Poe, Edgar Allan (1809-49), American poet and novelist, born at Boston, Massachusetts, was the son of players connected with the Boston stage, who left him an orphan at an early age. He was then adopted by Mr. John Allan, a rich tobacco merchant of Virginia, whose wife, having no children, had taken a liking to him. He was a boy of great intelligence, and made great strides in learning when put to school, but was of a somewhat retiring disposition. In 1815 be was brought to England by his foster-parents (whose name he had added to his own) and was sent to a school in Stoke Newington, remaining there five years. On his return to Virginia he entered its university and matriculated there, but contracted some bad habits there and ran into debt through gaming. His foster father took him into his business as a clerk, but Poe soon gave it up and went to Boston, where, in 1827, he published his first volume of poems, which was received with indifference. Having no money, he then entered the army, and for a time his conduct was so exemplary that Mr. Allan bought him a cadetship, which, however, he did not appreciate, and acted in such a manner as to get cashiered in 1831. Not long before this he had brought out a second edition of his poems, and in 1831 another volume of them was issued in New York, and was also badly received. Going to Baltimore, he obtained some journalistic work through the influence of John Pitt Kennedy, an American writer, and there edited a paper, for which he wrote some of his most marvellous stories. In 1836 he married his cousin, and his prospects were very bright; but his waywardness was shown in 1837, when he resigned and went first to New York and then to Philadelphia, in which cities he became editor of several papers in succession. He published a collection of his stories in the latter place in 1839, but obtained absolutely nothing for them. His powerful tale of The Murders in the Rue Morgue appeared in 1841, and may be considered the foundation of the modern detective story. His popularity in France was due to this work. Two French journals used the story without acknowledgment, and a libel action arose between them, in the course of which Poe's name was frequently mentioned, with the result that he gained a reputation in that country such as few English authors have achieved.
Poe's propensity to liquor had been increasing slowly, when his wife fell ill. They were in poverty at this time, and Poe went to New York again in 1844. In 1845 appeared The Raven and other Poems, and the disappointment caused by the utter indifference to his writings led Poe to indulge still further in stimulants. He wrote very severely against many of his contemporaries, and was a savage critic. About 1846 a public appeal was made for himself and family, and in 1847 his wife died. Poe had now no restraint, and seems to have gone from bad to worse. Though his faults have been even more exaggerated than his virtues, it is quite certain that he was found unconscious in a liquor saloon at Baltimore on October 3rd, 1849, and died of delirium tremens. He was then about to be married to a widow of Richmond, Virginia. Poe is probably the greatest literary genius America has yet produced, and is now as honoured as he was in life neglected. In 1875 a monument was raised to his memory in Baltimore. The best English edition of his works is that by Mr. John H. Ingram.