Was Poe Mowatt's "Twinkle"?
internet search done to find connections between Edgar Allan Poe and
Anna Cora Mowatt will bring up James M. Hutchisson's article "Poe, Anna Cora Mowatt, and T. Tennyson Twinkle" in which the author posits that Poe may have been the inspiration for the fictional poet in Mowatt's Broadway hit "Fashion."
If Mowatt wanted to
base the character of Twinkle on a real person (which she always publicly
said that she didn’t), she had other candidates closer to home. Her
friend, Epes Sargent, was a very successful poet. His poetry had a somewhat
florid narrative style that could be compared to Tennyson’s. Sargent, like
Twinkle, was a creature of fashion who supplemented his income by living off
the benevolence of his wealthy admirers. It was Sargent who teased and goaded Mowatt
into writing “Fashion” in the first place.
As pay-back, she may have rewarded him with a gently mocking portrait in
the form of Twinkle. The poet and the man have several overlapping
characteristics. You don’t have to take my word for this, though. Here’s a
description by an unbiased contemporary observer – Mr. Edgar Allan Poe:
Although the author makes many good points, I
am not convinced. I think the focusing lens of history makes Poe seem a more
likely candidate than he would have been at the time. When asked to name an
American poet of the 1840’s, Poe’s is among the only names that may come up in
a modern person’s mind (if any come up at all.) However at that time, poetry
had a status more in line with popular music. Writing poems to fill magazines
and the Victorian equivalent of coffee table books was a lucrative business. A
fashionable New Yorker of the 1840’s when asked to name their favorite poet,
might be able to reel off a dozen names without ever thinking to mention Poe.
The work he became
famous for, “The Raven,” was published January 29, 1845. “Fashion” opened March
24, 1845. Poe had published other poems before “The Raven,” but was primarily
known as a literary critic before that time.
“Fashion” and the character of T. Tennyson Twinkle would have had to
have been rather quickly revised to capture a portrait of this new literary
Mr. Sargent is well known to the public as the author of “Velasco, a
Tragedy,” “The Light of the Light-house, with other Poems,” one or two short nouvelettes,
and numerous contributions to the periodicals. He was also the editor of
“Sargent’s Magazine,” a monthly work, which had the misfortune of falling
between two stools, never having been able to make up its mind whether to be
popular with the three or dignified with the five dollar journals. It was a
“happy medium” between the two classes, and met the fate of all happy media
in dying, as well through lack of foes as of friends. In medio tutissimus
ibis is the worst advice in the world for the editor of a magazine. Its
observance proved the downfall of Mr. Lowell and his really meritorious
“Velasco” has received some words of
commendation from the author of “Ion,” and I am ashamed to say, owes most of
its home appreciation to this circumstance. Mr. Talfourd’s play has, itself,
little truly dramatic, with much picturesque and more poetical value; its
author, nevertheless, is better entitled to respect as a dramatist than as a
critic of dramas. “Velasco,” compared with American tragedies generally, is a
good tragedy — indeed, an excellent one, but, positively considered, its merits
are very inconsiderable. It has many of the traits of Mrs. Mowatt’s “Fashion,”
to which, in its mode of construction, its scenic effects, and several other
points, it bears as close a resemblance as, in the nature of things, it could
very well bear. It is by no means improbable, however, that Mrs. Mowatt
received some assistance from Mr. Sargent in the composition of her comedy, or
at least was guided by his advice in many particulars of technicality.
“Shells and Sea Weeds,” a series of
brief poems, recording the incidents of a voyage to Cuba, is, I think, the best
work in verse of its author, and evinces a fine fancy, with keen appreciation
of the beautiful in natural scenery. Mr. Sargent is fond of sea pieces, and
paints them with skill, flooding them with that warmth and geniality which are
their character and their due. “A Life on the Ocean Wave” has attained great
popularity, but is by no means so good as the less lyrical compositions, “A
Calm,” “The Gale,” “Tropical Weather,” and “A Night Storm at Sea.”
“The Light of the Light-house” is a
spirited poem, with many musical and fanciful passages, well expressed. For
“But, oh, Aurora’s crimson light,
That makes the watch-fire dim,
Is not a more transporting sight
Than Ellen is to him.
He pineth not for fields and brooks,
Wild flowers and singing birds,
For summer smileth in her looks
And singeth in her words.”
There is something of the Dibdin
spirit throughout the poem, and, indeed, throughout all the sea poems of Mr.
Sargent — a little too much of it, perhaps.
His prose is not quite so
meritorious as his poetry. He writes “easily,” and is apt at burlesque and
sarcasm — both rather broad than original. Mr. Sargent has an excellent memory
for good hits and no little dexterity in their application. To those who
meddle little with books, some of his satirical papers must appear brilliant.
In a word, he is one of the most prominent members of a very
extensive American family — the men of industry, talent and tact.
In stature he is short — not more
than five feet five — but well proportioned. His face is a fine one; the
features regular and expressive. His demeanor is very gentlemanly. Unmarried,
and about thirty years of age.1
As Poe attests, like "Fashion's"
Twinkle, Sargent was a short, dapper, witty poet with a sharp tongue
well-known to Anna Cora Mowatt and a familiar figure in parlors of the
fashionable set of New York's "knickerbockerocracy" of the 1840's.
1. Poe. “The Literati of New York City” - No. IV) — August 1846 — Godey’s