Edgar Allan Poe

On this date in 1809, writer Edgar Allan Poe was born in Boston. When his parents, both actors, died before he was three, Edgar was adopted by John Allan, who educated him in London and Virginia. Poe attended the University of Virginia for one year before dropping out. He began writing poetry, served in the U.S. Army for two years, and was awarded a prize for a short story in 1833. He moved to Baltimore and lived with his widowed aunt and her daughter, Virginia, and began editing Southern Literary Messenger. He married his cousin, not yet 14 years old, in 1836, and moved with her to New York City and Philadelphia, living in poverty, continually in search of better writing positions. His novella, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, was published, followed by Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque (1839), The Pit and the Pendulum (1842), and The Tell-Tale Heart (1843). Poe is considered a pioneer of thrillers and detective fiction, writing The Murders at the Rue Morgue (1841), The Mystery of Marie Roget (1842), The Gold Bug (1843), and The Purloined Letter (1844). The Raven, and Other Poems, was published to great acclaim in 1845. Virginia died of tuberculosis in 1847, inspiring Poe's famous poem "Annabel Lee." Poe's "prose-poem," Eureka (1848), according to freethought historian Joseph McCabe, "embodies a Pantheism which is not far removed from Agnosticism" (A Biographical Dictionary of Modern Rationalists, 1920). In it, Poe wrote that we know nothing about the nature of God, that nature and God are the same, and there is no personal immortality. His sudden death from an undiagnosed illness was controversial, with enemies pointing a finger at alcoholism, but the attending doctor recording that Poe was not intoxicated upon his death. D. 1849.

“Let us begin, then, at once, with that merest of words, 'Infinity.' This, like 'God,' 'spirit,' and some other expressions of which the equivalents exist in all languages, is by no means the expression of an idea—but of an effort at one. It stands for the possible attempt at an impossible conception.”

—Edgar Allan Poe, Eureka, 1848

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

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