Monday, January 19, 2009

Edgar Allan Poe's 200th Birthday

A few months ago, I wrote about Edgar Allan Poe's odd death at the age of 40. Today is the 200th anniversary of his birth.

He was the first well-known American writer who sought to make his living through writing alone — and probably was responsible for the creation of the phrase"starving writer," because his life was, indeed, a struggle.

Even today, no one knows exactly what caused his death. Various causes have been suggested — heart disease, rabies, alcohol, tuberculosis. It's even been suggested that he committed suicide.

If he did take his own life, there were many things that may have contributed to that act. The love of his life, his cousin Virginia Clemm, married him when she was 13 and he was 27. She died of tuberculosis at the age of 24, which exacerbated Poe's struggle with alcohol.

Poe is remembered for his mysterious tales, but he was a great practitioner of the short story and he made tremendous contributions to the science fiction genre.

2009 will bring the 200th anniversaries of the births of many important people. One of whom, Abraham Lincoln, we will remember in a few weeks. (Lincoln, by the way, was born the same day as Charles Darwin, the naturalist who was responsible for the theory of evolution.) Lincoln's first vice president, Hannibal Hamlin, also was born in 1809.

Poet Alfred Lord Tennyson was born in 1809. So was composer Felix Mendelssohn, as were Louis Braille (who developed the system for reading and writing that is still used by the blind and visually impaired), inventor Cyrus McCormick, Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr. (a doctor and writer whose greatest contribution may have been his son and namesake, who became a Supreme Court justice) and frontiersman Kit Carson.

It is altogether proper that we should pause to remember Poe today. Anyone who appreciates good writing, who enjoys a murder mystery or a science fiction tale, owes him a debt of gratitude.