December 15, 2017
Edgar More Poe Than AllanOn this day in 1811 a final notice appeared in the Richmond, Virginia Inquirer asking for donations in aid of the destitute young actress, Eliza Poe, and her children, two-year-old Edgar and his baby sister, Rosalie:
Poe seemed surely rescued from this history of abandonment, itinerancy and hand-outs. Mrs. Allan was doting, and though Mr. Allan was no-nonsense, he was willing to spend on young Edgar for a fair return on the investment. Opportunities were offered in society, at school, and at the family business, though Poe was not legally adopted. Nor was he much interested, preferring poetry and other habits that Allan did not like. By the time his guardian died in 1834, the twenty-five-year-old Poe had run up so many debts and broken so many promises to reform that he was cut from the very substantial will. Even when attempting to play the prodigal stepson at Allan's deathbed, he had been booted out of the house. Poe would spend the fifteen years that remained moving up and down the Eastern seaboard as his mother the actress had done, his talent for writing and histrionics never quite enough to overcome his darker habits, or his need for hand-outs.
These are the concluding lines of "The Conqueror Worm," a poem set in the theater, the "angel throng" gathered for a "gala night" which turns to nightmare:
A crawling shape intrude!
A blood-red thing that writhes from out
The scenic solitude!
It writhes! - it writhes! - with mortal pangs
The mimes become its food,
And seraphs sob at vermin fangs
In human gore imbued.
Out - out are the lights - out all!
And, over each quivering form,
The curtain, a funeral pall,
Comes down with the rush of a storm,
While the angels, all pallid and wan,
Uprising, unveiling, affirm
That the play is the tragedy, "Man,"
And its hero the Conqueror Worm.
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