The Museum Collection

Poe's Autobiography

ID #:
Creator: Edgar Allan Poe
Date: May 29, 1841
Format: Fragment of Letter
Source: Gift of Roger Griswold, Grandson of Rufus Griswold, Poe's Literary Executor
Collection: Poe Foundation, Inc.
Place of Publication:
Publish Date:


When he was compiling his anthology, The Poets and Poetry of America, Rufus W. Griswold asked Poe to send him some information about himself for inclusion in the book. Poe obliged by sending this account full of erroneous statements and exaggerations. Poe begins the narrative by misstating his age by two years. Then he adds that he graduated first in his class at the University of Virginia and that he traveled to Europe to fight the Greek Wars of Independence--only to be captured and sent to Saint Petersburg, Russia. The fanciful adventures Poe described helped earned him the nickname "The American Byron" (a reference to the English poet Lord Byron, who actually had fought alongside the Greeks). From an early age, Poe spread wild rumors about himself, and these stories brought him fame apart from his stories. The public image he created for himself made him the subject of other author's stories and novels even during his lifetime, and he was profiled in the press well before the publication of "The Raven" made him one of the world's most famous poets.

The manuscript was given to the Poe Museum by Griswold's grandson, Roger Griswold, in 1949. The sheet on which the memorandum is written measures only ten centimeters in height. It was originally part of a larger letter, and the reverse of this page bears a postmark. While many of Poe's letters are useful as primary sources that reveal information about Poe's daily life, this manuscript also teaches us how Poe wanted the public to see him.