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1809. At the age of three he was left an orphan by the death of his mother. A wealthy Scotchman of Virginia, Mr. John Allan, adopted him and brought him up in luxury—a much spoiled child, everywhere petted for his beauty and precocity.
He was sent to school in a suburb of London and upon his return to America entered the University of Virginia, a proud, reserved, and self-willed youth. Here he led an irregular life, so that Mr. Allan was forced to withdraw him from school and gave him work in his office. The routine of office work was very distasteful to Poe and he ran away to Boston, where he published his first volume of poems. Here he enlisted in the army, but when Mr. Allan heard of his whereabouts he secured his discharge and obtained an appointment for him, as a cadet, at West Point. The severe discipline of that school proved irksome to his restless nature and after a few months he brought upon himself his dismissal. At the age of twenty-two he found himself adrift with nothing further to expect from Mr. Allan.
Literature presented itself as his most natural vocation. He had written poetry from the pure love of it, but now actual poverty drove him to the more remunerative prose writing. He engaged in journalistic work in Baltimore, living with his aunt, Mrs. Clemm, and her daughter, Virginia. Two years later he married Virginia Clemm, a mere child; but Poe, whose reverence for women was his noblest trait, loved her and cared for her through poverty and ill-health, until her death eleven years later, a short time before his own. His life was a melancholy one, a fierce struggle and final defeat. In 1849, on his way to New York from Richmond, chance brought him and election day together in the city of Baltimore. He was found in an election booth, delirious, and died a few days later.
Poe was a keen critic of the literary men of his day, but he applied the same standards to himself. He was constantly re-writing and polishing what he had written. Poe's greatness lay in his imaginative work-his tales and his poems. The tales may be said to constitute a distinct addition to the world's litera
ture. From time immemorial, there have been tales in prose and in verse, tales legendary, romantic, and humorous, but never any quite like Poe's.
The appeal of his poetry is to the sentiment of beauty—the one appeal, which according to his theory is the final justification of any poem. Language is made to yield its utmost of melody. "The Raven" was first published in January, 1845, and immediately became and remains one of the most widely known of English poems. It can be mentioned anywhere, without apology or explanation and there is scarcely a lover of melodious verse who cannot repeat many of its lines and stanzas.
Every reader of Poe's prose will be impressed with the charm of the language itself, the fascination of the vivid scenes and the magic touch like the Necromancer's wand, which removes these scenes into the uncharted realm of the supernatural and invests them with a kind of sacred awe.
A DESCENT INTO THE MAELSTRÖM
EDGAR ALLAN POE We had now reached the summit of the loftiest crag. For some minutes the old man seemed too much exhausted to speak.
“Not long ago," said he at length, "and I could have guided you on this route as well as the youngest of my sons; but, about 5 three years past, there happened to me an event such as never hap
pened before to mortal man or at least such as no man ever survived to tell of-and the six hours of deadly terror which I then endured have broken me up body and soul. You suppose me a
very old man—but I am not. It took less than a single day to 10 change these hairs from a jetty black to white, to weaken my limbs,
and to unstring my nerves, so that I tremble at the least exertion, and am frightened at a shadow. Do you know I can scarcely look over this little cliff without getting giddy ?”
The "little cliff," upon whose edge he had so carelessly thrown
himself down to rest that the weightier portion of his body hung over it, while he was only kept from falling by the tenure of his elbow on its extreme and slippery edge—this "little cliff” arose, a
sheer unobstructed precipice of black shining rock, some fifteen or 5 sixteen hundred feet from the world of crags beneath us. Nothing
would have tempted me to within half a dozen yards of its brink. In truth so deeply was I excited by the perilous position of my companion, that I fell at full length upon the ground, clung to the
shrubs around me, and dared not even glance upward at the sky10 while I struggled in vain to divest myself of the idea that the very
foundations of the mountain were in danger from the fury of the winds. It was long before I could reason myself into sufficient courage to sit up and look out into the distance.
“You must get over these fancies,” said the guide, "for I have 15 brought you here that you might have the best possible view of the
scene of that event I mentioned—and to tell you the whole story with the spot just under your eye.
"We are now," he continued, in that particularizing manner which distinguished him—“we are now close upon the Norwegian 20 coast–in the sixty-eighth degree of latitude—in the great province
of Nordland -and in the dreary district of Lofoden. The mountain upon whose top we sit is Helseggen, the Cloudy. Now raise yourself up a little higher-hold on to the grass if you feel giddy
so—and look out, beyond the belt of vapor beneath us, into the sea.” 25
I looked dizzily, and beheld a wide expanse of ocean, whose waters wore so inky a hue as to bring at once to my mind the Nubian geographer's account of the Mare Tenebrarum. A panorama more deplorably desolate no human imagination can conceive.
To the right and left, as far as the eye could reach, there lay out30 stretched, like ramparts of the world, lines of horridly black and
beetling cliff, whose character of gloom was but the more forcibly illustrated by the surf which reared high up against it its white and ghastly crest, howling and shrieking forever. Just opposite
the promontory upon whose apex we were placed, and at a distance 35 of some five or six miles out at sea, there was visible a small,
bleak-looking island; or, more properly, its position was discernible through the wilderness of surge in which it was enveloped. About two miles nearer the land arose another of smaller
size, hideously craggy and barren, and encompassed at various 5 intervals by a cluster of dark rocks.
The appearance of the ocean, in the space between the more distant island and the shore, had something very unusual about it. Although, at the time, so strong a gale was blowing land
ward that a brig in the remote offing lay to under a double-reefed 10 trysail, and constantly plunged her whole hull out of sight, still
there was here nothing like a regular swell, but only a shorts quick, angry cross-dashing of water in every direction as well in the teeth of the wind as otherwise. Of foam there was little
except in the immediate vicinity of the rocks. 15 “The island in the distance," resumed the old man, “is called
by the Norwegians Vurrgh. The one midway is Moskoe. That a mile to the northward is Ambaaren. Yonder are Iflesen, Hoeyholm, Kieldholm, Suarven, and Buckholm. Farther off-between
Moskoe and Vurrgh—are Otterholm, Flimen, Sandflesen, and Skar20 holm. These are the true names of the places—but why it has
been thought necessary to name them at all is more than either you or I can understand. Do you hear anything? Do you see any change in the water?”
We had now been about ten minutes upon the top of Helseggen, 25 to which we had ascended from the interior of Lofoden, so that we
had caught no glimpse of the sea until it had burst upon us from the summit. As the old man spoke, I became aware of a loud and gradually increasing sound, like the moaning of a vast herd of buf
faloes upon an American prairie; and at the same moment I per30 ceived that what seamen term the chopping character of the ocean
beneath us, was rapidly changing into a current which set to the eastward. Even while I gazed, this current acquired a monstrous velocity. Each moment added to its speed—to its headlong im
petuosity. In five minutes the whole sea, as far as Vurrgh, was 35 lashed into ungovernable fury; but it was between Moskoe and the
coast that the main uproar held its sway. Here the vast bed of the waters, seamed and scarred into a thousand conflicting channels, burst suddenly into frenzied convulsion-heaving, boiling, hissing
gyrating in gigantic and innumerable vortices, and all whirling and 5 plunging on to the eastward with a rapidity which water never elsewhere assumes, except in precipitous descents.
In a few minutes more there came over the scene another radical alteration. The general surface grew somewhat more smooth, and
the whirlpools, one by one, disappeared, while prodigious streaks of 10 foam became apparent where none had been seen before. These
streaks, at length, spreading out to a great distance, and entering into combination, took unto themselves the gyratory motion of the subsided vortices, and seemed to form the germ of another more
vast. Suddenly-very suddenly-this assumed a distinct and defi15 nite existence, in a circle of more than a mile in diameter. The edge
of the whirl was represented by a broad belt of gleaming spray; but no particle of this slipped into the mouth of the terrific funnel, whose interior, as far as the eye could fathom it, was a smooth,
shining and jet-black wall of water, inclined to the horizon at an 20 angle of some forty-five degrees, speeding dizzily round and round
with a swaying and sweltering motion, and sending forth to the winds an appalling voice, half shriek, half roar, such as not even the mighty cataract of Niagara ever lifts up in its agony to
Heaven. 25 The mountain trembled to its very base, and the rock rocked. I
threw myself upon my face, and clung to the scant herbage in an excess of nervous agitation.
“This,” said I at length, to the old man—“this can be nothing else than the great whirlpool of the Maelström.”
“So it is sometimes termed," said he. “We Norwegians call it the Moskoe-ström, from the island of Moskoe in the midway."
The ordinary accounts of this vortex had by no means prepared me for what I saw. That of Jonas Ramus, which is perhaps the
most circumstantial of any, cannot impart the faintest conception 35 either of the magnificence or of the horror of the scene—or of the