Today marks 206 years since Edgar Allan Poe’s birth. Born on January 19, 1809, in Boston, Massachusetts, Mr. Poe was not only a pioneer of the short story, but he was also considered the inventor of the detective fiction genre. Additionally, he was recognized as being a leader in contributing to the emerging science fiction genre. Furthermore, he was the first American writer who was more popular in Europe than in the United States. He was the first celebrated American writer to attempt to earn a living through his writing alone, and as a result, he had financial difficulties throughout his life.
It’s believed that only a dozen original copies of Poe’s first book, Tamerlane and Other Poems, are still in existence. (Only fifty copies were printed in the first publishing.) In December 2009, one surviving copy sold at Christie’s of New York for $662,500! At the time, this was a record price for a work of American literature. Poe claimed to have written this book before his fourteenth birthday and published it when he was eighteen. In it, the author is identified simply as “A Bostonian.”
On October 3, 1849, Mr. Poe was found wandering the streets of Baltimore in a deranged condition. He was taken to Washington Medical College where he died on Sunday, October 7, 1849, at 5:00 in the morning. During his stay at the hospital, he was never coherent long enough to explain how he came to be in his ominous state, nor why he was wearing clothes that were not his own. He was said to have repeatedly called out the name “Reynolds” before his death, but no one knew to whom he was referring. His final words were “Lord help my poor soul.” He was reported to have died from “cerebral inflammation,” which, back then, was a common euphemism for death due to a dishonorable cause such as alcoholism. It’s been speculated that he died of alcoholic DTs, syphilis, or even rabies, though his actual cause of death remains a mystery.
Happy Birthday, Mr. Poe!
Time to talk: What’s your favorite work by Edgar Allan Poe? Did you see the 2012 movie, The Raven, starring John Cusack, and if so, did you enjoy it? Do you have a theory as to how Mr. Poe died?