Edgar was a beautiful child, with dark eyes, curly dark hair, and lively manners. At six he could read, draw, and dance. After dessert, sometimes they would put him up on the old-fashioned table, where he would make amusement for the company. He could speak pieces, too, and did it so well that people were astonished. He understood how to emphasize his words correctly. He had a pony and dogs, with which he ran about; and everywhere he was a great favorite.
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.
At last, in 1820, the Allans returned with Edgar to their home in
Richmond, Virginia. The lad now added his own name to that of Edgar
Allan, and became known as Edgar Allan Poe.
He was at once sent to the English and Classical School of Joseph H. Clarke, where he prepared for college. He did not study very hard, but was bright and quick, and at one time stood at the head of his class with but one rival. He was a great athlete, too, being a good runner and jumper and boxer. He was a remarkable swimmer, and it is stated that he once swam six miles in the James River, against a strong tide in a hot sun, and then walked back without seeming in the least tired.
He was slight in figure, but robust and tough, and was a very decided character among his classmates. He took part in the debating society, where he was prominent, and was known as a versifier of both love poems and satire. When Master Clarke retired, in 1823, Poe read an English ode addressed to the outgoing principal.
One of his friends said of him at this time that he was "self-willed, capricious, inclined to be imperious, and though of generous impulses, not steadily kind, nor even amiable." Part of this temper on his part may have come from the fact that the aristocratic boys of the school hinted that his father and mother had not been of the best people. They knew, however, that Mr. Allan belonged to the best society; and it was chiefly Edgar's imperious manners that made some of them shun him. He had friends, however, and Mr. Allan gave him money liberally.
It was at this time that he found and lost his first sympathetic friend.
This was Mrs. Jane Stith Stanard, the mother of one of his younger schoolmates. When one day he went home with this friend, he met Mrs. Stanard, a lovely, gentle, and gracious woman, was thrilled by the tenderness of her tones and her sympathetic manner toward him, and immediately made her his boyhood friend and confidante. To his great grief, however, she died not very long afterward. When she was gone he visited her grave time after time, and in after years when he was unhappy he often thought and spoke of her.