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Darwin Correspondence Project

To E. H. Stanley   15 April 1875

Dear Lord Derby,

I hope that, you will excuse the liberty which I take in troubling you.– with a long letter.

I feel, a deep interest in preventing cruelty to animals & on the other hand am convinced that physiology is one of the most important of all the sciences, & is certain to confer great benefit on mankind, but that it can advance only by experiments on living animals.— I have lately spent ten days in London consulting several eminent physiologists on this subject.1

We first drew up 〈14 of a line〉 This petition has been signed by the Presidents of the Royal Society, College of Surgeons, & of Physicians, & 〈professors of〉 Physiology in Oxford, Cambr〈idge〉 Edinburgh. by Prof Owen, Huxley, Sir J Paget Burdon San & myself.; justifying the necessity of occasional experiments on live animals, & praying Parliament to have a due regard in any legislation for the interest of science,2

Since then several of the persons just named have thought it advisable to have a sketch of a bill drawn up, which served to answer the double purpose of protecting animals & science, namely by enacting that experiments shall not be tried on animals without the use of anaesthetic, for the mere purpose of teaching,: that such animals shd be immediately afterwards killed; & that licences shall be granted under certain regulations to men carrying on original research.— Recommendations to the same effect, but not so strict, were passed in 1871 by the British Assoc. for Science; & I hear that they met with the approbation of the Cruelty Prevention Soc.y.3

Now my colleagues are very anxious to interest your Lordship on this subject, & I offered to write to you believing that you would excuse me. We are desirous, unless you see some objection, that you should mention the subject to the proper members of the Cabinet, such as the H. S. or the L. President of the Privy Council, who, I believe is at the head of all the scientific departments science.4

We are informed that no less than three associations of gentlemen who care chiefly or exclusively for humanity; are preparing bills;5 & we hope that the Government will not legislate without due consideration for physiology.— We could soon send our sketch of a bill, or a small deputation would wait on any member of the Cabinet person or we wd do whatever else you think best, if you would be so kind as to give us your counsel.

I trust that this letter may be favourably received by your Lordship [illeg] for the sake of humanity & science & I remain your Lordship | very faithfully | Chas Darwin

April 15. 75


CD stayed in London from 31 March to 12 April 1875 (Emma Darwin’s diary (DAR 242). He met with James Paget, Thomas Henry Huxley, and John Scott Burdon Sanderson; see letter to J. S. Burdon Sanderson, [11 April 1875].
On the draft petition to regulate vivisection, see the letter to J. S. Burdon Sanderson, [11 April 1874]. Joseph Dalton Hooker was president of the Royal Society of London; James Paget was president of the Royal College of Surgeons; George Burrows was president of the Royal College of Physicians. CD also refers to Richard Owen, Thomas Henry Huxley, James Paget, and John Scott Burdon Sanderson. The representatives from Oxford, Cambridge, and Edinburgh were George Rolleston, Michael Foster, and Robert Christison, respectively (see letter from J. S. Burdon Sanderson, 12 April [1875] and n. 5, and letter to J. S. Burdon Sanderson, 15 and 19 April [1875] and n. 6).
On the guidelines for vivisection drawn up in 1871 at the meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, see the letter to T. H. Huxley, 14 January 1875 and n. 6, and Appendix VI. CD refers to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
Richard Assheton Cross was home secretary; the lord president of the Privy Council was Charles Henry Gordon-Lennox, who also presided over the education department (ODNB).
Apart from CD’s bill, the only proposed legislation about vivisection was that initiated by Frances Power Cobbe (see letter to J. S. Burdon Sanderson, [11 April 1875] and n. 3); the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals supported Cobbe’s original memorial but did not present a bill (see French 1975, pp 64–70). On the formation of anti-vivisection societies, see Appendix VI.


French, Richard D. 1975. Antivivisection and medical science in Victorian society. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.

ODNB: Oxford dictionary of national biography: from the earliest times to the year 2000. (Revised edition.) Edited by H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison. 60 vols. and index. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2004.


CD has helped leading physiologists to prepare a draft bill for legislation with regard to vivisection, and he hopes Lord Derby will support the bill and mention it to ministers of the Cabinet. Has heard that other groups are preparing bills for the same purpose, and feels it important that the science of physiology be protected as well as animals.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Edward Henry Stanley, 15th earl of Derby
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 97: C22–4
Physical description
AdraftS 3pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 9933,” accessed on 31 May 2020,

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