him significantly. He is said on somewhat questionable authority to have haunted her grave in the lonely cemetery by night. There is no doubt that he continued to cherish her memory as long as be lived.
Be that as it may, however, by 1824 the young poet who had been addressing the girls of a neighboring female academy in juvenile lyrics found himself fully embarked upon the troubled waters of a more adult life. Mrs. Stanard had died; his foster-father John Allan was in precarious financial straits; Mrs. Allan’s health was rapidly failing; and there was domestic dissension of the most serious kind in the household. John Allan had from time to time indulged in extra-marital relations.
Some of his natural children were then living in Richmond and the knowledge of this in one way or another seems to have become known to his wife. Her sorrow was great. During the visit of Lafayette to Richmond in 1824 young Poe, who was an officer in a cadet company, acted as an escort to the old General. This gave him a new sense of his own dignity and importance and at the same time he appears in some of his contacts about the town with more adult companions to have learned of his foster-father’s mode of life. At home Edgar took the part of his mother, and a quarrel, which through various ramifications lasted for upwards of a decade, now took place between Poe and John Allan. The situation was peculiarly exasperating to all concerned and the conflict dramatic.
Mr. Allan, it appears, had at the time of the death of Mrs. David Poe come into the possession of some of her correspondence. What was in these letters no one will ever know as they were afterwards destroyed by Mrs. Clemm at the request of Poe himself. There may have been some compromising matter in them.
At any rate, in order to insure Edgar’s silence as to his own affairs, Mr. Allan wrote a letter to William Henry Leonard Poe in Baltimore, complaining of Edgar in vague terms accusing him of ingratitude, and attacking the legitimacy of the boy’s sister Rosalie. The effect of this letter, and there may have been others, was evidently very disturbing to both the sons of Elizabeth Poe. Certainly it must have drawn the lines much tighter in the Allan household in Richmond. Three years later we find Henry in Baltimore publishing a poem entitled In a Pocket Book, which shows every indication that the doubts about his sister’s legitimacy had gone home. Rosalie Poe about this time began to show distinct signs of arrested development.
She never fully matured, and though she continued to be cherished as a daughter by the Mackenzies who had first sheltered her, she remained at best a sorrowful reminder of the past to her brother Edgar. She outlived him by many years, finally dying in a charitable institution in Washington, D. C. The death of Mrs. Stanard, the financial troubles and consequent irritability of John Allan, the disputes and counter charges in the household, and his own doubtful position there – for he had never been adopted and his dependence on charity was constantly reiterated – all of this proved an uneasy background for a young and ambitious poet. In addition there are indications that Mr.
Allan as a practical Scotchman bad little or no sympathy for his foster-son’s ambitions in the realm of literature. In 1825 Mr. Allan’s financial straits were amply relieved by the inheritance from his uncle William Galt of a large fortune. He found himself in short, a very wealthy man. The whole scale of living of the family now changed to a method of life consonant with their better condition.
A new house of considerable pretension was purchased, and in this large and comfortable mansion, situated at Fifth and Main Streets in the City of Richmond, a round of entertainments and social functions began despite the failing health of its mistress. Poe accompanied the family to the new house. His foster-father withdrew him from Mr. Clarke’s Academy and had him prepared for the University of Virginia which under the patronage of Thomas Jefferson had but recently opened its doors. On a street nearby lived a little girl by the name of Sarah Elmira Royster. Poe frequented her parlor where they sang, and drew pictures. Elmira played the piano while Edgar accompanied her on the flute, or they walked in the gardens close at hand.
Henry Poe is known to have visited his brother in Richmond about this time and to have accompanied Edgar to the Roysters. Before Edg …