Authority? Rules? Hierarchy? Nevermore!
Edgar Allan Poe
Edgar Allan Poe was a man who dropped out of university, resigned from his post in the U.S. Army and was tried at the U.S. Military Academy on the charges of gross neglect of duty and disobeying orders. He was an anarchist and got himself kicked out of almost every place he went, every institution he joined and every job he had. He was even barred from the pubs where he spent most of his time due to gambling debts. This is the story of how the author’s professional careers went so wrong, so fast.
The University of Virginia
Poe registered at the one-year-old University of Virginia in February 1826 to study ancient and modern languages. The university, in its infancy, was established on the ideals of its founder Thomas Jefferson. It had strict rules against gambling, horses, guns, tobacco, and alcohol, but these rules were generally ignored.
During his time there, Poe became estranged from his foster father over the issue of his growing gambling debts. Poe claimed that his foster father had not given him sufficient money to register for classes, purchase texts, and procure and furnish a dormitory. His foster parents did send additional money and clothes, but Poe’s debts just increased.
Poe gave up on university after a year.
Unable to support himself after dropping out of university, Poe enlisted in the United States Army as a private on May 27, 1827 using the name “Edgar A. Perry”. He claimed that he was 22 years old even though he was 18.
Poe excelled under military discipline and set himself apart from his peers in the eyes of their superiors. Officers at Fort Monroe described Poe as “good, and entirely free from drinking” and “highly worthy of confidence,” and he was soon promoted to “artificer” — a tradesman position that involved preparing artillery shells — and later, sergeant major for artillery.
Poe’s fast success didn’t mean he was happy with army life. On the contrary, after two years of a five-year commitment, he badly wanted out, having served “as long as suits my ends or my inclination.”
He finally was discharged on April 15, 1829, only after securing a replacement to finish his enlisted term for him.
One of the conditions for Edgar Allen Poe’s early discharge, agreed with his foster father, was that he attend the US Military Academy at West Point.
In those months at West Point, he accumulated an impressive record, though not of the sort to which a cadet usually aspired. The Conduct Roll for July–December 1831 lists the number of offenses committed by cadets and their corresponding demerits. Poe’s name appears about midway down the list of top offenders, with 44 offenses and 106 demerits for the term. The roll for January alone shows Poe at the top of the list with 66 offenses for the month. It would appear that Poe was trying very hard to get kicked out of West Point.
A popular legend states that he won a court martial by showing up to a drill naked save for a cartridge belt, but in actuality, he simply stopped attending classes, roll call and chapel in favor of passing the time at Benny Havens’, a local watering hole.
Before leaving, the 22-year-old convinced several of his classmates to donate money to fund the printing costs for his third book of poems. He later dedicated the volume to “the U.S. Corps of Cadets.”
Eventually, after years spent unsuccessfully searching for his place in the world, Edgar Allen Poe decided to focus on his career as a writer. although it wasn’t easy, Poe was far more successful as a writer than anything else, and the freelance nature of the profession probably appealed to him greatly. He became the first well known American writer to earn his living solely from writing. Today, his work is famous and he is one of the most well known poets and authors in the world; no doubt the uncertainty of his youth helped to inspire much of his work.