(Taken from The Book of Knowledge, edited by Harold F.B. Wheeler)

In the annals of literature there is no more dark and disastrous career than that of this American poet and story writer, whose inherent faults of character and bad training combined to quench in early death a truly fine and original genius.

From his mother, an English actress, and his father, a stage-struck youth of Baltimore, Maryland, U.S.A., who left him an orphan in infancy, Poe inherited a highly nervous and emotional temperament, that needed the wisest and kindest oversight. Instead, the handsome, precocious boy, alternately indulged and treated with severity, was brought up as the spoiled heir to the fortune of his godfather John Allan, of Richmond, Virginia, who adopted him. Then, after he had been taken from Virginia University and expelled from West Point Academy for his dissipated habits and insubordination, Mr. Allan disowned and disinherited him.

At 25, with expensive tastes and no training for a profession, Poe was obliged to live on the charity of his father’s poor sister, a Mrs. Clemm, of Baltimore. There he took local prizes for prose and verse, and discovered literary talents for which he found employment in Philadelphia and New York.

A man of striking personal appearance, charming manners, and obvious gifts, Poe readily secured positions on the leading magazines of the day. But his weakness of will and occasional dissipations made him unreliable and kept him in poverty. Yet in intervals of deadening hack work, Poe wrote short stories and verse, which, while small in amount, are among the most precious of American literary classics.

In poetry his genius was unique. He makes no appeal to the intellect, but, as a result sometimes of his own morbid state of mind, expresses a melancholy, sensuous emotion in verse, whose perfection of melody suggests fine musical compositions. His prose stories have an equal fascination. He gives form to horror and fear, or constructs and unravels mysteries with fidelity to scientific principles.

Poe is more truly a world author than almost any other creative American writer, but so purely his own was his inspiration that he would have appeared a literary alien in any country. In the United States there is greater appreciation of his poetry than of his prose, while in France especially his short stories are classic models, on which famous writers have formed their style. A conscientious literary artist, he revised and perfected everything he wrote, and only by infinite painstaking secured his clearness and impressiveness.

The publication of “The Raven” made him the literary lion of the day, but good was followed by ill fortune. He had married his beautiful cousin, Virginia Clemm, the “sainted maiden” of “The Raven”. Two years after the appearance of this famous poem his idolized young wife died, after a long decline and amid the tragic privations of poverty. In grief and remorse Poe made a heroic effort to conquer his weakness, but he died wretchedly in a Baltimore hospital following a bout of delirium tremens. His last words before he died were: “Lord help my poor soul”.

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