Edgar Allan Poe
An orphan at the age of two, a schoolboy who had mastered even the most complex Latin works by the time he was a teenager, an athletic student who defended his friends from the biggest bullies, a man deeply connected with Baltimore and one of America's finest writers ... these are all phrases that describe Edgar Allan Poe and there are many more.
Edgar Allan Poe, born in Boston on January 19th, 1809, died on October 7th, 1849 in Baltimore . Best known for his poems and short fiction, he deserves more credit than any other writer for the transformation of the short story from anecdote (*) to art. He virtually created the detective story and perfected the psychological thriller. He also produced some of the most influential literary criticism of his time -- important theoretical statements on poetry and the short story -- and has had a worldwide influence on literature.
Poe's parents, David Poe Jr. and Elizabeth Arnold Hopkins, were touring actors. Both died before Edgar was 3 years old, and he was taken into the home of John Allan, a prosperous merchant (*) in Richmond, and baptized Edgar Allan Poe.
His childhood was uneventful, although he studied (1815-20) for 5 years in England. In 1826, he entered the University of Virginia but stayed for only a year. Although he was a good student, he ran up large gambling debts that Allan refused to pay. Allan prevented his return to the university and broke off Poe's engagement to Sarah Elmira Royster, his Richmond sweetheart. Lacking any means of support, Poe enlisted in the army. He had, however, already written and printed, at his own expense, his first book Tamerlane and Other Poems in 1827. The book consisted of verses written in the manner of Byron (**). click here for a sample poem from that book
Temporarily reconciled, Allan secured Poe's release from the army and his appointment to West Point but refused to provide financial support. After 6 months, Poe apparently contrived to be dismissed from West Point for disobedience of orders. He next took up residence in Baltimore with his widowed aunt Maria Clemm and her daughter Virginia, and turned to fiction as a way to support himself. In 1832, the Philadelphia Saturday Courier published five of his stories -- all comic or satiric (***) -- and in 1833, Message Found in a Bottle won a $50 prize given by the Baltimore Saturday Visitor. Poe, his aunt, and Virginia moved to Richmond in 1835, and he became editor of the ‘Southern Literary Messenger’ and married Virginia, who was not yet 14 years old.
Poe published fiction, notably his most horrifying tale, Berenice in the Messenger, but most of his contributions were serious, analytical (*) reviews that earned him respect as a critic. The January 1837 issue of the Messenger announced Poe's withdrawal as editor but also included the first instalment of his long prose tale, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, five of his reviews, and two of his poems. This was to be the paradoxical (**) pattern for Poe's career: success as an artist and editor but failure to satisfy his employers and to secure a livelihood.
First in New York City (1837), then in Philadelphia (1838-44), and again in New York (1844-49), Poe sought to establish himself as a force in literary journalism, but with only moderate success. He did succeed, however, in formulating influential literary theories and in demonstrating mastery of the forms he favoured -- highly musical poems and short prose narratives. Both forms, he argued, should aim at "a certain unique or single effect." His theory of short fiction is best exemplified in Ligeia , the tale Poe considered his finest, and The Fall Of The House Of Usher , which was to become one of his most famous stories.
Virginia's death in January 1847 was a heavy blow, but Poe continued to write and lecture. In the summer of 1849 he revisited Richmond, lectured, and was accepted anew by the fiancée he had lost in 1826. After his return north he was found unconscious on a Baltimore street. A brief obituary reported that Poe had died of "congestion (***) of the brain."
The Challenge Cryptograph
Edgar Allan Poe had a fascination with cryptography. Besides numerous references to secret writings in some of his poems and stories such as ‘The Gold-Bug’, he conducted his own "cryptographic challenge" that was published in ‘Alexander's Weekly Messenger’ beginning in December 1839. For this series of articles Poe challenged his readers to submit their cryptographs to him, asserting that he would solve them all. For the next six months Poe published solutions to the ciphers submitted by his readers, and shared his views on the nature of cryptography. There were over a hundred that were submitted and solved. At the end of the competition there were still two pieces that were not solved.