Edgar Allan Poe’s School Days

In June, 1815, when Edgar was about six years old, his adoptive father and mother, with an aunt, went to England to stay several years. Before starting, Mr. Allan bought a Murray’s reader, two Murray’s spelling books, and another book to keep the little fellow busy on the long sailing voyage across the Atlantic; for at that time a trip to England occupied several weeks instead of a few days as now. When the family reached London and were settled down, Edgar was sent to a famous English school.

This school was at Stoke Newington, a quiet, old fashioned country town, only a few miles out from London. Here was the house of Leicester, the favorite of Queen Elizabeth, whose story you may read in Scott’s “Kenilworth”; and here too was the house of Anne Boleyn’s ill fated lover, Earl Percy.

The Manor House School, as it was called, was in a quaint and very old building, with high walls about the grounds, and great spiked, iron studded gates. Here the boys lived and studied, seldom returning home, and seldom going outside the grounds, except when they went with a teacher.

In this strange school, Edgar Allan lived and studied for five years. The schoolroom was long, narrow, and low; it was ceiled with dark oak, and had Gothic windows.

The desks were black and irregular, covered with the names and initials which the boys had cut with their jackknives. In the corners were what might be called boxes, where sat the masters — one of them Eugene Aram, the criminal made famous in one of Bulwer’s romances.

Back of the schoolroom, reached by winding, narrow passages, were the bedrooms, one of which Poe occupied.

When the boys went out to walk they passed under the giant elms, amid which once lived Shakespeare’s friend Essex, and they gazed up at the thick walls, deep windows, and doors massive with locks and bars, behind which the author of Robinson Crusoe wrote some of his famous works.

Within the walls of this school a large number of boys had a little world all to themselves; they had their societies and their games and their tricks, along with hard work in Latin and French and mathematics; and though such work may seem monotonous and dreary, they managed to enjoy it.

Poe has described his life here very carefully in his famous story of “William Wilson.” “Oh, a fine time were those years of iron!” says he.

The life produced a deep impression on his mind, and molded it for the strange, weird poetry and fiction which in later years he was to write.

from Four Famous American Writers – A Book for Young Americans by Sherwin Cody (1899), (available online at Project Gutenberg)

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