"Do not fear for Eddy!" the doomed man called out as he boarded a steamship out of Brooklyn.
These, among Edgar Allan Poe's last words to his family, were spoken to his aunt Maria in June 1849; in October he was found dying in the street in Baltimore, incoherent and dressed in another man's clothing. The irony of his departing words, and the mysterious circumstances of death, all seem rather fitting for the father of the detective story.
Yet for a biographer, what's striking in that line is that last word--Eddy. To the world, he is the iconic Edgar Allan Poe, author of "The Raven," "The Tell-Tale Heart," and dozens of other vital classics of American Gothicism. But to his aunt, his neighbors, his colleagues, he was indeed Eddy -- a hardworking writer and careful craftsmen, bedeviled by drinking and literary quarreling, but as ready to earn his living by penning puzzle columns and editorials on "Try a Mineralized Pavement" as by "The Fall of the House of Usher." And it's perhaps in those curious moments and foibles of ordinary life that the lesser-known glimpses of "Eddy" emerge:
1. Poe employed an impressive array of assumed names. His first, quite unwillingly, was his college nickname: "Gaffy." Other false names were out of necessity, as when hiding from creditors (Henri Le Rennet) or to enlist in the army (Edgar A. Perry). He also indulged in them to write a campaign song (as Thaddeus Perley), to pack a magazine with his own work (Littleton Barry), and to stalk a potential fiancée (Edward S.T. Grey).
2. Edgar Allan Poe pondered moving to small-town Illinois. Poe spent years clinging to one of his fondest dreams -- a magazine of his own to edit. He had a near-miss in 1849, when he heard from a potential business partner, Edward Patterson. His new partner's catch? Poe would have to move to a remote Illinois village of Oquawka -- and he'd be in charge of the rather unprepossessingly named Oquawka Spectator. "Some serious difficulties present themselves..." Poe tactfully replied. "Your residence at Oquawka is one certainly one of the most serious."
3. Poe had a big brother who was also a poet. A teenaged Edgar looked up to his older brother, William Henry Leonard Poe ("Henry"), a hard-drinking sailor who published some passable early poetry and prose in a Baltimore magazine. (At least some, and perhaps much of it, was in fact Edgar's own work.) But we'll never know just good of a writer Henry could have developed into; he died during a cholera epidemic while living with Edgar in 1831.
4. Even Edgar Allan Poe could blow through a deadline. Although a prolific writer, during a particularly chaotic and sodden stretch of his editorship of the Broadway Journal, Poe simply left an entire column in the December 27th 1845 issue blank. Not stuffed with filler from another magazine, or a puffy ad for the Journal, or a space-killing Christmas greeting to readers, just... blank. Within days, he was out of a job.
5. Poe's steadiest job was in the U.S. Army. He may be known to us today as a literary great, but in his own lifetime the one employer that reliably appreciated and promoted Edgar Allan Poe was the U.S. Army. Signing up at the age of 18, under an assumed name to dodge creditors, "Edgar A. Perry" quickly rose in two years to the top non-commissioned rank of a Regimental Sgt. Major. Fortunately for readers, Poe proved too restless to finish his artillery duties or a subsequent stint of officer training at West Point.
6. That song stuck in your head? Edgar had it too. One of the earliest known descriptions of the neurological phenomenon of an "earworm" -- a song that loops maddeningly in your skull -- occurs in Poe's 1845 story "The Imp of the Perverse": "It is quite a common thing to be thus annoyed by the ringing in our ears, or memories, of the burden of an ordinary song, or some unimpressive snatches from an opera." The idea would later become the basis for an entire 1876 Mark Twain story, "A Literary Nightmare" (aka "Punch, Brothers, Punch!").
7. One of Poe's great arguments might have been with himself. Never one to shy from literary feuds, Poe tried starting one in in the Broadway Journal in 1845, by (quite unjustifiably) attacking fellow poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow as a plagiarist. A puzzled Longfellow didn't rise to the bait--the fight, Poe's editor confided, was "all on one side"--but at least one reader responded, provoking a minor steam-era flame-war by Poe. But it's possible that the irate correspondent was Poe himself--and that he was filling columns (and his page quota) by playing both sides of the net in this "argument."
One hint: the pen name of his reader, Outis? It's Greek for "nobody."
Paul Collins is the author of Edgar Allan Poe: The Fever Called Living.