Tales of Moroccan Mail

Mark TwainMark Twain’s The Innocents Abroad, or The New Pilgrims’ Progress chronicles an 1867 expedition to Europe and the Holy Land. The best-selling book originated from a series of travel letters Twain wrote for the Alta California, a San Francisco newspaper.

He touched on the importance of mail (or at least the price of postage) in a couple of anecdotes about Morocco.

“When Morocco is in a state of war, Arab couriers carry letters through the country and charge a liberal postage. Every now and then they fall into the hands of marauding bands and get robbed. Therefore, warned by experience, as soon as they have collected two dollars’ worth of money they exchange it for one of those little gold pieces, and when robbers come upon them, swallow it. The stratagem was good while it was unsuspected, but after that the marauders simply gave the sagacious United States mail an emetic and sat down to wait.”

I’m not sure why Twain referred to the United States mail (mailman?) in Morocco, but at least the couriers swallowed the money rather than the letters.

As Yanks far from home, the travelers visited the Consul General, the only American family in Tangier, and a lonely one at that, according to Twain.American Legation tangiers

“His family seize upon their letters and papers when the mail arrives, read them over and over again for two days or three, talk them over and over again for two or three more till they wear them out, and after that for days together they eat and drink and sleep, and ride out over the same old road, and see the same old tiresome things that even decades of centuries have scarcely changed, and say never a single word!”

Fun fact: The longest unbroken treaty in U.S. history is the Morocco-U.S. Treaty of Peace and Friendship, signed by Thomas Jefferson and Sultan Mohammad III in 1787.

After foreign embassies moved to Rabat in 1956, the American Legation opened as a museum, so if you’re ever in Tangiers, you can still marvel at the intricate carvings and white courtyard that Twain saw 150 years ago.