There is no doubt that Edgar Allan Poe, like his father and his brother, drank a lot, and that he drank indiscriminately. His cousin, William Poe, would later warn Poe about the "great enemy to our family . . . too free use of the Bottle". At 16 Poe was enrolled at the University of Virginia, studying ancient and modern languages. Although his academic reports were very good, he had already acquired the habit, which would stay with him throughout his life, of turning to drink to calm the nervous excitability to which he was prone. One of Poe's fellow students recalled his fondness for a local mixture of peach brandy and honey.
From the University of Virginia Poe enrolled as a cadet at West Point, where a fellow student noted that he had acquired the "dangerous habit of constant drinking"; as one of his friends recalled, "if he took but one glass of weak wine or beer the Rubicon of the cup was passed with him, and it almost always ended in excess and sickness." Poe soon became disenchanted with the military life, and he resolved to get himself discharged by ostentatiously neglecting his duties. Drink was a useful ally in this cause. Poe would drink steadily for afternoons, days, even weeks at a time. Unsurprisingly, at the end of January 1831 he was court-martialled for "gross neglect of duty".
Poe next turned to journalism. In 1835 John P. Kennedy had recommended him to the editor of the Southern Literary Messenger, Thomas Willis White. White accepted some of Poe's early tales for publication, and in the summer of the same year offered him an editorial position on the journal. The work was hard, because Poe was required to write most of each issue himself. Predictably, when under pressure Poe turned once again to his false friend, alcohol. One of the tales he published in the Messenger during those months — "King Pest", which is set in a terrible and macabre drinking den, and culminates in a mass drowning in beer — translates this biographical circumstance into literary material.
It was not a trick which could be played too often. White was soon obliged to confess to a correspondent that Poe's drinking was more of a problem than an asset. Poe, he said, was "rather dissipated, and therefore I can place very little reliance upon him". And one of the printers of the journal testified that:
Mr. Poe was a fine gentleman when he was sober. He was ever so kind and courtly, and at such times everyone liked him. But when he was drinking he was about one of the most disagreeable men I have ever met.