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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Emma Darwin to F. P. Cobbe   14 January [1875]1

Down | Beckenham, Kent.

Jan. 14.

My dear Miss Cobbe,

I am sorry to say that Mr Darwin cannot sign your paper, you will see what his reasons are, and in addition to what he says, I may add that he feels that Virchow’s investigations are most important and quite justifiable, and he could not join in casting a slur on him.2

I will copy part of what he said to Henrietta as rather fuller than his letter to you.3

“Your letter has led me to think over vivisection for some hours, and I will jot down my conclusions, which will appear very unsatisfactory to you. I have long thought Physiology one of the grandest of sciences, sure sooner or more probably later greatly to benefit mankind; but judging from all other sciences the benefits will accrue only indirectly in the search for abstract truth”.

Therefore he cannot agree in the proposal to limit research to points of which we can now see the bearings in regard to health &c.

Mr Darwin is in hopes that some good may be done by inducing all the principal physiologists to join in a petition to Parliament or public manifesto of some sort, and he has written with that view to one of the most important;4 but his chief hope is in the improvement of humane feelings, and in this view he rejoices over the agitation of the subject.

I do trust and believe that some good will be done, and that you will be rewarded for all the painful horrors you have had to read and consider. You have got such capital signatures that I do not know whether you would care for insignificant ones (men of course) or I might get one or two.5 If I do not hear from you I will conclude that you do not think the mere number of signatures any benefit.

Very sincerely yours | Emma Darwin.


The year is established by the relationship between this letter and the letter to T. H. Huxley, 14 January 1875.
Cobbe had sent CD a memorial on the regulation of vivisection (see letter to F. P. Cobbe, [14 January 1875]). The memorial mentioned Rudolf Carl Virchow’s experiments on rabbits (see letter to H. E. Litchfield, 4 January [1875] and n. 5).
Cobbe’s memorial was eventually signed by about 1000 persons, a large portion of whom were titled members of the British aristocracy, high-ranking clergymen and military officers, and men distinguished in politics, medicine, and literature (Williamson 2005, p. 115). The memorial was published in The Times, 26 January 1875, p. 7; it also appeared in Animal World 6 (1875): 38 with a list of leading signatories.


Williamson, Lori. 2005. Power and protest: Frances Power Cobbe and Victorian society. London: Rivers Oram Press.


Explains more fully why CD cannot sign Miss Cobbe’ anti-vivisection petition.

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 9814G,” accessed on 28 February 2020,

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