Category Archives: History
By Lindsay Roseberry, Reference Department
Bastille Day is July 14 this year and every year in France. It is the French National Day which celebrates the unity of the french people and commemorates the storming of the Bastille in 1789. So what exactly is a Bastille, you want to know?
The Bastille was a fortress in Paris, known formally as the Bastille Saint-Antoine, for the district that it was in. For most of its history was used as a state prison by the kings of France. The fortress was originally built to defend the eastern gate of the city of Paris from the English threat in the Hundred Years’ War, in the 1300s. It was a strong fortress with eight towers which protected that highly strategic entrance at the eastern edge of Paris. It was made into a state prison in 1417, used by both the invading English and the French. As Paris grew and spread beyond the gates, the Bastille became surrounded by houses, and was a less of a fortress and more of a prison. King Louis XIV used the Bastille to lock away any of the nobility who opposed him or angered him. Under kings Louis XV and XVI, the fortress was used to detain prisoners from all classes and as a police station, prison and arsenal.
On July 14th, 1789the Bastille was stormed by a crowd filled with revolutionary zeal, some intent on freeing the prisoners, others who wanted the valuable gunpowder held within the fortress. The seven remaining prisoners were found and released. This revolt was the start of the French Revolution. The Bastille became an important symbol for the French Republican movement, and was later demolished and replaced by the Place de la Bastille.
But how do they celebrate Bastille Day?
- Every July 14, a large military parade takes place along the Champs Elysées, the famous French avenue that runs from the Arc de Triomphe. It is the biggest parade that takes place in all of Europe. During the 2015 parade, three different anti-terror squads marched in the parade to honor the 10,000 troops that helped secure safety in the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo massacre.
- Another part of the celebrations are the Fireman’s Balls. In this tradition, which started in 1937, fire stations open their doors to host fundraising dance parties. The money collected goes to help funding of the fire stations all over France.
- And another thing you must be aware of—you never wish a Frenchman (or woman) Happy Bastille Day. In France, July 14th is always la fête du 14-juillet (the July 14th holiday) or more officially, la fête nationale (The National Holiday). And everyone sings La Marseillaise, which is the French national anthem. “Allons enfants de la patrie…”
- Bastille Day isn’t a celebration only in France; it is celebrated all over the world. Two of the largest outside France are in the United States: in New Orleans, where Francophiles celebrate the holiday for a week long, and in New York City, where a block party takes place on 60th street.
By Lon Maxwell, Reference Department
Heraldry, the word brings up ideas of knights and tournaments, royalty and television dramas. To most people it’s a stuffy, old fashion anachronism. To a very small few, it is an art form. What it really is falls under the modern concept of branding. If you were in the know in the 14th and 15th centuries you could look at the heralds list at a tournament and recognize knights from their coats of arms. If you had not met the knight personally, you could judge his character based on his arms. Knights of the same family had similar elements and you could see that sir Thomas was a younger brother or cousin or nephew of Sir William and make a value judgment based on what you knew of Sir William. This is the same way we make a judgment of the quality on a restaurant based on whether we see two arches or on a field gules, or woman gardant argent on a field noir. While these terms are in the language of heraldry the images they describe are not. No one would mistake Starbucks or McDonalds as knightly.
While the decoration of a shield or garment goes back for thousands of years, heraldry as we know it is documented back to the time of Charlemagne. It started as a way to differentiate between people on the battlefield. In the eras before military uniform, you had to know exactly who was on your side so you did not attack, or be attacked by, one of your fellows. As armor became more comprehensive and helmets began to cover the entire head, a new means of identification became necessary. The natural thing to do was to make sure you used the same design on all your shields and that what you used was different from other people. As more people began to use this new system, someone had to keep track of designs to make sure that repetition did not occur and that designs were recorded and differentiated between sons and cousins etcetera. This led to the creation of Heraldic authorities that kept (and still keep) roles of arms and titles and control who is granted what arms and how close to the original familial arms they can be.
The initial designs were simple ones. Shapes of one color, or tincture, were placed on fields of another. The only real rule of early heraldry was that you did not place a color on another color. If the field was red, the symbol had to be silver or gold. Black was occasionally acceptable for either tincture or metal. Simple designs were quickly used up and more complex symbols began to be used. As families grew and armigerous , or arms bearing, families intermarried and carried both arms going forward through processes called impaling or quartering, designs got more and more elaborate. This could be taken to the extreme such as the case of the Grenville Armorial, with its 719 quarterings. This is an exceptional example though. Most Arms only had 16 quartering at most and they were often repeated. The other issue was differencing arms from father to son. A father had arms of a saltire noir on a field argent, a black X on a silver shield. He also had six sons. They couldn’t all take his arms, only the eldest could and he had to bear a label on his until his father had passed. The system of cadency was created. This varied from country to country but usually consisted of a label applied to the father’s arms and each point of that label carried a specific type of symbol depending on birth order. Some countries varied this. Scotland for instance used a system of borders to delineate the same thing.
In modern times heraldry has fallen in importance amongst the general population. It has not, however disappeared completely. The family of Kate Middleton was granted a coat of arms before her marriage to Prince William, showing the continued importance of the institution of heraldry to the elites of the United Kingdom. In Scotland the “family” coat of arms does not exist, regardless of what those online family history services tell you. The arms of the family are actually the arms of the chief of the clan of that name and only that person can claim them as their own. It is actually a crime to claim them without a certification of the Lord Lyon, the Scottish heraldic authority. You might think that an egalitarian nation like the United States is beyond such trappings of nobility, but you would be mistaken. There are a few heraldic authorities in the United States, but none who have governmental status. The American College of Heraldry, a private non-profit organization will register your arms giving them some protection from use by others. The only official governmental organization concerned with heraldry is one that goes back to the military roots of heraldry. The Army Institute of Heraldry keeps track of all the coats of arms of all branches of the service and designs, or commissions designs, for new units, ships and awards. The symbolism and association of heraldry continues to be relevant today even beyond the days of using them as a very colorful My Name Is … badge.
For More Information on Heraldry:
By Lindsay Roseberry, Reference Department
Listen my children and you will hear of the midnight ride of Paul Revere
But has anyone yet heard of the Southern Revere Jack Jouett?
With apologies to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
While most know the story of Paul Revere’s late night ride to warn of the coming British, the ride of John (Jack) Jouett to warn Jefferson and the legislatorsis often forgotten. Jouett was at the right place at the right time to warn Thomas Jefferson and others that the British were coming—in Virginia. In 1781, he was the captain of the Virginia Militia, stationed in Louisa, VA, still a small town even today. On June 3, he was sleeping out on the lawn of the Cuckoo Tavern in Louisa County, VA, when the noise of many horses racing down the street woke him up. (Why he was sleeping outside was not known. It could be the tavern had no rooms, or the rooms they had were full. It could have been a fine night for sleeping outdoors. By all accounts, he was a big man, said to be 6’4” and around 220 pounds—perhaps the ground was more comfortable than a too-short bed.)
He sat up and saw they were a legion of British loyalist dragoons, a unit of 250 soldiers! These were American colonists loyal to Britain, and wore white coats instead of red. They were especially hated; they were led by Col. Banastre Tarleton’s. (Tarleton was nick-named the Butcher, so we know what the colonists thought of him. He earned this nickname at another battle when his troops killed colonists attempting to surrender.) Jouett saw that Tarleton was leading them and realized at once that their objective was the Virginia General Assembly, meeting in Charlottesville.
Why were they meeting in Charlottesville? The British army, with assistance from Benedict Arnold, had just weeks ago captured the capitol of Virginia—Richmond. Jefferson had suggested they all retreat to Charlottesville, close to his home of Monticello. Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry and other radical “rebels” were meeting there in the General Assembly; Jefferson was governor at the time. The problem was that the assembly was not protected by any military presence. The Continental arm was either with General Washington in the north or with General Lafayette who was too far away to get there in time. Jouett knew all of this in an instant, and knew he had to warn the assembly members.
The road from Cuckoo, a tiny village in Louisa County, ran northwesterly to the gap in the Southwest Mountains, a distance of about 38 miles to Charlottesville. Jack was familiar with the route because his father owned the Swan Tavern there, sitting just across from the courthouse. Understanding that the assembly needed to be warned immediately, he rode off on his horse Sallie along the rough mountain road (knowing the soldiers were taking the main road) in the dark with just the light of the moon to guide his way. It was said that the scars from the lashing of trees and bushes from this wild ride marked his face for the rest of his life. (For contrast, Paul Revere rode for only 15 miles over good roads.) He made it to Monticello at dawn, rousting Jefferson and those who were staying at his house.
Jefferson got his family out, got his important documents and then realized he had left his sword. He went back and saw the dragoons enter his yard. Some reports say he hid in a hollow tree to hide from them. Jouett then rode on to Charlottesville and warned the assemblymen; most of whom were staying at the Swan Tavern. Only seven were captured by Tarleton and his men. Thanks to Jack Jouett’s ride, four signers of the Declaration of Independence escaped capture. So did a future president, the father of another future president, and many others.
So why haven’t you heard of Jack Jouett before? He was not already famous like Revere was when he rode to Charlottesville. True, he was honored by the Virginia Assembly—they gave him two silver pistols and a jeweled sword. More likely, you never heard of him because he moved to the Virginia frontier after the Revolutionary War was over. That Virginia frontier turned into the state of Kentucky. In 1782, he moved to Harrodsburg, KY, which had recently been established. He married and had twelve children, one of whom was the famous portrait painter Matthew Harris Jouett. He was friends with Andrew Jackson, served four terms in the Kentucky legislature and was a well-regarded planter and horse breeder. Sallie, his brave and valiant horse, was the start of a long line of thoroughbred race horses. Jack Jouett died in 1822, and was buried on his farm.
In an attempt to help promote Jouett’s memory, the Charlottesville Daily Press published the following poem on October 26, 1909:
Hearken good people: awhile abide
And hear of stout Jack Jouett’s ride;
How he rushed his steed, nor stopped nor stayed
Till he warned the people of Tarleton’s raid.
The moment his warning note was rehearsed
The State Assembly was quickly dispersed.
In their haste to escape, they did not stop
Until they had crossed the mountain top.
And upon the other side come down.
To resume their sessions in Staunton Town.
His parting steed he spurred,
In haste to carry the warning
To that greatest statesman of any age,
The Immortal Monticello Sage.
Here goes to thee, Jack Jouett!
Lord keep thy memory green;
You made the greatest ride, sir,
That ever yet was seen.”
By Lon Maxwell, Reference Department
Seventy years ago this year, a young Bedouin shepherd went wandering through the Qumran hills looking for a lost animal. Whether he actually found the animal or not does not seem to be recorded. The story, possibly apocryphal, is that in order to scare the lost sheep out of a small cave he found, Muhammed edh-Dhib hurled a stone in. He did not hear the bleating of a sheep (or goat, sources differ). What he did hear was the sound of pottery being smashed. Being a sixteen year old boy, he had to crawl in to see where the noise was coming from. He found scrolls lying amongst pottery shards. He took the scrolls home and after a while they passed into the hands of cousins who knew a thing or two about antiquities. From there, it was a time of moving from one collector to another until they came in to the hands of Metropolitan Athanasius Yeshue Samuel, the head of the Syrian Orthodox Church of Antioch in Jerusalem. He recognized what he had found as being very old indeed and took them to experts, including Drs. Ovid Sellers and John C. Trever, at the American Schools of Oriental Research (ASOR) in Jerusalem. After comparing them to the Nash Papyrus, the then oldest known biblical text, they were able to determine the scrolls found in Qumran were very old.
After an announcement made in early 1948, the biblical archaeological community began to wonder what else lay out there in caves in the desert on the shores of the Dead Sea. Plans were made, expeditions formulated, but there was an issue getting back out to the area where the first scrolls were discovered. At the same time the scrolls were being authenticated, tempers were running high between the Arab League and the new state of Israel. By May this had erupted into the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. After hostilities ebbed the Arab Legion began searching for the caves. The first cave where the original find was made was finally located by United Nations observer Captain Phillipe Lip pens and Arab Legion Captain Akkash el-Zebn at the end of January, 1949. Ten more caves were found in the decade after Muhammed edh-Dhib first hurled the stone, with the final cave to contain anything, Cave Eleven, being found in 1956. In all, 972 manuscripts in scrolls or fragments were discovered. They are mostly written on animal skin parchment, with some fewer on papyrus and one scroll on copper.
Contrary to popular belief, the scrolls did not contain an entire old testament. In fact many of the scrolls, up to thirty percent, were copies of books that were not included in the bible as we know it and a further thirty percent were rules for the Essene community and comments on biblical passages. The scrolls do contain at least fragments from every single book of the Tanakh, or the Old Testament if you prefer, with the exception of the Book of Esther. It should be noted that the Book of Esther is the last book to be made cannon by the sages of the Great assembly and is the only book in the bible that does not mention God explicitly. There are also books of religious origin that do not show up in the Tanakh or the Christian Old Testament, although some are found in Apocrypha and the Catholic Bible. The majority of the scrolls actually deal with rules of daily and religious life, and with the beliefs and practices of the makers.
The same site that yielded the scrolls also contained coins from approximately 135 BCE to 73 CE. While it’s not the strongest dating procedure it does give you a very narrow, 208 year time window for these caves use. And when you consider how often you run into a coin minted during the Jefferson administration in the library today, you have to admit that it gives a likely date for their initial placement in the Qumran caves. However scientific dating techniques have gone on to prove these dates to be with in the margin for error. However, there are older materials present amongst the scrolls. The oldest is a fragment called MUR 17 and it dates from the 8th century BCE.
Who wrote them?
While the general consensus is that the scrolls were written by the Essenes that lived nearby, many scholars have other theories. There is a theory that the scrolls were actually prepared in Jerusalem and then stashed in the caves as the city’s inhabitants fled during the Jewish revolts against Roman rule. There is a fairly debunked theory that the scrolls are actually the work of very early Christian writers. This is based upon a tenuous identification of the scroll named 7Q5 as the text from Mark 6:52-53. This would make it the earliest known evidence of the New Testament. The majority of the people believe that these scrolls were the work of locals, either Essenes or otherwise. That they were locally produced is bolstered by the jars they were found in. The style of container is particular to Qumran and the caves alone. The best evidence linking the scrolls to the Essenes are the scrolls themselves. The scroll known as the Community Rule Scroll contains many references to practices and strictures that match contemporary descriptions of the rites of the Essenes.
The texts contained in the Dead Sea scrolls are the oldest ever found in such completion. The next oldest are the Masoretic texts that come from a thousand years later (approx. 900-1000 CE). Because of this they provide a look into scripture at some of its earliest moments. What little change there is between the scrolls version of the many of the books and the Masoretic texts or even the texts used in synagogues today, some books like Exodus and Samuel show great differences. This is a great way to see how scripture has changed and what has remained constant. These travelers from the past have come to tell us how Jewish and by extension Christian beliefs have evolved.
By Lon Maxwell, Reference Department
With the coming of April the First we are all reminded of the jokes and pranks of years past, but very few people are reminded of the actual origin of this humorous day.
The tradition of April Fool’s Day can be traced back to the days of the early Christian church. Like St. Patrick’s Day and Valentine’s Day, April Fool’s Day is yet another church Holy Day that has become a secular holiday.
The tradition dates back to the late fourth century CE, and St. Hilary of Poitiers. Hilary was an extremely well educated man of a pagan family in the Poitiers region of what is now France. He converted to Christianity and was baptized in his early adulthood along with his wife and young daughter, the future St. Abra. Hilary was well liked and soon was elected Bishop of Poitiers. He was a serious man but had a well-documented jovial streak. There are documented incidents of his being reprimanded by the archbishops and cardinals of France at the time for once having replaced the water in the holy font with “the juice of the apple, the fruit that brought the fall of Eve.” And on another occasion adding a well-loved local sheep to the list of priests to be elevated to the level of monsignor, claiming “no purer lamb of god than he.”
Unfortunately, Hilary, also known as the Hammer of the Arians, was a very prominent detractor of the heretical sect of Christianity known as Arianism. This led him into conflict with some Church Leaders as well as the Emperor Constantius II, and resulted in his exile. When the Emperor’s centurion delivered the notice of exile, Hilary tweaked the man’s nose and immediately decamped for Phrygia. He spent the four years of his exile defending the Roman Catholic ideal and was eventually allowed to return to Poitiers and to the Church’s good favor. After his death in 367, Hilary was Beatified and Canonized very quickly as a defender of the faith with the church of Sant Ilario at Casale Monferrato being named in his honor as early as 380. This dedicated church father and his japery are remembered to this day on the first of April, what we know as April Fool’s Day, but what was once remembered as the Feast of St. Hilary or as he was known in Latin Sanctus Hilarius.
Here’s the (more or less) true history of April Fool’s Day:
Okay, so the real history of April Fool’s Day is quite a bit different from that. The actual origin is uncertain. The earliest written reference connecting foolishness and the First of April is from Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. In the Nun’s Priest’s Tale Chanticleer the egotistical rooster is tricked by the fox. The tale is set “Syn March bigan thritty dayes and two” or the First of April. This however may be a mistake in transcription and refer to 32 days from the end of March, May Second, the anniversary of the engagement of Richard II to Anne of Bohemia in 1381.
Some believe that the practice of playing pranks on fools goes back to the advent of the Gregorian calendar. Before Pope Gregory’s modification to the calendar as we know it, the New Year was celebrated with a week-long festival that started on the Twenty-fifth of March and ended on April first. The new calendar changed that to the January first date we’re all familiar with. It is believed that it was common to send people who continued to hold to the April first date on fool’s errands, making them look the fools they were thought to be. The biggest problem with this likely apocryphal story is that the Gregorian calendar was not introduced until 1582, well after the Chaucer reference as well as several other historical allusions to the holiday.
The most likely origin is that it is a descent from earlier holidays like the roman festival of Hilaria, the Hindu religious festival of Holi, the Jewish Purim holiday and the medieval Feast of Fools. All of these holidays, except for the Feast of Fools, traditionally take place between March and April and are celebrations of joy and mirth. There is a distinct connection with the end of winter and the beginning of spring, a resurgence of joy from the dormancy and doldrums of winter.
Traditions vary across the world when it comes to the type of pranks played. In the United Kingdom, and many of its former possessions, it is common to give someone a letter to take to another person who will then read something akin to “send the fool further” and direct them to another person with the same letter. This is supposed to end by noon or else it is the sender rather than the messenger that will be the April fool. In Poland, the tradition of pranks and silliness is so rampant that in 1683 Holy Roman Emperor Leopold II refused to sign a treaty involving Poland unless it was backdated to March 31st. The Scandinavian countries have a tradition where the newspapers will publish exactly one false front page news item, but it is never the main headline. Finally, in French speaking areas and Italy as well you find the April fish (poissons d’avril in French or pesce d’aprile in Italian). This is a practice of attempting to hang a paper fish on the back of someone’s shirt on the first of April.
So now while you are on the lookout for the next person trying to prank you or enjoying the schadenfreude of your own April fools jokes you can now know you are just continuing a centuries old tradition.
By Lon Maxwell, Reference Department
With it being African-American history month and an Olympic year it seems only logical to look back at some of the great African-American Olympians of the past and look forward to the new heroes of this summer.
Most Americans are familiar with the Olympic greats of the past like runners, Jesse Owens and Wilma Rudolf. They might even remember a young light heavyweight boxer from the 1960 Olympics named Cassius Clay, although they are more likely to remember him as we all do now as Mohammed Ali. Some people will recall Tommie Smith and John Carlos from their memorable podium appearance in the 1968 summer games for the 200 meter. And Gabby Douglas from the last Olympics who was the first American to win an individual all-around gold medal as well as the team gold.
However, for every one of these household names there are heroes who are forgotten. Very few remember George Poage who was the first African American to compete in the Olympics and the first to win a medal. Mr. Poage was born in Hannibal, Missouri but actually grew up in La Crosse, Wisconsin. While working on his post-graduate studies at the University of Wisconsin he was sponsored by the Milwaukee Athletic club to compete in the St. Louis games in 1904 where he won Bronze medals in the 200 and 400 meter Hurdles.
There is also John Baxter Taylor, Jr. who became the first African American to win gold when he ran the third leg of the 400 meter relay. Dr. Taylor was a graduate of the University Of Pennsylvania School Of Veterinary Medicine, but did not live long enough to practice his craft or enjoy his Olympic success, dying of Typhoid Fever less than five months after the glory of his Olympic championship at the 1908 London games. He might have been the first African American individual gold medal winner, but refused to participate in a re-running of the 400 meter final because he felt a teammate was unfairly disqualified for obstructing a runner from the host nation.
Instead, DeHart Hubbard was the first African American to win an individual gold, a feat he completed in the long jump at the 1924 Paris Olympics. Mr. Hubbard went on to found the Cincinnati Tigers baseball team of the Negro American League.
African American woman began competing in the Olympics as early as the 1936 Berlin Olympics when Tidye Pickett and Louise Stokes were selected for the 80 meter hurdles, although only Pickett competed, Stokes having been injured before the games. The first Medal won by an African American woman was gold in High jump at the 1948 London Games, won by Alice Coachman. Ms. Coachman had begun her track career running barefoot on dirt roads and improvising her jumping equipment out of whatever was handy in Albany, Georgia, only learning proper technique and working with real equipment when she reached high school. She won the gold medal she received from King George VI by setting a world record and did it all despite missing her prime years due to the cancellation of the 1940 and 1944 Olympics due to the War. Ms. Coachman went on to work in education as a teacher and worked with the Job Corps as well as becoming the first African American woman to sign an endorsement deal for an international product when she appeared in a Coca-Cola advertisement with Jessie Owens in 1952.
While not breaking down barriers or being the firsts, many African American athletes have given us great memories over past 30 years as well. The Eighties and Nineties had the brother-sister team of nine time gold medalist, and International Olympic Committee Sportsman of the Century Carl Lewis and his Sister Carol, now a commentator and bobsleigh break man, competing in the track and field events. The U.S. dominance of track and field during that time was also helped by another family. Six time Olympic medalist; three gold, one silver and two bronze, Jackie Joyner Kersee, her brother Al Joyner, a gold medalist in 1984 and his wife Florence Griffith Joyner who has three gold and two silver Olympic medals. All three were trained by legendary track and field coach, and Jackie’s husband, Bob Kersee. Joyner Kersee has held the world record for most points in a Heptathlon since 1988 and was named Female Athlete of the 20th century by Sports Illustrated. At this same time the Dream Team of the 1992 Olympics, including NBA greats like Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippin, David Robinson and Charles Barkley, reasserted U.S. dominance of the basketball world.
As summer approaches and the Olympic rosters are set, many new faces and some returning heroes will make themselves known. We can already be sure that Ashley Perry, a young woman from right here in Middle Tennessee, playing for the inaugural women’s rugby sevens team, and hopefuls like Simone Biles and returning legend Gabby Douglas, expected US Gymnastic team stars, and track star Allyson Felix will make sure that African Americans and Americans in general are represented proudly in Rio this summer.
By Lindsay Roseberry, Reference Department
Edgar Allan Poe finished his popular and unique poem The Raven in January 1845. Set on a cold December night, it makes perfect sense that it was released in January. It made him famous, but not what he also craved to be, rich.
Poe chose a raven as the central symbol in the story because he wanted a “non-reasoning” creature capable of speech. He decided on a raven, which he considered “equally capable of speech” as a parrot, because it matched the intended tone of the poem. Poe said the raven is meant to symbolize “Mournful and Never-ending Remembrance”. He was also inspired by Grip, the raven in Barnaby Rudge: A Tale of the Riots of ‘Eighty by Charles Dickens.
Poe really knows how to create a mood, to make his reader feel the shadows, the creepy noises in the room, the croak of the bird. This is a poem that pulls you into a moment. Like anything that scares you in a fun way, this is all about making you feel like you are experiencing the story while you read it. It’s spooky and a little spine-tingling, like a good horror movie. It’s fun to read – it’s meant to be read out loud. Try it and see how satisfying these lines are when they roll off the tongue. He’s trying to make his poem as musical, hypnotic, and captivating as possible. All of this complicated rhyme and rhythm aims at drawing you more completely into the world of the poem.
It’s interesting to think that people have been excited (and scared) by stories like this for hundreds of years. Folks in the 19th century read Poe for the same reasons we read Stephen King: that creepy thrill in reading about scary things happening to other people. When you read a story about someone slowly losing his mind, you might be horrified, but it’s also pretty hard to put it down.
And now a little about Poe the man:
He was born to traveling actors in Boston on January 19, 1809. By the age of three both of his parents had died, and he was taken in by the wealthy tobacco merchant John Allan and his family in Richmond, Virginia. Mr. Allan tried to raise him in his own image as a businessman and a Virginia gentleman, but Poe had dreams of being a writer like his childhood hero, Lord Byron. By the age of thirteen, Poe had compiled enough poetry to publish a book.
In 1826 Poe attended the University of Virginia, where he excelled in his classes while accumulating considerable debt. To teach him frugality, he was sent to college with less than a third of the money he needed, so he soon took up gambling to raise money to pay his expenses. By the end of his first term Poe was so desperately poor that he burned his furniture to keep warm. Angry and humiliated by his poverty, he returned to Richmond to visit the home of his fiancée, only to discover she was engaged to another man. Heartbroken, he left Richmond, vowing to become a great poet and to find adventure. He published his first book Tamerlane by age eighteen and then he enlisted in the United States Army. Two years later he heard that Mrs. Allan, the only mother he had ever known, was dying of tuberculosis, who was hoping to see him before she died. By the time Poe returned to Richmond she had died and had already been buried. He and Allan briefly reconciled, and Allan helped him gain an appointment to the United States Military Academy at West Point.
Before going to West Point, Poe published another volume of poetry. While there he found out that Allan had remarried without telling him or even inviting him to the ceremony. He threatened to get himself expelled from the academy. His wish came true; after only eight months at West Point he was thrown out, but he soon published another book.
Broke and alone, Poe turned to Baltimore, hoping to find relatives in the city to stay with. His aunt, Maria Clemm, became a new mother to him and welcomed him into her home. Her daughter Virginia first acted as a courier to carry letters to his lady loves but soon became the object of his desire. He started publishing his short stories; one won a contest sponsored by the Saturday Visiter. This allowed him to publish more stories and eventually gain an editorial position at the Southern Literary Messenger in Richmond. He had found a home as a magazine writer. In 1836, when he was twenty-seven, he married Virginia (she was 13!). After six plus years of marriage, his beloved wife died of tuberculosis. (1847) No wonder he wrote of dark and depressing things. His life was depressing. And all his life he was a true, starving artist.
He kept trying to find a better paying job, moving to Philadelphia and to New York, but it wasn’t until he published The Raven that he began to be a household name. Unfortunately, he only lived another two years after his wife died, dying from mysterious causes (still unknown, even to this day) at the age of forty-nine in Baltimore. Oddly enough, after his death he finally became more famous because of author Rufus Griswold. Poe strongly criticized his works, so upon Poe’s death Griswold struck back, but it backfired. It only made Poe more popular.
- Obsessed with cats, Edgar often wrote with a cat on his shoulder.
- Edgar’s one and only novel Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket was about a boat capsizing and the crew members drawing straws for who would be eaten; they drew straws and ate Richard Parker. The book bombed. Even though Poe said it was a true story, in his time most of the critics didn’t believe him. They were right to think so because at the time Poe’s book wasn’t true, but just 5 years later a similar wreck happened with the same lead character name Richard Parker, but no cannibalism. Then in 1884 there was another shipwreck where there was cannibalism, and the one who was eaten was indeed Richard Parker. (And don’t forget the Tiger in The Life of Pi was named Richard Parker. Concidence?)
- The Mystery Writers of America have named their award Edgar, after the great E. A. Poe.
- He introduced the first recorded literary detective in “The Murders in the Rue Morgue.” The detective character would lead to become the prototypical detective we know today
- He was early adopter of the genre of Science Fiction. In 1844, he published “The Balloon” in Sun Newspaper. He described a lighter than air balloon that transversed the Atlantic Ocean in three days. The accounts were so believable that the newspaper had to retract the story two days later. However untrue the story was, the Sun newspaper made a lot of money off of newspapers, and they did not give Poe a cent. From then on, Poe hated the Sun newspaper.
- “The Raven” was a personal challenge Edgar imposed upon himself. He wanted to write 100 line poem, enough for one sitting. He ended up with 108 lines, which apparently was good enough for Poe.
- Edgar changed the writing and publishing world. Before Poe, writing was a noble profession where not many were able to make a living off of solely writing. Edgar insisted that writing would be his career, and he made major strides to find an audience for his entertaining articles, which would become the initial spark of the magazine industry. He even was given $1,500 the last week of his life to start a magazine. However, in his life he was plagued by international copycats where he had no protection that we have now with international copyrights. In many ways, he paved the way for writers to be compensated enough to have a career.