Happy birthday, Edgar! To celebrate your 212th birthday, I’ve compiled a list of the six most interesting facts about America’s most angsty literary figure.
6. He was the first to use the term “short story”
Or at the very least, Poe’s use of the term is the earliest known record that has yet to be uncovered, dating all the way back to the year 1840, specifically in his book Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque, where he wrote, “I have written five-and-twenty short stories whose general character may be so briefly defined.” Poe pioneered the short story format, where he defined it in his essay The Philosophy of Composition as a story that should be able to be read in one sitting, ranging from one to two hours.
5. he carried on writing even after he died
At least, he did if you believe Lizzie Doten, a psychic medium who included in her 1863 book Poems from the Inner Life work which she claimed she received from the ghost of Edgar Allan Poe. Whether or not life after death is a concept that you’re willing to entertain, I think we can both agree it’s far more likely that she used Poe as a method to boost the public perception of her own poetry.
4. he married his thirteen year old cousin
This is certainly less of a fun fact, but still one I personally find very interesting. In 1829, Poe met Virginia Clemm, his first cousin on his mother’s side, who was only seven-years-old at the time. After living with the family for six years, Poe asked the child’s mother (his aunt, mind you) permission to marry her, promising that he will financially support her. She agreed, and the then twenty-seven-year-old wedded the thirteen-year-old he following year, remaining married until she died of tuberculosis eleven years later. While this may seem unnerving to our modern sensibilities, the historical consensus is that there was very little romanticism present in their relationship, and many believe that they shared a bond more akin to siblings than lovers. Regardless, many historians also agree that, at the time, their age difference would have been considered strange, but there’s no evidence that anything unseemly took place.
3. his cause of death is still unkown
In the early morning hours of October 7th 1849, Poe calmly breathed a simple prayer, “Lord, help my poor soul,” and died. The cause of his death remains a mystery, as no autopsy was performed and his corpse was buried tow days later in Baltimore, Maryland. He was found delicious four days earlier, and that’s all we know about his last days on Earth. Historical theories as to what caused the author’s death include suicide, murder, cholera, hypoglycemia, rabies, syphilis, influenza, even a cooping (which was a form of election fraud where citizens were kidnapped and forced to vote several times over for the same candidate or face beatings), yet nobody knows to this day.
2. he theorized the big bang
Believe it or not, in his 1848 book Eureka, Poe constructed an origin of the Universe that operated from mechanics far different than those that were understood at the time. While most contemporary physicists believed that the Universe was static, infinite and eternal, Poe argued that God created a “primordial particle” that divided into all matter we see today and the expanded from its initial point to spread across space. Not only that, but he suggested that gravity will also cause the Universe to collapse in on itself into another primordial particle, a theory very reminiscent of the “Big Crunch”, also musing as some scientists have done today that this expansion and contraction will result in an endless cycle of birth and death. He considered this to be his career’s masterpiece, and I think it’s easy to see why!
1. he was an athlete
One might assume that a man known for his flowery language and macabre pros would have spent his teenage years as the 19th century equivalent of an angsty goth, and while that was true, Poe was also known to compete in running, boxing and long jump events. When he was fifteen, he even achieved local fame by swimming six miles up Virginia’s James River, quite a feat, if you ask me! Curiously, if you search for it on Google, you will find a Wikipedia page for a different Edgar Allan Poe entirely, who not only looked eerily similar to the famous author, but was his second cousin, twice removed. Did I discover Poe’s long lost cousin? No, but it’s still a fun find!