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Darwin Correspondence Project

To F. P. Cobbe   [14 January 1875]1

Down, | Beckenham, Kent.

My dear Miss Cobbe,

I am afraid from your pamphlet that there is much reckless cruelty; but I do not at all know how far the operations to which you refer in the London Hospitals are performed on animals rendered insensible.2 That any experiment should be tried without the use of anaesthetics, when they can be used, is atrocious.

I would gladly sign the Report (1870) of the British Assoc. but I could not sign the paper which you sent me before;3 as, judging from other sciences, I believe that Physiology will ultimately lead to incalculable benefits, and it can progress only by experiments on living animals. Any stringent law would stop all progress in this country which I should deeply regret.

I admit in the fullest way that acquiescense in one form of cruelty is no reason for not earnestly trying to stop another form; but I cannot but be struck by the injustice with which physiologists are spoken of, considering that those who shoot birds for mere pleasure, cause by wounding them manifold more suffering than do the physiologists (besides the indirect suffering of traps);4 yet the sportsmen are not blamed, while physiologists are spoken of as “demons let loose from hell”.5

I earnestly wish that some good may arise from the present movement, and believe me | Very sincerely yours | Ch. Darwin.


The date is established by the relationship between this letter, the letter to T. H. Huxley, 14 January 1875, and the letter from Emma Darwin to F. P. Cobbe, 14 January 1875.
Cobbe had written two pamphlets describing experiments on animals without the use of anaesthetics, and calling for the regulation of vivisection (see letter to T. H. Huxley, 14 January 1875 and n. 5).
A committee was appointed to report on animal experimentation at the 1870 meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science (see letter to T. H. Huxley, 14 January 1875 and n. 6). Cobbe had requested that CD sign a memorial calling for the regulation of vivisection (see letter to H. E. Litchfield, 4 January [1875] and n. 3). CD had just received another copy of the memorial (see letter to T. H. Huxley, 14 January 1875 and n. 1).
CD and Emma Darwin were involved in a campaign against steel vermin-traps in 1863 (see Correspondence vol. 11, Appendix IX.
The phrase may be from one of Cobbe’s pamphlets (see letter to T. H. Huxley, 14 January 1875 and n. 5.


Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 29 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.


Explains why he cannot sign Miss Cobbe’s anti-vivisection petition.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Frances Power Cobbe
Sent from
Source of text
Hull University Archives, Hull History Centre (British Union for Anti-Vivisection archives: U DBV/25/1)
Physical description
C 2pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 9814F,” accessed on 29 January 2023,

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