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Darwin Correspondence Project

To J. S. Burdon Sanderson   [11 April 1875]1

2. Bryanston St

Sunday afternoon

My dear Sanderson

We have not a day to lose if our Bill or our petition is to do any good. Mr Shaen has been here, a solicitor & excellent man, & in closest communication with the zealots of the Cruelty Soc.—2 He says the Soc. makes no rapid progress, but that Admiral Elliott has had a bill drafted, & this has been examined & approved by Ld Coleridge, & that the Tory whip of the H. of Commons, Hart Dyke, has taken up the subject strongly.—3 The physiologists & naturalists like Flower4 who think all will blow over are mad.

Yours most sincerely | Ch. Darwin

It was really curious to see how profoundly ignorant Mr Shaen was about any benefit to mankind from physiology.—

I will just jot down remarks as they occur to me.— G. Lushington (Legal adviser to Home office) has been working at Litchfields paper & the Ladies are making 2 copies, one for your consideration, & one for Lushington to consider more deliberately.—5 They both think no time to be lost, & if you could get half-a dozen good names to agree to the desirability of such a bill, & you had better tell them how forward the opposite party is, we had better endeavour to get an interview with a minister. L. & Lushington thinks Ld. Derby wd be a very good man, & he has always been very friendly towards me, as if he wd. regard my opinion.6 It wd be for those whom you consult to settle whether they wd go in a body or appoint one or more.— I shd. rather dread going alone, but will do it willingly & would write to Ld Derby for an appointment, & come up to town any day.— I shd. think, however, it would be better if we went in a small body, with some better man than myself as spokesman. All will depend on some half-dozen 9 or 12 men agreeing on the bill.—

The Litchfields have seen Huxley & reported what we have been doing & he agrees, but will call on me tomorrow morning & I will report if he says anything important.—

I thought it wd be good if I saw Paget7 & succeeded. I find he cares far more for the physiological than for the humanity side & I am not surprised seeing with what flagrant injustice physiologists have been treated; but I do not at all mean to say that he is indifferent to humanity. He ended by saying that he would gladly consider our draft bill. He had intended calling on me tomorrow morning to say that he sat yesterday at dinner by Mr Smith of the Treasury,8 who assured him the Government had not yet had any notice of any motion on subject, & that he felt convinced there cd be no action this session.— Paget seemed to think that if a certain number of men were agreed about a bill, the best plan wd be for me to see Ld Derby & ask his assistance & counsel.—

This is an extraordinary heterogenious note & I fear you will hardly read it.—

Yours | C.D


The date is established by the subject matter and the address. CD was working on the vivisection petition in 1875. He stayed at 2 Bryanston Street, London, from 6 to 12 April 1875 (Emma Darwin’s diary (DAR 242)). During that time, the only Sunday was 11 April.
CD refers to William Shaen and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. CD had worked with Thomas Henry Huxley and Burdon Sanderson to draft a petition to regulate vivisection (see letter from J. S. Burdon Sanderson, 10 April 1875).
A bill had been drafted by Thomas Frederick Elliot with the support of William Hart Dyke, the Conservative party whip, and John Duke Coleridge, the lord chief justice (Cobbe 1904, p. 639). This bill was based on a memorial that had been prepared by Frances Power Cobbe and presented to the RSPCA in January (see letter to H. E. Litchfield, 4 January [1875], and letter to T. H. Huxley, 14 January 1875).
William Henry Flower was professor of comparative anatomy at the Royal College of Surgeons.
Godfrey Lushington was the twin brother of Vernon Lushington, a mutual friend of the Darwins and of Richard Buckley Litchfield. Litchfield was the husband of CD’s daughter Henrietta Emma (Correspondence vols. 16 and 19).
Edward Henry Stanley, the earl of Derby, was foreign secretary. When the Stanleys rented a house close to Down in 1872, CD had talked with Lady Derby (Mary Catherine Stanley) about Joseph Dalton Hooker’s problems at Kew (see Correspondence vol. 20, letter to J. D. Hooker, 14 June [1872]), and corresponded with her (see Correspondence vol. 20, letter from M. C. Stanley, 4 June 1872).
William Henry Smith was financial secretary to the Treasury.


Cobbe, Frances Power. 1904. Life of Frances Power Cobbe as told by herself. Posthumous edition. London: Swan Sonnenschein.

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


"We have not a day to lose if our [Vivisection] Bill or our petition is to do any good". Reports on the activities of the opposition and the attitude of politicians on the subject. Believes a meeting with a minister should be arranged and thinks Lord Derby would be a good man. "All will depend on some half-dozen or 9 or 12 men agreeing on the bill."

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
John Scott Burdon Sanderson, 1st baronet
Sent from
London, Bryanston St, 2
Source of text
University of the Witwatersrand, Historical Papers Research Archive (A237f, letters to Sir John Burdon Sanderson)
Physical description
ALS 8pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 9923,” accessed on 6 December 2022,

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