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Special Feature
By Barbara Schmidt

Mark Twain's Perfect Courier - Joseph N. Verey

I have had dealings with some very bad couriers; but I have also had dealings with one who might fairly be called perfection. He was a young Polander, named Joseph N. Verey. He spoke eight languages, and seemed to be equally at home in all of them; he was shrewd, prompt, posted, and punctual; he was fertile in resources, and singularly gifted in the matter of overcoming difficulties; he not only knew how to do everything in his line, but he knew the best ways and the quickest; he was handy with children and invalids; all his employer needed to do was to take life easy and leave everything to the courier. His address is, care of Messrs. Gay & Son, Strand, London; he was formerly a conductor of Gay's tourist parties. Excellent couriers are somewhat rare; if the reader is about to travel, he will find it to his advantage to make a note of this one.
- A Tramp Abroad, chapter 32

In July 1879, while traveling in Europe gathering material for a travel book that would later be titled A Tramp Abroad, Samuel Clemens hired Joseph N. Verey to serve as a courier who would assist the family in their travel and touring arrangements from Paris through Holland and to London. Verey's wages would be about $2 a day. Mrs. Clemens also was pleased with the services of Verey and on July 20 wrote to her mother:

Our courier proved to be perfect we had no care whatever he managed everything so splendidly -- we have wished during all these days that we had had him last Fall we should have had so much more pleasure in our Switzerland and Italian trip.(Olivia Clemens to Olivia Lewis Langdon, July 20, 1879. Reprinted in Mark Twain's Notebooks & Journals, Vol. II).

In late September 1891 Clemens again hired Verey for a ten day trip down the Rhone River. Accompanied by a French boatman, the two traveled in a flatboat for Lake Bourget in Savoie down the Rhone River to the Mediterranean. The account of the trip was intended to be part of a future book titled Innocents Adrift. Clemens never finished the book. After Clemens's death "Down the Rhone," a manuscript written during the trip with Verey, was published by Twain's literary executor in the book Europe and Elsewhere published in 1923. Clemens wrote:

I made this long-neglected voyage with a boatman and a courier. The following account of it is part diary and part comment. The main idea of the voyage was, not to see sights, but to rest up from sight-seeing. There was little or nothing on the Rhone to examine or study or write didactically about; consequently, to glide down the stream in an open boat, moved by the current only, would afford many days of lazy repose, with opportunity to smoke, read, doze, talk accumulate comfort, get fat, and all the while be out of reach of the news and remote from the world and its concerns. ("Down the Rhone," Europe and Elsewhere).

Little biographical information is available on Joseph N. Verey. In his personal notebook, Clemens recorded his middle name as "Niemeczek" but the spelling has not been verified. (Mark Twain's Notebooks & Journals, Vol. III).

In 1902 newspapers in the United States reprinted from London newspapers an interview Verey gave regarding his trip down the Rhone River with Clemens.

THE SALT LAKE (Salt Lake City, Utah) HERALD,
Wednesday, December 17, 1902, p. 4.

Mark Twain's Guide Tells His Experiences.

"To travel with a courier is bliss, to travel without one is the reverse. I have had dealings with some very bad couriers; but I have also had dealings with one who might fairly be called perfection. He was a young Polander, named Joseph N. Verey. He spoke eight languages, and seemed to be equally at home in all of them." Thus wrote Mark Twain in "A Tramp Abroad."

Mr. Verey has been resident in London for some time, but his interesting personality remained undiscovered until the recent publication in the Daily Mail of a letter from Robert Albutt, who described him as the confidential "Harris" of that inimitable work, says the New York World. Mr. Verey, however, does not claim to be the original of that mirth-provoking character. Although the adventures set forth in "A Tramp Abroad" are founded on the experiences which befell Mr. Clemens and himself during the European tour "conducted" by Mr. Verey.

Mr. Clemens engaged the guide in Paris.

"I was not aware who my employer was," says Mr. Verey. "At first sight he did not fill me with enthusiasm. His clothes fitted him badly; he wore no tie, his long, yellowish-gray hair hung untidily over the back of his collar, and he smoked a large, ugly corncob pipe. I felt anxious about me fee, all the more so that he never referred to it.

" 'Your first duty, Joseph,' he said, 'is to take out the wife and children. Show them all the sights of Paris, Joseph, and do not hurry back. They are always ringing my bell. I have work to do, Joseph. Then he returned to his room, and I heard him turn the key in the lock.

"From Paris we went to Brussels. In the market place I bought a guide book to refresh my memory. Mr. Clemens immediately turned on his heel and left me. This conduct puzzled me until he explained that he objected to walk by the side of a man who carried a Baedeker. 'Every tourist has a guide book under his arm,' he said, 'and looks like a missionary seeking for converts.' "

Mr. Verey has much to say in praise of Mark Twain's kindly, gentle disposition. At Berlin the two "Tramps" were walking along Unter den Linden, when the guide accidentally collided with an errand boy carrying a fish basket on his head.

"Mr. Clemens clinched his hands. Under the heavy, over-arching eyebrows his eyes shone angrily, like stars in a cloudy sky" (Mr. Verey is something of a poet), "and he thundered: 'Why did you do that?' I ran after the boy, gave him a silver coin and begged him to turn around and smile at my employer. The boy smiled as only a German boy can smile -- for a consideration -- and Mr. Clemens was happy and good-tempered for the rest of the day."

Mark Twain dined with the German emperor that evening, sitting at his right hand. A few days later a policeman called at the hotel and demanded that the two visitors should accompany him to the police station.

"Mr. Clemens readily complied. He asked no questions. It was an adventure, and he seemed pleased. Much to the indignation of the officer on duty, he did not remove his hat on entering the office, but spent some time in looking for a chair on which to sit. The officer glared at him in astonishment, and I persuaded Mr. Clemens to rise and uncover his head.

"All that was required of him was to make a 'residential declaration.' The hoped-for adventure had missed fire, and Mr. Clemens was obviously disappointed. He answered all the questions put to him except one: 'What is your religion?'

"His handsome leonine face took on a sad, thoughtful expression. 'That question I will not answer to any one,' he said. 'My belief is not of creeds or sects. It is too deep, too mysterious, to attempt to explain it.' The officer growled in his beard, and expressed the opinion that the visitor should be transferred to the care of a certain public institution."

Mr. Clemens and the guide embarked on a fortnight's sail down the Rhone, specially engaging a small craft and a boatman.

"So far as local knowledge went," say Mr. Verey, "the voyage had never been performed before. Mr. Clemens, however, was in search of absolute quietude, in order to get on with his book. We wanted bed linen for the boat, and an innkeeper lent Mr. Clemens a couple of new sheets, on condition that he dipped them in the Rhone a few times and spread them out in the sun. 'They are unbleached and too rough for my guests at present,' said mine host, 'and if you will do as I wish you can have the loan of them for nothing.' The contract was sealed.

"Throughout that long river trip Mr. Clemens sat in the stern of the boat writing from morning to night, and smoking his favorite tobacco. 'Ah! I can write here, Joseph,' he said one day. Then his eyes rested on the boatman at the bows manipulating a single oar. 'Joseph,' he observed, 'why didn't you dress that man like an admiral? Then I could have described his clothes and people would have inferred that we hired a battleship instead of a cockleshell at 5 francs a day, including the skipper. I know all about admirals and battleships, for I myself was once a Mississippi pilot.' "

Mr. Clemens, it appears, was rather nervous. As they neared Poiters he descried a small breakwater some distance ahead. He ordered the steersman to pull the boat to the bank.

"I want to carry this bag ashore," he exclaimed to Mr. Verey. For a mile and a half Mr. Clemens walked along the riverside, bag in hand. When the boat had safely negotiated the breakwater he returned on board.

"I didn't want that bag to get wet," he said.

Mr. Verey ventured to smile.

"You don't doubt my courage, do you, Joseph?" he asked. Mr. Verey strained a point and answered in the negative.

The travelers presently stopped to explore a tiny island in the middle of the river. When they returned to the bank the boat had disappeared.

"That's excellent, Joseph," exclaimed Mr. Clemens. "Marooned on a Rhone island! It would be better, though, if we got lost as well. How long do you think this island is?"

"About 300 yards, sir," was the reply.

"H'm! I'm afraid it's too small to get lost on," rejoined the author.

Mr. Clemens, however, wrote a note and placed it in a bottle, which he cast into the stream.

"That will tell the people of Marseilles what has befallen us," he added. Immediately afterward the boat was seen, partly hidden by an overhanging tree, and the "thrilling adventure" terminated tamely.

In 1911 Joseph Verey's name resurfaced in newspapers in the United States, copied from what appeared to be other interviews that first ran in London newspapers. On October 8, 1911, The New York Times printed a short version of a what was probably a longer interview that was datelined London, September 26, 1911. The Colorado Springs (Colorado) Gazette of October 15, 1911 reprinted one of the longer versions of an interview which they datelined London, October 14, 1911.

Colorado Springs (Colorado) Gazette, October 15, 1911, p. 22.

Joseph Verey, Mark Twain's Courier, Down in the World

LONDON, Oct. 14. - Joseph Verey, the messenger, who was Mark Twain's courier, and made nine tours with him, has fallen upon evil times, and is now living in London in a Rowton house. He has come down in the world through the loss of his savings, which he invested in an incandescent mantle business.

His last engagement of any length, the Star states, was when he was employed at the royal palace, Madrid to hatch pheasants for King Alfonso.

He left London with an English gamekeeper and 2,000 pheasant eggs, and in the Casa Real Del Campo at the rear of the royal palace in Madrid, Verey and the gamekeeper hatched out the eggs with Spanish hens.

King Alfonso and the queen mother one day visited the hatching place, talked to Verey about his travels, and he told them stories of Mark Twain which kept their majesties and the ladies of the court in constant laughter. Verey was also able to inform the queen mother that he had paid homage before three popes.

When the engagement at the royal palace was finished Verey had to return to London. Btu apart from the possession of a testimonial written on parchment in Spanish and bearing the seal and coat-of-arms of Spain, he had nothing very substantial to show for his foreign trip.

Verey has, of course, an endless store of recollections about Mark Twain. Giving a few of these to a newspaper representative yesterday, the famous courier said:

"Mr. Clemens hardly ever talked to any one. Once I traveled from Cologne to Dresden with him, and he only spoke about two words to me. What I was instructed to do was to engage the other people in the compartment in conversation, and ask them about everything. Mr. Clemens used to sit and listen.

"He must have had a wonderful memory. He used to go to museums for hours. He would not say a word, but he would listen while I asked questions and engaged people in conversation.

"I never heard him make a joke, not even with his own family. He never made one with me. The nearest approach that he got to one was in a letter to me about the uncertainty of his plans. He wrote: 'Ifs are bad prophets.' "

"He was a great listener. He would take it all in, and never say a word himself."

Mark and Verey understood one another thoroughly. Mark Twain "discovered" Verey in Paris through the hall porter at the Hotel Normandy, who gave such a glowing account of Verey that Mark determined to have him.

"George, I must have this Verey," he said. George could not leave his post to go and find him, so Mark Twain said he would put on George's apron and look after the door.

Verey remained Mark Twain's courier as long as he was needed.

On October 21, 1911, both the Lowell (Massachusetts) Sun and the Cedar Rapids (Iowa) Evening Gazette featured stories on Joseph Verey. The Evening Gazette reported that Verey had been discovered in poverty in his London lodgings by a local reporter. "When his plight was made public a number of admirers of Mark Twain interested themselves in his behalf and secured him a position as lecturer to a local society for the encouragement of humor." (Cedar Rapids Evening Gazette, October 21, 1911, p. 2).

It is likely that Verey's lectures for the London humor society included stories of his time spent with the Mark Twain. Several letters from Verey to Twain are held in the Mark Twain Papers at the University of California at Berkeley. To date, any personal letters Clemens may have written to Verey have not been found.

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