Text: Edgar Allan Poe, “Memorandum [Autobiographical Note],” manuscript, May 29, 1841


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Memo. Born January, 1811. Family one of the oldest and most respectable in Baltimore. Gen. David Poe, my paternal grandfather, was a quarter-master general, in the Maryland line, during the Revolution, and the intimate friend of Lafayette, who, during his visit to the U. S., called personally upon the Gen.’s widow, and tendered her his warmest acknowledgments for the services rendered him by her husband. His father, John Poe, married, in England, Jane, a daughter of Admiral James McBride, noted in British naval history, and claiming kindred with many of the most illustrious houses of Great Britain. My father and mother died within a few weeks of each other, of consumption, leaving me an orphan at two years of age. Mr. John Allan, a very wealthy gentleman of Richmond, Va., took a fancy to me, and persuaded my grandfather, Gen. Poe, to suffer him to adopt me. Was brought up in Mr. A.’s family, and regarded always as his son and heir — he having no other children. In 1816 went with Mr. A.’s family to G. Britain — visited every portion of it — went to school for 5 years to the Rev. Doctor Bransby, at Stoke Newington, then 4 miles from London. Returned to America in 1822. In 1825 went to the Jefferson University at Charlottesville, Va., where for 3 years I led a very dissipated life — the college at that period being shamefully dissolute. Dr. Dunglison of Philadelphia, President. Took the first honors, however, and came home greatly in debt. Mr. A. refused to pay some of the debts of honor, and I ran away from home without a dollar on a quixotic expedition to join the Greeks, then struggling for liberty. Failed in reaching Greece, but made my way to St. Petersburg, in Russia. Got into many difficulties, but was extricated by the kindness of Mr. H. Middleton, the American consul at St. P. Came home safe in 1829, found Mrs. A. dead, and immediately went to West Point as a Cadet. In about 18 months afterwards Mr. A. married a second time (a Miss Patterson, a near relative of Gen. Winfield Scott) — he being then 65 years of age. Mrs. A. and myself quarrelled, and he, siding with her, wrote me an angry letter, to which I replied in the same spirit. Soon afterwards he died, having had a son by Mrs A., and, although leaving a vast property, bequeathed me nothing. The army does not suit a poor man — so I left W. Point abruptly, and threw myself upon literature as a resource. I became first known to the literary world thus. A Baltimore weekly paper (The Visiter) [The Baltimore Saturday Visiter ] offered two premiums — one for best prose story, one for best poem. The Committee awarded both to me, and took occasion to insert in the journal a card, signed by themselves, in which I was very highly flattered. The Committee were John P. Kennedy (author of Horse-Shoe Robinson ), J. H. B. Latrobe and Dr. I. H. Miller. Soon after this I was invited by Mr. T. W. White, proprietor of the South. Lit. Messenger [The Southern Literary Messenger ], to edit it. Afterwards wrote for New York Review at the invitation of Dr. Hawks and Professor Henry, its proprietors. Lately have written articles continuously for two British journals whose names I am not permitted to mention. In my engagement with Burton, it was not my design to let my name appear — but he tricked me into it.


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Notes:

Although the manuscript itself is undated, it clearly accompanied a letter Poe sent to Griswold on May 29, 1841 (see The Collected Letters of Edgar Allan Poe, 2008, notes to LTR-112, 1:273, and illustration no. 24). Poe provided Rufus W. Griswold with this autobiographical note for Griswold’s upcoming anthology The Poets and Poetry of America (1842).

In this note Poe, always fond of a hoax and consciously aware of the value of a dramatic public image for selling his writings, liberally mingles fact, exaggeration and fancy to create something which effectively anticipates the celebrity profiles of popular modern publications. Griswold and many subsequent biographers accepted these statements as true. It was not until 1880 that the year of Poe’s birth was correctly established as 1809 rather than 1811. The supposed “expedition to join the Greeks” was one of the more durable myths about Poe. It may be based on something his brother actually did, or it may be complete fiction. Other items are nearly close enough to be acceptable as truth. His grandfather was a quarter-master for the City of Baltimore during the Revolutionary War, and he was a friend of Lafayette. Poe’s parents did die, leaving him and his brother and sister orphans. He was taken into the home of John and Frances Allan, though they never formally adopted him. The Allans did travel to England, with Poe, though in 1815 rather than 1816, where he did attend the school of the Reverend Bransby. They returned to America in 1820, not 1822. Poe did attend the University of Virginia, beginning in February of 1826, not in 1825. There, he was introduced to drinking and gambling, though it seems hyperbole to described his life during that brief time as “very dissipated.” He was briefly in the army and at West Point. Poe was awarded the Baltimore Saturday Visiter prize for the best short story, but John Hill Hewitt was awarded the prize for best poem, the judges possibly not wanting to give both prizes to the same person.  John Allan was 50, not 65 when he married Gabrielle Patterson, and they had three sons, not one. He did leave a considerable fortune, and no mention of Poe in his will. The idea that Poe wrote for “two British journals” has never been validated and is presumed to be a fabrication.


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[S:1 - MS, 1841 (photograph)] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Works - Misc - Autobiographical Memorandum]