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in order to take his place as a man among men. He thought he would like to be a soldier, and on his expressing a wish to that effect, Mr. Allan induced General Scott, Chief Justice Marshall, and other influential persons to sign an application which secured his admission as a cadet to West Point.
Poe's life at West Point was the continuation of his life at the University, with the exception of gaming, which he was wise enough to drop. It was supposed until recently that he applied himself to his studies at first, and became a favourite with his mess and with the officers and professors of the Academy; but this pleasing supposition is not borne out by the testimony of one of his associates. “The studies of the Academy Poe utterly ignored. I doubt if he ever studied a page of Lacroix, unless it was to glance hastily over it in the lecture-room, while others of his section were reciting. It was evident from the first that he had no intention of going through the course, and both the professors and cadets of the older class had set him down for a ‘January Colt,' before the corps had been in barracks a week. Poe disappointed them, however, for he did not remain until the January examination, that pons asinorum of plebe life at West Point. He resigned, I think, early in December, having been a member of the corps a little over five months.”*
The memory of the writer was at fault when he penned the last two paragraphs : Poe did not resign in December, as he thought, and he did remain until the January examination.
The intellectual cleverness of Poe was generally recognized, and the poetical form which it assumed was much admired. He wrote local squibs that enjoyed a wide circulation, and he impressed his comrades with the extent of his reading. He was nothing, if not critical. “ The whole bent of his mind at that time,” says the writer just quoted, “ seemed to be towards criticism-or, more properly speaking, cavilling. Whether it was Shakespeare or Byron, Addison or Johnson—the acknowledged classic or the latest poetaster-all came in alike for his critical censure.
“Poe at West Point.” Harper's Magazine, Nov., 1867.
He seemed to take especial delight in cavilling at passages that had received the most unequivocal stamp of general approval. I never heard him speak in terms of praise of any English writer, living or dead.” Poe was a careful reader, and he became a careful writer, but not while he was at West Point. He was too idle to take much pains with anything, and too dissipated to be very ambitious. Instead of his boyish drink, champagne, he drank brandy, and his room was seldom without a bottle of the best that could be smuggled in. It shattered his nerves, and made him appear much older than he was.
“He had a worn, weary, discontented look, not easily forgotten by those who were intimate with him. Poe was easily fretted by any jest at his expense, and was not a little annoyed by a story that some of the class got up to the effect that he had procured a cadet's appointment for his son, and the boy having died, the father had substituted himself in his place. Another report current in the corps was that he was a grandson of Benedict Arnold. Some good-natured friend told him of it, and Poe did not contradict it, but seemed rather pleased than otherwise at the mistake.”
The January examination came, and a severe one it was for poor Poe. He was brought before a general court martial on the 7th of that month (1831) under the following charges :“Charge I. Gross neglect of all duty.
Charge II. Disobedience of orders.' “The specifications set forth time, place, &c., &c. To both charges the accused pleaded guilty,' and so the court found, and sentenced him to be dismissed the service of the United States, which sentence was afterwards approved at the War Department, and carried into effect March 6th, 1831."* What was to become of him? He had no right to expect that Mr. Allan would condone his follies, for Mrs. Allan, who had been his mediator so long, was dead. She died before he went to West Point, and Mr. Allan had married again. Worse than that, a child had been born to him, and Poe could no longer expect to be his heir. What could he do next? He resolved to publish a volume of his poems by subscription, and an announcement to that effect was circulated among the cadets. The price was large, -two dollars and fifty cents a copy; but his late comrades paid it, almost to a man, in advance.
* Extract from letter of Brevet Major and Adjutant Edward C. Boynton, West Point, May 15th, 1871.
When the volume appeared they were disgusted with it. “It was a penny volume, , of about fifty pages, bound in boards, and badly printed on coarse paper, and, worse than all, it contained not one of the squibs and satires upon which his reputation at West Point had been built up. Few of the poems contained in that collection now appear in any of the editions of his works, and such as have been preserved have been very much altered for the better. For months afterwards quotations from Poe formed the standing material for jests in the corps, and his reputation for genius went down at once
I doubt if even the Raven' of his afteryears ever entirely effaced from the minds of his class the impression received from that volume.”