Aldine Kieffer


(The life of Aldine S. Kieffer)



Rachel V. Geil

English Five (Class) – January 14, ’35



“Twilight is spacious, near things in it seem far,

and distant things seem near.”

(Conrad Aiken’s Miracles)


   The sun rose over the hill and made the waters a river of golden waves, turned the bank to a fairly land, glistening in the sun'’ reflection.  It announced the birth of a child who was destined to become soldier and poet and to linger in the memories of some people on through the twentieth century.  On the banks of the Missouri, the river that was later to rob him of his Father, Aldine Silliman Kieffer was born, the first day of August, 1840.  I wonder if Mary Kieffer, as she looked first at this child of hers, visioned even a small part of the pride she would someday feel in reading the dedication of his first volume of poetry.  And the sun, shining through the window onto the bed, turned the mother’s hair to silken gold strings as she lay with her child in her arms.

   This same sun shone a farewell to Mary Kieffer, as, some eight years later, she made the weary trip homeward from the frontiers to her father’s peaceful farm in the Shenandoah Valley.  The Missouri River had widowed her, leaving her a tired and worn woman with six small children.  But the determined and courageous spirit within her defied physical fatigue and urged her on.  What a relief to transfer some of the burden from her stopped back to that of her loving father!

   Joseph Funk, himself a well educated gentleman, determined to educate his oldest grandson.  Therefore young Aldine was sent to school.  But after six weeks of schooling he was removed at the advice of the master.  A boy who was never seen studying in school and yet had perfect lessons had no need to waste time in a school building.  So Aldine was put to work in his grandfather’s printing office, in spite of the fact that he was only nine years old.  But he did not grow up ignorant.  He appreciated literature, and although his first jingle lacked completeness of thought, he soon acquired the habit of putting down his thoughts and impressions in rhyme form.  This first jingle, admitted somewhat shamedfacedly in later years to a favorite nephew, another lover of literature, goes, “Aldine-grapevine-whitepine”.  The lack of thought is apparent but, although unlike Nathalia Crane he was no genius at an early age, he did have talent and ability.  So much talent, in fact,  that I a severe twentieth century critic, can forgive him that first nerve-racking, “Aldine-grapevine-whitepine”.

   From the years of nine to twenty he lived the life of any ordinary hard working boy of the South.  But also, like most young men, he had fallen in love.  Fallen in love with a girl who was to prove not only an inspiration but indirectly his downfall.  Sally Clay was well worthy of the love he showered upon her.  No giddy clothes-living girl was she, but a serious young woman who could see ahead into the future and perhaps share the dreams of this darkhaired boy whose love she returned sincerely.  Despite her family’s preference for a more prosperous young man, Sally promised to become Aldine’s wife, and the wedding day was named.

   Then the Civil War broke out!  Aldine enlisted, and I hardly believe against any protest from Sally.  She, too, loved her country and was willing that her betrothed should fight for its cause.

“I could not love thee, dear, so much

Loved I not honor more.”

(Lovelace-‘To Lucasta, Going to the Wars’)

   However, it was somewhat of a shock when Aldine was called to service on the day before that named for their wedding.  No doubt tears were shed, but part they must and did, and Aldine shouldered a musket and went to war!

“Alone they sleep, their land too poor to weep

In chiseled grief, for those her valleys keep;

Alone they moulder, but their graves green sod

Is loved by us, who loved them next to God.”

(Kieffer’s ‘The Confederate Dead’)

   The lovers corresponded faithfully and fervently for some time.  Then Sally’s letters ceased.  At first the young confederate was worried, fearful for her health, but as time passed and still no work, he grew doubtful, thinking she had forgotten their vows in the glory of some new love.  How cruel of fate to withhold the truth for so many years!

   This man of charming personality had opportunity for advancement, great opportunities, but they were wasted.  His character was either to weak or too unformed to endure disappointment and disillusionment.  Firmly convinced that Sally was willingly untrue to her vows, he took the first downward step-somewhat defiantly.  Drink has caused the downfall of men much greater than Aldine Kieffer but of few with greater promise.  No excuse can be found for this fault in him but credit can be given to the man because of his acknowledged shame and hate for the habit – a shame displayed in a number of his poems written in the later years of his life.

   If Sally Clay was his first romantic love, Josephine Hammon was his first real friend and companion.  This small delicately featured woman was even more sympathetic than the beautiful Sally Clay.  If she was unable to share his dreams in the fullness that Sally had, she at least could do more to help him fulfill them. And if in the years of their marriage he sometimes gazed at his black haired wife, and lost himself in dreams of lithe young girl with golden hair, a second glance at Josephines patient and even loving face brought him back to earth, and he would kiss her with an ardor that startled her.  And how he loved the children she bore him!  Cammie the first born, and with them for only three years, is spoken of in Kieffer’s “Our Fireside” as,

“And Cammie, he has gone to rest

Where there is no more night,

His Guardian Angel took him home

Four years ago-not quite.”

William, Linn, and Shelley were no less loved.  The family was completed with the births of two more sons, Luther and Alonzo.

   By this time, Kieffer was in a publisher’s house at Dayton, Virginia.  He edited the Musical Million, a magazine devoted to the study of music, poetry, etc.  During the last two decades of the 19th century, he lectured through the South, and especially in the southern universities.  He was well liked by the people throughout the land-his name almost a household word.

   I find interesting information in letters written to his great nephew during the years 1898-1902. He was a member of the Christian church (had a firm belief in the Bible) and many of his poems dealt with the problem of an after life.  His motto as a published was, “The good-the true-the beautiful”.  In one letter he gives an excellent illustration of man’s importance to the world.  He writes from Dayton, November 20, 1901:

   “I have rheumatism and a very deep cold.  I’ll get over it all, maybe, and if I don’t –why, no matter.  If a man thinks the world could not go on if he were to leave it – let him stick his hand into a tub of water, even up to his elbow, then quickly draw it out and see how much of a hole he has left in the water.”

   He made a striking picture in his Prince Albert coat and wide-brimmed hat.  His hair he wore to the shoulders in darkbrown curls, and he had a long beard.  When he spoke people listened and his speech was of the purest English.

   In spite of the fact that the drinking habit kept him from advancing, kept him from the governor’s chair, kept him from developing the talent that might have placed him long side of our great American poets, Kieffer was  much to be admired.  In another letter to the nephew he writes:

   “Study the best authors!  Read!  Read!  Read!!!  Byron, Moore, Tennyson, Longfellow, Byrant, Swinburne, especially the latter – if you haven’t his works, come up and I’ll loan you two volumes of ‘em.”  (Perhaps he relaxed a little in his purest English when writing personal letters.  On the back of the letter he had written in pencil.”

   “P.S.  I omitted Gerald Massey from my list.  He is one of the greatest of all the poetic realm.  K.”

   Yet Massey is the only one of whom I have never heard before.  Of these writers mentioned he like Byron best, Longfellow least.  He had a great dislike for Shakespeare, although the only mention made of him in the collection of letters I have before me is one written in 1900, saying:

   “A long discussion in the “Arena” (which ran through several months) on the works of Shakespeare would interest you.  One author tried to prove that Lord Bacon was the author of Shakespeare’s plays and the other contended for Shakespeares authorship.  The decision was made by a lot of literary men in favor of Wm.  There are many points of similarity in Bacon’s writings and Shakespeares”. (No doubt modern critics would object to “lot” and perhaps the familiarity of “Wm.”.)

   I wonder if his denouncement of Parody would not intimidate modern writers of parodies.  He says in a letter written two years before his death in 1902:

   “You ask me concerning Parody.  Parody is a thing that neither the gods nor men can long look upon with the slightest degree of indulgence.  To me it is an abomination in literature.  I abhor, condemn, abominate, detest, adjure, despise it.  Away with it!”

   You get a faint idea, do you not, that he disapproved of parody writing.  Yet, I have a suspicion that it was also an attempt to put the nephew a little in awe of his uncle by the use of such specific verbs.

   His kindness in rejecting poems submitted for the Musical Million is shown in a letter in which he says:

   “In looking over our correspondence of months gone by, I find a letter from you, dated December 31, 1901 and a poem also.  I return the latter to you.  Preserve everything you write-guard it all zealously.”  (Thus he subtly turned down the poem for publication with such tact that no bitterness was felt.  The nephew says today, he is glad Kieffer had the judgment no to print such a poem."

   His letters also reveal him to be a victim of rheumatism and a desire for fishing in “old Linville’s streams.”

   Some years before his death the mystery concerning Sally Clay was cleared up.  One day while traveling through North Carolina, he stopped at a farmhouse for a drink of water.  Upon finding his hostess to be none other than Sally, now a mature woman with a daughter 18 years old, he stayed on long after his drink.  Naturally the subject of their old engagement was broached.  She had a strange story to tell.  Her parents, finding her determined to marry Kieffer when he should have returned from war hired a newspaper employee to include Aldine Kieffer’s name in the list of those missing and dead.  Apparently his letters had been intercepted.  Sally had completely collapsed at this shock but when she was still so weak, she was forced to have support when standing, they persuaded her to marry the other man, the wealthy young lawyer so many years her patient suitor.  But what is to be must be.  However when Kieffer left Sally this time, they had agreed that if there were any such things as spirit communication, the spirit of the one who died first would inform the other of this happening.  Sometime after this Kieffer was wakened one night to hear the voice of his long lost love saying, “Aldine, I’m gone.”  He got up from his bed, the presence seeming so real, but found that he was alone.  His wife, awaking, asked him what was wrong and he assured her that it was nothing.  He was just a bit restless and anxious to know what time of night it was.  He noticed that it was a few minutes past two by the clock, went back to bed and later to sleep.

   The morning after the following day he received a letter from Sally’s daughter saying that for some strange reason she felt she should let him know that her mother had passed away a few minutes after two A.M. the 19th of April.  This was the very moment he had heard her voice so distinctly and he knew that she was true to him in death as she had desired to be in life.

   Sally was gone, and for him the twilight was drawing near.  He was not afraid.  He had watched the sun rise and set and found it beautiful.  He was ready for the curtain to fall upon the last scenes of his life.  Were not Willie and Little Cammie waiting?  Yes, he was ready and twilight would be more beautiful that sunrise or sunset.  Twilight came.


“Twilight is stealing

          Over the Sea,

Shadows are Falling

          Dark on the lea;

Borne on the night winds,

          Voices of yore,

Come from the far-off shore.


Voices of loved ones!          

          Songs of the past!

Still linger round me,

          While life shall last

Sadly I wander

          Lonely I roam,

Seeking that far-off home.


Far away beyond the starlit skies,

Where the love-light never, never dies,

Gleameth a mansion filled with delight,

Sweet happy home so bright!


Come in the Twilight,

          Come, come to me!

Bringing some message,

          Over the sea;

Cheering my pathway

          While here I roam,

Seeking that far-off home.


               (Twilight is Stealing-from Kieffer’s Vigil and Vision)



Note from Margaret S. Mohr Weaver:

Mother (Rachel V. Geil Mohr) did not include the second and fourth verses so I added them.





 Letters Written By


Aldine Kieffer


Cherry Hill, Halifax City, Va.

Sept. 5, 1860


Dear Friend Gabe:


   I am once more seated enjoying the delicious thing, tobacco, prepared to give an account of myself to your highness, the printers devil.

Well Sir, I am navigating the stream of life finely, its billows though they are rough only sway my frail boat to and fro and are rocking me slowly but surely peacefully to rest.  The dark storms which sometimes overcast life’s sky would daunt as brave a heart as mine perhaps, but when those storms are over, the clear sky will only appear more bright, more lovely, more placid, more heavenly and serene; and besides this

I have not loved the world nor the world me,

But let us part fair foes; - I do believe,

Though I have found them not, that there may be

Words which are things; hopes which will not deceive,

Virtues which are merciful, and will not weave

Snares for the failing.  I would also deem

O’er other griefs, that some sincerely grieve

That two or one are almost what they seem.

That goodness is no name, and happiness no dream.

Read this time and again, it is deep but you may learn to understand it.  Solomon could interpret it.

   I am happy that my end was accomplished yours is most happily.  I assure you I am always interested-when I receive letters from you from home if no one else can interest me, I am very nervous this morning I can scarely write.  You spoke something of youth, aye, they are dear days but they are gone, fled forever from us, and I can only explain:

   “Ah, happy years! Once more who would not be a boy.”

   I suppose you are by this time through with the Music Book and are not sorry of it.  I am glad for your sake that is through.

   You said something about Sallie and wanted to know if I knew why I loved her?  Yes I do.  Here are my reasons.

1st.  Because she is beautiful and accomplished, and has a fine education.

2nd. Because she has place confidence in me when others had told her that I was emphatically the greatest flirt in the state.

3rd. Because I love her, and she is the second person I have ever met with who has used with me not one particle of deception.

4th. Because she is virtuous and intelligent: - a lump of gold - pure herself if mud and rubbish are around her.

5th. Because she is the only being who can sympathize with me in all my designs, and whose every feeling is congenial with mine own.

I expect to marry her for these reasons.  For this purpose shall ye leave father and mother and cleave unto the wife of his choice.  The heart knoweth his own sadness and a stranger doth not intermeddle with his “joy” it is action for himself no other.  Such are my views.

   I should like to see you very much indeed, to tell you my plans for the future, my hopes my fears, and above all to tell you my little adventures which are indeed very funny and might be of some service to those who expect to wander from place to place.  I tell you my friend you just ought to be here, to live, learn and enjoy yourself.  I tell you there is something fine in it.

   Your last letter came to me, it was sealed, the stamp was not crossed or marked out.  My name was not on the back of it not one word or letter was on the envelope.  The way I happened to get it was thus.  I was there and helped to open the mail I came to yours and claimed it got the post master to break it open, he saw my name and was satisfied.  But never you do another such trick.

   The weather is seasonable here and the corn crop will be tolerably good, the tobacco will be fine but the misfortune is this it is very low and everything else is high.

   The finest speeches that I ever heard I heard on last Monday.  One of Thos. S. Flournoy in which he just eat up everything that ever I heard tell of.  Edmond a Breckenridge Elector, Stooval a Douglas-man.  By these men these parties are represented.  I tell you it was fine fun indeed it was grand.

   Now I must tell you something else.  I have finished a long story, which is decidedly my best.  It is something which is called good here, and I believe it will take finely.  It shall be published with my others and I will make the trial before the world if I fail all’s right:  if I succeed it will be a grand achievement for a boy it is worth the risk any way.  And therefore I’ll try it.  The poem itself will make some 25 or 30th pages, Adelle; or the Wanderer’s last love, is the title.  I will send you a specimen of it with this letter.

   You have never sent us the Sept August No. of the Advocate I would have prepared another No. on Beauty if I had received but it is a small matter anyway in regard to my writing.  I should like to have the Advocate though I tell you.  I have one of the most superb copies of Byron miscellany, the complete work in a word.

                                                   Truly Yours,

A.S. Kieffer, K. G.C.


I cannot say when I will be at home, our schools will close the last of October if we have good luck.  I may then come or may not, owing altogether to circumstances.  I may go west.  The friends of Miss Kate Phillips wrote to me to come immediately as Kate cannot live much longer, this accounts for my being a little dull, it is said on my account, say nothing about it to anyone.  Write soon and oblige your true friend.

                                                        Very sincerely yours,

A.S. Kieffer



Dayton, Rockingham Co., Va.

June 29, 1898

H. Ralph Geil:--

My dear Nephew,

   Your letter of the 27th inst came safely to hand, I write to our Congressman Hay, and Judge Paul today, and we will see what can be done in your case.  I am anxious for you get a West Point, military training and education.  I have no doubt that you will be successful.

   We are all well here.  I am anxious to hear from Uncle John Funk as I have been told he was quite sick.  Give my regards to your Mamma, Pappa, and your brothers and sisters.


Your old Solider Uncle

     Aldine S. Kieffer




Dayton, Va.

2-12 1900


Mr. H. Ralph Geil: --

Dear Nephew__

   You have been expecting a letter from me, as you had a just right to do.  Your Indian Legend, in the main, is well written, and, with a few corrections is well worth publication.  Three poems intended for Feb’y No. of  M M which were put in type had to be “set aside” for March No. which will be ready (D.V) by the 21st.  April has been a fateful month in our family history.  Your dear Mother can tell you of Aprils long ago.  Well, if you say so, Ralph, I will send forth your rhymes through the April No. of  Million.  May “Our Father” bless you and keep you His, is the fervent wish and prayer of your old

Uncle Aldine


Dayton, Va.

Oct. 5, 1900


Mr. Henry Ralph Geil: --

Dear Nephew,

   My long silence has been due to sickness.  I have not been “able for duty” for several weeks, in bed under the doctor’s care, and, today I am trying to do a little writing tho against his orders.  I am as weak as an infant, and as nervous as an old palsied man.  I have no appetite, eat nothing, save milk and crackers, with now and then a little beef or chicken broth.  I cannot read with real pleasure, and am so weak that the wind blows my thoughts away, hence cannot write.

   A long discussion in “Arena” (which ran through several months) on the works of Shakespeare would interest you.  One author tried to prove Lord Bacon was the author of Shakespeare’s plays and the other contended for Shakespeare authorship.  The decision was made by a lot of literary men in favor of Wm.  There are many points of similarity in Bacon’s writings and Shakespeare.

   I have not had a line from Rollin since he left for home, Have you?  Linnie has gone to Page Co. and may remain all winter.  He has bought property over there.  I am glad you like Parker’s Aids.  The more you study it the better you will like.  A library of good text books if made use of is equal to a college education.  I reckon Josie and myself will hardly get to pay “Ole Linville” a visit this fall much as we would love to do so.  Write again.  Love to your father, mother and all the girls and boys.

                                                   Your old broken down Uncle

                                                            Aldine S. Kieffer



Dayton, Virginia

April 3, 1901


Dear Ralph: --

   I mail you another cover copy of April M.M. containing your poem.  Last night we had, rain, sleet, and snow.  For three days and night I have suffered intense pain from rheumatism and can scarcely write this morning.  Love to all.

Yours sincerely,

Aldine S. Kieffer

Dayton, Virginia

July 8, 1901

Dear Ralph: __

   On the 8th of April last, I received a letter from you, which, I feel was never answered.  In that letter you spoke of having read Endymion, by John Keats, also his Lamia.

   You ask me “What if Life”?  Let Wordsworth answer: --

                           “Life is like a wind-swept meadow

                        Mimicking a troubled sea;

                        Such is Life, and Death’s a shadow

                        From the rock Eternity.”

I mailed April No. of  M.M. to Miss Emma Sprague, Wapakoneta, O. as requested.  In regard to my volume of poems it can still be had of the co. at 60. Per volume.  I had hope to issue Vol. 2 this year but I am not financially able to do so.  You must pardon this brief letter, for I am crippled by rheumatism and can scarcely use my “write” hand.  Come up to see me.

Yours lovingly,


                                                                        Dayton, Va.

                                                                        Aug. 19, 1901

H. Ralph Geil

My dear Nephew

   Yours of 11th inst was received on the 12th.  Your verses are well-written and thoroughly poetic throughout.  They will appear in Sept. No of Million.  Saturday was Rep. Con. Day, here, in Dayton:  What strange things come to pass!  The Country was well represented and our town was full of people I mean, and some people were full.  Dr. M. S. Zirkle took dinner with us and spent a good part of the day here.  We commented on your poem in the Register as we read it over together.  I confess that I did not like your abbreviation (O’) for “of”.  Dr. though it was all right however, and so my demurrer goes by the board.  It is a pretty poem, Ralph, and I am proud of you.

   Snyder was out here also and we spoke of you.

   Study the best authors!  Read!  Read!  Read!!!  Byron, Moore, Tennyson, Longfellow, Bryant, Swinburne especially the latter – if you haven’t his works come up and I’ll loan you two volumes of em.  I have been quite sick, for a couple weeks, but Dr. R. H. Alfred is slowly bringing me around again.  By the way, Ralph he is one of the most gifted men I ever knew and yet so modest and retiring in every way.  He is poet, physician, philosopher, and philanthropist.  I didn’t mean to alliterate but it comes naturally.

   Come up!  I’ve got that Texas letter from a genuine authoress.  She is an accomplished woman and claims to have sent you a list of books to read?  What?

   If the Fates, Furies, Muses, etc do not make a muddle of my life’s stream, I will surely come down to old Linville when the autumn skies are ashen sober in the dreamy, sad October and catch, or try to catch, i.e. snare some spotted suckers.  Excuse penmanship for I am weak and nervous.  Come to see me.

                                                   Your old Uncle


“P.S.  I omitted Gerald Massey for my list.  He is one of the greatest of all the poetic realm.  K.”



                                                                           Dayton, Rockingham Co., Virginia

Nov 20, 1901


Mr. H. Ralph Geil: --

Dear Nephew –

   I don’t remember who wrote the last letter, you or I.  Be that as it may, I feel like saying good morning to you at 4:30 A.M.  I have nothing special to say save that I am still looking forward to a fishing excursion up Old Linville’s creek, some time between this date and Xmas.

   Our folks are generally well, except myself.  I have rheumatism, and a very deep cold.  I’ll get over it all maybe, and if I don’t why no matter.  If a man thinks the world could not go on if he were to leave it, let him stick his hand into a tub of water, even up to his elbows, then quickly draw it out and see how much of a hole he has left in the water.

                                                   Your old philosophizing Uncle




                                                                                       Dayton, Va.

                                                                                       Nov. 28, 1901

Mr. H. Ralph Geil:--

Dear Nephew,

   Thanksgiving day has come and gone for 1901.  It has been a bitterly cold day here and a very quiet one.  Josie, Shelley Nap and myself spent the day with Willie and Nora.  He returned from the Hospital at Terre Haute, Ind. on Tuesday evening.  He is badly crippled with inflammatory rheumatism, his feet and hands are badly swollen, and he is barely able to walk across the floor with crutches.

   I have been “housed in” with influenza and rheumatism for weeks.  I am endeavoring to wear (??) out, and will do so, unless they wear me out.  O, say, did I loan you Pope’s Poetical Works?  I can’t find them anywhere.  Love to your Pa, Ma, and all of you.

                                                   Yours Sincerely and Affectionately

                                                              Aldine S. Kieffer



                                                                                       Dayton, Va.

                                                                                       May 21, 1902

Mr. Henry Ralph Geil:

Dear Nephew,

   Your kindly letter of kinship, friendship and poetic fervor was read with more than usual interest.  Sister Annie left here this morning to visit you all before your father starts for Missouri.  I was surprised to hear of his going to my native State.  I would have accompanied Annie, only that I was too busy looking after the interests of our little office.

   You ask me for my opinion concerning Parody.  Parody is a thing which neither the Gods or men can long look upon with the slightest degree of indulgence.  To me it is an abomination in literature.  I abhor, condemn, abominate, detest, adjure, despise it.  Away with it!

   You failed to give me Alfred Austin’s address.  I should like to mail him some sample pages of Hours of Fancy or the book itself.

   Now, then, In regard to the publishing some of your poems in booklet form I can only say that I would not have suggested it if I had not deemed your verses meritorious.  I only suggested a little 16 pp pamphlet just large enough to slip into an envelope 6 x 4.  Of this matter we can talk fully and freely when you come up on a visit.  I cannot write freely as I did of yore, and, beside, we can talk more in ten minutes than I could write in an hour.

   In looking over our correspondence of months gone by I find a letter from you dated Dec. 31, 1901 and a poem also.  I return the latter to you.  Preserve everything you write, guard all jealously.

   Hoping to have you here on a visit ere long.  I remain,

                                                   Your old Uncle

                                                  Aldine S. Kieffer


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