The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
VOLUME XVI. Early National Literature, Part II; Later National Literature, Part I.

XIV. Poe

§ 9. Later Misfortunes

Early in 1847 the poet’s wife died, and throughout the year, as indeed during the preceding year, the family suffered keenly from the pinch of poverty. The year 1848 saw the culmination of two unhappy love-affairs—first, with Mrs. Shew, who had nursed the poet through a spell of illness following the death of his wife, and then with Mrs. Whitman, the Rhode Island poetess; and this year also witnessed the publication of his Eureka, a philosophical disquisition on the origin and composition of the universe.

The year 1849 opened auspiciously for the poet, during the first half he wrote at least one new tale, and several new poems, including the lines For Annie, Eldorado, a revised and much enlarged version of The Bells, and the last of his poems, Annabel Lee. In the summer of 1849 he went to Richmond, where he renewed his addresses to the sweetheart of his boyhood, Miss Royster, now the widow Mrs. Shelton and wealthy, and they became engaged for a second time. Late in September Poe left Richmond for the North, intending to bring his mother-in-law, who remained loyal to him throughout the years, to the South for the marriage; but at Baltimore he was induced to break a temperance pledge that he had made in the summer, and as a result he fell into excesses from the effects of which he died 7 October, 1849. He lies buried in the churchyard of Westminster Presbyterian Church, Baltimore.

Such are the leading facts that have been established concerning Poe’s life. But despite the labours of his biographers—and no American writer has had more and abler biographers—there are still certain periods of his life for which our knowledge is exceedingly meagre and unsatisfactory. We have, for instance, no specific knowledge as to how or where he spent the two months intervening between his departure from Richmond in March, 1827, and his mustering into the army at the end of May. We are likewise ignorant both as to his whereabouts and as to his activities during the year immediately preceding his winning of the Visiter’s prize in October, 1833; and the entire period from 1831 to 1835 is obscure. He sinks out of sight again for six months in the middle of 1837. And a hiatus of several months also occurs in his history during the first half of the year 1846. For this obscurity Poe is himself mainly responsible. He took pleasure in mystifying his public about himself; and in a few instances he deliberately misstated the facts.