‘One Death-Grapple in the Darkness’

by Jay Nordlinger

Today’s Impromptus begins with Chance the Rapper, moves on to Silicon Valley, continues with a powerhouse speech by Bret Stephens, and goes on from there. It ends with a man who survived the Bataan Death March and died the other day at 96.

In yesterday’s Impromptus, I had a note about cursive, and those who are wanting it to make a comeback. Let me share a letter from a reader:

I have always been a fan of cursive (except when having to learn it), but I’m also a curmudgeon, which may be the reason. About ten years ago, I started a genealogy project — and searching old records invariably brings you in contact with cursive.

I found wills and their probates, birth and death records, military records, etc. All were in cursive, of course, and I felt a certain connection with my ancestors as I read their documents in their own hand.

Even when we do hand-write these days, we don’t use quills or dip pens, so there is no real need for connected lettering. Still, I can’t help thinking we have lost something …

In Tuesday’s Impromptus, I had a note involving “the right side of history” versus plain right. A reader says, “I was immediately reminded of the timeless poem of James Russell Lowell, The Present Crisis.”

He then cited some of his favorite parts, including

Once to every man and nation comes the moment to decide,         
In the strife of Truth with Falsehood, for the good or evil side;


Careless seems the great Avenger; history’s pages but record        
One death-grapple in the darkness ’twixt old systems and the Word;       
Truth forever on the scaffold, Wrong forever on the throne, —  
Yet that scaffold sways the future, and, behind the dim unknown, 
Standeth God within the shadow, keeping watch above his own.

The reader says, “I have despaired much in the last year (actually a lot longer than that — probably starting with Bill Clinton’s reelection, when I began to follow politics), but this poem helps me keep a balance. I read it when I was deployed in Afghanistan and it meant a great deal. Just wanted to share.”

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