REVIEWSrnRehabilitating Poernby Gregory McNaweernEdgar Allan Poe: His Life and Legacyrnby Jeffrey MeyersrnNew York: Charles Scribner’s;rn348 pp., $30.00rnEdgar Allan Poe was the finest Americanrnwriter to be transformed into arn”personality” in his own lifetime and,rnlike Frangois Villon, to be known lessrnfor his work than for his person. As is sornoften the case with figures of publicrncelebrity, the facts of Poe’s life havernbeen obscured by layers of legend, manyrnof them perpetuated in the learned literaturernby scholars who should knowrnbetter. Jeffrey Meyers, a California professorrnwho has given us sturdy biographiesrnof Ernest flemingway and JosephrnConrad, makes a valuable contributionrnto Poe studies with his new life of thernwriter, particularly by distinguishing factrnfrom long-standing fiction. He had anrnunenviable task, given the many ParsonrnWeemses who have inserted their agendarninto the biographical record.rnPoe, as is well known, lived a miserablernlife. He was born on January 19,rn1809, ill Boston (the same year, Meyersrnpoints out, as Mendelssohn, Darwin,rnLIBERAL ARTSrnPRESIDENT ELVISrn'”We wanted to make sure that wernchose a cross section of people andrnperformers that would, to the extentrnpossible, represent every sector ofrnsociety.’rn-Sally Aman, spokeswoman for thernpresidential inaugural parade committee,rnon why the event will includernElvis impersonators and a precisionrnlawn chair marching team.”rn—from the January 3rnChicago Tribune.rnGladstone, Lincoln, and Tennyson, allrnof whom outlived Poe) to an alcoholicrnactor, David Poe, and an unstable actress,rnEliza, who died in a state ofrnsemilunacy and deep poverty afterrnDavid deserted the family. Young Edgarrnwas adopted by a family friend, John Allan,rna mean-spirited Scottish immigrantrnwho gave the boy an admirable educationrnbut little else. The Allan familyrnlived in the English village of StokernNewington during Poe’s childhood, andrnthere he attended the school whose hallsrnDaniel Defoe had graced two centuriesrnbefore. He acquired a classical educationrnthat rivaled any university instructionrnin the United States, and as a studentrnat the University of Virginia Poerneasily earned the highest honors in classicalrnand modern languages.rnI le also earned the wrath of a numberrnof creditors, for Poe borrowed heavily tornfinance an already evident pattern ofrndrunkenness and gambling. A schoolrnfriend recalled him as “very excitable &rnrestless, at times wayward, melancholicrn& morose, but again—in his betterrnmoods frolicksomc, full of fun & a mostrnattractive and agreeable companion. Torncalm and quiet the excessive nervous excitabilityrnunder which he labored, hernwould too often put himself under therninfluence of that ‘Invisible Spirit ofrnWine.'” John Allan had not given Edgarrnenough money to pay for his room andrnboard, much less his extracurricular excesses,rnand the young man would neverrnbe out of debt again.rnPoe joined the army under the namernof Edgar A. Perry in May 1827, as an enlistedrnman. Assigned to the commissariat,rnhe kept records and correspondencernfor his officers, among whom hernbecame a favorite and a model soldier.rnIn only 19 months he attained the highestrnenlisted grade, regimental sergeantrnmajor. For reasons that are not entirelyrnclear, however, Poe cajoled his way outrnof the enlisted ranks and would thereafterrnnever admit to his years in the service,rnno matter how exemplary theyrnmight have been: when called on to accountrnfor his whereabouts in 1827 andrn1828, Poe would variously hint that hernhad been off fighting with Byron in thernGreek Rebellion or intriguing in St. Petersburgrnwith enemies of the czar. Meyersrncarefully unveils Poe’s time in militaryrnservice, and if he cannot help us decipherrnPoe’s shunning of the responsibilitiesrnthat come with outstandingrnachievement, he at least does not resortrnto the psychobabble of so many modernrnbiographies.rnPoe was appointed to West Point inrn1829, earned top grades, and becamernvery popular among his classmates forrnhis acerbic verses on cadet life. (His fellowrnplebes paid for the publication ofrnhis first book of poems but were disappointedrnto note that his West Pointspecificrndoggerel had given way to seriousrnverse.) Once again Poe, having succeededrnat some chosen task, decided tornchuck it all, breaking general orders 13rntimes in an effort to be expelled. Forrnhis trouble he was court-martialed forrn”gross neglect of duties” and dishonorablyrndischarged from the army in 1830.rnAgain, Poe would not own up to theserndark episodes in his resume, and Meyers’rnreconstruction is an important merit ofrnhis book.rnEarlier biographers have shown Poernas dissolute from the start, but Meyersrndates his decline from his expulsionrnfrom the academy. Although immenselyrnwealthy by the standards of his time,rnJohn Allan now refused to give hisrnadopted son any support whatever, andrnhe eventually wrote Edgar out of his will.rnPoe turned to journalism and descendedrnpermanently into poverty; he sank intornchronic alcoholism as well, promptingrnthe owner of his first employer, thernSouthern Literary Messenger, to writernhim this note: “No man is safe whorndrinks before breakfast! No man can dornso, and attend to business properly.” Arnliquid diet condemned Poe both to failuresrnof his own making and to a markedrninability to deal with failures beyond hisrncontrol; he was all but paralyzed, for instance,rnwhen his sole novel. The Narrativernof Arthur Gordon ?ym (1838), didrnnot find the large market he felt certainrnit deserved.rnIn a neat bit of detective work, Meyersrnretraces Poe’s next (and hitherto unknown)rncareer move: he anonymously,rnwrote a textbook of malacology, plagiarizingrnmost of it from a Scottish primerrnpublished the year before. (Meyers notesrnthat this was the only of Poe’s books torngo into a second printing in his lifetime.)rnPoe’s binge drinking also helpedrn30/CHRONICLESrnrnrn