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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Lyon Playfair   27 May 1875

Athenæum Club | Pall Mall S.W.

27 May 75

My dear Mr Darwin

There is no need mourning over a dead lion. Indeed I am glad that it is dead. When living I did not take to it kindly, but I assumed that I was all right as the mere agent of yourself, Burdon Sanderson & Huxley.1 I altered nothing in the draft put into my hands except where it was wrong in parliamentary form—beyond adding two clauses, one for summary jurisdiction & the other for power of appeal. These did not touch the power of the Bill. I saw indeed that the Bill would prevent demonstrations & I especially pointed this out to Sanderson, who however said that physiologists felt that they must renounce them under the state of public feeling.2

But the Bill of this Friday will exist no more:3 and I think nothing would induce me to take it up again as it was repudiated by its own fathers.

But I am very anxious that physiology should not suffer by the Commission and of this I have great fears—so I will try to get Cross to put some physiologists upon it.4

Yours Sincerely | Lyon Playfair


Playfair had introduced a vivisection bill drawn up by CD, John Scott Burdon Sanderson, and Thomas Henry Huxley in the House of Commons. Parliament decided to appoint a Royal Commission to investigate the practice of vivisection further before considering legislation (see n. 4, below, and letter from Lyon Playfair, 21 May 1875).
For the changes made to the bill, see the letter from T. H. Huxley, 19 May 1875 and n. 2. Burdon Sanderson criticised the changes in his letter to CD of 23 May [1875].
On 28 May 1875, the vivisection bill was given a second reading as a mere formality, and the announcement of the establishment of a Royal Commission to investigate vivisection was made in the House of Lords (Hansard parliamentary debates 3d ser. vol. 224 (1875), cols. 992–3); the announcement had been made in the House of Commons on 24 May 1875 (ibid., col. 794).
Richard Assheton Cross, the home secretary, was responsible for selecting the commissioners to serve on the Royal Commission to investigate vivisection; he attempted to obtain a balance of physiological, practical medical, political, and humanitarian opinions (French 1975, pp. 92–6).


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

Hansard parliamentary debates:


The Vivisection Bill was defeated because it was repudiated by one of its own fathers: J. S. Burdon Sanderson.

Letter details

Letter no.
Lyon Playfair, 1st Baron Playfair of St Andrews
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Athenaeum Club
Source of text
DAR 174: 50
Physical description
ALS 4pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 9996,” accessed on 17 August 2022,

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