The Female Prose Writers of America: With Portraits, Biographical Notices, and Specimens of their Writings/Anne C. Lynch


Anne Charlotte Lynch was born in Bennington, Vermont.

Her father belonged to the gallant band of “United Irishmen,” who so vainly attempted in 1798 to achieve the independence of the “Emerald Isle.” At the age of sixteen, against the protests, and even commands of his father, he joined the rebels, and, with many others, was soon made prisoner. During a gloomy imprisonment of four years, he received advantageous offers of liberty and a commission in the army, if he would take the oath of allegiance. These offers he boldly spurned, and at the age of twenty, with Emmet, McNeven, and other illustrious exiles, came to the United States. He married a daughter of Colonel Gray, and finally died in Cuba, where he had gone in search of health.

On the mother’s side, also, Miss Lynch has patriot blood in her veins. Her grandfather, Lieutenant-Colonel Gray, of the 6th Regiment of the Connecticut Line, received his first commission in January, 1776. He was appointed Major in 1777, and Lieutenant-Colonel in 1778, which rank he held till the close of the war. He served in the army of the Revolution during the whole period of seven years, and retired at the close of the war with a constitution so broken down by the fatigues and hardships he had undergone, that he was never able to resume the duties of his profession, and he died, after a few years, of a lingering disease, contracted in the service, leaving his family entirely destitute. The widow of Colonel Gray petitioned Congress several times ineffectually for relief. The petition was renewed by her daughter, Mrs. Lynch, in 1850, and, through the tact and persuasive eloquence of the grand-daughter, finally received a favourable hearing, even amid the exciting scenes of the Compromise Congress.

After finishing her education, which was at a female seminary of some celebrity in Albany, Miss Lynch lived for a time in Providence, Rhode Island. There she published, in 1841, a volume entitled the “Rhode Island Book,” consisting of selections of prose and verse from the writers of that State, and including several pieces of her own. She subsequently spent some time in Philadelphia, where her poetical abilities attracted much attention, and gained for her the friendship and encouragement of many persons of distinction; among others, of Fanny Kemble, then in the zenith of her popularity. Several of her poems were contributed to the “Gift” in 1845, also a long chapter in prose called “Leaves from the Diary of a Recluse.”

For the last eight or nine years she has lived in the city of New York. In this period she has contributed to the current literature of the day, both in prose and verse. A collection of her poems was published in 1848, in a small quarto, elegantly illustrated with original designs by Huntington, Cheney, Darley, Durand, Rothermel, Rossiter, Cushman, Brown, and Winner.

The combination of the social element with the pursuits of literature and art, is a problem to which Miss Lynch has given a practical solution, and by which she has gained her chief celebrity. She has for many years opened her house on every Saturday evening to ladies and gentlemen of her acquaintance, connected with literature or the fine arts. Men and women of genius here meet, very much as merchants meet on ’Change, without ceremony, and for the exchange of thought. They pass together two hours in conversation, music, song, sometimes recitation, and disperse without eating or drinking, nothing in the shape of material refreshment being ever offered. At no place of concourse, it is said, is one so sure to see the leading celebrities of the town. I give two sketches of these soirées, the first from a writer—evidently a woman—in Neal’s Gazette, the second from the pen of Miss Sedgwick:

“At her brilliant Saturday evening reunions one may see all who are in any way distinguished for scientific, artistic, or literary attainments, mingled with a band of fine appreciating spirits, who are content with that power of appreciation, and whose social position shows at once the high station which Miss Lynch has won by her merits as a woman and a scholar.

“One of these same reunions would be the realization of many a schoolgirl’s dream of happiness. We can almost see the young neophyte of authorland nestled in some sheltering recess, or shrouded by benevolent drapery, and gazing with wonder and admiration on those whose words have long been the companions of her solitary hours.

“‘Can that really be Mrs. Osgood?’ she would exclaim, as a light figure glided before her retirement.

“‘Is that truly Mrs. Oakes Smith on the sofa beside Mrs. Hewitt? Grace Greenwood! how I have longed to see her, and Darley, Willis, Bayard Taylor, ah! me,’ and the sweet eyes would grow weary with watching the bright constellation, and the little hands clasp each other close—and more closely still, as she tried to realize that those whom she had long loved were in truth before her.

“Then gliding through their midst, calmly, almost proudly in her serene repose, is the hostess herself. Her wavy hair, gathered in a braided coronet, her mild, blue eyes serenely smiling, and at once thoughts of Miss Barret’s Lady Geraldine come to the mind of the gazer, and these words to her parted lips—

For her eyes alone smiled constantly; her lips had serious sweetness,
And her front was calm—the dimple rarely rippled on her cheek;
But her deep blue eyes smiled constantly, as if they had by fitness
The secret of a happy dream she did not care to speak.”

“There is a warm greeting and kind word for all, and even the little trembler in the window curtain does not start as she kindly addresses her.”

The next extract is from Miss Sedgwick, written in the character of a gentleman on a visit to New York.

“From Mallark’s, I passed to the drawing-room of Miss Lynch. It was her reception evening. I was admitted to a rather dimly lighted hall by a little portress, some ten or twelve years old, who led me to a small apartment to deposit my hat and cloak. There was no lighted staircase, no train attendant, none of the common flourish at city parties. ‘Up stairs, if you please, sir—front room for the ladies—back for the gentlemen;’ no indication of an overturn or commotion in the domestic world; no cross father, worried mother, or scolded servants behind the scenes—not even a faint resemblance to the eating, worrying, and tossing of ‘the house that Jack built.’ The locomotive was evidently not off the track; the spheres moved harmoniously. To my surprise, when I entered, I found two fair-sized drawing-rooms filled with guests, in a high state of social enjoyment. There was music, dancing, recitation, and conversation. I met an intimate friend there, and availing myself of the common privilege of a stranger in town I inquired out the company. There were artists in every department—painting, poetry, sculpture, and music. There I saw for the first time that impersonation of genius, Ole Bull. Even the histrionic art asserted its right to social equality there in the person of one of its honourable professors. You may think that my hostess, for one so young and so very fair, opened her doors too wide. Perhaps so, for though I detest the duenna system and believe that the unguarded freedom permitted to our young ladies far safer as well as more agreeable, yet I would rather have seen the mother of Miss Lynch present. Certainly no one ever needed an ægis less than my lovely hostess. She has that quiet delicacy and dignity of manners that is as a ‘glittering angel’ to exorcise every evil spirit that should venture to approach her. How, without fortune or fashion, she has achieved her position in your city, where every thing goes under favour of these divinities, I am sure I cannot tell. To be sure, she has that aristocracy which supersedes all others—that to which prince and peasant instinctively bow—and though unknown in the fashionable world, you would as soon confound the exquisite work of a Greek sculptor with the wax figures of an itinerant showman, as degrade her to the level of a conventional belle.

“Yet she does not open her house as a temple to worshippers of whom she is the divinity, but apparently simply to afford her acquaintances the hospitality of a place of social meeting. She retires behind her guests, and seems to desire to be the least observed of all observers.

“I had supposed that war might as well be carried on without its munitions, officers as well live without their salaries, children as well go to bed without their suppers, as a party to go off without its material entertainment. But here was the song without the supper, not even those poor shadows of refreshments, cakes and lemonade. Here was a young woman without ‘position’—to use the cant phrase—without any relations to the fashionable world, filling her rooms weekly with choice spirits, who came without any extraordinary expense of dress, who enjoyed high rational pleasures for two or three hours, and retired so early as to make no drafts on the health or spirits of the next day. I communicated my perplexity to a foreign acquaintance whom I met at Mrs. Booth’s.

“‘Why,’ said he, your fair friend has hit upon a favourite form of society common in the highest civilization. Miss Lynch’s soirees are Parisian—only not in Paris. Not in the world, with the exception of the United States, could a beautiful young woman take the responsibility unmatronized of such a ‘reception.’”