March 24, 2013

Lynch and Willis: love or be famous

When Nathaniel Parker Willis and his (second) wife Cornelia heard of Anne Charlotte Lynch's engagement to Vincenzo Botta, they immediately wrote a letter of congratulations. The letter, dated March 24, 1855, expresses hope from the Willises for Lynch's future:

The positive news of your coming marriage affected us very strongly, of course. Nellie and I love you so well that we tremble while we rejoice in new wings so venturesome, though so expanding of scope and lift... You are above destiny — subject naturally to nothing.

Lynch had almost met Botta (pictured), a professor in Turin, Italy, while traveling through Europe two years earlier. The Italian government had sent him to the United States to research the American education system (he had previously been sent to Germany with a similar mission) and so they missed one another. Determined he should meet her, he supposedly carried six letters of introduction on his behalf. Back in New York after her European travels, Botta visited her daily until he finally proposed. He did not return to Italy, instead taking a job at City University of New York.

Willis had befriended Lynch, whom he called "Lynchie," many years earlier and was apparently ecstatic about her coming wedding. He invited the couple to visit him at Idlewild, his home on the Hudson River: "Our glen is a place for the happy... We trust you will both feel more at home at Idlewild than anywhere else." Willis adds that "no woman ever deserved more love" than Lynch. She, by then, had already established herself as a leading hostess for literary salons and had published several poems herself. In 1845, she had asked Willis for his opinion of her writing. Calling himself her "literary godfather," he offered a telling assessment of his own literary theory and his prediction for Lynch:

Poetry is a shadow over the heart that enables us to see to the bottom-like clouds cutting off the sunshine from a well. I now see the truth in the well of your heart, but I do not know as I dare tell you what it is like. You would be bound to deny a part of it, true or not, and (to tell a truth that is all my own) I do not yet feel sufficiently taken into your confidence to venture on translating your pulses to yourself—no; I will not venture!
...The intense passionateness of your nature is all ready for utterance in undying language; and that if you do not breathe your heart soon upon an absorbent object, you will either be corroded by the stifled intensity of undeveloped feeling, or you will overflow with poetry and (like other volcanoes that find a vent) blacken the verdure around you with the cinders of exposed agonies. In short, you must love or be famous!

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