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Poe, Lynch, and the Literary Salon Scene

Many who have visited the museum may have recognized the striking portrait of a mysterious woman in the Memorial Building, just above Maria Clemm’s socks and cornered to Samuel Osgood’s Poe portrait. Her eyes follow no matter where you step in the room, her inquisitive gaze and smirk presenting an air of grace, affluence, intelligence, and perhaps suspicion. She was not unknowing when it came to her guests; Poe, a short-time regular guest, was no exception. This stark woman was Anne Charlotte Lynch Botta, hostess of one of New York’s prominent literary salons, and dictator of who was “in” and who was “out” of the literary scene.

Anna Charlotte Lynch

According to Maggie MacLean, author of the Women History Blog, Lynch was a poet, sculptor, and teacher, who made her bearings in Philadelphia in the early 1840s. She was introduced to popular actress Fanny Kemble, who then opened Lynch to a world of artists and writers. In 1845, she moved to New York City, where she taught English composition at the Brooklyn Academy for Young Ladies. She also published poems, stories, and contributed to periodicals such as The Gift and the Democratic Review. (Source.)

It was this year, in 1845, when Edgar Allan Poe swept the nation with his popular poem, “The Raven.” In fact, most likely because of this he was given the privilege to attend Lynch’s events. According to Elizabeth Oakes Smith, a prominent literary figure, rights activist and Poe contemporary,

To be invited to the reception of Miss Lynch was an evidence of distinction, and one in itself, for she was strict in drawing the moral as well as the intellectual line. Perhaps no one received any more marked attention than Edgar A. Poe. His slender form, pale, intellectual face and weird expression of eye never failed to arrest the attention of even the least observant…women fell under his fascination and listened in silence (Elizabeth Oakes Smith, Wyman, 88).

Elizabeth Oakes Smith.

Elizabeth Oakes Smith.

It is said that these women, including Frances Osgood, would sit at his feet to hear him speak his eloquent, poetical topics of various discussion. In this same memoir, Oakes Smith recalled,

At that time, at the houses of Rev. Orville Dewey, Miss Anna C. Lynch (now Mrs. Botta)…Edgar Poe was an accepted and honored guest. His manners were refined, and the scope of his conversation that of the gentleman and the scholar. His wife, being an invalid, dared not encounter the night air, but he spoke of her tenderly, and often (121).

Lynch seemed to be an intelligent, respected hostess, and Edgar was now up to celebrity standards amongst his peers. However, this would not last for long. Amidst the Frances Osgood scandal, in which he swapped numerous flirtatious poems with Frances Sargent Osgood, he found himself surrounded by other vindictive women, including Ann Stephens, Margaret Fuller, and Elizabeth Ellet. According to Frederick Frank and Anthony Magistrale, authors of The Poe Encyclopedia, Poe was “‘soon off her [Lynch’s] guest list because of her disapproval of Poe’s contemptuous treatment of Elizabeth Fries Ellet'” (214).

Thus came Poe’s rise and fall with the prestigious literary scene led by the eminent Anne Lynch. As one views the portraits next to one another, they cannot help but wonder if Lynch is keeping an eye on Edgar’s antics indefinitely. What we do know is that her portrait deserves the prominence it has received hanging in the Poe Museum. To close, we will leave our readers with Poe’s own words regarding Lynch in his “Literati of New York City,”

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…In person she is rather above the usual height, somewhat slender, with dark hair and eyes-the whole countenance at times full of intelligent expression. Her demeanor is dignified, graceful, and noticeable for repose.

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