My reading is that Twain is addressing a 'heathen' reader--one who has not yet been reached by the "light" of the missionaries. From the perspective of the Bible verses referenced, those who had been in the darkness are now in the light. Twain is laying out the perils of the light for one who has not yet been assaulted by its glare so that he or she can get out of the way. It's a fair warning, I think.
Now, it's always possible that he was playing on a phrase that was being slightly misquoted in the pulpit or popular conversation, but I have no evidence of that. Perhaps others know of preachers, missionaries, pamphlets, etc. that used the phrase "person sitting in darkness" to refer to the 'unsaved.'
M. Christine Benner Dixon
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On Apr 18, 2012, at 8:05 PM, Harold Bush wrote:
> Folks; I'm attempting to explain some things about MT's "To the Person
> Sitting in Darkness," and I guess I should have figured this out years ago,
> Why did he use that exact phrasing? Everyone recognizes he alludes to
> Matt. 4:16: King James Version (KJV) which reads:
> The people which sat in darkness saw great light; and to them which sat in
> the region and shadow of death light is sprung up.
> This verse in Matthew alludes to Isaiah 9:2 :
> The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell
> in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined.
> Both are from the KJV (sidenote: I've always assumed MT read, and used,
> the KJV). I have checked all the other translations and none of them at
> that time used "sitting."
> (More arcane = why the Hebrew Bible quote says "walked," NT says "sat"; why
> switch it up from walking to sitting? (some commentators suggest the
> change to "sat" makes their conditions even more desperate; Anyway that is
> true textual hairsplitting)
> the questions I really have are:
> Why change the "people which sat" to "the person sitting"? I guess to
> bring it up to date?? To personalize it even more??
> More generally: I wonder now that I think of it, about the element of
> directly addressing this "person," and the rhetorical strategy of that form
> of address: how and why did he choose that title and method?
> Even more generally: is it basically the case the we should always assume
> MT's reading was always in the KJV, and his use of and references to the
> Bible are based on the KJV? Seems like common sense, but the Revised
> Version did come out in the 1880s, (1881 I believe), making a fairly big
> splash in fact.
> thanks, --hb
> Harold K. Bush, Ph.D
> Professor of English
> Saint Louis University
> St. Louis, MO 63108
> 314-977-3616 (w); 314-771-6795 (h)