Sunday, February 20, 2011

What was Thomas Charles MARCH's Dracula number? Six degrees.

If you stayed with me through the exploration of the Thomas Charles MARCH family, not only do you deserve a medal, but you will already know what I mean by a Dracula number.

I'm playing Six Degrees of Separation with some of the residents of Charles Street, off Berkeley Square in London, in 1871, and determining how many degrees they are away from Queen Victoria (the Queen Victoria number) and from Bram STOKER the author of Dracula (the Dracula number).

By the way, I am using ALL CAPS for surnames here, a convention the police use a lot and family history writers sometimes, because the surname MARCH is too easily confused with the month.

Thomas Charles MARCH, of No. 1 Charles Street, Berkeley Square in 1871, has a Queen Victoria number of 1, having worked in the Royal Household for about 50 years in some high-ranking positions.

There are two connections I can point to between Thomas and Dracula, or at least, Bram.

Bram STOKER was an author of course, bu he was also a theatrical manager, and often described as the friend and manager of Sir Henry IRVING.

Sir Henry was the first actor to be knighted. The ceremony was on July 18, 1895 by Queen Victoria at Windsor. In an online archive of Sir Henry's correspondence, on the website, there are two entries for correspondence between Sir Henry and Thomas Charles MARCH. In each, MARCH is described as Buckingham Palace paymaster, and his address is Board of Green Cloth, Buckingham Palace.

The first letter is from MARCH to IRVING, July 19, 1895. The catalogue description is: "Fees due to the Earl Marshall and British heralds upon knighthood are £26 and he asks for a cheque with the corrected or approved notice for the London Gazette."

The second letter, also from MARCH to IRVING, is dated July 26, 1895. "Receipt for £26 for knighthood fees to Sir Henry B. Irving."

So, from MARCH to IRVING to STOKER would give MARCH a Dracula number of 2, but I think we can do better.

The Lord Chamberlain's Office and the Theatre World of Victoria London

Let me not appear to have any kind of expertise in this subject whatsoever.

What I have inferred from cursory research is that the Lord Chamberlain's Office was in charge of making sure the theatre world ran properly. This included being the censor, and licensing plays as fit for public consumption.

Because of his long, active, and prominent involvement, and his leadership role in the theatre, Henry IRVING was frequently dealing with the Lord Chamberlain's Office, but not specifically with Thomas Charles MARCH. The job of censor appears to have belonged to the Comptroller within the Lord Chamberlain's Office.

From 1857 to 1901, Sir Spencer Cecil Brabazon PONSONBY-FANE was the Comptroller. It's not a long stretch of the imagination to suggest that, given this lengthy tenure, he and Thomas MARCH must have been well acquainted. Apparently both IRVING and STOKER were also well enough acquainted with the Comptroller that IRVING could instruct STOKER, on September 22, 1887 to seek advice from him ("have a chat") as an old friend, regarding some aggravation IRVING was experiencing from a third party, EARLTON(?). This is what the catalogue entry for a letter from IRVING to STOKER says:

"'We will proceed no further in this business' at least for the present. Come to [?] as soon as he [STOKER] can as Irving wants to hear the sound reasons of their wise old friend. Stoker should call at the Lord Chamberlain's Office, deliver the enclosed, and have a chat with Ponsonby Fane. The man Earlton(?) is playing a spiteful game and Irving wants to hear Sir Spencer's opinion of his tactics. Business great and all going well."

STOKER knew PONSONBY-FANE, again, giving MARCH a Dracula number of 2.

Is it too speculative to imagine that over the approximately 40 years in which they worked together, that PONSONBY-FANE and MARCH might have chatted with STOKER together? I am edging toward a #1, though not conclusively there yet.

Another nail in the coffin

One final tidbit has cropped up.

Bram STOKER's Dracula was published in 1897, and although it's his most famous book, it's not the only one he wrote. In 1911, a year before he died, his last book, The Lair of the White Worm, came out. (later made into a movie starting Amanda Donohoe and Hugh Grant. Who knew?) This is not exactly a vampire tale, but it has similar themes and strange supernatural elements. I have not read it. All I needed to see was this: the evil female supernatural creature is a woman (or so it seems) named Arabella MARCH.

Why? I don't know. Inconveniently, no one appears to have published a thesis on the topic, at least, not a thesis prominent enough for Google's attention. I offer these alternative reasons:

1. STOKER knew Sarah COOPER, who became Arabella MARCH, before marriage and thought she was enough of a schemer to be outed as such (years after her death and that of her husband);

2. STOKER knew Arabella MARCH, the daughter of Thomas and Sarah / Arabella, and thought she was a schemer who deserved to be outed as such;

3. STOKER knew either or both of the Arabella MARCHes and liked them, and used the name as a kind of ironic tribute, perhaps with permission;

4. STOKER didn't like Thomas Charles MARCH and took this low shot at him post-humously;

5. STOKER unconsciously chose the name of not just one, but two real persons he had either met or heard of; or

6. STOKER liked the name.

Provisionally, the real Arabellas (mother and daughter) get a Dracula score of 1 and so does Thomas. My game, my rules.

Thomas March is the first of many interesting people we will meet on Charles Street in 1871. His story starts with Thomas March of 1 Charles Street: One degree from Queen Victoria.

This article is one in an ongoing series, starting with Bram Stoker, author of Dracula in public records: BMD (Birth, Marriage, Death).

Next: Maud Gonne and Thomas Charles March and the English wine merchants who brought us port.

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