The Sparkling Center of 19th Century Greenwich Village
By Claire Wolford
Greenwich Village gained a reputation during the early-20th century as an artistic haven, full of bohemian painters, writers, and unconventional personalities. But even before this was a thriving literary community in Greenwich Village, and much of it centered around Anne Charlotte Lynch, who ran one of the most popular salons in New York City. Miss Lynch, later known as Mrs. Botta, while a respected authoress in her own right, became famous for her evening gatherings which brought together many famous New Yorkers, including authors like Edgar Allen Poe and Herman Melville. Living near Washington Square Park in the mid-19th century, Ms. Lynch had a gift for bringing together the scholarly, the creative, and the politically unorthodox in a manner that would be a model for Greenwich Village in the 1910s.
Anne Charlotte Lynch was born on November 11, 1815, in Bennington, Vermont. Her father, Patrick Lynch, was an Irish immigrant, forced to leave Ireland after he took part in the United Irishmen Rebellion of 1798, and her mother, Charlotte Gray, was the daughter of a Revolutionary War veteran. Anne's father died when she was only four years old, shipwrecked off the coast of Puerto Principe in the West Indies. Her mother, now a young widow, moved Anne and her brother to Hartford, Connecticut, and when Anne Lynch was 16 she began her formal schooling at the Albany Female Academy. She left school in 1834 and began teaching in Providence, Rhode Island. Here she began publishing in magazines and edited The Rhode Island Book, a compilation of writing of authors from the region, including some of her own work. During her time in Providence, she began hosting literary salons in the home she shared with her mother, bringing together the most talented writers in Rhode Island.
Life in New York City
|Painting of Anne Charlotte Lynch Botta by Savinien Edme Dubourjal (1847)
From the Collections of the Metropolitan Museum or Art
In 1845, Anne and her mother moved to 116 Waverly Place, near Washington Square Park in Manhattan. She continued her literary activities in New York City, writing for periodicals, teaching English Composition at the Brooklyn Academy for Young Ladies, and entertaining on Saturday evenings. She began bringing together a talented and eclectic mixture of authors, artists, and politicians for gatherings, which soon became the place to be.
Well-known personalities and unknown up-and-comers encompassed her coterie. Some of the artists and authors known to frequent her salon were Daniel Huntington, George Healey, Charles Eliot, Frederick Law Olmsted, Washington Irving, Herman Melville, and Ralph Waldo Emerson (Harris). Lynch expected all authors to give a reading at her home, and Edger Allen Poe, a relative unknown at the time, debuted "The Raven" at one of her Saturday evening events. In return for this entre into the New York literary world, Mr. Poe wrote of Ms. Lynch in his 1846 series The Literati of New York, “In character Miss Lynch is enthusiastic, chivalric, self-sacrificing, 'equal to any Fate,' capable of even martyrdom in whatever should seem to her a holy cause — a most exemplary daughter.”
Though primarily her erudite accomplishments and connections perpetuate her notoriety today, she was also a skillful artist and, more surprisingly, a sculptress, and kept within her circle a myriad of painters, sketch-artists, and sculptors. One such visiting artist painted her in miniature; a Mr. Savinien Edme Dubourjal captured her likeness in 1847 and the work now resides at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. She continued to explore her interest in sculpture on an 1853 trip to Italy.
Although her prominence in these circles was rising, Anne Charlotte Lynch remained a remarkably dutiful daughter to her widowed mother. She spent the 1851 “season” in Washington D.C., lobbying for a belated income for her grandfather’s Revolutionary War service. She successfully walked away with several thousand dollars and invested them in the railroads, with Charles Butler’s help. This new source of regular income allowed her to feel confident of her mother’s comfort and allowed her to travel to Europe with the Butlers in 1853. During her tour of Italy it is assumed that she received instruction in sculpture, an art form that was predominately practiced by men during the time, and upon her return to the United States she completed a bust of Mr. Charles Butler, which was later donated to New York University (Gardner).
Marriage and Later Life
During this same year, 1853, Anne Charlotte Lynch met Vincenzo Botta. He was a professor of philosophy at the University of Turin and was in the United States to survey the American public school system. He met Ms. Lynch in New York City, and in 1855 the two married. Mr. Botta began teaching Italian Language and Literature at the University of the City of New York, which would later be known as New York University. The couple moved to 25 West 37th Street, “…in what Emerson called ‘the house of the expanding doors’ referring to the large and cosmopolitan group which there gathered around Mrs. Botta” (Gardner). She continued to surround herself with talented unknowns and creative elites in her married life, and in 1860 she published The Handbook of Universal Literature, which took on the daunting task of examining all types of literature and was widely used as a textbook.
Mrs. Botta was in many ways a true renaissance woman, a skilled artist, author, and networker, but one venture she refused to embark on was writing her own memoirs. She remained busy throughout the rest of her life, entertaining her circle on Saturday nights, working on sculpture in her fourth floor studio, and participating in a myriad of ladies charitable organizations. Anne Charlotte Lynch Botta remained an active member of the New York City literary elite up until her death from pneumonia in 1891. Having left behind no autobiography, her husband organized a published tribute to his wife, made up of her letters and essays written about her by her vast array of friends. Among those remembering the social center which their circle could no longer gather around were Daniel Webster, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Andrew Carnegie, who wrote, “The tribute I pay to her memory is, that I am a better man because favored with her friendship for many long years” (Botta).
Gardner, Albert Ten Eyck. "The Arts and Mrs. Botta." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin. 6.3 (1947): 105-109. Web. 26 Oct. 2011.
Botta, Vincenzo. Memoirs of Anne C. L. Botta. New York: J.S. Tait & Sons, 1894.
Harris, Luther S. Around Washington Square: An Illustrated History of Greenwich Village. Baltimore: The John Hopkins University Press, 2003.