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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Lyon Playfair   26 May 1875

Down, | Beckenham, Kent. | Railway Station | Orpington. S.E.R.

May 26/75

My dear Sir

I hope that you will excuse my troubling you once again. I received some days ago a letter from Prof: Huxley in Edinburgh, who says with respect to your Bill: “the professors here are all in arms about it; & as the papers have associated my name with the Bill, I shall have to repudiate it publicly, unless something can be done. But what in the world is to be done?”1 Dr Burdon Sanderson is in nearly the same frame of mind about it.2 The newspapers take different views of the purport of the Bill, but it seems generally supposed that it would prevent demonstrations on animals rendered insensible, & this seems to me a monstrous provision.3 It would moreover probably defeat the end desired; for Dr B. Sanderson, who demonstrates to his class on animals rendered insensible, told me that some of his students had declared to him that unless he had shown them what he had, they would have experimented on live animals for themselves. Certainly I do not believe that any one could thoroughly understand the action of the heart without having seen it in action.

I do not doubt that you wish to aid the progress of Physiology & at the same time save animals from all useless suffering, & in this case I believe that you could not do a greater service than to warn the Home Secy., with respect to the appointment of Royal Commissioners, that ordinary Doctors know little or nothing about Physiology as a science & are incompetent to judge of its high importance & of the probability of its hereafter conferring great benefits on mankind.4

Pray believe me | My dear Sir | Yours sincerely | Charles Darwin


See the letter from T. H. Huxley, 19 May 1875, in which Huxley had criticised changes made by Playfair to the vivisection bill prior to its being presented to the House of Commons.
The draft of the bill, drawn up by Richard Buckley Litchfield to reflect the views of CD, Thomas Henry Huxley, and John Scott Burdon Sanderson, specifically mentioned the need for vivisection for teaching purposes (DAR 139.17: 22).
A Royal Commission had been set up to investigate the practice of vivisection before the subject was further debated in Parliament (see letter from Lyon Playfair, 21 May 1875); the commissioners were evidently selected by the home secretary, Richard Assheton Cross.


Writes about the Vivisection Bill; there is great fear that it may prevent demonstration dissections on insensible animals.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Lyon Playfair, 1st Baron Playfair of St Andrews
Sent from
Source of text
Imperial College of Science, Medicine and Technology Archives (Playfair 206)
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 9994,” accessed on 16 October 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 23