was Poe Mad?

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I am doing an independent study on Poe and the topic i am dealing with is madness. So the question i am asking is: was Poe mad? This is really just an opinionated question i suppose because as far as i know he was never diagnosed clinically insane... however i could be worng. I do know that he was depressed and this could account for most of his work. I also know about the alcoholism and to an extent that can be a factor... I have to talk about his death and i have heard of the rabies theory as well... i am required to cite at least 5 short stories and 8 poems as well as some letters... any suggestions on stories and/or poems to read that prove he was NOT mad? Thanks so much!

-- Anonymous, May 02, 2000



Congratulations on being the among the many thousands that have chosen to do an independent study of Edgar Allan Poe. You have got your work cut out for you. Interesting premise you have there to prove him sane. Dont you think you are getting ahead of yourself?

First, before you get started too deeply, I might suggest you attempt to read a little more about your subject matter. You are under some serious misconceptions given the information you have provided. The most accurate information you have suggested is that he was never diagnosed as clinically insane. Perhaps this is because a reasonably accurate diagnosis was impractical due to the lack of expertise in the early 1800s. The fundamentals of accurate psychoanalysis were not even developed until the late 1800s to early 1900s. The fact of the matter is that Poe was as lucid as anyone of his time. Probably more so than most. To my knowledge, there is no factual evidence in his life history, his works or his correspondence that would even suggest that he suffered from dementia, derangement or was mentally incapacitated. Depression is simply not a sufficient symptom for this kind of assumption. But, good luck anyway I would be interested in reading your conclusions.

Secondly, to how much of his work have you really been exposed? His tales of melancholy and horror actually make up only a small portion of the bulk of his works. Have you read any of his humor, his essays, his social commentary, his satire, his principles of poetry, his critiques of other authors. Surely, you have been exposed to his compositions on cryptography, science, phrenology, street paving, furniture, Stonehenge, The Rationale of Verse, The Philosophy of Composition and, least of all, Maelzels Mechanical Chess Player. At the very least, thumb through his essay, Eureka  A Prose Poem for a real look into the mind of your subject. There are many others as well.

Thirdly, his affection for drink and that he abused alcohol is well known and well established. That he suffered from alcoholism is broadly suspected but less well established.

And finally, there are three theories relative to the cause of Edgars death that are based on some measure of historical research. Each has their points and problems and include conjecture and varying opinions. First is the Alchohol theory, second the Medical Illness theory and third, the Cooping theory. Last but not least is the case study done by Dr. R. Michael Benitez n 1996 in Baltimore. In this study, Dr. Benitez made a diagnosis based on 150 year old patient notes taken by Poes attending physician, Dr. John J Moran on Poes condition, symptoms and behavior. His conclusion was that Poe had most likely contracted rabies and died as a result. Dr. Benetiz later commented something to the effect that well probably never know for sure.

The best site for information I have found is the Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore website at URL:


I urge you to give it a try!!!


-- Anonymous, May 03, 2000

It has puzzled me why this has come up so much. Poe was never hospitalized or confined or treated for insanity. There are no reports that I know of that he engaged in activities or behaviors that would constitute madness.

Perhaps, was it due to Rev. Rufus Griswold's sensational biography after Poe's death? Perhaps it was due to the association that springs up in the popular mind since his most popular and well known works involved madness and death. As has been explored elsewhere in this forum, this did not constitute the bulk of his work.

-- Anonymous, May 04, 2000

Hi Chris,

thanks for your reply... personally i don't think he was mad at all as you said there was no evidence which states that but my teacher gave me that question to work with and i plan to refute the statement that Poe was mad... can i ask you a question? who was Rev. Rufus Griswold? you mentioned that he wrote a biography on Poe... was he around during Poe's time? i think i should read something he wrote... i'm supposed to use Poe's work to prove that he was not insane and just because some of his work is dark and depressing does not mean he was insane... i think his work only proves that he was sane because he suffered a lot of pain and he expressed his sufffering openly and honestly... if his mind was ill then he would not be able to see the reality of his situation...

ttyl, Jeanette

-- Anonymous, May 07, 2000

Hi Tis,

Thanks for your reply... actually you're right in assuming that i do not know a lot about Poe... to be honest i've quickly skimmed a few biographies and read a few poems... obivsiously "the raven"... and i read a few short stories... "tell tale heart", "the fall of the house of usher" and "the pit and the pendulum"... so as you can see i have a lot to read up on... my teacher posed up the question "was Poe mad?" so i've got to use Poe's works to prove that he wasn't... i don't think he was mad but it's going to be hard proving this one... i mean it could go either way... thanks for that link (i already had it) but thanks anyway...that was the first site i checked out and i was reading about Poe'd death the last time i was there... i've also heard of Poe's essays and plays but i have yet to read any... and i realize i've got quite a bit of work ahead of me... the subject matter i discussed about his mental condition was in reference to his female friend, who was a daughter of a doctor and a pre-med herself, she unprofessionaly diagnosed him with a brain lesion. It supposedly explained his susceptibility to alcohol and his frequent lapses into depression... but whether the diagnosis had any basis is unsusstantiated... alright thank you very much for your help... it definately steers me in the right direction... so much for "independent study" eh?

-- Anonymous, May 07, 2000

Just simply reading Poe's biography is enough to assume he was mad. The circumstances of his life would make anyone crazy..hello people... do we have to have everthing drawn out for us?? Erin

-- Anonymous, November 16, 2000

There is no particular evidence that states Poe was mad, but it isn't inpossible that he was. His life could have caused him to go mad, because many of his reletives died at 24 and he was left by his parents at a very young age. His adoptive father hated him, and he spent alot of time alone. If you read some of his stories and poems, you would think that ethier a genius or a madman wrote them. So, it's to us to decide, was Poe a genius-or a madman???

-- Anonymous, November 18, 2000


Thanks for your 'constructive' critism.... no we do not have to have everything drawn out for us.... i know it appears frightfully obvious in Poe's work that we was insane... however... my assignment was to prove he was not... i was simply asking for some help directing my agruement... as you implied it was hard to prove he was not crazy... but i succeeded...

-- Anonymous, November 19, 2000

there is a fine line between insanity and genius.

-- Anonymous, December 06, 2000

While there is no definate answer either way, i believe that while he was most certianly a tromented man, he was more the genius then the madman. A madman could not write such deep, poetic material. Poe had a different, though in my opinon, clearer sight of what the world is, and was able to write it down to express it perfectly. If anyone can give a way to get some more information on the rabies theroy of his death, please send it to me. I'm doing a project on Poe, and i want to include that, but i can't find anything on it. Thanks, Rose

-- Anonymous, January 28, 2001

it seems to me that everyone beleives that poe was either a mad man or a genius. i wonder has it ever occured to you that the line between being a genius and being insane is unusually thin. i find that i am above average intelligence and in some cases people consider me insane. it is true that i am in a much lesser degree than Mr. Poe. i pose the simple question, could he have been both?

-- Anonymous, February 04, 2001

I don't think Poe was mad. I think that because he was so advanced for his time that made poeple scared of him to this day. The way he always seemed to get every line down to detail, it made poeple actaully scared of him. I'll admit that alot of his work made him seem mad and gave you the thought: Wow, this is some scary stuff. A lot of people I know think that all of his characters were a part of him, a part of his mind. I believe that is not true, I think that all of his characters are part of his imigination, part of his fears. I think its almost unique that most of his stories have to do with being buried alive, being one of his fears, he makes you almost as afraid of it as he was. So no, I don't think he was mad, just a genius.

-- Anonymous, March 15, 2001

I would just like to add that there are many definitions of "madness." For years, i have suffered from Bi-polar depression and minor Borderline Personality Disorder, and at times i can go completly off the deep end and anyone who knew anything would call me "crazy." But in researching my diseases i have found that so- called depressive art, such as literature in Poe's case, is an innovative approach to healing. I've used it myself. So was Poe mad? Maybe, but it is possible that he recognized that he was heading in that direction and therefor tried to help himself.

-- Anonymous, April 25, 2001

One weak attempt at suicide to attract a woman's attention. One drunk and disorderly arrest where he vividly describes his DT visions. Once looking decidedly suicidal with Dr. Sartain at the brink of a precipice(Poe suffered a bit from vertigo?). The puzzling critical war against Longfellow. The crazy suitor flying from one prospect to another after Virginia's death. Other than some tendencies and experiences of gothic excitement he held up very well considering the prolonged passing of his wife whom he had to keep warm with his own body heat in an unheated NY room in the winter, living in abject poverty. The people who started this particular slander were crazier by far. Every horror writer gets this same question by the way. If you write about Roderick Usher,surely you must BE Roderick Usher in the flesh and mind! Read Stephen King's "On Writing". Read a good book on Poe's life and walk in his broken shoes for a while.

-- Anonymous, April 30, 2001

i think poe was mad and a genius because in the tell tale heart he carefully planned the murder and he knew exactly how he would do it. once he co9mmited the mueder he went criminal insane

-- Anonymous, September 07, 2004

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