Monday, December 21, 2009

Poe drops out

His stint at the University of Virginia over, a 17-year old Edgar Poe left Charlottesville, Virginia on December 21, 1826 and returned to Richmond.

Poe's short run at "Thomas Jefferson's University" was bittersweet. Jefferson envisioned a school which would "develop the reasoning faculties of our youth, enlarge their minds, cultivate their morals, and instill into them the precepts of virtue and order." In his optimism, the university he founded in Virginia had no church on campus, and he and the faculty agreed students should be self-governed and follow rules "on their honor." Their optimism was met with disaster.

During Poe's time there, the "scholastic anarchy and student escapades disturbed the peace of the College, Charlottesville, and the plantations about." Gambling, drinking, and fighting (which even included faculty!) were rampant. Poe wrote to John Allan once of a student hit on the head by another with a large stone, causing him to draw a pistol ("which are all the fashion here"). Another fight led to one student biting another. "I saw the arm afterwards," Poe wrote, "and it was really a serious matter—It was bitten from the shoulder to the elbow—and it is likely that pieces of flesh as large as my hand will be obliged to be cut out."

Nevertheless, Poe excelled and distinguished himself as a student of languages. He may have met Jefferson himself and mourned with the rest of the campus when their founder died. However, John Allan had (purposely?) sent Poe to school without enough money to cover general expenses, such as tuition. Poe turned to gambling and soon was in heavy debt. Allan would not allow him to continue after his first semester. The book store at UVa now sells a t-shirt with Poe's visage above the words "dropout."

With no other options, Poe returned to Moldavia and may have worked as a bookkeeper with his foster-father John Allan — and possibly without pay. Soon, he would strike out on his own as an enlisted soldier.


Gina said...

Good old utopianism fails again.

The T-shirts sound pretty funny. :-)

Anonymous said...

I tried to contact the bookstore about "The Dropout" t shirt,and they told me they had never carried it. I was wondering if you could provide a link,or a phone number for me to call to order a shirt. I want one! Ha! I am also thinking of ordering the TJ shirt with him wearing a ballcap.

Thanks Rob! Gary

Rob Velella said...

That's fairly strange, Gary. They definitely carried it recently because one was purchased for the Poe in Boston exhibit and is now on display. If this link works, you can see it in the top row of the case (it's gray, hard to miss).