Famous Migraineur: Edgar Allan Poe

Nancy Harris Bonk Health Guide
  • Edgar Allan Poe is listed by Silberstein, Stiles, and Young among famous people who have had Migraines. As is unfortunately too often the case with historic figures, I wasn't able to find specifics about Poe and Migraine disease.

     

    During his life, he also struggled with financial, emotional and alcohol issues. Drinking too much alcohol can trigger a Migraine attack for some people, so one could speculate that Poe had his share of head pain living such a tumultuous life. Edgar Allan Poe was born on January 19, 1809, in Boston, Massachusetts. His parents, Elizabeth Arnold Hopkins and David Poe, Jr., were struggling actors. Edgar had two siblings, William Henry and Rosalie. The family moved to Richmond, Virginia, to look for acting jobs, where David Poe soon abandoned his family. In 1811, Poe's mother died, leaving the children orphans. William was sent to live with his paternal grandfather and Edgar to live with his supposed godfather, John Allan, a successful businessman. Not much is written about their sister Rosalie. John and Edgar's relationship tended to be strained during their lives. 

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    From 1815-1820, the Allans took Poe and traveled around England and Scotland, where he began his classical education. He returned to Richmond and continued studying Latin, poetry and acting at the University of Virginia. Unfortunately, while at the university, he began to gamble, accumulating a significant debt, which angered his foster father so severely he pulled him out of school. To make matters worse, upon his return, he was shocked to learn his engagement to Sarah Elmira Royster was over. Before he left for college, the young lovers had promised to write one another each day, but Sarah's father did not approve of their engagement and intercepted Poe's letters. Sarah incorrectly assumed he no longer loved her and moved on to another man. In 1827, his first poem, Dreams, was printed in the Baltimore North American. His first book "Tamerlane and Other Poems" was self published at his own expense at the same time. He soon became poor and was forced to join the army. In 1829, his foster mother became ill and died, hoping her husband and foster son would reconcile. To honor her wishes, Allan was able to purchase Poe's release from the army and help him get into the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. Before he entered West Point, he published Al Aaraaf, Tamerlan, and Minor Poems in Baltimore. Poe's reunion with Allan was short-lived, however, as he missed many classes and drills at the academy and was dismissed from West Point a year later.

     

    In 1831, Poe moved to Baltimore, writing short stories while living with his Aunt Maria Clemm and her family, William and Virginia. He won $50 from the Baltimore Saturday Visitor for his 1833 MS. Found in a Bottle and in 1835, became editor and a contributor of the Southern Literary Messenger. He also wrote pieces for the Evening Mirror, Godey's Lady's Book and Graham's Magazine. Poe married his cousin Virginia Clemm in 1836 when she was only 13.

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    Poe was fired from his job in Richmond, reportedly due to drinking and moved to New York City. It seemed he needed some sort of assistance to help him speak before a large gathering, and sherry seemed to help him achieve that. This began his battle with alcohol. For Poe it only took one or two glasses of alcohol to feel its immediate effects, some of which were unpleasant. This led to many speculating he had a low tolerance for alcohol. While in New York City, he finished his only novel, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym (1838), which many feel was the inspiration of Herman Melville's Moby Dick. In 1839, he was the coeditor of Burton's Gentleman's Magazine in Philadelphia. It was for this magazine he wrote The Fall of the House of Usher and William Wilson. These were considered supernatural thrillers of the day. Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque was printed in 1840, during which Poe job swapped between Burton'and Grahams' Lady's and Gentleman's, finally becoming editor of Graham's. It was at Graham's he printed what many consider the first detective story; The Murders in the Rue Morgue. Poe won a $100 prize from the Philadelphia Dollar Newspaper, giving him much needed public attention for his short story, The Gold Bug. He left Philadelphia, returning to New York City and became the subeditor of the New York Mirror with N.P. Willis with whom he would stay friends throughout the rest of his life.  

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    The Raven (1845) gave Poe immediate national notoriety, and he soon edited the Broadway Journal, a short-lived weekly publication, where he republished many of his short stories. A poet named Frances Sargent Lock Osgood chased Poe, knowing full well he was married. She produced some indelicate writings about her storybook love for Poe and created quite a scandal. Supposedly, Virginia did not object, but Poe did move to a cottage at Fordham - part of New York City- and wrote gossip stories on celebrities of the day. Virginia died in 1847 and the following year, Poe went to Providence, Rhode Island, to court Sarah Helen Whitman. He also had financial and love relationships with Annie Richmond and Sarah Anna Lewis and turned to drink more often after Virginia's death. He also showed more troublesome behavior, and it is reported in some circles that he had a brain lesion. That could certainly lend itself to head pain.

     

    Poe happily found his teenage sweetheart Sarah Elmira Royster near the end of his life, and they became engaged. In 1849, Poe went on a poetry, reading and lecturing tour in hopes of raising funds for a new magazine, The Stylus, but this never came to fruition. Poe died in 1849 under conflicting circumstances. It has been reported he was badly beaten and left in street, or died from alcoholism. Either way, Poe's life was wrought with many highs and lows. If he had lived longer, it would have been interesting to see what other literary gems he would have produced.  

     

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    Sources:

    Barzun, Jacques;  Cestre, Charles;  Mabbott, Thomas Ollive. Edgar Allan Poe. Encyclopaedia Britannica, eb.com.

     

    Silberstein, S.; Stiles, M.A.; Young, W. "Atlas of Migraine and Other Headaches. Second Edition." Taylor & Frances. Abingdon, Oxon, UK. 2005.

     

    Merriman, C.D. Edgar Allan Poe - Biography.The Literature Network. 2006.

     

    Edgar Allan Poe Biography. Bio.com.

    Thanks for reading and feel well,

  • NancySig

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    © Nancy Harris Bonk, 2011.
    Last updated September 24, 2011.

Published On: September 24, 2011